Friday, 25 April 2014

Caveat Vendor - why barristers should not be forced to settle for less.

This is my response to the Bar Standards Board's consultation proposing to make it a disciplinary offence for barristers to refuse to work for less money than they have contractually agreed. Q.1: Have we adequately identified the risks to clients, the administration of justice, third parties and the wider public interest where a barrister withdraws from a case? Are there any additional impacts or any unintended consequences arising from this guidance? The administration of justice is served by cases being presented by proper advocates properly remunerated. It is a basic marker of civilisation that where the individual is unable to fund his or her own representation that the state should step in to fill the gap. The Bar Standards Board serves justice by ensuring that quality representation is available to all regardless of means. To that end it should be campaigning for the proper remuneration of barristers. Q.2: Are the additional considerations included in gC87 .1 - .7 adequate to assist a barrister in deciding whether or not they would be justified in withdrawing? A barrister, like any worker in any sphere of endeavour, should be entitled without any sanction to withdraw his services in circumstances the price agreed for his work is unilaterally reduced without agreement. No employee of the Bar Standards Board would continue to work in such circumstances. Q.3: Do you consider it proportionate to remove the automatic assumption in guidance that instructions are withdrawn if there is a fundamental change in remuneration? Does the revised guidance achieve the right balance between the interests of the barrister and of clients, witnesses and the interests of justice? If not what safeguards would you propose to protect the wider public interest? No and no. Q.4: Are there any further matters the BSB should take into account that are relevant to this guidance? The BSB does not explain in this document how it proposes to safeguard standards at the Bar if barristers are unable to make a proper living performing the essential work they do in administering the justice system.

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