25 November 2017

What will happen as a result of your complaint

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

  • the barrister, or other person we regulate, 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 for us to investigate it further.

We will usually tell you the outcome of our initial assessment within eight weeks.

If we decide that we should carry out a formal investigation, we will also send you a summary of the issues we will be investigating and give you the opportunity to comment on it (we normally ask for your comments within seven days).

If we decide that we should not carry out a formal investigation, we will write to you explaining our reasons for this decision. We will also tell you if we have decided to take another course of action. For example, we refer some complaints to the barrister's chambers, or other person we regulate's place of work, others we might refer to our supervision team who can work with the chambers or place of work in question to ensure the problem doesn't happen again, or we might send an informal letter to the barrister, or other person we regulate, reminding them of the expected standards of behaviour.

 

Stage 2 - Investigation

 

We will carry out a formal investigation of your complaint. We will write to the barrister, or other person we regulate, and any other people who can provide information on your complaint, asking for their comments and any relevant documents they can provide. We will keep you informed of progress and send you the response from the barrister, or other person we regulate, and others if we think that you could provide more information.

This step usually takes about six months from the date we received your 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.

 

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 ourselves or we 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 the barrister, or other person we regulate, has not followed the rules and decide what action to take. If there is enough evidence, the Professional Conduct Committee will decide what action to take. This might be a written warning or a fine of up to £1,000, or, for more serious complaints, passing the matter on to a disciplinary tribunal. It usually takes a few months to arrange the tribunal hearing. 

Whether the decision is made by staff or the Professional Conduct Committee, at this stage the complaint could be dismissed or withdrawn, or the barrister, or other person we regulate, might be given a written warning or 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 for determination by consent (explained below).

 

Stage 4- Determination by consent or Disciplinary Tribunal

 

If the barrister, or other person we regulate, agrees that they have not followed the rules, the Professional Conduct Committee can make a decision to: 

  • fine them;
  • impose conditions on their licence or authorisation to practise;
  • reprimand them;
  • advise them about their future conduct; or,
  • order them to complete continuing professional development.

We call this "determination by consent".

If they do not agree that they have broken the rules, or if the matter is serious, we pass it on to a disciplinary tribunal. It usually takes a few months to arrange the tribunal hearing. 

The disciplinary tribunal hearings are arranged by an independent organisation called the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service(BTAS). At the hearing we try to prove the charges against them. We don't act on your behalf, but as the regulator of the profession.  We make all the decisions about what charges to bring against them, and what evidence to present. At the tribunal they have the opportunity to present evidence in their defence.

You may need to appear as a witness if it does go to a disciplinary tribunal. If so, we will provide you with information about what will happen, and what will be expected of you. We will also pay your reasonable expenses to help you get to the hearing and give you the opportunity to visit the place where the tribunal will be heard in advance if you are feeling nervous.

The tribunal will make the final decision on whether they have broken the rules and what action should be taken. They may decide to give them a fine of up to £50,000, suspend them for a period of up to three years, or remove their ability to practise as a barrister, or other person we regulate, permanently (this is called "disbarring" or "disqualification"). We will tell you the tribunal's decision.

Disciplinary tribunals usually take place within 12 months of us receiving your complaint, but it can take longer.

 

"I was worried that my complaint wouldn't get anywhere. And the longer it took, the more I lost heart. It took a year, but eventually the barrister was disbarred so at least I know that nobody else is going to be treated like that by her."

 

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.