Non-practising barristers to set up law centre 'chambers'

Chris Fogarty reports

A group of non-practising barristers is poised to set up a law centre “chambers” in a bid to capitalise on the Government’s controversial legal aid reforms.

Non-Practising Bar Association secretary Dr Peter Gray has written to the Bar Council outlining plans to establish a pilot law centre in Sittingbourne, Kent.

Gray’s proposed law centre will be staffed by non-practising barristers and he is counting on funding from the Government under its proposed Community Legal Service (CLS) scheme.

The plans coincide with the Bar Council’s official initiative to tap into law centre work by allowing the centres direct access to barristers.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine outlined his enthusiasm for the CLS at the recent Solicitors’ Annual Conference, stating that its main aim would be to help people decide if their problem was a legal one and tell them where they could get further help.

The CLS is expected to be funded through savings in the withdrawal of civil legal aid in all money-claims cases.

Gray, a qualified barrister now working as a doctor, intends to take on the law centre role part time and specialise in medical and environmental law. “The local ‘practising Bar’ is weak in that area,” he said.

Under Bar Council rules barristers can only join law centres that also employ solicitors.

Gray is already talking with local solicitors about them joining the project and has written to the Lord Chancellor’s Department asking to be involved with upcoming CLS consultations.

Gray plans to have his centre up and running by next summer and is proposing a chain of non-practising barrister centres if his pilot proves successful.

Bar Council professional standards secretary Mark Stobbs said that under existing regulations Gray would not be allowed to work as both a doctor and a barrister at the law centre.