Bar Council rules against

PARTNERSHIPS for barristers are ruled out for the foreseeable future, under proposed changes to Bar Council rules.

But public direct access for all non-contentious work is under consideration as well as permission to engage in direct contact with clients, according to the package of measures laid before the Bar Council in its last meeting.

The partnerships issue was laid to rest by James Munby QC's policy unit in a report to council members. The report followed the recent Standards Review Body recommendation to preserve the status quo.

However, the opportunity exists to re-examine the issue in the future, which is welcome news for those who had backed the move towards partnerships as a way of ensuring fair competition with solicitors.

The return of public direct access, stopped in 1955 in a deal which also prevented solicitors applying for higher court advocacy rights, will be considered by the Bar's professional standards committee.

Hazel Williamson QC, chair of the Chancery Bar Association which proposed the motion, says: “There are instances where expertise of counsel is required, but nevertheless the client must go through a solicitor or other professional.”

The move to abolish the Bar conduct rule restricting contact with witnesses by next spring follows calls from the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice and the Bar Standards Review Body.

Bar Council chairman Robert Seabrook QC says: “The relaxation of these rules is an important recognition by the profession of modern public needs and expectations.” But some criminal barristers have reservations about the change.