Public Access FAQs
Some of the most common questions in relation to public/direct access are answered below.
What's the difference between a lawyer, a solicitor and a barrister ?
In the UK a lawyer is someone that practices law, in other words, a solicitor or barrister.
Although the specialisms of training still differ between the professions, many of the distinctions that existed between a solicitor and barrister have narrowed over the last few years.
Traditionally solicitors did more case preparation work but did not appear as advocates in the higher courts such as the Crown Court, the High Court or Court of Appeal. Also members of the public (or "Lay" clients in the legal jargon) were not allowed to approach a barrister directly, without first instructing a solicitor. In many ways this was similar to the relationship between a medical General Practitioner, with a broad knowledge base, and a specialist consultant.
Barristers would often advise on the type of preparation that was needed but mostly appeared in court, at all levels, presenting the clients' arguments as an advocate.
Some solicitors are now able to appear in the higher courts and can wear the historic barristers' symbol, the horse-hair wig.
Alternatively, non-lawyers can now instruct a barrister without previously employing a solicitor. This is known as the Public/Direct Access arrangement.
What are the advantages of direct public access?
Access to high quality advice and a specialist lawyer for less cost. Don't pay for a lawyer to deal with paperwork unless you need it. Choose when you require representation - at every hearing or just the final hearing. Get an agreed fee for any work in advance.
What are the disadvantages?
If you have been arrested for a criminal offence a barrister cannot attend at the police station to help you before interview. Barristers' chambers do not operate a 24 hour emergency help-line.
You may need to do more of the case preparation and administration yourself. Barristers are frequently in court - often for the whole day - and are generally less available than a solicitor.
Barristers cannot issue proceedings for you and cannot hold money on account.
Can I instruct a public access barrister in family or criminal cases?
Yes. Direct public access will be suitable in many family and criminal cases. We will always initially assess whether it would be right for you in all the circumstances. If a public access lawyer is not the best way forward we'll explain why.
I'm entitled to Legal Aid - does it mean I can't have a barrister?
Only a solicitor with a legal aid franchise can apply on your behalf for legal aid.
Once granted, however, you will still often have the right to use a solicitor to help prepare your case and a barrister to represent you at court. You also retain the right to choose which barrister you want to use. Ask your lawyer to contact your chosen barrister on your behalf.
I have to make a large legal aid contribution every month. Can I pay privately instead?
Yes, in some cases it will actually be cheaper to agree a fixed fee with a barrister than pay large contributions for a number of months. We can calculate whether the agreed fee is likely to be less than your total contributions.
I've been refused legal aid. What are my options?
There are a number of options if you are required to pay for a lawyer in your case :
You can represent yourself in court - although they may be some restrictions in relation to the witnesses you are allowed to cross-examine (or question).
You can instruct just a solicitor to represent you.
You can instruct just a barrister if the case is suitable for public access.
You could instruct a solicitor and a barrister.
There are advantages and disadvantages with each option, most obviously in relation to the level of service you receive and the potential cost.
Will it always cost more to instruct a barrister than a solicitor?
Not at all. In many cases it will actually be cheaper. Barristers specialise in court advocacy and for that reason the business model is leaner because there is less administration.
How do I choose a public access barrister?
The Bar Council has a list of barristers that are registered to accept public access instructions. Many barristers will travel all over the England and Wales but the time & expense is likely to be reflected in any fee. Personal recommendation from friends can be useful. Most barristers will have a profile of their work available online.
What do I need to do if I want to instruct a public access barrister from Regent Chambers?
Call or email. We will send you a short questionaire to help us identify the issues in your case more quickly. If you already know which barrister you would like we will arrange for your chosen lawyer to contact you to assess your case.