25 September 2012

BSB Handbook and Entity Regulation consultation released

We have launched a consultation on a new Code of Conduct for barristers, which includes proposals for regulating new types of business structure.

The new Code of Conduct, to be known as the BSB Handbook, is designed to be easier to navigate so that barristers and, above all, clients can readily see what is expected from barristers in relation to:

  • the court
  • the client
  • the regulator
  • their practice, and
  • their behaviour towards others

The BSB Handbook will be more outcomes focussed than the current Code of Conduct, but retains core duties and rules in order to ensure clarity about what is expected of barristers. It will also increase consumer choice by permitting barristers and BSB authorised entities to apply for authorisation to conduct litigation, in order to be able to offer "one stop" litigation and advocacy services.

The consultation provides more details about our plans to expand the range of business structures available at the Bar. Whilst many barristers will choose to continue to practice under the traditional self-employed referral model, others may wish to form firms or companies, either for all of their work or, for example, to service work under a particular contract and can apply to us to regulate them as entities.  We intend to continue to be a niche regulator, specialising in advocacy focussed businesses.

We are set to introduce a new risk based approach to supervision and enforcement, where energy and resources will focus on the greatest areas of risk and regulatory issues will be resolved through an enhanced use of supervision and monitoring to promote compliance, with only more serious cases of breach being dealt with by way of disciplinary action.

We are also seeking to strengthen our disciplinary mechanisms for dealing with serious breaches of the Handbook.  These include:

  • An extension of interim suspension rules to broaden the grounds for interim suspension and introduce immediate suspension in exceptional cases;
  • Applying the civil standard of proof to administrative action and increasing the available sanctions from £300 to  £3,000 for individuals and £5,000 for businesses;
  • Expanding the current rules on determination by consent, disciplinary tribunals and interim suspension to cover businesses as well as individuals
  • The introduction of a new power of disqualification to disqualify people from working for BSB authorised individuals or businesses
  • An increase in the level of fines available for breaches of the Handbook

 

Commenting on the consultation, Patricia Robertson QC, BSB Board member and Chair of the BSB's Entity Regulation Working Group, said

"This is a key milestone for both the BSB and the Bar. As the specialist regulator of advocacy, we want to cater for a broader range of business structures so that barristers, and those wishing to work alongside them, can be regulated by us whether they choose to remain self employed or to form a firm or company.  This opens up greater choice for consumers and wider opportunities for the Bar.  We have stripped away rules we think are no longer needed.  We have reviewed our supervision, enforcement and disciplinary strategies, to make sure we deal with things proportionately but can come down hard when that's what is needed to protect the public.

"The results of this consultation will be far reaching and so we will be ensuring we consult widely. We encourage anyone interested in the future of legal services to respond and look forward to hearing their views."