The Bar Council's new rules on direct access are threatening the bar with a whole raft of new regulations and red tape, including strict new guidelines on money laundering and disclosure, similar to those imposed on solicitors. The Bar Council's proposals to extend direct public access to the bar are due to come into force by the end of the year, but first require approval by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Lord Falconer.
Following consultation from the Legal Services Consultative Panel, Lord Falconer has now asked the bar to review its procedures in relation to money laundering, training and supervision of barristers who receive instructions from clients bypassing solicitors, and in relation to negotiations, undertakings and disclosure. The latter relates to contracts between barristers and lay clients and duties of disclosure to courts, which currently are the responsibility of solicitors.
Currently, barristers are not subject to strict 'know your client' rules. These make it mandatory for professionals to carry out vigorous checks on their clients to ensure that the money used to pay for services is not the proceeds of crime. Under the direct access rules, it is likely that barristers will have to have these mechanisms in place. Mark Stobbs, head of the bar's professional standards and legal department, said he is looking at whether similar demands need to be introduced for barristers.
Lord Falconer has asked the Bar Council to look at introducing extra supervision for barristers, who will have to attend client care courses before they can receive instructions direct from the public. Direct access is an extension to the longstanding BarDirect rules, which allow barristers to receive instructions from the public.
Sections of the Bar Council are critical of the Lord Chancellor's Department for having sat on the proposals for so long (it received them last November) while the Government has been promoting liberalisation. The bar drew up the guidelines on the back of pressure from the Office of Fair Trading.