26 September 2018

BSB seeks views on draft of new Bar transparency rules

13 September 2018

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today launched a consultation to seek views about its proposed new rules to improve transparency standards for clients of the Bar.  

After a period of consultation last year in response to the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA's) market study of legal services, the BSB published its revised approach to improving transparency for consumers of barristers' services in February 2018. The new transparency standards relate to information about the areas of law in which barristers practise, the legal services provided by barristers, what those services cost and a client's right to redress.

Between November 2017 and February 2018, the regulator ran a pilot scheme with nine chambers, entities and sole practitioners to test some suggested minimum disclosure requirements in order to help it finalise its rules. An evaluation report of the pilot is published alongside today's consultation launch. Also published today, is a new research report ( Summary, Full Report, Technical Annex) commissioned by the BSB to explore how consumers make decisions when searching for barristers, and to test how consumers respond to different methods of presenting price and service information.

BSB Director General, Dr Vanessa Davies said: "We have consulted extensively about our response to the CMA's recommendations on transparency. Following the consultation, a further period of research and a pilot scheme with a group of barristers' chambers and other organisations, we are confident that the new rules to improve transparency standards adequately reflect the often highly complex nature of barristers' work. The purpose of this consultation is to make sure that the way we have drafted the new rules is clear, and that the guidance will help the Bar to comply with the new rules. We would very much like to hear from anybody who has a view on this."

Following the completion of this consultation period and approval by the Legal Services Board (LSB), these rules will come into force by May 2019. To ensure compliance with the transparency rules, the BSB will undertake spot-checking from January 2020.

The full consultation can be found here. The consultation closes on Friday 14 December 2018 at 5pm.

ENDS

Notes for editors

The new rules require all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB regulated entities to publish on their websites:

  • their most commonly used pricing models for legal services, such as whether they charge fixed fees or hourly rates;
  • a statement making it clear that solicitors and other professional advisers who can contract directly with barristers, and lay clients in chambers where clients can contract directly with barristers through the Public Access scheme, may make contact to obtain a quotation for legal services;
  • the areas of law in which they most commonly provide legal services;
  • a description of the legal services which they most commonly provide;
  • information about the factors which might influence the timescales of a case;
  • the text "regulated by the Bar Standards Board";
  • information about complaints procedures, any right to complain to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and how to do this, and any time limits for making a complaint;
  • a link to the decision data on the LeO's website, allowing consumers to see which providers received an ombudsman's decision in the previous calendar year; and
  • a link to the Barristers' Register on the BSB's website, allowing consumers to see whether a barrister (1) has a current practising certificate and (2) has any disciplinary findings.

Barristers undertaking Public Access work will also need to display a link to the Public Access Guidance for Lay Clients on the BSB's website. If they provide certain Public Access services then, in certain circumstances, their websites will also need to state the following in relation to those services:

  • their pricing model(s), such as fixed fee or hourly rate;
  • indicative fees and the circumstances in which they may vary;
  • whether their fees include VAT;
  • likely additional costs e.g. court fees;
  • a description of the service, including a statement of the key stages; and
  • an indicative timescale for the key stages.

The Public Access services which, in certain circumstances, barristers will need to publish this information on their websites are as follows:

  • child arrangements arising out of divorce or separation;
  • Employment Tribunal cases (advice and representation for employers and employees);
  • financial disputes arising out of divorce;
  • immigration appeals (First-tier Tribunal);
  • Inheritance Act advices;
  • licensing applications in relation to business premises;
  • personal injury claims;
  • summary only motoring offences (advice and representation for defendants); and
  • winding-up petitions.

For the specific circumstances in which Public Access barristers will need to publish this information on their websites, and examples of the required information, see the draft guidance which the regulator has also published today. When finalised, the guidance will help the Bar to comply with the new rules as they come into force.

The draft guidance has six main sections:

1. Introduction to the guidance;

2. Mandatory transparency rules for all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB entities;

3. Additional transparency rules for those undertaking Public Access work;

4. Additional best practice on transparency for all (which goes beyond the mandatory rules);

5. Checklists to help with compliance, and information about the BSB's supervision and enforcement strategy; and

6. Annexes, including examples of required transparency for certain Public Access services.

About the Bar Standards Board

Our mission is to regulate barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales in the public interest. For more information about what we do visit: http://bit.ly/1gwui8t

Contact: For all media enquiries call: 0207 611 1452 or email press@barstandardsboard.org.uk .