28 January 2013

Changes to Public Access Training Announced

Public access barrister training is to be overhauled under proposals announced by the Bar Standards Board today.

The proposed changes will enhance course content and introduce an element of formal assessment to make sure that barristers have the knowledge and skills required to undertake public access work. In addition, public access barristers with less than three year's practising experience will need to keep a log of cases as an aid to their learning and to assist the BSB in monitoring risks to the public. Those who have already taken the training will either have to do a top up course or apply for a waiver within 24 months of the new training being made available.

The training was reviewed in the light of a proposed rule change to widen the public access scheme to include clients who might be entitled to legal aid and to allow barristers of less than three year's standing to do public access work.

Moreover, a survey of barristers who had done the existing training revealed they would have liked more information on how to identify when it would be in the interests of more vulnerable clients to instruct via a solicitor.

Bar Standards Board Vice Chair Patricia Robertson QC said; "Widening the public access scheme gives clients more choice but we needed to assess whether the changes created any risk. Our review and survey showed that many public access barristers needed more advice on how to support vulnerable clients and the new training will meet that need.

"It's also important to monitor the effect of allowing junior barristers to take public access work. Ensuring they are required to keep a log of cases will mean we can monitor whether there are any increased risks and bolstering the training will better prepare them.

"However, allowing two years for experienced barristers to either top up their training or get a waiver, if they have relevant knowledge, skills and experience, recognises that not everyone needs to refresh their skills in this area."

An application to the Legal Services Board to incorporate these changes into Code of Conduct will be made this month. The proposed amendments to the Public Access Rules set out in Annex F2 of the Code of Conduct include:

  • Those who have already undertaken initial training must undertake additional training required by the Bar Standards Board within 24 months or cease to undertake public access work.
  • A barrister with less than three year's practising experience who has completed the necessary training and assessments must:

(i) Maintain a log of public access cases they have dealt with, including any issues or problems which have arisen;

(ii) seek feedback from their public access clients on the service provided; and    

(iii) make this log available, on request, to the BSB for review.

 Once the LSB confirms approval of the rule change, the BSB will meet with existing and potential education providers to discuss the introduction of the new course.