• Robert Spicer

Gifts to solicitors: the blush test

The English Bar has recently been concerned about hospitality, entertainment and gifts offered to solicitors by sets of barristers’ chambers. Barristers’ marketing budgets, apparently, now include sums for dinners, sporting and social events to which solicitors are invited. It was commented that there was no doubt that if there was evidence that barristers were receiving instructions in return for entertainment that would bring the Bar into serious disrepute.

It is well-known that many barristers who keep to the mainstream system of acting as consultants, and receiving work only through solicitors, offer their solicitor contacts hospitality and entertainment. In the view of the Bar’s governing body:

The indirect use of legal fees for entertainment purposes tarnishes the image and reputation of the profession, particularly if the entertainment offered is on a scale beyond the means of many consumers.

It was suggested that the “blush” test should be applied. This means:

Whether the individual entertained would be embarrassed to disclose it to his or her colleagues, clients or the regulating authorities. Or where the host would be embarrassed if the fact, or extent, of the entertainment were to become widely known. Of course, this test does not deal with the problem of those who find nothing to be embarrassed about.

Reports have been received of solicitors requiring payments to be made to them by barristers in return for work to be referred to barristers in criminal cases. This is forbidden by the Bar Code of Conduct. It is not clear how such payments are made. If cash is surreptitiously handed over, this may involve tax evasion or even moneylaundering issues.

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