New regulatory plans geared towards improving price transparency among Barristers have been heavily criticised by the Bar Council.
The organisation has voiced concerns that the proposals, which would force Barristers to make details regarding prices and internal complaints records public, could have adverse effects on the sector.
In fact, the group has said that the plans are likely to inadvertently decrease price transparency, as opposed to improve it.
In its official response to the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) consultation into the proposed changes, the Bar Council said that Chambers would likely be tempted to publish “aspirational rather than representative” rates in order to combat solicitors and other legal professionals demanding to be charged the lowest rate.
The Bar Council argued that all market participants “except the inexperienced consumer” were fully aware that “notional” rates were subject to such discounts.
It said: “The net effect [of the proposals] might be equivalent to requiring hotels to publish their supposed ‘room rates’ in the reception area: anyone save the most naïve would be aware that that published rate did not represent the price actually payable.”
The Bar Council also hit out at the BSB’s efforts to consult on whether the roles of the Inns of Courts “remain appropriate” in terms of future Barrister training.
It said that the “values” of the Bar must be upheld, and stressed that the Inns of Court “‘play a fundamental role in nurturing and developing the shared culture of the Bar.”
As a result of this, it said that the role of the Inns of Court should remain mandatory going forward.
Following recent news that price transparency reforms would also apply to Barristers undertaking referral work, immigration, crime and family law work in instances where clients are entitled to issue complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, the Bar Council said that the BSB had overlooked the fact that Barristers’ services in these areas were “qualitatively different,” often on a case-by-case basis.
Its consultation response said: “We do not believe an evidential case has been made out that the way in which Barristers currently provide information on pricing impedes consumer choice or competition.”
It added: “We believe that it would be difficult to publish information about the outcome of complaints in a manner that would be useful to prospective clients.”
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