When you think of a court room what springs to mind first? A stern-looking judge maybe? Possibly a jury? Or even lots of polished wooden seating areas.
A lot of us would also think of barristers. We might picture someone dressed in long black court robes and wearing a curly wig, speaking to the courtroom and arguing for or against the issue at hand.
These days though representing someone in court is just one aspect of a barrister’s work. Once someone has qualified and been ‘called to the Bar’, they then have to do additional training to be entitled to appear and argue on someone’s behalf in a court.
What do barristers do?
There are over 15,000 barristers practising law in England and Wales. Many of these give specialist advice to represent people in their legal disputes, including during court appearances. This is known as ‘contentious work’.
Some barristers also provide services that are called ‘non-contentious’. This means things like drafting legal documents, or giving specialist advice on a particular area of law.
Sometimes barristers are instructed by solicitors and other lawyers to represent someone in court. These days though members of the public can also approach many barristers directly to get their help without needing to go through another lawyer first. This is known as Public Access.
Many barristers are self-employed but belong to organisations called chambers, which are offices that solicitors and other people go to with details of the case they are working on which need support from a barrister. The chambers will then make sure that one of their barristers starts working on the case.
Who regulates barristers?
The Bar Standards Board is also known as the BSB.
The BSB is responsible for regulating barristers, meaning that it sets the standards of behaviour expected from barristers, and can take action where it needs to if those standards aren’t being met.
Once they have been called to the bar all barristers have to follow the BSB's Handbook. This is the case regardless of where they work, or the area of law that they specialise in.
How are you protected if you use a barrister?
The Code of Conduct in the BSB Handbook sets down how barristers are expected to behave towards you.
If you are the client of a solicitor but they have appointed a barrister to work on your case, the barrister still has to behave in the right way towards you.
All self-employed barristers must have professional indemnity insurance.
What do I do if something goes wrong with my barrister?
If you are the client of a barrister and feel unhappy with the way things are going with your barrister don’t be afraid to speak up about it.
If you are instructing the barrister directly then you should email them or call to say exactly what you’re not happy with. If they are part of a chambers, you can contact the barrister through their address.
If your solicitor or another lawyer has arranged for the barrister to work on your case you may want to contact the solicitor as well as the barrister to try and get things sorted out.
If this doesn’t work and you’re still not happy with the barrister you have the right to make a formal complaint to the barrister. This gives them a chance to put things right for you if possible. You might prefer to do this in writing to the barrister, but however you contact them make it clear that you are making a formal complaint to them.
If you need a hand preparing your letter, take a look at the Legal Ombudsman’s example complaint letter. If things still aren’t resolved to your satisfaction after this you might want to get in touch with the Legal Ombudsman.
What about problems I have with someone else's barrister?
Like all lawyers barristers are professionals who are there to act in the best interests of the client that they are working for. If you appear in court and someone else’s barrister asks you questions in a way that you feel is unfair, this may just be the barrister doing their job.
However if you do feel that someone else’s barrister has not behaved in a professional way you may want to send a report to the BSB. You can find out more about the BSB’s complaints process on their site.
How can I tell if a barrister is genuine?
If you are using a lawyer like a solicitor or a legal executive and they recommend your case will need to involve a barrister, it is likely that they will recommend one to use.
If you want to talk directly to a barrister without going through another lawyer you may find that they are working with other barristers as part of a Chambers. When you meet the barrister, email them or speak to them over the phone, don’t be afraid to ask who they are regulated by. They should tell you that they are regulated by the Bar Standards Board.
If you’re still not sure you can search for their details on the Bar Standards Board’s Barristers’ Register or contact the Bar Council to check that the barrister is who they say they are. The Bar Council is the representative body for barristers in England and Wales, whereas the BSB is the regulator.
How should I pay for a barrister?
You can find information about paying for your legal services on our Legal Costs page.
Where can I find a barrister?
If you’re the client of a solicitor and they recommend appointing a barrister to handle some parts of your case, they will usually suggest one for you.
If you are interested in finding a barrister yourself you may want to search online - some useful websites include: