22 September 2019

What can I expect from a barrister?


There are rules and regulations that barristers have to follow to make sure they are doing their job correctly and giving you the best service possible. This section will give you information on what you can expect a barrister to do for you and how you can expect them to act.

What rules must a barrister follow?

What are the duties and obligations of a barrister?

How do I know I have the right barrister for my case?

What obligations do barristers have towards vulnerable clients?

What can you expect your barrister to do?

Can a barrister stop acting for me once they have accepted my instructions?


What rules must a barrister follow?

The rules about how barristers must behave and work are contained in the BSB Handbook. They cover a wide range of things including the Core Duties of barristers (the most important things they should do), how they should conduct themselves, what they are allowed to do in the course of their work, how they qualify to become a barrister and how they will be disciplined if they break the rules.

There is also guidance in the BSB Handbook that is published to help barristers and the public understand it. Some of this might be useful for you, including the guidance on public access for members of the public (lay clients). The guidance can be found on our website.


What are the duties and obligations of a barrister?

Barristers have ten Core Duties that they are required to follow at all times. These are contained in the BSB Handbook. They are:

1.   To observe their duty to the court in the administration of justice

This is an important duty of a barrister and it can override the others. It means that a barrister must not mislead or lie to the court, must not abuse their role, must not waste the court's time and must try to make sure that the court has all the relevant information it needs. A barrister's duty to the court does not require them to breach the duty of confidentiality that they have to their client (see Core Duty 6 below).  

2.   To act in the best interests of each client

A barrister that is working for you must always be thinking about what is best for you and do his or her job in a way that reflects that. This does not mean that a barrister can lie on your behalf, or that they must do everything you tell them. Their duty to the court comes above even their duty to you as their client and barristers must act with independence, honesty and integrity. This means, for example, that they cannot do anything for you that would go against their duty to the court.

3.   To act with honesty, and with integrity

The duty to act with honesty and integrity includes not misleading or lying to anyone, not encouraging other people to mislead or be untruthful, not paying witnesses for their help, and only accepting money and fees that they are legally allowed to.

4.   To maintain their independence

To make sure barristers maintain their independence, they are not allowed to offer, promise or give gifts or referral fees to any client, or to accept any money from a client unless it is as payment for their professional work. They cannot work for you if there is, or they think there might be, a conflict of interest for them in doing so.

5.   Not to behave in a way that is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in them or the barrister profession

Things that would be likely to diminish trust and confidence in the profession could include committing a crime, being dishonest, harassing others, offensive conduct towards other people, or abuse of their position as a barrister.

6.   To keep the affairs of each client confidential

This means that barristers are not allowed to talk to other people about what you tell them without your consent.

7.   To provide a competent standard of work and service to each client

A competent standard of work and service includes promoting a client's best interests, treating clients with courtesy and consideration, advising a client in terms that they can understand, avoiding unnecessary costs for a client, and reading a client's instructions promptly.

8.   Not to discriminate unlawfully against any person

Barristers must not treat anyone differently because of their race, colour, ethnicity or nationality, citizenship, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, relationship status, disability, age, religion, belief or pregnancy/maternity.

9.   To be open and cooperative with regulators

This means that barristers have to do what is asked of them by us or the Legal Ombudsman and provide us with information we need about them.

10. To take reasonable steps to manage their practice, or carry out their role within their practice, competently and in such a way as to achieve compliance with their legal and regulatory obligations

This means that a barrister must run their practice in a way that follows the rules in the BSB Handbook.

If a barrister breaches any of these duties they can be disciplined by us for professional misconduct. If you think a barrister working for you has breached any of these duties, please see the"What happens if something goes wrong?"section for more information on the steps you can take.


How do I know I have the right barrister for my case?

Having the right barrister is not just about making sure they work in the right area of law. A good barrister will speak to you in a way you can understand, and will make you feel that you can trust them. They will treat you with respect and courtesy, regardless of your background or circumstances. They will provide you with advice that is clear and accurate, and keep you informed as your case progresses. If you have a disability they must make "reasonable adjustments" for you. This means doing what they can to make sure you are not disadvantaged because of your disability.


What obligations do barristers have towards vulnerable clients?

The BSB Handbook includes a requirement for barristers to take special care to meet the needs of vulnerable clients.

There are many things that could make a client vulnerable, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Low income
  • Immigration/asylum status

Having one or more of these characteristics will not necessarily make you vulnerable, but barristers should be taking all of these into consideration to make sure they are giving you the best service they can.

The BSB Handbook also offers guidance to barristers on how to act in the best interests of each client, provide a competent standard of work and maintain confidentiality. This guidance reminds barristers that they should remember their clients may not be familiar with legal proceedings, and may find them difficult and stressful. Barristers should do what they reasonably can to ensure that you understand the process and what to expect from it and them. Barristers should also try to avoid any unnecessary distress for you. This is particularly important where their clients are vulnerable.


What can you expect your barrister to do?

Once it is agreed that you will be instructing a barrister, they must provide a "client care letter". If you are using a solicitor, the barrister will send the letter to them, but if you are using a public access barrister they will send the letter directly to you. This letter should set out what work they are going to do for you, when it will be done by, how you will be charged for the work, and how you can complain if you are unhappy with the service they provide. This letter could be written by the barrister themselves or by one of the clerks at their chambers. If you instruct the same barrister for some new or different work, they must send you another letter with information about that work.

An example of what a public access "client care letter" should look like, and the information it should have in it can be found on our website.



A barrister's clerk works in their chambers. He or she deals with the administration and organises the workload of the barristers working at the chambers.

Can a barrister stop acting for me once they have accepted my instructions?


Yes, in some circumstances a barrister may stop acting for you. If any of the situations described in the section "When might a barrister refuse instructions?" above arises after the barrister has accepted your instructions, they can then stop acting for you - this is called returning instructions. They can also return instructions if:

  • you have legal aid and they find out you obtained this by lying;
  • the barrister is required to tell the court something and you, as the client, will not allow it;
  • the barrister's conduct is called into question;
  • the court date is made for a day the barrister cannot attend;
  • illness, injury, pregnancy, childbirth or bereavement means that the barrister cannot do what is required;
  • you do not pay the barrister when you have agreed to, and they have warned you that if you do not pay they will stop working for you;
  • you, as the client, agree.


If a barrister is thinking about returning your instructions, they must try to ensure that you are not disadvantaged because you do not have time to find another barrister.