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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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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/ )