We have a large team of direct access barristers who are trained and experienced in  Public Direct Access relating to both children and financial cases. In the right case, direct access to a barrister – without first instructing a solicitor – can be quicker and better value for clients.

What is Direct Access?

Direct access enables you to work directly with a barrister rather than going to a solicitor first, and having the solicitor liaise with the barrister on your behalf. A family law barrister working directly with you will be able to give you advice, represent you in court and negotiate on your behalf, and assist you with drafting documents and correspondence. You remain technically a litigant in person and are responsible for the day-to-day progress of your legal case.

You might instruct a barrister directly to

  • Give you written advice about your case, after reading the documents
  • Give you advice in conference – that is, face-to-face, on the phone or by Skype, after reading the documents; or
  • Represent you either in court at a hearing, or at a settlement conference or a mediation.

Working directly with a barrister at court tends to be appropriate where you are able to handle the administrative side of things yourself. In a family law case, direct access is a good way of concentrating your financial resources on a court hearing that you might otherwise be conducting yourself, giving you a better chance of getting the outcome you want.

Direct Access Barristers are regulated by the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board and have strict professional rules by which they abide, giving you the benefit of consumer protection and the backing of a professional conduct regime built up over centuries. Only barristers who have achieved a specialist direct access qualification are allowed to work directly with clients. You can find a list of 4PB’s direct access qualified barristers below. If you’d like more information about how a barrister could work with you directly, you can look at the public direct access page of the Bar Council’s website.

On this page you’ll find answers to some frequently asked questions about using a direct access barrister, and how the process works here at 4PB. If you’d prefer to speak to someone, please call our direct access clerks, Denise or Kenny, on 020 7427 5200.

Frequently asked questions

Historically, barristers were specialists in technical law and court practice and solicitors were litigation managers, working out the case then working the case through from start to finish, and instructing a barrister for advice about the law or court advocacy. Although this is still the case for the most part, it’s fair to say that there isn’t as much of a difference as there used to be. The two sides of the legal profession are coming increasingly closer together with some barristers now authorised to conduct litigation and some solicitors doing court advocacy. However, the skills you need for your case, depending on its particular stage and complexity, will still dictate what kind of specialist is likely to be better for the job you want done.

There are other differences too. Solicitors tend to operate as part of a firm, and are therefore more likely to be good at a team approach. Barristers, on the other hand, are generally self-employed and work independently, although they tend to come together in ‘chambers’ (like 4PB) in order to pool administrative and other resources. While solicitors can’t work on both sides of a case, because the firm is acting for a client and not the individual lawyer, barristers from the same chambers can be on both sides of a case as they are independent of each other.

The other important distinction between solicitors and barristers is the way they generally tend to charge. Despite the rise in fixed-price arrangements offered by solicitors, overwhelmingly they still charge on a time-spent basis on the basis of a per-hour rate. It is much more common for barristers to charge a set price for a piece of work, whether this is a piece of written advice, a conference or representation at a court hearing, although very rarely some barristers will work on a per-hour rate too.

By coming directly to a direct, or public access, barrister at 4PB to help you with your family law case, you will get excellent advice and/or court representation at a fixed price that works for your personal circumstances. 4PB’s family law barristers know the courts, and the courts know the barristers. 4PB’s specialist family law barristers can draw on their years of training and experience to find the right way to present your case to the judge to get you the best possible outcome.

Using a direct access barrister means that you are technically a litigant-in-person before the court, and that the court papers and correspondence will be sent to you rather than to a legal advisor. However, your barrister will still be able to advise you about the implications of the documents you receive, and guide you in your responses.

Not all family law cases are appropriate for going straight to a direct access barrister. If you don’t really know what you want, or if your case is complicated and involves collecting evidence from various witnesses, or taking opinions from a number of experts, it may be more sensible for you to instruct a solicitor to do this on your behalf. Also, if you would prefer to hand over the case for someone else to look after all of the administrative requirements for you, a solicitor is a better option because working with a barrister will require you to be able to take on the administration of the case yourself (with the barrister’s guidance).

Although legal aid is no longer available for most private family law disputes (that is, those where children are not deemed to be at risk of significant harm), there are some circumstances in which it is still available, particularly if you have been a victim of domestic abuse. Direct access barristers are not able to apply for legal aid on your behalf, so if you think you might be eligible, you can either go to a solicitor who can work with legally aided clients, or check your eligibility via the government’s legal aid calculator.

You can still get legal aid if you are directly involved in court proceedings with a local authority about children, so you should seek advice from a solicitor who specialises in this sort of work.

If you’d like to investigate whether your case is suitable for a direct access barrister to take on, you can give our public access clerks, Denise or Kenny, a call on 020 7427 5200 and they will help you decide the best way forward.

When you call us, you’ll speak to Denise or Kenny, the 4PB dedicated direct access clerks. They’ll ask you to tell them what your legal case is about, how long it has been going on and what stage it is at, what upcoming hearings have been fixed, and what you’re hoping to achieve. They’re not lawyers and won’t be able to give you any legal advice, but do have a lot of experience in helping people in your position to access advice and advocacy from direct access barristers. If, having heard what you say, they believe that a barrister from 4PB will be suitable for your case, they will ask you to fill in a short form so that they can investigate barristers’ availability, and allocate the case to the appropriate barrister. If a number of different barristers are available to do the work, you will be asked to choose which one you would like to work with; alternatively, you may have someone in mind before you call.

The barristers charge a fixed price for the work they do, which will be agreed with you in good time. Unless time is tight, you will usually be given the option of a short introductory conference by phone or Skype with your barrister for a small fee; you could even try out a couple and see which you prefer. Alternatively, you can go straight to a full conference, which we try to schedule in good time before the hearing so that you are able to act on any advice given by your barrister.

We are well located in a beautiful historic building in the Inner Temple, between Fleet Street and the Embankment and overlooking the fabulous Inner Temple Gardens. The Royal Courts of Justice, the Central Family Court and other London courts are easily accessible. We have a comfortable waiting room and several conference rooms where barristers and clients can meet to discuss cases in privacy. The clerks and administrative staff work in airy offices off reception, which you’ll find on the first floor of 4 Paper Buildings, and most of the barristers’ rooms are upstairs from there.

Surrounded by history, we are nevertheless committed to technology and ensure that our communications systems and legal information resources are cutting-edge. Our client service is renowned as among the best in the Temple.

We’re also widely considered to have the most approachable expert family law barristers in London.

This section applies where you’re making an application for the court to consider your children’s arrangements if you’re separated or divorced from their other parent. It’s also the process that the court goes through where there’s an application for leave to remove – that is, to relocate with a child or children to a different country.

Before you can make an application to court for an order relating to children, you must by law organise a meeting with a mediator, who will give you information about mediation and other dispute resolution options. This meeting is known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). In some urgent cases, if there are domestic abuse or child protection issues, or if you have tried mediation but it has not been successful, you may be exempt from attending a MIAM, but most people have to. The mediator will sign the form on which you make your application to the court (usually a C100) to show that you have fulfilled the requirement for a MIAM. 4PB has barrister mediators who can provide MIAMs if required.
There is a court fee payable when the application is filed at court. The court will set a date for the first hearing in your case, the First Hearing Dispute Resolution appointment (“FHDRA”), which both parties must attend. This may be in front of the lay justices in the family court, or possibly a district judge; higher levels of judge may get involved if the issues are particularly difficult.

The court’s aim at this hearing is to identify the areas of dispute, outline the issues on both sides and to decide what evidence needs to be collected before the outcome can be decided. For example, a report from CAFCASS (specially trained children’s court social workers) about the children’s wishes and feelings, statements from each of the parties, or reports from experts. You or your direct access barrister will be expected to speak to the judge or lay justices at this hearing and explain what you want to happen and why. The court will sometimes make an interim order at this hearing and put in place arrangements that will last until a later date.

The court is likely to set the date for the final hearing in about 4 months or more, depending on the circumstances.

At the final hearing, your direct access barrister will take the court through your application forms, any statements, and then your arguments. All parties then give evidence, first the applicant and then the respondent, and then anyone else involved, including the CAFCASS officer. Before giving evidence, each witness needs to swear an oath (or affirm) that they will tell the truth. When you give evidence your direct access barrister starts by asking you questions, then you will be cross-examined by the other person or their legal representative. The judge can also ask questions. Then the court will make its decisions, based on the law and the evidence it has heard.

In court cases about children, each side usually has to pay their own costs. If one party has tried to mislead the court or conducts the litigation in an inappropriate way the court might order that person to pay all or part of the other person’s costs, but this is unusual.

This section covers applications to court on divorce or dissolution of civil partnership where you and your former spouse cannot agree what should happen. If you have a dispute about entitlement to money or property but have not been married to the person you disagree with, there is a different process for your application to court if you choose to make one.
Before you can issue an application at court for a financial order on divorce or civil partnership dissolution, you must, by law, attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). At this meeting, which may last about an hour, a mediator will explain alternative dispute resolution options to using the court and explore whether your particular circumstances might be appropriate for mediation. If you’re applying for an urgent financial injunction, have suffered domestic violence, or if you have recently tried mediation but it was not successful, you may be exempt from attending a MIAM, but it is compulsory for most. The mediator will sign the Form A to show you have attended, so that you can file your application at court if you do not wish to enter mediation. 4PB has barrister mediators who can provide MIAMs if required.

Form A is the application to start the court process in a money case. On receipt of the Form A, the court sets the date for the first court appointment when it will give directions to progress your case: this is the “FDA” or “First Directions Appointment”. You will be ordered to file and exchange certain documents in the run-up to this hearing.

Five weeks before the FDA hearing, the court requires both parties involved to file at court and exchange Form E. Form E is the substantial form you both need to fill in to disclose fully and frankly all of your financial circumstances.

After Form E is filed and two weeks before the FDA, both parties must file at court and exchange

  • a concise statement of the disputed financial issues;
  • a chronology of events;
  • (if necessary) a questionnaire arising from the contents of the other party’s Form E;
    and
  • a completed Form G stating whether you consider that it may be possible to move towards negotiating a settlement at the first court appointment.

There is a further requirement that before each court hearing, each party must file at court and exchange a statement of the amount of money he or she has spent so far on legal costs. There is a special form for this statement.

The FDA is usually heard by a district judge in the family court, and lasts about 30 minutes. You or your direct access barrister will need to speak to the judge, but nobody will give evidence at this stage. The point of this hearing is to ensure that all the necessary evidence is available for negotiations to take place, and for the court to make an order if necessary. If there are questionnaires, the court will order which questions should be answered and by when. Other matters commonly dealt with at the FDA are what valuations should be obtained and by when, what other expert evidence should be obtained and by when, and the date of the next court appointment – the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing, or “FDR”.

The FDA can be combined with the FDR if both parties agree, in which case the hearing length might be extended to an hour (but you might expect to be at court negotiating for half a day, or longer).

When all the evidence is ready, there will be an FDR. This is a “without prejudice” hearing, which means that each side is able to make proposals for settlement that cannot be referred to in court at any other hearing. You or your direct access barrister will need to put your case to the judge and be prepared to discuss with him or her the relative strengths and weaknesses in your case. The judge hearing the FDR will try to assist you both to reach to a settlement, and can play no further part in your case if you do not agree. This is usually a day where lengthy negotiations take place outside the courtroom but within the court building, and you or your direct access barrister will probably be asked to update the judge at regular intervals on your progress. Depending on the indications made by the judge and how constructive the negotiations are, you may be at court all day. If no agreement is reached, the judge will give any further directions about what is needed to get the case ready for another judge to make a final order, and fix a date for the final hearing (trial).

At the final hearing the court will hear evidence from each of you and any experts or witnesses. Your barrister will introduce the case, question you, the other person and any others about relevant points that make a difference to the way the judge will decide what should happen, and finally sum up your case. The other side will do the same (the applicant goes first, but each stage is taken in turn). The court will consider the law and weigh all the evidence, then make orders about how property, assets and income should be shared on and after divorce. It may also make an order that one party should pay all or a part of the other’s costs, but costs orders are not common and the starting point in family cases is that each side should bear its own costs.

The price will depend on the seniority of the barrister you’re working with and what work needs to be done. At 4 Paper Buildings we are family law specialists. Family law is all we do. We have a wide range of barristers qualified to work directly with the public, from bright and well-trained recently-qualified juniors to highly-renowned senior QCs with decades of court experience, and all levels in between. The fee you pay depends on the level of barrister appropriate for your particular needs and resources.

We like to be as open and upfront about our prices as possible, but unfortunately it’s impossible to give guidelines for costs because every family law case, and every client involved in one, is unique. What we can promise you is that you will never be surprised by the eventual cost of the work that a 4PB direct access barrister does for you: our prices are agreed, and fees need to be received, before the work is done. You retain control of what you spend, and your barrister concentrates on getting the job done.

Our barristers’ prices are dependent on a number of factors including the type of case, the type of hearing, and the amount of papers you have. The amount of papers affects the reading time that is required before conference and the level of preparation that needs to be done for the hearing, as your barrister will need to be fully appraised of all the relevant facts and circumstances in order to present the case in the most effective way. The fixed prices we offer are generally worked out on the broad basis of an hourly rate for an estimate of the preparation time and hearing time involved in your case.

Fees must be agreed in advance and paid before the barrister will undertake the work. We will have a conversation with you the appropriate schedule of payments in your case.

The most important thing when using a direct, or public access, barrister is to be scrupulously organised. This means having your papers in order (more on that below) and ensuring that deadlines are strictly adhered to within the court process – as unlike when you use a solicitor, these deadlines remain your responsibility. You should make sure that your barrister has all of the information he or she needs in order to put your case to the court, including all the information that you consider may not support your case, so that there are no surprises during the hearing.

It’s also helpful if you can be as specific as possible about what you want to achieve, thinking carefully about what aspects of a solution matter most to you, and why. This will help your barrister tailor his or her approach to your aspirations, or alternatively to let you know if he or she thinks they may not be appropriate and discuss different possibilities and strategies with you.

Finally, it helps to remember that barristers are specialist court advocates and are not general litigators in the way that solicitors are. You employ them just like a solicitor would, to come in and do a specific job in court. When using a public access barrister, you remain technically a litigant in person within the court system – there are some advantages conferred by this status, but it will be unrealistic if you expect the same level of involvement in your case on an ongoing basis from a barrister to that which you would receive from a retained solicitor. The more confident you are in your own ability to manage the ins and outs of your case on a day-to-day basis, the better your experience with a direct access barrister will be.

The better organised your papers are, the easier it will be for your barrister to put together the elements of your case, advise you on it and present it to the court. You will need to send your barrister the following papers (‘a bundle’), in A4 folders (or scanned and by email, by agreement), arranged like this, in date order from the earliest to the latest in each section:

  • Applications to the court and orders made by the court,
  • Statements and other documents filed at court,
  • Correspondence with the other side, and
  • Anything else you consider relevant.

At the start of the bundle, please include a document summarising your case, the most important points as you see them, and asking any specific questions you would like the barrister to advise you on. This document should start by showing the full names of all the parties involved and the children, and should also show the case number allocated to you by the court, and the name of the court in which the case is being heard.

Give us a call on 020 7427 5200 and have a chat with Kenny or Denise, our dedicated direct access clerks, who will be able to help you decide whether a direct, or public access, barrister is the right approach for you, and give you some idea about who might be best-placed to help you achieve your goals. Denise and Kenny will ask you to send them a copy of the main form used in your court application, or to complete the necessary form for the barrister to look at, and also to write a short summary of your circumstances and what you’d like to achieve.

Tips for drafting correspondence and completing court forms:

  • Be truthful
  • Present the facts without emotion as far as possible
  • Be concise and keep it relevant
  • Break up paragraphs by using bullet points and numbering
  • Avoid the temptation to be negative about the other person involved in the dispute and let the facts speak for themselves.

Each piece of public access work is regulated by a contract between you and the barrister. A specimen contract can be downloaded here [link to standard letter of instruction, sanitized to remove bank details etc.].

Specialist Direct Access Barristers