When and Why to Talk to a Barrister    

Many people believe that because barristers are trained to represent members of the public in court, you only need to talk to one when a court appearance is inevitable. Here, Marcus Croskell, barrister at East Anglian Chambers, looks at the different situations where it is either useful or essential to consult or appoint a barrister – including some situations where a case never goes to court.

Before Pursing an Action

Although a barrister's primary function is to represent their clients in court, their experience of the practicalities of the court process means that they can be of particular value when assessing whether to take an action to court in the first place.

If you are considering taking someone to court (for instance, to recover a debt, contest a business contract, bring a claim for monies held in a joint property following a relationship breakdown, or some other type of civil dispute) then it is highly advisable to consult a barrister before committing yourself to court action. Once you have notified a third party that you are intending to or are prepared to take the matter to court, this tends to escalate the situation and they may well instruct their own legal representatives before you are really ready to proceed.  

Early instruction will often save you money in the long run

By talking to a barrister about the circumstances concerning you, you give yourself the opportunity to assess the case in your own time and find out what your options are. In many cases involving a dispute of some kind, negotiating a resolution can be faster and cheaper for all concerned. A barrister with the appropriate type of specialism can act for you to achieve a resolution, without involving the courts. Sometimes just a letter drafted on your behalf by a barrister can be enough to achieve an acceptable outcome; in other cases, a barrister may undertake lengthier negotiations on your behalf, perhaps involving mediation of some kind, or suggesting options to the third party involved.

Finding out that pursuing the matter to court could be far more expensive than settling out of court (if that is possible). It could in itself be far more valuable to you in terms of money, time and stress saved, than any potential actions a barrister might make on your behalf in a courtroom.

When You Have Decided to Pursue an Action

Once you have decided to pursue an action (against a person or an organisation) which might lead to a court appearance, talking to a barrister becomes essential if you have not already done so. Even if you feel that a court appearance is likely but still some way off, it is still important to consult a barrister as early as possible, rather than wait until a court appearance is close at hand.

If you anticipate that the other party will have access to a strong legal team (e.g. a large company or public body) then it is important to consult a barrister as early as possible, for a number of reasons:

·      Indicating to the person or organisation that you are considering legal action, before your own barrister is in place, allows the other side to get a head start in terms of proceedings, which could weaken your position.

·       Barristers can clarify points of law and ensure your action is well founded, before committing to any action.  Crucially this may save you unnecessary expense and exposure to unnecessary costs.

·       Barristers can tell you about alternative courses of action that might be available, rather than going for the court option.

·       A barrister can advise you about your likelihood of success, helping you make an informed decision about whether to go ahead.

·       A barrister can advise you about the processes and procedures that will apply, including practical issues such as the location and type of court where your case could be heard, and the likely timescales involved – helping you to plan your action.

·       A barrister can also advise you on the type of evidence you will need to provide (e.g. paperwork), ensuring you are well prepared before initiating an action.

Having a good understanding of the law that applies to your case and being thoroughly prepared at an early stage, all helps to ensure that if your case does go forward that you have the best chance of success. By contrast, instructing a barrister at a late stage can mean that you are less well prepared or find out that your case is less well founded than you thought, but at a stage when it is too late to withdraw.

When an Action is Being Pursued Against You

If you are being taken to court by someone else – either by the police in a criminal case, or by a private person or organisation in a civil case – then it becomes clear that you will require someone to represent you in court.

But even here, there is sometimes confusion about whether people should appoint their own barristers, or whether to allow the court to appoint one for them.  In addition, some people feel that if the evidence looks stacked against them, or they intend to plead guilty (whether they are guilty or not), then there is no point in choosing their own barrister as it won't affect the outcome of the case.

In this type of situation, instructing a barrister of your own choosing can make a huge difference to the outcome of a case, and to your experience of the whole process. If a barrister is appointed for you, the appointment is made using the "cab rank" rule i.e. using whichever lawyer is next in line to take a case. Some reasons for choosing your own barrister with specialist knowledge include:

·       Finding a barrister with a track record of success in cases similar to yours helps to ensure that all possible avenues are explored which might assist your defence, rather than simply relying on or responding to the evidence presented by the police.

·       A barrister specialising in your type of case will have more detailed technical understanding of the type of evidence the police will use (e.g. use of evidence from cameras for speeding and other motoring offences) and is more likely to spot weaknesses in the evidence against you.

·       Even if conviction seems to be inevitable, having your own barrister present your case can make a significant difference to the type or length of any penalty or sentence handed down, which in turn can make a big difference to the effect the conviction may have on your business, your job or your wider family.

Not Sure Whether You Should Consult a Barrister?

Barrister Marcus Croskell represents civil and criminal cases throughout East Anglia including Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, London and beyond, and offers a free legal enquiry service. Marcus Croskell is a leading barrister recognised in the Legal 500 for his work as in contract and commercial work.  By contacting him, will enable you to speak about your case and receive initial advice about your options and get a better idea about whether you want to proceed with a more formal consultation.


Barristers East Anglia – Contact Marcus Croskell here.