Barristers offer free help under new scheme

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:00am

Free legal advice from barristers is to be made more readily available in moves expected to be announced by the Bar Association chairman at today's opening of the new legal year.

The new scheme, with its own administrative staff and a high-powered advisory board, is aimed at putting help offered by barristers on a more formal footing.

It is believed Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC, the association's chairman, will announce the plans in his speech at the legal year ceremony today.

Bar Council member Philip Dykes SC, one of the architects of the scheme, said: 'We will provide advice and we will provide representation. To date, it has all been done on an ad hoc basis. The idea is to formalise the whole thing.' Cases would generally only be taken on under the scheme after all other avenues for obtaining legal aid had been exhausted, said Mr Dykes. Litigants would also be given help to apply for legal aid.

'We are not running as an alternative or parallel service to legal aid,' he said.

Other cases where barristers could help involved tribunal hearings and court cases where legal aid could not be granted.

'In terms of court cases, we will act as a safety net. Occasionally we have had court cases referred to us,' said Mr Dykes.

The plan is to conduct a fund-raising exercise, mainly among barristers, and also to secure charitable status for the scheme.

Mr Dykes said application forms for members of the public would be printed up to ensure that they applied on the correct basis.

Applications would be vetted and would then go to a board of about eight barristers for consideration.

Successful applicants would be assigned an appropriate barrister selected from a rota of those who volunteered their services.

Mr Dykes said it was also intended to establish an advisory body, likely to include senior judges, which would provide general guidance but not deal with individual cases.

The association usually receives about 50 applications a year.

Controversy broke out recently over the refusal of the Legal Aid Department to grant public funding in certain cases.

In September, Mr Justice William Stone expressed surprise that the Legal Aid Department had refused to help a woman fighting an immigration battle.

She was later represented by a barrister provided free by the Bar Association.