Meet your witness says Bar Council

John Malpas reports

BARRISTERS should make a point of introducing themselves to nervous witnesses in order to steer them through the often daunting trial procedures, according to the Bar Council.

The Bar has reversed its rule preventing barristers from speaking to witnesses and is now asking counsel to make a point of introducing themselves.

An amendment to its code of conduct was passed at the last council meeting following a motion by Bar chair Peter Goldsmith.

"The old rules are no longer appropriate, they have all too often conveyed the false impression that barristers are aloof and uncaring," says Goldsmith.

"The new rules and guidance will enable barristers to be more approachable, to

reassure victims of crime and other vulnerable witnesses and also to discuss evidence with witnesses when this is in the interests of justice," he adds.

Under the rule change it will be the responsibility of the barrister to introduce themselves, explain the court procedures and ask any questions on procedure.

But a Bar Council spokesman says in contested criminal cases it will remain a general principle that barristers should not actually interview potential witnesses except lay clients, character and expert witnesses.

This is to ensure that the evidence witnesses give in court remains their own unrehearsed testimony.

There is, however, an allowance for this rule to be waived under "exceptional circumstances".

The council spokesman said that an example of this would be if the instructing solicitor failed to turn up to court and the judge refused to allow an adjournment of the case.