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What is a barrister?

A barrister is a specialist legal adviser who is trained and specialises in advocacy in court (speaking on their client´s behalf). Barristers also offer legal advice, draft documents and may negotiate on behalf of their client.

While solicitors also speak on behalf of clients, they carry out other functions, such as handling paperwork, correspondence and other aspects of case management.

Sometimes, solicitors will represent their clients in early directions hearings, and then instruct a barrister to represent their client at a contested, final or finding of fact hearing. This may be appropriate where more specialist representation is needed due to a case´s complexity. It may be that both solicitor and barrister attend court with you, although in such circumstances, you should consider whether the benefits of having both solicitor and barrister in attendance outweigh the cost.

There also exists the possibility of instructing a barrister yourself, if you decide to represent yourself in court (rather than using a solicitor) but feel a barrister's assistance at a contested hearing would help you (and you can afford this).

What is a Queen´s Counsel

A Queen's Counsel (commonly referred to as a QC) is a senior barrister who has been awarded ´silk´ for outstanding ability.

Instructing a barrister

If you are using a solicitor, you should discuss with them the merits of involving a barrister in presenting your case to the court. Your solicitor will know and be able to recommend barristers with the right expertise.

Since April 2004, rules related to members of the public instructing a barrister directly have been relaxed. Members of the public can now instruct a barrister themselves under the Public Access Scheme - "Bar Direct".

Limits to instructing a barrister yourself

The restrictions shown below related to self-employed/independent barristers. Most barristers are self‐employed, however some work for larger firms of solicitors.

Why might someone directly instruct a barrister?

They may feel confident in handling the day-to-day case administration themselves and wish to save the cost of the solicitor. Case complexity or nerves in court may make them wish to have an expert advocate speak on their behalf.

Pre-hearing meetings

A barrister may feel able to understand the case simply by looking at the paperwork. Set out the facts clearly, and provide information in a concise format. However, you and/or they may feel that a face to face conference is beneficial, whether or not the instruction was via a solicitor or made directly.

Barristers withdrawing from proceedings

There are a variety of reasons why a barrister may need to withdraw from a case. It may be that they have conflicting cases booked for the same day. They may be ill. They may discover a conflict of interest which prevents them from representing you. It may become apparent to the barrister that their client is not capable of managing the day-to-day administration of their case and a solicitor would better serve their needs in the interests of justice. In such circumstances, the barrister should:

How do I find a barrister?

If you are using a solicitor, you should make use of their knowledge and ask their recommendation. If you are representing yourself, you should speak to others who have separated and used the courts and seek out their recommendation.

You can find barristers who accept direct instructions on the Public Access Directory. Click on the button below to be taken to the directory.

Public Access Directory

If you decide to use a barrister and self-instruct, you should contact one at the earliest opportunity as their diaries can be booked far in advance.

What if I cannot afford a barrister?

Some barristers charge no fee in cases where legal aid is not available AND where cases are deserving and considered of public importance. Where a barrister decides to charge no fee, this is called ´pro bono´ work.

Pro Bono work is co-ordinated by ´The Bar Pro Bono Unit´. A button linked to their website is provided below which provides further information:

Bar Pro Bono Unit


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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.

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