The Bar Council in Parliament this week . . .

1 July 2016

This week in Parliament, the Chairman of the Bar gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee and Peers from across the political spectrum supported Bar Council calls to protect the client's right to legal privilege.

Lords support Bar Council call for client right to privilege

Government surveillance laws came under close scrutiny this week as Peers backed the Bar Council's position on legally privileged communications.

The Bar Council's joint briefing was frequently referenced in the Lords on Monday during the second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill. The importance of protecting the client's right to legal privilege was central to the contributions made by several Peers.

Echoing the Bar Council's position, Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Lester QC, said: "The Bill should forbid deliberately targeting legally privileged communications."

Crossbencher Lord Pannick QC, a practising barrister at Blackstone Chambers, said: "The difficulty is that to allow the authorities access to genuinely privileged information would inevitably mean that clients could no longer be guaranteed confidentiality by their lawyers. This would inevitably deter clients from speaking frankly to their lawyers and therefore undermine the rule of law."

The Investigatory Powers Bill will be heard in Grand Committee in the Lords on 11 July.

The Bar Council's briefing, produced jointly with the Law Society, the Faculty of Advocates, the Bar of Northern Ireland, the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, JUSTICE and Liberty, is available here.


"One size does not fit all" Chairman tells Justice Committee session on regulation

The Chairman of the Bar rejected the idea of a legal super-regulator this week, when she told members of the Justice Select Committee, "one size does not fit all".

Giving evidence to the committee's one-off evidence session on the regulation of legal services, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC emphasised that the Bar is a relatively low-risk branch of the profession given the ban on handling client money and on referral fees.

She said: "It is vital that any regulation is proportionate to the level of regulatory risk posed."

Quizzed on the role of paid McKenzie Friends, the Chairman said she recognised the role of those providing unpaid assistance to litigants, but reiterated the Bar Council's support for a ban on remuneration.

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said: "I have great difficulty with the concept of someone who is often insured, frequently unqualified and always unregulated effectively charging for the service."

The Chairman went on to warn that plans for an online court should not exclude lawyers completely.

Whilst expressing support for the Briggs proposals "in principle", the Chairman stressed the importance of early legal advice to ensure that clients know if they have a good claim or a defence, and that consideration is given to other options, such as mediation.

MPs pointed to survey results showing that of those who need it only 35% of people access legal advice from regulated professionals, and questioned if this indicated a market failure and that the Legal Services Act 2007 was not performing its function.

The Chairman said the problems of access to legal services must be seen in context of "some fairly radical cuts to legal aid" in the form of LASPO and increases in court and tribunal fees.

Asked for a verdict on the Legal Services Board (LSB), the Chairman said: "In very short terms, we take the view that it could do better."

Pointing to the LSB's research into the cab rank rule, and its work on equality and diversity, the Chairman said: "If I can put it bluntly it seems to us that from time to time it is unable to resist the temptation to go beyond what we think is either necessary or appropriate."

She added: "Obviously we recognise the importance of [equality and diversity], but would take the view that a representative body is better placed to promote best practice in relation to it."

A transcript of the session is available here.