The Legal Services Commission's (LSC) plans to introduce a so-called 'quality mark' for chambers, could force chambers working in both the public and private sector to split
The plans have been delayed for one month after Bar Council protests last week. The LSC plans to impose administrative standards on chambers doing publicly-funded work, forcing them to pay for new staff and consultancies to comply with the new regulations. It is feared that those working in the private sector may split from their colleagues doing predominantly publicly-funded work to avoid the additional financial burdens. Robin de Wilde QC, who was recently elected to the Bar Council on a ticket of reforming it, suspects this will lead to divisions. He said: "This could have profound implications in a number of specialist areas of practice, such as landlord and tenant, and lead, in effect, to a two-tier bar." Last week, bar chairman David Bean QC outlined his concerns about the quality mark in a strongly worded letter to the LSC chief executive Steve Orchard. Bean alleged that the LSC's quality mark could "move the goalposts" if it became a pre-requisite for all chambers wishing to do publicly-funded work. The LSC has already backed down over plans for barristers to investigate each other to ensure publicly-funded work is up to scratch. Bean also attacked the LSC's plans for the funding of prosecution and defence criminal barristers to be the remit of one body. He believes that in the interests of justice, the CPS's funding should be kept separate. The LSC has a 2:1 majority representation on the panel for approval of chambers for a quality mark. Bean wants there to be an equal bar-LSC representation. Bean also questions whether the quality mark breaches the Human Rights Act provisions on the freedom to choose one's own lawyer, as well as the EU directive on the Rights of Establishment of lawyers. This provides for the free movement of legal professionals across the EU. De Wilde said that although he accepts that the LSC should vet chambers over late returns of brief fees, other areas, such as sets having business plans, "are private matters for chambers".