If we investigate a concern and think the problem is very serious, we pass the case on to the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS) is an independent organisation that arranges Disciplinary Tribunals for barristers. We have no influence over the members chosen to hear disciplinary cases or the decisions they make.
It usually takes a few months to arrange a Disciplinary Tribunal hearing and they usually take place within 12 months of the concern being reported to us, but it can take longer.
Disciplinary Tribunals are made up of a panel of three or five people, depending on how serious the case is. Both panels follow the same process, but a panel made up of five people can give more serious sanctions than a panel of three people.
For more information about how we investigate concerns reported to us and decide whether to pass the case on to the BTAS or deal with it in another way, see how we make enforcement decisions.
A three-person tribunal is made up of:
- a chair, who is usually a Queen's Counsel (a very senior barrister) but sometimes a judge;
- a barrister member; and
- a person who is not a legal professional.
The most serious sanction a three-person panel can give a barrister is suspending them from practise for up to 12 months (or, if the conduct happened before 6 January 2014 when the rules changed, for three months).
The penalties a three-person panel can give to a barrister or other person we regulate include:
- giving them advice;
- warning them about their behaviour;
- making them complete further professional development training;
- ordering them to pay a fine of up to £50,000 (or £15,000 if the conduct happened before 6 January 2014);
- banning them from accepting work directly from members of the public without the involvement of a solicitor (this is called ‘Public Access’ work) and/or; and
- suspending them for up to 12 months (or three months if the conduct happened before 6 January 2014).
They can also decide that the conduct is not bad enough to require a penalty.
If the panel thinks that a more serious sanction than they can give may be appropriate, they can send the case to a five-person disciplinary tribunal to decide what sanction to give.
A five-person disciplinary tribunal is made up of:
- a chair (always a judge);
- two barristers; and
- two members of the public who are not legal professionals.
A five-person panel can give the same sanctions as a three-person panel, but can also:
- suspend the barrister, or other person we regulate, for any period of time; and
- disbar/disqualify the barrister, or other person we regulate. This means prevent them from being a barrister or other regulated person.
For more information about the sanctions available to Disciplinary Tribunals, see the Sanctions Guidance from BTAS.
The disciplinary tribunal process has four stages.
Stage One – Confirmation of which rules or duties the BSB think have been broken and provision of the supporting documents
Within ten weeks of our decision to send the case to a Disciplinary Tribunal, we will confirm which rules and/or duties we think the barrister, or other person we regulate, has broken. These are presented as written charges and are listed on a formal charge sheet. Each charge sets out the way in which we think the rules and/or duties have been broken. There is no limit to the number of charges that can be included on a charge sheet.
The charge sheet is sent to the barrister, or other person we regulate, along with all the documents we consider relevant to prove the charges. If there are problems getting documents, they may be sent at a later date.
Stage Two − Agreeing the timetable for the case
The second stage involves agreeing a timetable for the Disciplinary Tribunal. The timetable is set out in the form of “directions”, which will usually include:
- a deadline for the barrister, or other person we regulate, to provide a response in the form of a statement and any supporting documents;
- a deadline for the barrister, or other person we regulate, to state when he or she is available for the hearing; and
- the estimated length of the hearing.
We try to agree the timetable with the barrister, or other person we regulate.
If they do not agree with the timetable, a Directions Judge will need to decide what is appropriate based on written statements from us and the barrister or other person we regulate.
In some cases, the barrister or other person we regulate may argue that some, or all, of the charges should be dismissed before the Tribunal Hearing, because they are wrong in law or cannot be proved. After considering the statements, the Directions Judge can decide that:
- a Directions Hearing is not necessary and set an appropriate timetable; or
- a Directions Hearing should take place.
When a Directions Hearing is needed it is held in private. The barrister, or other person we regulate, has the chance to put forward arguments about the timetable or about whether the charges should be dismissed, and we have a chance to respond to them. The person who reported the concern cannot attend. The outcome will not be made publicly available but people who are affected by the decision, such as witnesses, will be told what happened.
In most cases, the Directions Judge will make a decision at the hearing. In some cases though, they may decide to issue a written judgment. If this happens, it may be a number of weeks before the written judgment is available.
Stage Three − Agreeing the date of the Disciplinary Tribunal
The third stage decides when the Disciplinary Tribunal hearing should take place. This is sometimes decided at stage two but in many cases the date for the hearing will be decided by BTAS based on availability. Sometimes the date for the hearing may be set without BTAS knowing whether the barrister or other regulated person concerned will be available.
Where there are witnesses who need to attend the hearing, BTAS will also take into account their availability and any needs that they have.
Stage Four − The Disciplinary Tribunal
BTAS will tell the barrister or other person we regulate the date, time and place of the hearing.
Disciplinary Tribunals are normally held in public unless the Directions Judge or the Disciplinary Tribunal has decided that the hearing should take place in private. Details of the hearing will be posted on the BTAS website once the hearing date has been confirmed.
The Disciplinary Tribunal will usually start with the Clerk to the Tribunal reading out the charges and asking the barrister or other person we regulate to admit or deny them. If they admit all the charges, the case will usually proceed straight to sanction.
If they deny all or any of the charges, we will present our case, including calling any witnesses to give evidence. We are normally represented by a barrister acting on our behalf. The barrister or other person we regulate, or their representative, will then have the chance to present their case and call witnesses.
After both sides have presented their cases, the Disciplinary Tribunal panel will decide whether or not the charges are proved. The members of the Tribunal panel will go into a private room to discuss the case and make the decision. This can take a number of hours if the case is complicated.
The rules about the level of evidence and amount of certainty that the Tribunal need to find a charge proved against a barrister or other person we regulate changed in 2019. If the conduct described in the charges happened before 1 April 2019, the Tribunal needs to conclude that the evidence shows the rules or duties were broken “beyond reasonable doubt”. (This is the same as used in a criminal court case.) If the conduct happened after 1 April 2019, the tribunal needs to conclude that the evidence shows that the rules or duties were broken on the “balance of probabilities”. (This is the same standard of proof as used in a civil court case.)
After the Tribunal panel has made its decision, the panel will return to the hearing room to announce it.
If the barrister or other person we regulate admits the charges, or the Tribunal panel finds them proved, the Disciplinary Tribunal has to decide what penalty is appropriate. We will give the Tribunal panel details of any previous disciplinary findings against the barrister or other person we regulate, and will also refer them to any relevant sections of the Sanctions Guidance issued by BTAS.
The barrister, or other person we regulate, will then be able to present any information that the Tribunal should take into account. The Tribunal panel will, again, go into a private room to decide what penalty is appropriate.
They will normally announce the decision at the hearing, but they may decide that written reasons should be provided after the hearing. If this happens, it could take several weeks before the reasons are available.
The outcome of the case and the sanction will be published on the BTAS website, be included in the formal disciplinary record of the barrister or other person we regulate, and will be available on the past disciplinary findings and future hearings page.
The judgement and sanction imposed can be appealed by the barrister or other person we regulate, or by us. To find out more, see appeals. If this happens, we will tell other people involved in the case, such as witnesses, if there is an appeal and what the outcome is.
If you have any questions about the Disciplinary Tribunal process, please contact our Investigations and Enforcement Team or BTAS.
Bar Standards Board
Investigations and Enforcement Team
Bar Standards Board
289-293 High Holborn
Phone: 020 7611 1444
Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service
9 Grays Inn Square
Phone: 0203 432 7350