18 January 2018

What will you do with the complaint about me?

We always use the same four stage process to ensure that we deal with all complaints fairly and efficiently.

 

Stage 1 - Initial Assessment

 

When we receive a complaint, we carry out an initial assessment to see if

  • you may have broken a rule in the Handbook, and
  • if there is anything which would prevent it from being investigated fairly, and
  • if it is potentially serious enough to warrant us investigating it further.

If we decide that we should not carry out a formal investigation, we will write to you and let you know.  We may take no action at all, or we may refer the complaint to your chambers, or to our supervision team, or we may send you an informal letter reminding you of the expected standards of behaviour. Sometimes the first a barrister, or other person we regulate, hears of the complaint will be when they get a letter from us saying that the complaint will not be formally investigated.

If we decide that we should carry out a formal investigation, we move on to stage two.

We will usually tell you the outcome of this first step within eight weeks of receiving the complaint about you.

 

"A litigant in person in a case I was involved in made a complaint because she felt that I had bullied her and misled the court. I got a letter from the Bar Standards Board telling me that they had received the complaint and included a copy of the complaint form, but asking me not to respond until I had heard from them further. Next thing I heard, they had dismissed the complaint and said there was no case to answer. "

"I got a letter from the Bar Standards Board saying they were investigating a complaint about me because of an argument I got into with someone on Twitter. I had a nervous few weeks, but then I got a letter saying the complaint would go no further because it was in my private life."

   

Stage 2 - Investigation

 

We carry out a formal investigation of the complaint. At this point we send you a summary of the issues we will be investigating, a copy of the complaint form, and copies of any supporting evidence, and ask for your response. If the Legal Ombudsman has also investigated the complaint, they will give us any relevant documents. In some cases, we may already have a lot of the information we need to decide whether to take action against you. However, we will still ask for your comments before making a decision.

We also write to any other people who can provide information about the complaint, asking for their comments and any relevant documents they can provide. This could include your instructing solicitor, a judge, or anyone who may have seen or heard things relevant to the complaint. We will tell you who they are, and if you think there are any other relevant witnesses, you can give us their details, or you can approach them directly for information if you think it appropriate.

We keep everyone informed of progress and will send your response (and any others) to the complainant.

This step usually takes about six months from the date we received the complaint, although it can take longer if the issues are complicated or we need to wait for the outcome of court proceedings or an investigation by the Legal Services Ombudsman before completing our investigation.

"I got a letter from the Bar Standards Board saying they were investigating a complaint that had been made about a comment I had made in a closing speech. 

I responded with my version of events and I know they got evidence from others involved in the case.

At the end of the investigation stage they concluded that I hadn't done anything wrong and dismissed the complaint."

 

Stage 3 - Decision by staff or the Professional Conduct Committee

 

Once we have all the information we need, we look at whether this is something our staff have the power to assess and make a decision on themselves or whether we should pass it on to the Professional Conduct Committee (which is made up of barristers and non-barristers). Where we have passed a case on to the Professional Conduct Committee, they assess whether there is enough evidence to show that you have broken the rules and decide what action to take.

Whether the decision is made by staff or the Professional Conduct Committee, at this stage the complaint could be dismissed or withdrawn, you might be given a written warning, or you might be given a fine of up to £1,000. Or, if the issue is more serious, we will either pass it on to a disciplinary tribunal or pass it on for determination by consent.

If you receive a written warning or a fine of up to £1,000 then, assuming you pay the fine, the matter goes no further and only the parties to the complaint and the Bar Standards Board will know about it.

"I got a letter saying they were investigating me because I was late renewing my practising certificate, it had just slipped my mind. I sorted out the renewal that day and let the Bar Standards Board know. I got a massive fine and a letter warning me not to make that mistake again."

"I was charged with possession of cocaine after a night out last year and given a caution. Then I got a letter from the Bar Standards Board telling me that they were investigating me because I had failed to report it. I thought it was going to end my career! It took a while to sort out but it wasn't as bad as I feared. I admitted it, so I didn't have to go to the disciplinary tribunal. But the fine was bigger than it would have been if I had remembered to report it."

  

Stage 4- Determination by consent or Disciplinary Tribunal

 

If you agree, and there is no substantial dispute about the facts of the complaint, the Professional Conduct Committee can make a decision on whether your behaviour constituted professional misconduct. This is what we call 'determination by consent'. If it concludes that it was misconduct, the Professional Conduct Committee can: 

  • fine you
  • impose conditions on your licence or authorisation to practise
  • reprimand you or nominate another person to give you a reprimand
  • advise you as to your future conduct or nominate another person to give you advice, or
  • order you to complete continuing professional development.

If you have agreed to a determination by consent and the Professional Conduct Committee concludes that your behaviour does amount to professional misconduct, its findings and the sanction it imposes will be published on the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service's website, our website, the Barristers' Register (if applicable), Counsel Magazine, and on Certificates of Good Standing. We will also provide details to members of the public and the Judicial Appointments Commission if they ask for them. If you are a QC we will also inform the Queen's Counsel Appointments, if you are not we will only inform them if we are asked.

If you do not agree to a determination by consent or some of the facts are disputed, and the matter is serious enough, the case is passed on to the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS), an independent organisation that arranges the disciplinary tribunals. It usually takes a few months to arrange the disciplinary tribunal hearing and they usually take place within 12 months of us receiving the complaint, but it can take longer.

At the disciplinary tribunal hearing we, as regulator of the profession, present the case against you. You have the opportunity of presenting evidence in your defence (see "What do I need to do?" for details of how to get representation).

The tribunal will make the final decision on whether you broke the rules and what action should be taken. As well as all the powers of the Professional Conduct Committee listed above, tribunals can also decide to impose a fine of up to £50,000, suspend you for a period of up to three years, disbar you, or impose conditions on your practice.

If the disciplinary tribunal concludes that your behaviour does amount to professional misconduct, the outcome of the tribunal and the sanction they impose will be published on the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service's website, our website, the Barristers' Register (if applicable), Counsel Magazine, and on Certificates of Good Standing. We will also provide details to members of the public and the Judicial Appointments Commission if they ask for them. If you are a QC we will also inform the Queen's Counsel Appointments, if you are not we will only inform them if we are asked. If the tribunal thinks it appropriate, they can also inform other bodies. The Head of Chambers will automatically be informed if you are suspended or disbarred (if applicable) and a press release to the media will be issued.

 "I received a letter telling me that the BSB were investigating a complaint about me because I hadn't done all the Continuous Professional Development hours that I should have.  I put off responding because I was going to sort it out, but I shouldn't have. I ended up with a worse fine than I would have got if I'd come clean, and I had to go to a Disciplinary Tribunal which was a stress I could have done without. "

 

Disclaimer

The information in these pages applies to barristers, and other people we regulate, in England and Wales.

The law that regulates barristers and lawyers is complicated. We have simplified things to give you an idea of how it applies to your situation. Please don't rely on these pages as a complete statement of the law.

The quotes and cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We hope they help you to understand the system better and think about what might happen to the complaint.