It seems that the exclusive privileges of barristers to appear in higher courts has slowly been eroded by various acts including in 1990 and 1999. I assume the answer is yes, but Does anything remain of exclusive privileges?

And yet it seems that a fundamental precept of the concept of litigants in person is that no legal representation is strictly required at all, so can barristers actually do anything that laymen truly cannot (for themselves)?

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    I edited to add the qualifier "for themselves" because otherwise, clearly barristers can do lots of things that laymen can't do - for others. For example, a layperson cannot conduct litigation or obtain rights of audience on behalf of a third party in most courts without the court's consent.
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 11:25

2 Answers 2


One important formal difference is that self-represented litigants cannot claim the same costs if they prevail in a civil case. Costs are capped at 2/3 of what they would have received, had they been represented. ("Disbursements", such as court fees, are not subject to the same limit.) Moreover, their deemed hourly rate is £19/hr, unless it's possible to demonstrate that they've incurred greater financial loss as a result of doing the work. This is much less than the billed rate for qualified counsel.

A less practical privilege is wearing gowns and wigs. Self-represented litigants are not allowed to pretend that they are barristers by donning their finest horsehair, or going on about "my learned friend". Solicitor-advocates are "my friend" but laypeople should not use this language at all.

Outside of the courtroom, ordinary people can in principle do their own conveyancing (for example), but there are many practical obstacles. One is being fully exposed to the costs of mistakes. Mortgage lenders will often refuse to let random members of the public take care of the legal intricacies, and some solicitors on the other side will advise their clients not to bother. There are also a few technicalities which are easier for practicing solicitors, such as access to DX (a specialist private postal service) for shuttling reams of paper documents across the country. Case law (Domb v Isoz [1980] 1 All ER 942) lets solicitors effect an exchange of contracts by telephone, but this has not been recognised for other people, who continue to have to do it physically.

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    Great point. 2/3 isn't bad at all. In New Zealand, pro se litigants can't claim any costs other than disbursements.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 19:16
  • This answer seems to be largely limited to people representing themselves, rather than solicitors, although the question seems to be about both.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 20:20


Technically, there’s nothing Novak Djokovic can do on a tennis court that I can’t. He’s just better than me at it than me in every possible way - although I’d back myself over him to design the engineering services in the stadium.

Self-represented litigants are allowed at all levels of the the justice system and courts will generally allow them every procedural break that they can. But … a barrister is a professional at the top of the game who knows the relevant law, the court’s procedures, the rules of evidence, and has practice, practice, practice. The layman doesn’t. Nor does the solicitor.

Look, tennis is an absolutely fair game, just like the courts. But if you put me against Djokovic, I know who’s going to win.

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    Sorry for the need to clarify but I had meant is there anything that laymen aren't permitted by the courts to do by themselves. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 11:43
  • Yes but like tennis surely also has certain absolute rules about who is allowed onto a court: are men allowed into women's tournaments? Adults into children's? People over the relevant weight class? Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 11:45
  • @JosephP. Of course they have rules. Barristers know them.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 11:48
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    Actually you could win a tennis match against Djokovic. You just need to be covid vaccinated, and to stage the match in a country where a covid vaccination is required for entry. Doing so will enable you to win by default. (which to me means that Djokovic is probably not the best tennis player to use in this example)
    – Peter M
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:01
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    I feel that the spirit of this question was about the differences between barristers and solicitors in terms of what is permitted. I.e., given the direct access scheme for barristers and higher rights of audience for solicitors, is a barrister functionally equivalent to a solicitor or does there remain anything which continues to separate them? This seems to me to be a non-legal answer (barristers are better at law than laypersons) to what was a legal question (how does the law distinguish barristers from others who might try to practice law?).
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 13:33

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