NI Bar could face bleak future

NORTHERN Irish barristers face a tougher time than solicitors if peace breaks out, according to Bar chairman Richard McLaughlin QC.

McLaughlin says peace will mean less criminal work and a shift to commercial practice.

Barristers will face growing competition from solicitors with High Court rights of audience next year, and an "overcrowded" Bar.

This means that civil and commercial bar specialists will find their field swamped with newcomers, including new pupils and a number of barristers who are expected to return to a peaceful Ulster from practise abroad.

"The pressure is on at the moment," says McLaughlin. But the Ulster Bar, like solicitors there, tend to be broader-based and will hopefully prove their adaptability, he says.

Demands on the 350-member Bar have inevitably focused strongly on defence and prosecution in scheduled terrorism cases, all of which are dealt with in the Belfast Crown Court under the welter of emergency provisions.

A third of last year's 1,244 criminal defendants were on terrorism-related charges. The extra challenges of the provisions – including the non-Jury Diplock courts in place since 1973 for such offences, and the suspension of the right to sil-ence since 1988 for all criminal cases has led to a much-increased demand for the expert legal mind in pre-trial and voir dire wranglings.