The Bar Council explains Direct Access: "Anyone can now go directly to a barrister without having to involve anyone else (e.g. a solicitor)."
Barristers can prepare application forms for you and represent you at hearings. Barristers may negotiate on your behalf, and attend consultations with local residents, the police and other licensing authorities.
Because the barrister’s role is unchanged and there are certain limits on the types of work that a barrister can do, there are still some situations in which you will need to instruct a solicitor or another intermediary as well as a barrister. However, for many cases the public access scheme allows you to go directly to the expert barrister for advice, and drafting of documents.
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Direct (public) access has many advantages over and above reduced legal costs. Being able to telephone, email or come in and talk to your barrister directly is often more efficient than having to pass every communication via a solicitor, with each response similarly channelled through a 3rd party.
For more information about public access, see the Guide published by the Bar Standards Board: "Public Access: Guidance for the Lay Client"