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The Bar Council is reviewing whether barristers are guilty of serious misconduct by overclaiming in publicly funded cases
Lawyers have been hired to represent the barrister defendants, whose identities have not been revealed, although the matter will not go ahead until the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), which referred the cases to the Bar Council, hands over evidence.
A lot of the cases stem from an LCD investigation into 112 cases of alleged overclaiming; 20 were earmarked for further consideration and some of these were referred to the Bar's Professional Conduct & Complaints Committee (PCCC), which decides whe-ther rules have been breached.
It is understood that far more cases have since been referred to the PCCC.
According to a Bar Council spokesman, the scope of the PCCC's inquiry to date has been to establish whether there was any suggestion that there was dishonesty or other conduct likely to bring the Bar into disrepute. To date, no such finding has been made. A full inquiry into the truth of the overcharging allegations will start once the Bar has established a framework for the investigation.
All cases of barristers whose legal aid claims were reduced by determining officers by more than 50 per cent are referred by the Court Service to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine. He refers it to the Bar Council if he thinks the matter is sufficiently serious.
The spokesman said: "The fact that a claim may be reduced substantially does not of itself indicate any dishonesty on the part of the barrister, discreditable conduct or, necessarily, that the full claim was unjustifiable."