The Bar Representation Fee (BRF) and the Bar
If a member of the Bar has a complaint about something that the Bar Council has done, it very often ends up on my desk, as I am the Commercial Director of the Bar Council. I always try to investigate the issue to see if I can solve it. I very often speak to the complainant and I am always interested to know whether that person pays the BRF or not. Having been in post now for over a year, I have a large amount of anecdotal evidence about why members of the Bar do or do not pay the BRF, some of which I want to share with you in Bar Talk this week.
Why do you pay the BRF?
Interestingly, the answers here vary a lot. I recently spoke to a barrister who had an issue with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and who pays the BRF because that's the only way to engage with the International programme we run. Another had a problem with Counsel magazine not being delivered, but the reason she pays the BRF is in fact to access the Direct Access Portal.
Two barristers who had issues with BARCO told me they pay the BRF because of all the lobbying work the Bar Council does on their behalf. A young pupil barrister told me that she pays the BRF because her chambers told her to, but it gave me a chance to explain what the BRF is.
One user of our Migrant Scheme told me he pays the BRF because "of course a barrister needs to pay the representational fee (who else will represent him?)." And the one that I found most sobering was a barrister who is on the lowest Practising Certificate Fee (PCF) earnings band, who called us because there had been an issue with her BRF direct debit which prevented her from paying the £8.34 a month. It echoed with the recent feedback I saw on Twitter about how little some barristers are earning, and how difficult life is for them, especially criminal barristers. So when I hesitantly asked her why she pays the BRF, she told me "because life is very difficult now, and it would be even harder if the Bar Council did not have funds to do the work."
Why do you not pay the BRF?
When I joined the Bar Council some 14 months ago, from a Royal Medical College, people told me I'd find the barristers a bit surprising - a bit precise, argumentative and sometimes tetchy. I don't find barristers like that at all. Whenever I handle their serious complaints they are very reasonable and keen to resolve the issue. When I have asked those barristers why they do not pay the BRF, the answers are equally varied, but also very sensible.
One barrister told me they didn't pay "because I don't need Counsel magazine" (he associated the BRF with the monthly magazine). Another told me that she pays a lot for her practising certificate and that she would never voluntarily pay a subscription, though she did say she would pay without complaint if it was mandatory.
Another barrister told me the Bar Council is not managed properly, referring to the increase in the PCF to cover the pension deficit. Although she did tell us that she felt it is improving. One barrister told me that he doesn't like to receive BMW adverts. He was surprised when I explained about the business partnership programme, which means that the Bar Council receives payment which in turn means that the levels of the PCF can be kept lower than they otherwise would be.
I was also told by another caller that he simply doesn't believe in our work. This last example is similar to some of the reasons I read on Twitter; criticism from some individuals saying we don't do a good job. But when I asked him what he thinks we do, all he said was that we regulate the Bar (clearly confusing us with the Bar Standards Board). Yet, the reason that sticks in my mind is the one that said that he will pay if we become a trade union, so that we are true to the Bar.
What should you do?
It is up to you. If you pay the BRF because you support our broader policy, lobbying, ethics, wellbeing, GDPR, anti-money-laundering, international, remuneration issues, profession-wide work, then thank you. If you pay the BRF to enjoy the benefits that specifically help you with your personal life or professional practice, then thank you as well.
The point is that regardless of why you pay, we are thankful that you engage with us and support us because it is possible that life for barristers would be harder if the Bar Council did not have the funds to do this vital work.
If you do not pay the BRF, and you want discuss it, not to be convinced to subscribe, but to help us understand your reasons why with a view to addressing them, then do send me an email (IDiVanna@BarCouncil.org.uk). I am always happy to talk so the Bar Council remains relevant and grows in strength for the years to come.
Isabel DiVanna, Commercial Director at the Bar Council