Preferred sets scheme 'anti-competitive'

CRIMINAL barristers have launched an investigation into a controversial Crown Prosecution Service scheme to restrict the number of chambers which regularly receive briefs.

Under the “preferred sets” system the CPS passes the bulk of its work to a restricted number of chambers.

The CPS argues the scheme, which operates on the South Eastern circuit, is good for the public because it means the service can draw up performance agreements with individual sets to guarantee a quality service.

But the Criminal Bar Association believes the system is “anti-competitive” and has set up a working party to examine its affects on the Bar.

CBA secretary Richard Carey-Hughes, who is calling on chambers to make submissions to the working party, said he feared barristers in chambers without preferred set status were being unfairly sidelined.

“We are particularly concerned about chambers being knocked off the list as it could have a massive impact on the tenants,” he added.

The head of chambers at one leading London criminal set described the system as “open to severe criticism”.

He complained that the CPS had not provided him with a set of standards which his chambers would have to meet to join the scheme. “There should be standard criteria and every chambers which meets it should be allowed to join.”

A CPS spokesman denied reports from within the CBA that it was planning to reduce the number of preferred sets, which currently stands at 63.

But he warned the numbers would fluctuate with changes in supply and demand.