Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Reform of the Bar is in the public interest

Many practising lawyers will be relieved that the Office of Fair Trading has at last intervened in the self-promulgated charging structures operated by barristers.

For far too long this profession has increased its fee income, especially at the senior level, year after year. The result is an incredible legal aid bill draining from the public purse at rates higher in some cases than those obtaining in London regarded as some of the highest in the world.

This situation emanates from what is effectively a self-regulating monopoly in the High Court and Crown Court. Fee increases have been supported by the Supreme Court Bench - the ultimate appeal on legal charges.

What is required is an assessment Board independent of Bar and Bench. It is no answer that a board will not understand the basis of charge. After all the judiciary already fixes solicitors' fees in the High Court despite the fact that none has ever had experience of operating a solicitor's practice.

The Bar requires reform. It is remote from civic and business community reality. They present their fee account to solicitors who share the responsibility of collecting them. They have no experience of the disbelief expressed by the client on receiving that bill. It has now reached a stage where litigation, especially in the High Court is too expensive for many to contemplate.

For a century and more the Bar resisted the appointment of solicitors to judicial posts. It was not until the Lord Chancellor Mackay forced the issue that solicitor appointments have been made to the County Court Bench with excellent results.

The Bar and Supreme Court continue to resist the appointment of solicitors to the High Court Bench.

It is in the public interest that an independent radical reform of the Bar and its restrictive practices be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

A SOLICITOR

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