Consumer News is a roundup of what we do within our remit to regulate barristers in England and Wales. Consumer News delivers everything you need to know about the regulation of barristers in the public interest straight to your inbox.
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In March 2021 we published our annual Business Plan for 2021-22 in which we set out our main priorities for the year.
The Plan – which includes details of our budget for the year ahead – reflects the significant ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on both the profession and our own work.
The Business Plan outlines how, where necessary, we will temporarily put on hold some of our longer-term policy development projects in order to prioritise our core regulatory work and our analysis of the impact of the health emergency. This core work involves overseeing the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister, monitoring the standards of conduct of barristers and compliance with the rules in our Handbook, including the new transparency rules, and ensuring that everyone we authorise to practise is competent to do so.
The policy development which remains important during 2021-22 and which is explained in more detail in the Plan reflects our analysis of risk to the regulatory objectives. Consistent with those risks, the plan targets:
- continuing work to raise standards at the Bar;
- completing the final implementation of Bar training reforms;
- working with the Bar Tribunals Adjudication Service to review their Sanctions Guidance;
- promoting equality and access to justice including tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment at the Bar; and
- ensuring the future supply of pupillage places, and hence of barristers, following a big reduction in response to the health emergency in 2020.
It is common across professions for there to be defined skills and competences (or ‘professional standards’) that members of that profession are expected to meet. Few would argue against the suggestion that our primary role is to set the standards that we expect of barristers and to ensure that those entering the profession meet those standards and continue to do so throughout their careers.
In fulfilling this role, we can give assurance to members of the public that they have access to barristers who are competent to practise.
The question of maintaining and raising standards at the Bar is important and will therefore be one of our priorities for the coming year and we have recently launched a new programme of work about this which we have called our “Assuring Competence” programme.
It is important to acknowledge that there is no evidence of widescale concerns, and standards of practice at the Bar are generally high. Our strategy is therefore focussed on ensuring that those high standards are maintained, with intervention limited to where there is evidence of a problem.
The programme will include implementing targeted regulation to improve standards of advocacy in Coroners’ Courts, looking at how we can improve flows of evidence from the judiciary and others about areas of concern, and how we can improve feedback to individual barristers from a range of stakeholders to inform their self-reflection and continuing professional development.
We will be engaging with consumers and consumer organisations on these issues in the coming weeks and months and are particularly interested to understand what information or assurances you believe that members of the public need in order to have confidence that their barristers meet expected levels of professional standards. Do look out for opportunities to contribute.
We are very keen to do more to increase our consumer engagement and to make sure we continue to represent the views of those who rely on the services provided by barristers in our work to regulate the Bar in England and Wales. This is particularly important given that we always seek to act, first and foremost, in the public interest.
With this in mind, we have recently decided to increase the number of consumer experts on our Advisory Pool of Experts, and to establish a wide and flexible pool of consumer bodies from which subgroups could then be chosen to advise on specific issues.
If your organisation would be interested in joining our pool of consumer bodies or you, as an individual, would be interested in becoming a member of our Advisory Pool of Experts do please let us know. APEX is a pool of external advisors who can be called upon to provide expertise to assist us in performing our regulatory functions. We use APEX for advice and support, helping the organisation to develop policy and make regulatory decisions. APEX is made up of a diverse group of people, from a wide range of backgrounds, who are experts in their respective fields.
Last year, we appointed three new members to our Advisory Pool of Experts (APEX), including Stewart Horne who is an expert on Consumer Affairs.
Members of APEX will be engaged by us on a case-by-case basis and enter into a paid consultancy agreement for services with us for up to ten days’ work per year.
In April, we welcomed the publication by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS) of a first consultation document proposing revisions to parts of the Sanctions Guidance which is used by Disciplinary Tribunals in deciding what sanctions to impose in cases of proven professional misconduct by barristers. The consultation document has been prepared by a Working Group made up of representatives of BTAS, lay and barrister members of the BTAS Disciplinary Tribunal panel and the BSB.
BTAS is responsible for the appointment, operation, and decisions (including sentencing) of disciplinary tribunal panels under a Services Agreement between the BSB and the Council of the Inns of Court. The BSB is responsible for bringing charges of professional misconduct against barristers, which BTAS tribunals then adjudicate. The sanctions imposed are a matter for the tribunal having regard to BTAS Sanctions Guidance which is drawn up in collaboration between BTAS and the BSB
We very much hope that all those with an interest in the sanctions which barristers face for professional misconduct will take part in this consultation. We are of course aware that there has been recent criticism of the sanctions imposed in cases of sexual misconduct but this review also covers a wider range of professional misconduct. It includes proposals to increase the indicative sanctions for some types of misconduct, including misconduct of a sexual nature. It is very important that the final Guidance commands the support of both the public and the profession.
Details of the Review, which closes on 14 June 2021, can be found on the BTAS website.
In November 2020, we published an anti-racist statement which aims to reduce race inequality at the Bar of England and Wales.
The statement, which is available to download from this webpage, was developed in collaboration with barristers and BSB members of the regulator’s Race Equality Taskforce. It has been produced in line with the objectives in our Equality and Diversity Strategy for 2020-22 where race equality is a key focus. Find out more on our website.
In January, we published our annual report on Diversity at the Bar. The report shows that the profession became increasingly diverse in 2020 and that a greater proportion of barristers disclosed their demographic data.
While diversity of the profession continues to improve, there is still more that needs to be done so that the Bar reflects the society it serves.
For the first time, the report uses the term ‘minority ethnic groups’ rather than ‘BAME’ and provides more disaggregated data about ethnicity at the Bar in order to reflect the varied experiences of barristers from different minority ethnic groups.
Some of the key findings include:
- At 60.9 per cent, men still outnumber women at 38.2 per cent of the practising Bar. The percentage of women at the Bar overall increased by 0.2 percentage points during the last year (or 0.4%).
- The percentage of practising barristers from minority ethnic groups overall increased by 0.5 percentage points (or 3.7%) to 14.1 per cent, slightly exceeding the estimate of 13.3 per cent of the working age population in England and Wales.
Different minority ethnic groups have varied levels of representation at the Bar. We have a statutory responsibility to monitor and promote equality and diversity both as an employer and as the regulator of barristers in England and Wales.
At the BSB, one of our commitments is to focus on the use of technology in the profession. We understand the important role innovation and technology could play in improving access to justice. We would like the profession to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities this brings and are keen to play our part in encouraging the use of technology where it can bring benefits. Being a risk-based regulator, it is important that we understand the risks and opportunities that can arise from technological innovation and, where necessary, act quickly to mitigate any risks.
This short blog highlights some of the ways in which we are seeking to gain insight into the use of technology, helping us to understand how new ideas can be translated into reality, and ensuring that regulation adapts to facilitate the opportunities, while managing the risks.
Through our engagement with LawtechUK: This is a Government backed initiative aimed at supporting digital transformation of the UK legal sector. As part of this initiative, the BSB is working alongside other legal services regulators to provide regulatory support to those innovators who were successful in the pilot phase of this initiative. A list of the projects and more on this initiative can be found here. We are excited to be working on this initiative and look forward to seeing what opportunities this could bring to improve access to justice, while at the same time considering what they might mean for the Bar and for the BSB itself.
Flexibility in applications of rules: One of the ways we can facilitate innovation, is through keeping our rules flexible. As we review our Code of Conduct, we aim to remove unnecessary prescription to facilitate different ways of thinking to deliver the right outcomes for the consumer and public interest. If our current rules are acting as a block to innovation or the use of technology, we can consider granting a waiver. More on waivers and how you could apply for one can be found here.
Ongoing engagement with barristers’ practices and further research: last year we sent out a request to barristers’ chambers asking them to answer a range of questions about their practice. Our Regulatory Return, as this is known, included questions relating to the current and future use of technology, as well as the perceived risks and barriers to the take up of technology. We are really looking forward to hearing what is happening in Chambers and to consider where we might be able to do more to enable innovation and better use of technology.
If you wish to discuss our work on technology and innovation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
In April 2021 we published our response to our oversight regulator the LSB’s quality indicators in the legal services market discussion paper.
We are committed to increasing transparency for consumers to provide them with the information, knowledge and tools they need to make effective choices in relation to legal services providers. This is key to ensuring that the legal services market functions well for consumers and supports our regulatory objectives of protecting and promoting the public interest, improving access to justice, protecting and promoting the interests of consumers and promoting competition in the provision of services.
As a result of the Competition and Markets Authority’s review of the legal services market in 2016, we have implemented a number of changes to our regulatory arrangements to increase the availability of information for consumers. This has included setting mandatory transparency rules for all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities, setting additional transparency rules for those undertaking Public Access work and publishing additional best practice on transparency for all (going beyond the mandatory rules). We have also published guidance encouraging barristers to follow good practice when receiving feedback, and a guide for the public on using and leaving feedback about barristers.
We welcome this discussion paper and look forward to engaging further on the topic. Our Business Plan for 2021-22 commits us to collaborating with other legal regulators to understand the possible benefits of quality indicators and pilot new approaches, and to developing a regulatory approach to enabling barristers to better use consumers’ feedback about their services and to improve the indicators available to those seeking to engage the Bar. We are also a member of the regulators’ quality indicators pilot working group and are planning to conduct a pilot in employment law practice. As an evidence-based regulator, it is important for us to collect information to inform proportionate regulatory interventions. In our research programme for 2021-22, we will gather evidence through a) evaluating the impact of the new transparency rules on consumers and b) independent qualitative research to understand the expectations consumers have of barristers (including what quality indicators consumers find useful). Read our full response on our website.
Since the health emergency began earlier this year, we have been extremely conscious of its impact on the public served by the profession we regulate, as well as barristers themselves.
The challenges posed by the pandemic for the legal services market and the wider justice system are complex. As the regulator of the Bar, there are three immediate concerns that we have acted to address.
1. Ensuring that there continues to be an adequate supply of practising barristers available to serve the public, in particular in areas like Criminal and Family Law that have been affected by court closures and significant financial pressures. As a consequence, we have taken steps to make renewing practising certificates - which all practising barristers must hold - easier for those with cash flow issues, and we shall work closely with the profession to alleviate pressures where possible.
2. Maintaining a diverse pipeline of talent into the profession from whom consumers can benefit . We have been particularly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the availability of pupillages (the period of work-based learning that barristers are required to complete in order to be authorised to practise). Our recently published research shows that there is likely to be some pressure on the availability of pupillages over the next two years, and we are committed to doing all we can to support and facilitate the provision of these vital training opportunities. We shall also continue to closely monitor the diversity of the profession and its new entrants, especially in publicly funded areas of practice in which women and BAME barristers are statistically more common.
3. Allowing students to progress onto their careers so that they can become practising barristers available to the public. We have worked hard in this area to make sure that centralised examinations for which we are responsible as part of Bar training go ahead. The online examinations that we held in August regrettably did not work for all students due to technical issues, so we are making alternative arrangements, but the majority of students have been able to complete their exams successfully in order to be in a position to progress to the next stage of their training to become barristers.
We will of course continue to monitor the effects of the health emergency on the Bar and the services it provides to the public and take action where we can.
We have recently appeared on two episodes of Get Legally Speaking, an exciting new legal consumer podcast.
To find out more about the BSB and our work on behalf of legal consumers, please listen to:
In April, we published our new Equality and Diversity Strategy for 2020-2022. It follows our Diversity at the Bar Report in January 2020, which showed that the diversity of the profession was slowly improving but that further progress is needed.
We have developed equality objectives and a corresponding action plan to increase diversity at the Bar so that it better reflects the society it serves and to improve access to justice.While we have a statutory regulatory objective to "encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession" (Legal Services Act 2007), we also believe that a profession which is representative of society will be more effective in meeting the diverse needs of clients. There is of course a moral case for diversity too - it is unfair
The strategy includes objectives to address discrimination and harassment, and to review the role of regulation in enhancing access to justice and wellbeing at the Bar.
The Equality and Diversity Strategy will be implemented over a period of two years. In taking forward the strategy, we will be sensitive to the demands made on the profession by the health emergency, while also ensuring that momentum on this hugely important agenda is maintained.You can read more about our approach to Equality and Diversity on our website.
In July, we published our Annual Report for 2019-20, which summarised our achievements over the year. The report recorded reforms that aimed to benefit consumers and the public, including:
• helping consumers better understand the prices and services of barristers by embedding compliance with the new Bar transparency rules;
• furthering the public's understanding of the Bar and the wider justice system by taking forward a new strategy on Public Legal Education, working closely with organisations that have expertise in helping those in legal need;
• increasing the efficiency of our regulatory decision-making by streamlining and improving the way that we assess and handle reports from the public about those whom we regulate;
• taking steps to make the Bar better reflect the society it serves, including carrying out a review of our Equality Rules, publishing a new Equality and Diversity Strategy, and continuing to take action to tackle bullying and harassment at the Bar; and
• ensuring that the best and brightest can pursue a career at the Bar in order to serve the public by implementing new Bar Qualification Rules, which make training for the Bar more affordable, accessible and flexible while sustaining high standards.
In addition, the Annual Report contained statistics relating to our enforcement action in response to alleged breaches of the BSB Handbook. It showed that during 2019-20, 32 barristers had a disciplinary finding against them of whom 15 were suspended and 10 were disbarred.
Alongside the report, we also published Cost Transparency Metrics for 2019-20, which seek to summarise and explain our costs.
Commenting on the report, BSB Director-General, Mark Neale, said: "“I joined the Bar Standards Board in February 2020 so much of this report describes our work under my excellent predecessor, Dr Vanessa Davies. We made real progress during 2019-20 and achieved success in many key areas of our regulation, including introducing a new system by which new barristers train and qualify, and new transparency rules for the Bar. Our focus now is to ensure that our work helps the profession to recover from the effects of the health emergency for the benefit of everyone who relies on the Bar.”
You can read our Annual Read for 2019-20 on our website.
Consumers need a good understanding of the service they will receive from barristers and the price they will pay. That's why we introduced the transparency rules last year, and in July we published a review of compliance with those rules.
It found that we were already seeing good practice, with 75% of chambers being fully or partially compliant. However, there is room for improvement. We found that the most common themes of non-compliance included failure to provide:
• information about the factors which might influence the timescales of a case;
• a link to the decision data page on the Legal Ombudsman’s website; and
• a link to our Barristers’ Register.
We now expect any chambers or entities not in full compliance to achieve it without delay. This includes those supplying services to consumers directly (known as 'Public Access'), who are subject to additional transparency requirements.
We shall be undertaking follow-up work to check on compliance and will take supervisory/enforcement action where we find continuing failures to meet the requirements, to guarantee that consumers can be assured that they will have the information they need before engaging the services of a barrister.
For more information about the transparency rules, visit our website.
In September, we issued the Regulatory Return questionnaire to 350 chambers and other organisations providing legal services.
This exercise, last undertaken in 2015-16, enables us to assess risks across the Bar and levels of compliance with our rules. It helps us target regulatory supervision where it is most needed, so that we can act proportionately and effectively to protect the public.If you want to know more about the Regulatory Return, visit our website.
In September, we published a new edition of the BSB Handbook, which contains rules about how barristers must behave.
As part of the new edition of the Handbook, we have updated guidance for barristers on Core Duty 9 ("You must be open and cooperative with your regulators"), making clear that this includes all relevant regulators and ombudsman schemes.
Our hope is that this will further strengthen protections for consumers, who - if they have a concern - might first seek redress from an organisation besides the BSB, such as the Legal Ombudsman.
If you are interested in learning more about the BSB Handbook, please visit our website.
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Welcome to the second edition of Consumer News, the quarterly roundup of what the Bar Standards Board (BSB) is doing within its remit to regulate barristers in England and Wales. To stay in the know, email email@example.com.
In January 2020, the BSB set out our new strategy for Public Legal Education (PLE).
The new strategy aims to make it easier for consumers to navigate the complex market for legal services, with a focus on those with poor legal knowledge who might have to represent themselves. To reach and provide meaningful assistance to this group, we are establishing:
a series of corporate partnerships with organisations who have the most expertise in reaching those with low levels of legal knowledge and who might have to represent themselves; and we are increasing investment in our website to provide consumers with clear, practical and high-quality information.
Our first partnership is with Law for Life, a leading charity dedicated to ensuring that people have the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to secure access to justice. Law for Life runs the website, advice now, which is visited 1.2 million times a year, with 76% of its users identifying as actual or potential Litigants in Persons (LiPs). We will support Law for Life to deliver a number of projects by April 2020, including:
producing a resource, the working title for which is "When the other side has a barrister - a guide for Litigants in Person". It will explain what LiPs should expect from a barrister representing the other side, and will review the basic skills they can employ in order to put their own case as well as they can.plugging the gap in information available to Litigants in Person having to take a case about legal issues such as debt, consumer problems, breach of contract and personal injury by producing a series of resources in accessible language that explain how the legal process works and how to explore alternatives to going to court. This series will include: Things You Need Know Before You Sue; Hearings; Interim Applications (How to Ask a Civil Court to Do Something); Legal Costs and Who Pays Them; Evidence Needed to Sue Someone; and How to Settle a Court Claim.producing a route map to suing in the civil court, giving LiPs an overall picture of what is involved in a typical county court case, using a case study.developing a tailored workshop series for women-led organisations supporting highly vulnerable women ex-offenders or women at risk of offending to ensure they are better able to access housing and welfare entitlements.
In addition, we will continue to invest in our website, making clear, practical and high-quality content accessible to consumers. We will create a new section on the BSB website explaining how to report a barrister representing the other side, reinforcing consumers' understanding about what the barrister's role is and what issues do and do not merit a report to the regulator. On our website, the public can already find:
general information about barristers - what they do and how they differ from other lawyers;guidance on finding and using a barrister, explaining when you might need one, how to find and choose one, how to instruct them, and what you can expect;advice on how to search a barrister's record so you can discover whether they have been the subject of disciplinary findings;an explanation of how you can report a concern about a barrister, including when you should report someone to the BSB and when you should report them to the Legal Ombudsman; anda prominent link to Legal Choices, the consumer-facing website which provides independent information about legal issues and lawyers.
There will be more partnerships to come in the next financial year, which will continue to focus on providing information to the public, empowering them to make more informed choices about legal services and their interaction with the justice system in England and Wales.
On 15 October 2019, reforms to the way we deal with information from the public took effect. The main change is that all incoming queries and information will be assessed centrally. This single point of initial contact will make sending information to the BSB ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/ask-us-a-question-or-report-a-concern-landing.html ) easier for members of the public.
It will remain the case that members of the public can send information to the BSB about a barrister who has not represented them.
However, if a member of the public wishes to complain about a barrister of whom they are a client, they should go to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO).
Find out more ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/resources/press-releases/bsb-modernises-its-regulatory-decision-making-and-launches-new-website.html ) about changes to how we deal with information from the public.
Our new rules to improve transparency standards for barristers' clients, which came into force in July 2019, are becoming embedded. Spot checks began in January 2020.
The new rules require barristers' practices to provide consumers with enhanced price and service information. There are also additional rules for providers of Public Access work in which legal services are supplied directly to members of the public rather than via a solicitor.
Find out more ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/for-barristers/compliance-with-your-obligations/transparency-rules.html ) about the transparency rules.
The BSB launched a new website in October 2019 which makes it easier for consumers and members of the public to access the information they need.
Content for the BSB website, which was used by over 300,000 people last year, was developed with help from Law for Life. The website now provides information for consumers that is more comprehensive and accessible than ever before. It includes advice about how to access legal services, how to find and use a barrister, and how to report a concern to the BSB.
The BSB Handbook, which contains the rules for how barristers must behave and work, is now easier for the public to read and navigate. The website's new Handbook feature makes searching for specific rules quick and simple - and there's no need to download the whole Handbook to do so.
Finding relevant content on the new and improved BSB website is straightforward. There are dedicated sections for the public, for students, and for barristers and other legal professionals, containing everything they need to know about BSB rules and guidance.
By improving the information available online, consumers will be empowered to make more informed choices when accessing legal services, and members of the public will be better equipped to report any concerns they have about a barrister to the BSB.
Our work to advance the interests of barristers' clients and consumers
We are pleased to bring you the first edition of Consumer News, a quarterly roundup of what the Bar Standards Board (BSB) is doing within its remit to regulate barristers in England and Wales. Consumer News will deliver everything you need to know about the regulation of barristers in the public interest straight to your inbox. So, if you want to stay in the know, you need to subscribe.
The BSB's new rules to improve transparency standards for barristers' clients came into force in July. The new rules will significantly improve the information available to the public before engaging the services of a barrister.
Barristers' practices will be required to:
State that they may be contacted by the public to obtain a quotation for legal services;Provide contact details for doing this;State their most commonly used pricing model or hourly rate;State the areas of practice in which they most commonly provide legal services;State and provide a description of their most commonly provided legal services;Provide information about the factors which might influence the timescales of their most commonly provided legal services;Display text to show that the practice and its barristers are “regulated by the Bar Standards Board””;Display information about the practice's complaints procedure, any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO), how to complain, and any time limits for making a complaint.
There will also be additional rules for providers of Public Access work, in which legal services are supplied directly to members of the public rather than via a solicitor or another third party.
The change will be a significant shift, empowering consumers to make more informed choices between providers.
The new rules come after the Competition and Markets Authority’s 2016 recommendations that legal regulators deliver a step change in transparency standards, to help consumers understand the price and service they receive, what redress is available, and the regulatory status of their provider.
Whilst barristers will be required to comply with the new transparency rules, there will be an implementation period until January 2020, after which spot checks will take place.
Read more ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases-and-news/latest-edition-of-bsb-handbook-introduces-new-bar-transparency-rules/ )
The BSB’s new Strategic Plan 2019-2022, published in March, contains the Bar Standards Board's aims for the next three years:
Delivering risk-based, targeted and effective regulation.Encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.Advancing access to justice in a changing market.
The BSB also identified three themes posing the greatest risk to its statutory objectives:
Working cultures and professional environment inhibit an independent, strong, diverse and effective profession.Innovation and disruption in the legal services market of opportunities for the profession and the public.Affordability and lack of legal knowledge threaten access to justice.
Read more ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases-and-news/new-bsb-strategic-plan-sets-out-regulatory-priorities/ )
The new edition of BSB Handbook, published in April 2019, adopted the civil standard of proof for professional misconduct proceedings to alleged breaches of the Code by barristers occurring after 31 March.
The standard of proof will change from the criminal standard ("beyond reasonable doubt" or "satisfied so as to be sure") to the civil standard ("on the balance of probabilities" or "more likely than not") for conduct that occurred after 31 March. The criminal standard will continue to be applied to alleged professional misconduct that occurred before that date. This change came after a public consultation in 2017 and will bring the Bar's disciplinary arrangements in line with those of other professional regulators.
We are reforming how we handle information we receive from members of the public to make our processes more efficient.
It will remain the case that members of the public can send information to the BSB about a barrister who has not represented them.
However, if a member of the public wishes to complain about a barrister of whom they are a client, they should go the Legal Ombudsman (LeO).
Read more ( https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/complaints-and-professional-conduct/making-a-complaint/ )