The public access scheme allows members of the public to instruct a barrister directly. In the past it was necessary for clients to use a solicitor or other third party in order to instruct a barrister.
The main advantage of the public access scheme is that it could potentially save you money, since you would be paying for a barrister only instead of a barrister and a solicitor. However, although the barrister would be able to deal with many aspects of the case, you may have to assist in some areas, including filing documents with the court, unless the barrister is also authorised to conduct litigation on your behalf. This is explained in more detail below but can be, in some cases, a relatively complex and technical process. In some cases, the barrister may recommend that you instruct a solicitor because of the complexity of the case or because you may need more assistance than the barrister alone can provide.
Public access is available for all types of work that barristers can do, except for work that is funded by legal aid. It is worth considering if it would be better to have a solicitor to assist with your case in the first instance. Some cases may not be suitable for public access because of their emotional nature, because they are particularly complex or because the type of work that needs to be done in order to prepare the case would be difficult for you and may not be able to be done by a barrister. If you are not sure whether your case would be suitable for public access, you should contact an appropriate barrister or their clerk and seek an initial view. If the barrister considers that your case would benefit from the involvement of a solicitor, they will tell you so.You may need to be able to deal with certain administrative tasks in order to help your case along, without the help of another legal professional. For example you may need to be able to gather together the papers and the evidence in support of your case that the barrister will need in order to do the work that you ask them to do. You may also need to file documents at court (that is submit documents such as expert reports, case summaries or witness statements depending on the nature of the case) and correspond with the court and other parties (although the barrister will be able to draft letters and other legal documents on your behalf). If you are not sure if you will be able to assist with the various administrative tasks for whatever reason, it is worth considering if it would be better to have a solicitor assist you with your case.
Should your case involve litigation, you should establish whether your barrister is authorised to conduct litigation on your behalf (unlike solicitors, not all barristers are able to conduct litigation). If the barrister cannot do this for you, you will be a “litigant in person” and will be treated by the court and the other side for most purposes as though you were acting without any legal assistance. (Litigation is when a legal case is taken to and through a court or tribunal.) If your case goes to court you will be the person whose name appears in the court’s records, and all documents from the other parties and the court will be sent directly to you. However, you can sometimes ask or arrange for the court or tribunal and the other parties to copy documents to a third party other than your barrister. If your barrister has been authorised to conduct litigation then they will be able to undertake these tasks for you.
In considering whether your case is suitable for public access, the barrister is likely to take into account the nature and complexity of the case and (if the barrister cannot undertake litigation for you) your ability to deal with those aspects of it which would normally be taken care of by a solicitor. In making a decision the barrister will be guided by the requirements set out in the BSB Handbook. If they decide that your case is not suitable for public access, the rules require them to decline your instructions. If you wish, they may recommend a suitable solicitor for you to instruct.
It is also open to a barrister to accept instructions to read the papers and advise whether or not they are able to perform the work which you wish them to do. If your instructions are accepted for these limited purposes, it is important that you are both clear as to whether a charge is to be made. If preliminary work is to be carried out and a charge made for that work, you will be sent a client care letter. Copies of these letters are available on our website.