The Bar Council of Ireland was established in 1897 and consists of 25 members. Four are co-opted, 20 are elected. The Head of the Council is the Attorney General. 20 elected members are elected by the members of the Law Library being effective members of the bar.
The Bar Council of Ireland is primarily representative in nature. It acts as a regulatory authority as well. The Bar Council is involved in the education of barristers and operates the continuing professional development program.
The Bar Council sets and enforces professional standards for barristers. It is responsible for the admission of barristers. It is a non-statutory private body.
The code of conduct adopted by the Bar Council of Ireland sets out standards of professional conduct. Barristers must not bring the profession into disrepute. Failures of compliance with the code may be the subject of an investigation by the PPC or the BPCT. Serious cases of misconduct may lead to suspension or exclusion from the Law Library.
The Professional Practices Committee is established under the disciplinary code of the Bar Council. It provides for a non-binding procedure for the resolution of complaints about a barrister. Where the Committee considers it appropriate, it may refer matters to the Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal for investigation and adjudication.
Complaints’ regarding the conduct of members of the bar by barristers is considered by the Council’s Professional Practices Committee. Complaints from members of the public are considered by another body, the Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal.
The Barristers’ Professional Conduct Tribunal was established by a General Meeting of the Bar in 1996. It considers complaints of misconduct against barristers. It may receive complaints from the members of the public as well as the Professional Practice Committee.
The Tribunal has a majority of lay members. Its decisions may be appealed to the Barristers’ Professional Conduct Appeals Board.
The Tribunal upholds professional standards and, in particular, the BCI code of conduct. A complaint may be accepted or rejected. Remediation may be recommended.
The Tribunal may censure barristers, fine them, order repayment of fees, suspend the membership of the Law Library or ultimately debar a barrister for a period or until a specified act is performed.
The rules of the Honourable Society of King’s Inns comprise their private general rules. The Honourable Society of King’s Inns also has a role in the regulation barristers. It consists of the members of the judiciary and barristers. It controls entry to the bar.
The general rules of the Society of King’s Inn are not published.
The Honourable Society of King’s Inns has a major role in the education of trainee barristers. Holders of approved degrees may apply to sit for the Degree of Barrister for Law at Kings Inn. Persons without an approved law degree must first obtain a Diploma in Legal Studies from King’s Inns. On completion of the same, they are eligible to apply for the Degree of Barrister at Law.
It appears that the historical power for benchers of King’s Inn to remove barristers by disbarment may be unconstitutional. The power must likely be exercised by a member of the judiciary.
The Disciplinary Committee was established by the Society to enquire into professional misconduct. It may take complaints from the Bar Council of Ireland, Barristers Professional Conduct Tribunal or the Barristers Professional Conduct Appeals Tribunal.
The Disciplinary Committee is comprised of three benchers. It determines its own procedures, which must of necessity be following constitutional justice. It decides whether an oral hearing is necessary. Barristers who are the subject of a complaint may be legally represented before the Committee.
The Committee has powers to require an apology, admonish or censure a barrister. It may provide for variation of a fee or order a fee to be returned. It may impose a fine.
If a finding of professional misconduct has been made, the Committee may suspend a barrister or disbar him. Where a finding of professional misconduct is made, a report is made to the benchers.
A barrister who is the subject of a report by the Disciplinary Committee may apply to convene a special meeting of benchers to cancel the decision within three weeks. A quorum is 12 where the decision is made by 2/3 majority. Constitutional justice must be followed.
Where cancellation is not sought, the report is confirmed by the benchers unless there are good reasons to the contrary.
Notices about the result of complaints are published. When confirmed by benchers, decisions are sent to the Chairman of the Bar Council, Law Society and senior judiciary and others.
Until relatively recently, barristers enjoyed immunity from civil liability in relation to advocacy before courts. This historical position was justified on the basis that it could be used to indirectly challenge a court decision and prolong litigation.
In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords has moved away from the total immunity that formerly applied. Based on the European Convention on Human Rights, it ruled that an advocate may owe a duty of care in d negligence, albeit that it must be weighed with his duty to assist his client in the administration of justice.
It is not clear whether this decision would be followed in Ireland, but it is likely that it will be.