Bar faces compulsory subscriptions

Barristers who refuse to pay fees to the Bar Council will be stopped from practising under radical steps unveiled last week as part of the Bar's response to government plans to extend rights of audience.

The Bar Council is urging the Government to include legislation in the proposed Modernisation of Justice Bill to allow it to raise funds in the same way as the Law Society by requiring barristers to buy annual practising certificates.

Currently, barristers are simply asked to pay a subscription towards the Bar Council's yearly £4.5m costs – ranging from £100 for a “junior junior” to £500 for a silk.

The estimated 10 per cent of barristers who currently refuse to pay can face disciplinary action, but this tends to be slow and cumbersome. The new system is believed to be far more enforceable.

Jonathan Hirst QC, who co-ordinated the proposal, said that practising certificates would be necessary if there was to be a programme of continuing education as suggested in the Lord Chancellor's plans for extending rights of audience.

He added that it would give the Bar Council “an ultimate sanction” to use when raising funds. He said: “If more people contribute then the cost of the Bar Council for individual barristers will fall. These are powerful reasons for the Government agreeing to this and we very much hope they do.”

One leading silk on the Bar Council said: “It is grossly unfair that some barristers should benefit from professional services paid for by the rest of us.”

Ronald Thwaites QC, a persistent critic of the Bar Council, said he had no problem with purchasing a practising certificate as long as the fee went solely on administering the new system and not on wider funding of the Bar Council.

He said: “The Bar Council is a trade union and, as such, contributions to its escalating costs should be voluntary.”

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said it was too early to make any comment on the proposal.