The Law Society offers, in conjunction with the Bar Council, a joint tribunal service aimed at resolving fee disputes between solicitors and barristers.
- The joint tribunal is an informal body, fixing its own procedures.
- A joint tribunal can be invoked by either a solicitor, disputing counsel's fees, or by counsel who has not received payment in full from an instructing solicitor.
- Once both sides have agreed to be bound by the decision of a joint tribunal, the applicant provides a statement of case with accompanying documents and the respondent provides a statement of response. Once all required documentation has been received from both parties, a joint tribunal is formed. There is not normally a need for an actual meeting of the parties involved.
- The joint tribunal will consider all documentation submitted, make a decision and issue an award. Any decision of the joint tribunal is final, and there is no appeal process. Any award issued must be settled within 14 days.
- Failure on the part of a solicitor to comply with any award of a joint tribunal is regarded as unbefitting conduct and can lead to disciplinary proceedings.
- A joint tribunal only exists to look at a dispute regarding fees. Where matters touch upon counsel's competence amounting to professional misconduct, such matters are first considered by the Bar Standards Board of the General Council of the Bar.
Advantages of a joint tribunal
- A joint tribunal is a way of resolving disputes over outstanding fee notes, which could normally be taken to court and is a way of avoiding the Bar Council's Withdrawal of Credit Scheme.
- If the dispute has been ongoing and seems unable to be resolved by discussion or compromise, it is a way to have the matter finally resolved.
- Both parties are given a fair and equal opportunity to state the facts of their case and there is no cost involved.
Who forms a joint tribunal?
- A joint tribunal is composed of a solicitor, quite often a council member of the Law Society, and a barrister, normally a QC.
- Both the Law Society and the Bar Council have a panel from which members are nominated for the joint tribunal.
What are the costs involved?
- There is no cost in invoking or participating in a joint tribunal.
- Nominees from the Law Society and the Bar Council do not charge for their time.
- The only cost would be that of any award given by the joint tribunal.
- Solicitors should complete an application form (PDF 68kb) and email the form to the Law Society at email@example.com if they wish to invoke a joint tribunal.
- Counsel will contact the Bar Council if they wish to invoke a joint tribunal.
- A party invoking a joint tribunal should provide their signed agreement to be bound (PDF 49kb) to a joint tribunal, this includes agreement to any decision made by the joint tribunal.
- The other party involved would also need to give their signed agreement to be bound. Once both agreements are received, the procedure can begin.
- There are standing orders (PDF 51kb) in place, which set out the procedure, requirements and timescales involved.
- To invoke a joint tribunal, a fee note has to be disputed within three months of its original issue, or within one month of any reminder to pay.
- Once both parties have agreed to be bound by a joint tribunal decision, timescales for the submission of documentation will follow those set out in the joint tribunal standing orders (PDF 51kb).
- Discussions between the two parties.
- Compromise between the two parties.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
If a solicitor refuses to be bound to a joint tribunal, the Bar Council can proceed under the Withdrawal of Credit Scheme.
If counsel refuses to be bound to a joint tribunal, and the solicitor has disputed a fee note within the timescales stated above, the Bar Council will do nothing to pursue the outstanding fees.
Where a solicitor has disputed the fees outside the relevant timescales, counsel can refuse to be bound to a joint tribunal but can make a complaint to the Bar Council under the Withdrawal of Credit Scheme. The Bar Council would take action on such a complaint.
If you are a solicitor considering invoking a joint tribunal with counsel, please complete the application form and agreement to be bound form.
Download the application form (PDF 68kb)
Download the agreement to be bound (PDF 49kb)
Read the frequently asked questions (PDF 61kb)
Before proceeding please ensure that:
- you have informed counsel that you are not satisfied with the fee note (within the stated timescale). You will need to inform counsel in the first instance, and
- you are not in the process of raising a complaint with the Bar Standards Council. If so you will need to wait for the outcome of any such complaint before you can proceed with a joint tribunal.
Send your completed application form and signed agreement to be bound, with the disputed fee note and a short covering letter to:
Law Society Commercial Affairs Admin
Attn: David Smith
The Law Society
113 Chancery Lane
London WC2A 1PL
DX: 56 London/Chancery Lane
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your application will be acknowledged and agreement will be sought from counsel, via the Bar Council. You will be advised when this has been received and asked to submit your statement of case (set out in the standing orders).
If you would like to call us to enquire further, please telephone the Law Society Commercial Affairs Admin Unit on 020 7320 5804.
A joint tribunal is a way to solve a dispute over fee notes and for all circumstances in a dispute to be fairly considered