26 September 2017

Blog: Monthly message from our Chair Sir Andrew Burns KCMG

Let me begin by wishing you all a happy and successful 2017.

The next twelve months promise to be another challenging year - for the Bar, and for us as your regulator. But there are opportunities too.

For example, our new approach to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for established practitioners will provide you with an opportunity to count a wider range of learning activities as CPD and to plan your training more independently. We think this could make a noticeable difference in helping you develop your practice. In case you missed it, we recently published detailed guidance about the new CPD scheme which came into force on 1 January.

Just before Christmas, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published the results of their market study into the supply of legal services in England and Wales. As the regulator of the Bar, acting first and foremost in the public interest, we broadly welcome the CMA's findings and their recommendations.

We have long argued for more transparency for consumers - one of the main recommendations made by the CMA. In fact, we made it one of our three strategic priorities when we launched our new Strategic Plan earlier last year. We said then, that we wanted to help the public understand better the fast-changing and complex market for legal services, so that users of those services can make informed choices and have a better understanding of their legal rights and duties as citizens. Transparency is, of course, vital to this.

We intend to work closely with the CMA and the other legal regulators to implement their recommendations. But I am keen to stress that we intend to work closely with the Bar when doing this too. The second of our three strategic aims concerns our support for you to help you face the future with confidence. I am firmly of the opinion that the two aims go hand-in-hand. In other words, transparency for consumers encourages healthy competition. And healthy competition is the way to ensure a thriving Bar. That is why we also hope that we will soon be able to announce our formal go-ahead as a regulator of Alternative Business Structures (ABSs). Once approved by parliament, we expect our ABS regime to provide scope for innovative barristers to offer their expertise in new ways.

The CMA report also called for the Ministry of Justice to press ahead with plans to consider the separation of the legal regulators from their representative bodies. Since it was formed in 2006, the BSB has acted independently from the Bar Council in its decision-making. This is only right and proper. If there is to be further debate about complete separation, then we will contribute from our position of considering the public interest. We believe that full separation could allow both the regulator and the representative body to be stronger in their respective roles, but that the Bar Council continues to have a vital role which must be properly funded. 

We have been given some challenging deadlines by the CMA. 2017 and beyond is going to be busy!

Finally, can I please remind you all that the new deadline for responding to our consultation on the future of Bar training is 31 January?  We are very keen to encourage as many people and organisations as possible to give us their views on this very important subject.