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Law guide

Complaints against barristers

Contents

Introduction

If you wish to make a complaint about a barrister, you can send a complaint letter either directly to the barrister, or to the person responsible for handling complaints within their chambers or the organisation through which they practice. You may want to make a complaint about poor service, professional misconduct and/or negligence. All of these terms have specific definitions which are described below under the heading 'Complaints'. Read through these definitions to make sure that you are complaining on the appropriate grounds.

You can complain by sending a letter. After sending this letter, should you fail to receive a satisfactory response within 8 weeks, then you may wish to escalate your complaint. See below under 'Next steps' for more information on this process.

Locating a barrister

If you wish to send your letter of complaint to your barrister's head of chambers or the complaints handler within the organisation through which the barrister practises, you will need to obtain the name of that person and the relevant address to which you should send your letter. When in doubt, refer to any correspondence that you have received from your barrister or contact the Bar Council.

See also the Bar Council website's barrister search facility.

Types of Complaint

Poor service

Poor service (inadequate professional service) is a broad concept that is likely to cover complaints that arise where a barrister has:

  • Not done what you instructed them to do
  • Caused unreasonable delays
  • Given you inaccurate or incomplete information
  • Failed to reply to your correspondence or phone calls
  • Failed to keep you updated on your case
Managed your case unprofessionally

  • Failed to give you enough information about his or her charges before they start your case or give you a final bill
  • Presented you with an excessive bill
If your complaint is about your barrister's bill, your barrister should treat this as the same as any other complaint about his professional service. You might want to request your barrister to provide you with a detailed breakdown of his/her bill, so that you may understand how the costs were incurred.

In England and Wales, if you are unhappy about your barrister's response to your complaint of inadequate professional service, you may escalate your complaint by referring it to the Legal Ombudsman.

Please note that the above is not an exhaustive list and is for illustration only. If you have any questions in relation to poor service then you may also contact the Legal Ombudsman (see below).

Negligence

Negligence is when your barrister acted for you in such a way that you suffered financial or other loss, which would not have happened had he/she instead taken the reasonable care that a barrister should reasonably have done. If you are unhappy about your barrister's response to your complaint of negligence, you have two options for escalating your complaint:

1. Seek compensation for the loss you suffered due to your barrister's negligence, by approaching the court. This you would do by suing your barrister. However, in determining how much compensation to award, the court would only consider the financial loss you suffered as a result of the negligence of your barrister. The court would not take into account the distress and inconvenience that you suffered.

2. In England and Wales, you can seek compensation by complaining to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). Any negligence of a barrister should also amount to inadequate professional service. In assessing what compensation award to make, the LeO would consider two categories of loss. These are the financial loss and the distress and inconvenience you suffered as a result of the barrister's negligence. The LeO may also take any aggravating circumstances into consideration when determining the level of compensation. Although there is no punitive award, the award would be higher if the negligence resulted in inadequate professional service persisting over an extended period.

The maximum amount (for both financial loss and distress and inconvenience) which the LeO may award is £30,000 (although most complaints involve much smaller amounts). However, it may also disallow all or part of the barrister's bill (or require corrective action to be taken).

Professional misconduct

All barristers must act in accordance with their professional code of conduct. If your barrister acts contrary to this code, then they may have committed professional misconduct. For example, if your barrister commits one of the following acts, then they will generally be guilty of professional misconduct:

  • Acting dishonestly or in a way that is damaging to the profession
  • Acting for a client whose interests clash with yours
  • Releasing confidential information about you (without permission)
  • Discriminating against you because of your race, religion, sex, sexuality, disability or age
  • Misleading the court

For more information about the code of conduct and professional misconduct, see the Bar Standards Board Code of Conduct

The LeO will not deal with a complaint relating to a barrister's professional misconduct, but will refer this to the Bar Standards Board (BSB). However the LeO will in some cases, while considering whether to refer your complaint of professional misconduct to the BSB, also consider whether the barrister gave you poor service.

Compensation

When setting out the nature of your complaint to your barrister, you must also ensure that you indicate what the barrister can do to resolve your complaint. In setting out how exactly you would like to resolve your complaint, please consider the following remedies (not an exhaustive list):

  • A total refund or reduction of your bill, or a reasonable amount of financial compensation
  • A written apology
  • The removal of your barrister from the case
  • Corrective action be taken in relation to your matter

Please note that there are no limitations upon the type of remedy or the amount of compensation that you may request in an initial letter of complaint. However, should your complaint proceed to the LeO, the the type of remedy that you are entitled to will be restricted.

Next steps

Legal Ombudsman - LeO (England & Wales)

Please note that the LeO may only deal with complaints relating to legal service providers situated in England and Wales.

Before taking further action, you are advised to give your barrister 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. If you do not hear from your barrister (or the person nominated to manage your complaint), or you are not satisfied with his or her final response, then you may consider taking further action.

The action that you take will depend upon the nature of your complaint and you are therefore advised to contact the LeO for further guidance. Alternatively you can set out your complaint in a letter.

The LeO will either deal with your complaint themselves, or refer it to the BSB (who deal with allegations of professional misconduct), or may advise you to obtain legal advice so that you can consider court action.

The LeO will not deal with your complaint unless you have first complained to your barrister and have given them at least 8 weeks to resolve your complaint. Once the 8 weeks have passed, the LeO will deal with your complaint if your barrister has not resolved your complaint to your satisfaction.

It is important to note that time limits will apply to your complaint. Where your complaint, or elements of it, relate to poor service or negligence, you must contact the LeO within six months of your last contact with your barrister. However, overall, you should complain to the LeO within 12 months of becoming aware of the issues that have given rise to your complaint. If your complaint, or elements of it, relate to professional conduct, you must contact the LeO within six months of the conduct having taken place as they will refer this to the BSB.

If you are concerned about such time limits, then contact the Legal Ombudsman.

Once the LeO has made its decision it has the power to:

  • Request the barrister to apologise to you
  • Ask the barrister to return your documents to you
  • Instruct the barrister to rectify his/her work by doing more work (if doing so would resolve the complaint)
  • Require the barrister to reduce his/her legal fees
  • Require the barrister to pay you compensation for any financial loss or bad treatment, up to a maximum of £30,000

The Bar Standards Board

For more information about complaints relating to barristers, contact the Bar Standards Board