23 September 2019

Independent Observer

Between May 2011 and December 2016, the BSB's lay Independent Observer provided independent assurance that the BSB's enforcement system was operating in line with its aims and objectives. 

In July 2007, the BSB published ' A Strategic Review of Complaints and Disciplinary Processes' undertaken by Robert Behrens, the then Complaints Commissioner. One of the recommendations was that the Bar Standards Board should 'give serious consideration to appointing a "Lay Observer" with responsibility for checking all aspects of the system to ensure that it is operating in line with the agreed objectives and procedures. The "Lay Observer" could be tasked with attending an agreed number of Complaints Committee meetings and tribunals as well as spot-checking files, particularly on dismissed cases'.

The BSB accepted this recommendation and the post of 'Independent Observer' was established in 2008. The Independent Observer was appointed by the BSB to observe and comment on the activities of its Professional Conduct Department and Professional Conduct Committee. It was a part time role,  contracted for 55 days/year.

The role profile (see below) of the Independent Observer included:

• Reviewing all aspects of the complaints and disciplinary system for which the BSB is responsible

• Developing an appropriate quality assurance programme, agreeing it with the Governance, Risk and Audit Committee and working in accordance with the agreed plan

• Reporting observations and any recommendations to the Governance, Risk and Audit Committee - currently chaired by Malcolm Cohen - which in turn reports to the Board

The Independent Observer does not act as an independent adjudicator. The post-holder has no powers to review the progress or outcome of individual complaints and cannot respond to individual parties about complaints.

The Independent Observer was Mrs Isobel Leaviss.

Mrs Isobel Leaviss was appointed to the post of Independent Observer in May 2010. She brings experience of financial regulation having worked as a banking supervisor at the Bank of England and as a credit risk analyst at Goldman Sachs. Isobel subsequently worked at the London Development Agency where she fulfilled a number of corporate roles which included policy development, performance management, process improvement and complaint handling. She brings case management experience from her role as Programme Director for the Olympic Park site assembly and relocations programme. Isobel has an Executive MBA from the University of Chicago. Isobel has recently been invited to join the Board of the National Housing Federation and joined the General Pharmaceutical Council Fitness to Practice panel with effect from September 2016.

The Independent Observer's reports produced since 2011 can be accessed online.

For more information on the BSB's enforcement systems, please click here.

Independent Observer Role Profile

Key responsibilities include:

  • Establishing whether in respect of the BSB's enforcement system
    • Cases are handled in a timely manner in line with service standards;
    • Investigations of complaints are carried out, in accordance with policies and procedures, thoroughly and fairly and with appropriate consideration of equality and diversity issues;
    • Decisions of the Professional Conduct Committee and staff are made consistently and in accordance with agreed criteria;
    • The reasons for decisions are explained fully and clearly to the parties;
    • Cases are transferred effectively, efficiently and correctly between the BSB and the Legal Ombudsman;
    • The arrangements made for holding disciplinary hearings are handled effectively by the BSB;
    • The handling of the BSB of the prosecution of disciplinary cases and appeals and the BSB's treatment of all parties is fair, effective and in accordance with laid down procedures; and
    • In all other respects, complaints are being dealt with in accordance with the aims, objectives and service standards set for the complaints and disciplinary system. 
  • Developing an appropriate quality assurance programme; agreeing it with the Governance, Risk and Audit Committee (GRA); and working in accordance with the agreed plan. 
  • At the request of the (GRA) or the Bar Standards Board, conduct enquiries into identified issues of concern and report on such enquiries.
  • To prepare and submit to the (GRA) six monthly reports containing
    • A summary of activities
    • Evidence based rational, robust observations and conclusions
    • Recommendations to address any systemic weaknesses identified or areas for improvement
    • An annual general assessment of performance in relation to the relevant aspects of the enforcement system for publication on the BSB's website.

The Independent Observer does not act as an independent adjudicator and is not tasked with reviewing the merits of individual decisions but rather the application of policies and procedures.

The Independent Observer has no powers to review the progress or outcome of individual complaints and cannot respond to individual parties about complaints.


Aims and Objectives of the BSB's complaints and disciplinary system



  • Act in the public interest
  • Protect the public and consumers of legal services
  • Maintain high standards of behaviour and performance of the Bar
  • Provide appropriate and fair systems for dealing with complaints and disciplinary action;
  • Promote public and professional confidence in the complaints and disciplinary process; and
  • Ensure complaints are dealt with fairly, expeditiously and consistently



  • Deal with complaints made against barristers promptly, thoroughly and fairly;
  • Ensure proportionate action is taken in relation to barristers who breach the Code of Conduct; and
  • Be open, fair, transparent and accessible.