Written by Sarah Evans

Barrister at Magdalen Chambers

Sarah has been a family law specialist for over 20 years and has practised as a Barrister on the Western Circuit since 2004. She specialises in cases involving what were formerly known as contact and residence issues, and removals from the jurisdiction.

Barristers are your voice in Court. They are your guide through the minefield that is the family justice system behind the scenes. They can help you prepare documents you need to place before the Judge such as position statements or sworn statements (that is, a written account of your evidence before the court), and set out the relevant law in what is called a ‘skeleton argument’ – i.e. an outline of your case and the case law which the barrister will expand upon orally in court. We can also correspond with your opponent and write letters and emails on your behalf.

Most importantly, a barrister can come to court with you and represent you at court hearings and prepare documents setting out your case as advantageously as possible. While a scary prospect for you, court is a barrister’s natural habitat and we work hard to make it all much less intimidating and user friendly for you.

Barristers are not allowed to ‘conduct litigation’ i.e. handle client money, accept service of documents or act officially on your behalf ‘on the record’, like a solicitor.

There are however, limits to what the Direct Access scheme allows. Barristers are not allowed to ‘conduct litigation’ i.e. handle client money, accept service of documents or act officially on your behalf ‘on the record’, like a solicitor. Nor are we allowed to work on a ‘retainer’ like solicitors. Most solicitors charge an hourly rate although some may be prepared to do specific pieces of work on a ‘flat fee’ basis. We charge what is called a ‘brief fee’ which is one payment for an agreed piece of work which are defined by terms and conditions which are sent out in advance and set out clearly a) what your barrister can and cannot do for you and b) what the agreed fee covers, e.g. all work up to and including a hearing. All brief fees under the Direct Access scheme must be paid fully in advance of any work being carried out.

Technically, under the Direct Access scheme, you are a litigant in person. This does not mean you are alone! A barrister can guide you and give you advice behind the scenes to assist with your case as it progresses. Bear in mind though that family barristers are heavily court-based and will not be available, like a solicitor, to answer all your emails and queries on a daily basis. If you are happy to do some of the ground work yourself, which will save you time and money, the Direct Access scheme is perfect for you.

Finally, a barrister is governed by a strict code of ethics. We are charged with representing our clients ‘without fear or favour’. What we will not do, however, is do anything which would compromise our professional integrity, by placing inaccurate information before or misleading the Court in any way.

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