Jargon-buster: Do you know your PCF from BRF, and your BSB from your Bar Council?

19 February 2016

Every year, throughout February and March, Bar Council members have to take part in the Authorisation to Practice process, which involves renewing your practising certificate, updating your professional information and paying your Practising Certificate Fee and Bar Representation Fee.
The difference between the BRF and the PCF, and what your fees go towards paying for are not always clear.
Here, we try and declutter all the jargon so you know what you are paying for.
Bar Representation Fee (BRF)
The representative body, the Bar Council, seeks financial support through the BRF, a voluntary contribution which funds essential work that cannot be funded through the PCF and which is entirely separate from the PCF. The BRF is £100 per year, and can be paid during the annual Authorisation to Practice process, or by Direct Debit at less than £8.40 a month. It helps to pay for vital Bar Council initiatives which are aimed at supporting the interests of its members, such as: 

  • The Bar Mentoring Services to help barristers develop at different stages of their careers

  • Lobbying and campaigning to government and the media on behalf of the profession on issues such as the criminal courts charge, legal professional privilege and increased court fees

  • Supporting the Young Bar through the Pupil's Helpline and online Young Bar Hub and Toolkit

  • International work: Strengthening the ties with overseas Bar associations and international legal bodies though trade missions and exchange programmes to promote the profession overseas, and

  • Providing assistance through the Ethical Enquiries Service for barristers, which, in 2015 alone responded to over 500 emails and took some 6,000 telephone enquiries.  

The BRF also gives Direct Access qualified barristers membership to the Direct Access Portal, an online public directory listing those barristers who can accept direct access instructions or offer mediation and arbitration services.
Paying the BRF also ensures personal benefits for members. These include:

  • 1 year free subscription to the monthly Counsel magazine (normally £96 per year)

  • Unlimited copies of the Certificates of Good Standing (otherwise £100 per Certificate), and

  • Discounts on Bar Council events, including the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference. 

Practising Certificate Fee (PCF)
All barristers, self-employed and employed, must pay this compulsory fee if they wish to practise. Around two-thirds of money raised from the PCF funds the Bar Standards Board in its role as the independent regulator of the Bar. The remainder supports work on 'permitted purposes', as defined under the Legal Services Act 2007, such as promoting the rule of law.
The Bar Council 

The Bar Council was founded in 1894 to represent the interests of barristers. Its role is to promote and improve the services and functions of the Bar, and to represent the interests of the Bar on all matters relating to the profession, whether trade union, disciplinary, public interest or in any way affecting the administration of justice.

The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
  • Fair access to justice for all
  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.  

The Bar Council elects a Chairman of the Bar each year and a Vice Chairman. The current Chairman is Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC and the Vice Chairman is Andrew Langdon QC. 
Bar Standards Board
The 'Approved Regulator' of the Bar is the Bar Council, but it is obliged by law to delegate its regulatory duties to an independent BSB. The BSB operates independently of the Bar Council, with its own Board and staff. The Chairman of the BSB is Sir Andrew Burns. The Board comprises lay and barrister members. 
The BSB regulates barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales in the public interest.
Barrister Connect
Barrister Connect is where barristers can complete the Authorisation to Practice process online. It's easy to use and allows barristers to complete the entire process in one go.
Bar Pro Bono Unit
The Bar Pro Bono Unit is the Bar's national charity that makes it possible for barristers to balance a dedicated practice with making a significant contribution to the community.  The Bar Pro Bono Unit match makes members of the public who need help with barristers who are willing to donate their time and expertise in deserving cases for those who are unable to obtain legal aid and cannot afford to pay.
Over 3600 barristers including a third of all QC's have committed to take on pro bono cases on behalf of the Unit's applicants. It does not seek any public funding and the source of its funding is almost entirely through the Bar.
Barristers can make a voluntary donation of £30 or more to the BPBU each year via the Authorisation to Practice process.