How to make a complaint about a barrister

When should I complain about a barrister?
When a barrister is working for you, you (the client) have a right to very high standards of independence, integrity, representation, courtesy and advice. Your barrister should also have a high level of knowledge about the area of the law on which you need advice or representation.
If your barrister does not provide the high standard required, you may complain to the Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal. In this booklet we call this the Tribunal.

What is the Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal?

The General Council of The Bar of Ireland (The Bar Council) publishes a Code of Conduct and a Disciplinary Code that all barristers must obey.
If a barrister does not follow the Code of Conduct or the Disciplinary Code, a client may complain about them to the Tribunal. Sometimes, the Bar Council may make the complaint.

Five non-lawyers and four barristers are members of the Tribunal. Usually, when a complaint is made about a barrister, two of the non-lawyers and one barrister from the Tribunal form a panel to deal with it.

The non-lawyers come from diverse backgrounds such as trade unions, businesses or voluntary organisations.

The members of the Tribunal are listed here.

  • Aine Hyland, former Professor of Education at UCC
  • Maurice O’Connell, former Governor of the Central Bank
  • Pat O’Neill, Consultant in Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine
  • Noirin Greene, Irish Congress of Trade Unions
  • Marie Sweeney, IBEC – Human Resources
  • Alan Dodd BL, barrister
  • Patrick McCann SC, Tribunal chairman, barrister
  • Anne-Marie Lawlor BL, barrister
  • Denis McCullough SC

The Bar Council pays the Tribunal expenses, but the Tribunal is completely independent of the Bar Council.

How do I make a complaint?
If you want to complain about a barrister, you should first discuss it with your solicitor. Your solicitor may be able to take up your complaint directly with the barrister and resolve the matter to your satisfaction.

If they cannot resolve the complaint, you should contact:
Donal O’Kelly
Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal
145/146 Church Street
Dublin 7.
Tel. (01) 817 5011

Donal will send you a form, which you should fill in and return as soon as possible. You can also download a complaint form here

How soon should I complain?
If you would like to complain about a barrister, you should do so as soon as possible. A long delay between the cause of the complaint and when you complain can make it very difficult for us to handle the matter.

What can I complain about?
You can complain about a barrister if:

  • they have failed in any way to give you proper professional standards;
  • they have committed any professional misconduct; or
  • they have brought the profession into disrepute.

For example, you could complain about a barrister if they:

  • mislead the court;
  • fail to keep your affairs confidential;
  • act against your instructions;
  • act against your best interests;
  • cause serious delay in proceedings or dealing with papers;
  • act dishonestly or discreditably;
  • bully you; or
  • are seriously rude to you.

What can the Tribunal do?
We can uphold or reject a complaint. Upholding it means that we find it is valid.
If we find that your complaint is valid, we may do any of the following and publish the barrister’s name:

  • recommend that the barrister be disbarred;
  • suspend the barrister from practice for a specified period;
  • require the barrister to return the fee (or part of it) to the client; or
  • impose a fine.

Sometimes we will recognise that your complaint is valid but deal with it without publishing your barrister’s name by:

  • admonishing (cautioning) the barrister; or
  • taking no further action.

The Tribunal cannot award compensation to the client.

Are there complaints that the Tribunal cannot handle?
Yes, we cannot handle complaints about:

  • judges;
  • solicitors;
  • barristers outside their professional role;
  • debts due by the barrister to members of the public; or
  • claims that a barrister was negligent.

In addition, we do not normally deal with complaints arising from current court cases or those under appeal until the proceedings have finished.

How will my complaint be handled?
There are always two sides to any dispute. In fairness to all the parties, each side must be given a chance to make representations.
When we receive your complaint, we will ask your barrister to respond and we will send their response to you.

We will copy any documents we receive from the person making the complaint and send them to the barrister. We will also copy any documents we receive from the barrister and send them to the person making the complaint.

We will then decide if there is enough information to make a decision, or if we need to hear evidence about all or part of the complaint.
If a hearing is necessary, we will arrange a time and date. We make great efforts to suit both sides.

Hearings are reasonably informal. Evidence is not on oath, and hearings usually take place in the late afternoon at a venue in central Dublin.
The person who makes the complaint (the complainant) may be represented by a lawyer, but we cannot award costs.

How long will it take?
Our investigations normally take between six and 20 weeks.

We deal with complaints as quickly as possible, but some complaints are complex and it may take us a lot of time to get all the information we need to reach a fair decision.

We will keep the complainant and the barrister informed about the progress of our investigation.

What does the Tribunal need from me?
The complaints procedure will work best if you:

  • keep the complaint brief, clear and to the point;
  • give us clear copies of any relevant documents;
  • tell us clearly what the barrister did or did not do and why you believe this was unprofessional;
  • are open and honest and give us full details of your complaint with any changes of circumstances that may affect the investigation;
  • give accurate contact details including your phone number, address and email; and
  • as quickly as possible, give us any other information that we request.

Can I appeal against a decision made by the Tribunal?
Yes, either the complainant or the barrister may appeal any decision. An appeal must be brought to us within 21 days of the tribunal decision.

Your appeal must be in writing and addressed to the Barristers Professional Conduct Appeals Board.

We will send you an appeal form if you need one or you can download one here

An appeals board usually considers papers only; it is unusual to hold hearings. An appeal can be allowed or dismissed or be sent back to the Tribunal for rehearing.

Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal
145/146 Church Street
Dublin 7

Tel. (01) 817 5011