16 December 2018

Assuring the competence of barristers

Background

As a public interest regulator, we have a public duty to assure the competence of barristers. We are committed to doing so in a risk- and evidence-based way.

Over the past few years, we have introduced a number of regulatory initiatives that are designed to support standards of practice at the Bar. These initiatives, alongside the development of information gathering arrangements and an improvement in our understanding of external controls which offer assurance  of competence, form a regulatory framework to assure the competence of barristers.

This approach has been formally adopted by the BSB following the removal of the rules around QASA from the BSB Handbook.

Details on the Approach

We have developed a regulatory framework that supports the profession to take greater responsibility for its own professional competence and, therefore, to limit regulatory intervention to where it is most needed. There are three main ways in which our regulatory framework assures the competence of barristers:  

  1. By considering the effectiveness of the regulatory controls that the BSB has put in place to assure competence;
  2. By considering the effectiveness of the work by other organisations to assure competence; 
  3. By encouraging referrals of reports on individual performance, so that we can work with individuals to raise standards and identify trends.

Assurance

The diagram above outlines the evidence we are using to assure ourselves, the profession and the public, of the competence of barristers. Taking each in turn:  

-      Regulatory Controls

There are several regulatory controls in place which assure the competence of barristers, stemming from a requirement in the BSB Handbook that barristers should not undertake work unless competent do so. Barristers are also required, from day one of practice, to have the knowledge, skills and attributes outlined in the Professional Statement and Threshold Standards, as well as a requirement around Continuing Professional Development, for ongoing assurance.

Where we have a particular concern about professional competence, we may introduce targeted regulation, for example, there are specific competence and registration requirements in relation to Youth Court advocacy.

-      Information gathering

We receive a range of information about competence on an individual and thematic level. We are working to ensure that we are sharing information with relevant organisations as efficiently as possible, alongside encouraging reports from third parties around competence.

-      External/ market controls

Within the legal services market, there are several means by which the profession's competence is assessed and enhanced. There are a number of bodies which provide training to barristers in support of maintaining standards and in upholding the professionalism that barristers view as integral to their position within the legal system. There are also additional requirements for panels or in certain areas of practice.