The most frequently asked questions about the profession are set out below and answers are provided in the subsequent paragraphs.
- What is the role of a barrister?
- What are the main duties of a barrister?
- What is the difference between a barrister and a solicitor?
- What is the cost of employing a barrister?
- What is a Senior and Junior counsel?
- Where do barristers practise?
- What is a circuit and what does it mean for a barrister to practice on circuit?
- What is the relationship between a barrister and a judge?
- How do I contact a barrister?
- When can I meet my barrister?
- How can a barrister act for a person when they know that the person is guilty of a criminal offence(s)?
- What is the role of the Bar Council?
- How can I make a complaint against a barrister?
- What is the King's Inns?
- How do I become a barrister?
What is the role of a barrister?
A barrister represents his or her client in court. The courts administer justice and make decisions that affect the legal rights of those appearing before them. Barristers are expert in presenting and arguing your case in court. They also provide you with independent legal advice whether about your case in court or almost any other legal issue.
Most people come before the courts only once or twice in their lives. A home, property, family, health or business venture may be under threat. The liberty of the person may be at risk. The life-events that bring people to the courts are usually significant. Individuals are frequently pitted against vastly better-resourced opponents such as a bank suing a customer or local residents suing a multinational company to stop an incinerator or the State prosecuting an individual for murder or some other crime. Barristers give all such people utterly independent and fearless representation in court.
As specialist legal advisers and courtroom advocates, barristers are trained to be independent and objective.
Barristers draft the pleadings for court, prepare legal submissions in writing and/or orally, ask the questions in court of the witnesses called on behalf of their client ("examination-in-chief") and cross-examines the witnesses of the other party ("cross-examination"). A good cross-examination helps the juryor judge to make their decisions.
A well-argued case can be influential in persuading the judge that your case is a good one. A barrister's training in advocacy and, above all, experience, can make a big difference to the outcome of a case.
Armed with specialist skills in court and in negotiation, a barrister is in a position to advise his or her client on the strengths and weaknesses of their case and whether to fight the case or settle it through negotiations. Sometimes you are better off to settle your case and your barrister can advise you as to the best form of settlement and do the negotiations for you.
Increasingly barristers are retained to represent their client's case outside the conventional courtroom setting such as in mediations, arbitrations, tribunals, disciplinary hearings and a broad spectrum of public and private inquiries.
(a) Duty to the court.
Barristers have an overriding duty to the court to act with independence, to act in the interests of justice and to ensure that, in the public interest, the proper and efficient administration of justice is achieved. By way of example, if a client wants a barrister to lie to the court, or to mislead the court, or to hold back damaging documents which the court has ordered to be produced, the barrister is obliged not to do this under any circumstances.
(b) Duty to promote the client's interests.
Subject only to their paramount duty to the court and the administration of justice, barristers must promote and protect fearlessly and by all proper and lawful means the best interests of the client they represent.
(c) Duty of independence.
Every barrister is completely independent. He or she is not in partnership with anybody, will not do a case if he or she has any conflict of interest and is free of any control by the Government or any outside organisation as to how he or she advises and represents you. Ensuring barristers are and remain independent has always been a key aspect of client protection, the defence of individual rights against the State and the administration of justice.
(d) Duty to represent a client irrespective of the barrister's private views
A barrister cannot refuse to take on a case in the field in which he or she practices simply because he does not like the client or his beliefs or on the basis of any opinion which the barrister may have formed as to the character, reputation, conduct, guilt or innocence of the client or the political, religious or other cause the client may be promoting.
Every client has a right of access to the courts and to the administration of justice. Every client has a right to be represented by a barrister who is entitled to be paid for his or her work. Barristers can not pick and choose which types of clients they act for if the work is within their area of expertise. Like a taxi offered a fare, the barrister has to take the passenger (i.e. the client) if he or she is free and is offered a suitable fare. The purpose of this rule is to give every client, as far as possible, an equal right of access to barristers and to legal representation in court.
What is the difference between a barrister and solicitor?
There are two types of lawyer in Ireland - barristers and solicitors. The solicitor offers legal services such as buying and selling your house, drawing up your will, advising on setting up a business, and the initial advice if you are sued by somebody or think you have a case against somebody else. This is why you go to a solicitor first. If the solicitor thinks you need specialised advice or an expert advocate to represent you in Court, the solicitor will recommend and retain a suitable barrister. There are approximately 2,300 barristers in Ireland and the solicitor can pick and choose amongst them for a particular case. In this way the solicitor (and therefore you) have available the choice of the best barrister for your case.
Barristers specialise in representing you in court (advocacy), giving you more detailed advice on your case and also advising you on more difficult areas where you (and possibly your solicitor) need more detailed advice e.g. about some complex business problem or medical negligence or a breach of your human rights or a serious crime with which you may be charged.
A fundamental distinction between a solicitor and a barrister is that the barrister does not and cannot hold any money, ever, on behalf of a client; does not and cannot handle your house purchase or sale; and does not and cannot bind you or your property by promises or undertakings to banks or financial institutions. A barrister is not and cannot be in partnership with another barrister. He or she is a sole practitioner and is entirely independent. When advising you or handling your case, your barrister is not under the influence of the Government or any public authority and will observe strict professional confidentiality about your business. He or she is a highly qualified professional and subject to a strict code of professional ethics. You thus get a totally independent, objective and specialist view of your particular problem.
The solicitor retains (or "instructs") the barrister on your behalf and furnishes him or her with a summary of the facts and the relevant documents. Normally you then have a meeting with the solicitor and your barrister who advises as to the best course to take. The barrister may give your solicitor written advice (an "opinion") on your case or on the legal issues arising. The solicitor and barrister both handle your case but do different aspects of the job. The solicitor takes your instructions, organises the witnesses, assists them in preparing their statements of their evidence, assembles the documents, corresponds with the solicitor on the other side, keeps any funds you give him in a separate account and so forth. The barrister gives the specialised advice on your case, how it should be handled, drafts the documents used in court to outline your case (the "pleadings"), drafts the written submissions to the court when this is required and argues the case for you in court. Thus the barrister and the solicitor work together on an individual case each doing a different but complementary aspect of the job of advising and representing you.
- The nature and amount of the work involved.
- The time involved in carrying out such work.
- The complexity, novelty or difficulty of the matter.
- The value and/or importance of the matter.
- The level of knowledge, skill and expertise required to deal with the matter.
- The level of experience and expertise of the barrister.
The Bar Council has put in place arrangements whereby a barrister is obliged to give a written estimate of fees prior to undertaking work unless this is impossible due to the urgency of the matter or the work is undertaken under the Civil or Criminal Legal Aid Schemes (under which in certain cases, the State pays a fee set by the State for the barrister to act for a client in the case). Obtaining such an estimate will allow you, and your solicitor, to shop around to ensure that you obtain the best representation in terms of quality and price. Further, the barrister must update the fee estimate as necessary if circumstances change.
There is no set scale of fees charged by barristers and the fee is usually negotiated by the solicitor on your behalf. The level of any particular fee has to be based upon the work done having regard to the factors mentioned above.
Traditionally barristers have been keen to ensure that no one is left without proper representation simply because of their means. They provide services under both the Criminal and Civil Legal Aid Schemes which in some cases involves appearing for a client at less than the normal commercial rate for the work and at no cost to the client. In appropriate cases which are not covered by those schemes, a barrister may be willing to take on a case on a "no foal no fee" basis. This means that the barrister will not require the payment of fees unless his or her client is successful (in which case the fees are usually ordered by the Court to be paid by the other side).
Also the Bar Council operates a pro bono scheme, which works through certain non-governmental organisations, where some barristers volunteer to do deserving cases for no fee. Cases cannot be taken directly from members of the public. Please see the Voluntary Assistance Scheme section of this website for further information.
What is a Senior and Junior counsel?
A barrister (or "counsel") at the start of his or her career is known as a Junior Counsel. After some (usually at least 12) years in practice, a Junior Counsel can apply to become a Senior Counsel which is a status awarded by the Government. It is a position reserved for barristers of particular ability and experience. About 12% of barristers are Senior Counsel.
Senior Counsel are typically instructed in more serious or complex cases. Depending on the complexity of the case, two or more senior and/or junior counsel may be retained, depending on the needs of the case and the client.
Your solicitor can advise you on whether or not you need a senior counsel in your case. A client is never required to have a Senior or Junior Counsel (or indeed any barrister at all; you can represent yourself or your solicitor can represent you but solicitors do not usually do this except in relatively simple cases because of the double burden of work involved).
When retained, Senior Counsel will usually do most of the advocacy in court. Research, preparation and legal submissions are often drafted by Junior Counsel after taking instructions and guidance from Senior Counsel who will approve the final drafts. Junior Counsel tend to advocate on behalf of clients in less complex cases.
Where do barristers practise?
Although they work as individual practitioners the central location of barristers is the Law Library in Dublin which is located in the Four Courts complex (LUAS Red Line – Four Courts).
The Law Library is a central point for access to the most modern and up-to-date legal resources. Some barristers have offices, many of which are located in close proximity to the Law Library. Many other barristers practice ‘on circuit' (i.e. outside Dublin) and have access to Bar Rooms (a room in the local Court building) around the country.
What is a circuit and what does it mean for a barrister to practice on circuit?
For the purposes of the administration of justice, Ireland is divided into regions or "Circuits". The Circuit system has a long history.
The administration of justice has from the earliest times involved courts travelling the country on 'circuits'. The circuits are the Dublin, Cork, Eastern, Midland, Munster, Northern, South-eastern, South-western and Western.
What is the relationship between a barrister and a judge?
Judges in Ireland are appointed by the Government from the ranks of practising barristers and solicitors. Judges rely on barristers appearing in Court to highlight all the relevant facts in the case and legal principles and previous cases necessary for the judge to consider before reaching his or her judgment. Part of the barrister's duty not to mislead the Court is not to put forward a legal point which the barrister knows to be wrong. The independence of the barrister is critical in ensuring that this key part of a fair and just legal system is preserved.
It is a core and valued tradition of the legal system in Ireland that barristers should never mislead the judge and a barrister who does so risks shattering his or her reputation and career.
How do I contact a barrister?
You may discuss with your solicitor whether you wish to engage a barrister's advice or service. Your solicitor will have a good working relationship with a number of barristers and so will be able to find one that most suits your case, if a barrister is needed.
If you are a member of an organisation or professional body and you need legal advice (as distinct from representation in Court) you can engage a barrister directly. If your organisation wishes advice on the Direct Access Scheme, please contact Jeanne McDonagh firstname.lastname@example.org.
When can I meet my barrister?
Barristers prepare a case for trial firstly by studying the briefing papers. It is usually necessary to have a case conference between the client, the solicitor and the barrister to discuss the case.
In more complex cases, it may be necessary to have a number of conferences or consultations with the barrister before the hearing. This can take place at the courts, in the barrister's office or in a solicitor's office.
How can a barrister act for a person when they know they are guilty of a criminal offence(s)?
The Bar's rules of conduct require that a barrister must accept a brief from a solicitor to appear before a court in a field in which the barrister practices or professes to practice if the brief is within the barrister's capacity, skill and experience, and they are available.
The role of the barrister is not to judge the client but to serve as an advocate in the client's interests, subject to not misleading the Court.
If the client has confessed to the barrister to the crime of which he or she is accused, or admitted an incriminating fact, but still wishes to fight the case instead of pleading guilty, the barrister, if the client so instructs, can still defend the case by making the State prove the client committed the crime. But the barrister cannot call evidence or make submissions to the judge or jury that the client did not commit the crime. The barrister can cross-examine the prosecution witnesses with a view to showing that the State has failed to prove his or her client committed the crime and should therefore be acquitted.
People ask why a barrister should try to get a client acquitted if the barrister knows he is guilty. The reason is that in a free democratic society, nobody should lose their liberty unless the State proves through proper admissible evidence and due process of law that the accused is guilty.
What is the Bar Council?
The General Council of the Bar is the governing body for the Bar (i.e. the barristers' profession). Its role is to promote and improve the services the Bar gives to the public, to ensure that barristers uphold the highest standards of conduct, ethics and independence and to put in place the appropriate independent complaint and disciplinary procedures to deal with cases where it is alleged that a barrister has fallen below the necessary standards.
How do I make a complaint against a barrister?
Making a complaint is your right and helps to ensure that the services of barristers are maintained at the highest standards. If you wish to complain about the service provided by a barrister, there is an independent complaints mechanism available for consumers whereby you can make a formal complaint to the Barristers' Professional Conduct Tribunal.
The Tribunal is comprised of a majority of non-lawyers. The Tribunal will investigate your complaint and has powers to deal with barristers they find guilty of disciplinary charges. They can censure, fine or restrict the practice of the barrister. Either side can appeal the decision of the Tribunal to the Professional Conduct Appeals Board which is again made up of a majority of non-lawyers.
The Tribunal will let you know how the procedure works and how to process your complaint.
Please click here for a guide to making complaints.
What is the King's Inns?
The "King's Inns" is a School of Law located at Constitution Hill, Dublin 7. To give its full title, the "Honorable Society of King's Inns" was founded in 1541 as a place where student barristers could stay, train and eat meals with barristers. Today, it is where people train to become barristers often after obtaining a law or other degree from a recognised third level institution. However it is possible to do all one's legal training in the King's Inns. The King's Inns confers the degree of "Barrister at Law". See the King's Inns website at www.kingsinns.ie.
There are three stages to becoming entitled to practise as a barrister, namely the academic, vocational and pupilage stages.
Academic: You must obtain a Law Degree from a university or other approved third level institution. If you have a non-law degree, you can study for a two year Diploma in Legal Studies at the King's Inns instead of a third level law degree. Students over 25 with no degree can also take the Diploma course.
Vocational: When you have your law degree or diploma, you must pass an entrance examination (usually 5 legal subjects) into the King's Inns. If you pass, you may enroll in a one year fulltime course or a two year part time course in the King's Inns leading to the degree of Barrister-at-Law. The emphasis in these courses is on advocacy, procedure and practical matters.
Pupilage: Having passed the Barristers-at-Law degree from the King's Inns, students are called to the Bar of Ireland by the Chief Justice of Ireland. Before being allowed to practice on their own, barristers are required to do pupilage (commonly called "devilling" - on the job training) with a suitably qualified barrister in an established practice for a period of 12 months.
Should you have an enquiry which is not dealt with above please contact the Bar Council Administration at 01-817 5000