Bacfi gives scant praise to rights of audience victory

Barristers employed in industry are claiming a hollow victory after the Bar Council agreed to give them rights of audience in the higher courts but laid down strict requirements preventing many from taking advantage of them.

At its meeting on 21 March the Bar Council voted to give employed barristers the same limited higher court rights of audience as the Government granted to employed solicitors in February last year.

The proposals have now been submitted to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, and the four designated judges for their approval. But to qualify, employed barristers must meet a raft of requirements which have been attacked by the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (Bacfi).

Before being granted limited higher court rights of audience employed barristers must:

have been practising for three years;

have had a minimum of 20 court appearances covering matters of “substance and complexity” each year for the past two years; and

have worked in a legal department containing at least three lawyers.

Bacfi chair Susan Ward said that of about 1,000 barristers employed in industry, very few would comply with the “unduly onerous, unnecessary and unreasonable” restrictions.

She complained that the restrictions had been added to the proposals only last week, giving Bacfi little time to respond.

A spokesman for the Bar Council said the requirements were, in principle, the same as those laid down for solicitors.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Clifford Allison, who represents employed and non-practising barristers on the Bar Council and voted in favour of the motion, said: “Most government lawyers already meet the requirements.”