The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to move to the next phase of its work to ensure that all barristers’ practices comply with the Bar transparency rules which came into force in July 2019. (Barristers’ practices had until January 2020 to comply.) The BSB will continue regularly to check compliance with the rules and to provide support and guidance on compliance. Most barristers’ practices are now complying with the rules but those who are falling short must now become compliant or be subject to enforcement action.
The Bar transparency rules are designed to improve the information available to the public before they engage the services of a barrister and to help them find the information they need to make informed decisions about barristers’ services. The rules require all self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB-regulated entities to publish specified information about their services, including which types of legal service they provide, their most commonly used pricing models (such as fixed fee or hourly rate) and details of their clients' rights of redress. Public Access barristers providing certain types of services are also required to publish additional price and service information.
Today’s move follows publication of a new report on the impact of the new rules on the profession. While most barristers’ practices have complied with the rules, the report shows that compliance testing in 2020 and 2021 (which is ongoing) has revealed that there is still a significant minority who were not fully compliant with the rules. They have been informed what steps they need to take to become fully compliant and are being monitored by the BSB’s Supervision Team. Since the rules were introduced in 2019, the regulator has taken a guiding and supportive approach to enable practices to comply, but today’s announcement signals a switch to a tougher stance, with enforcement action being taken in cases where practices continue to fail to meet the transparency requirements in material respects.
The report contains information from:
- an initial spot check of compliance with the full set of transparency rules undertaken in January 2020 and the continuing checks and follow up work completed since then;
- web sweeps of chambers’ websites undertaken by the BSB in 2017, 2019 and 2020 which looked at the levels of price information available; and
- analysis in 2021 of the responses received from the profession in the latest Regulatory Return which included specific questions about the transparency reforms, asking what action organisations had taken in response to the reforms, and what impact they had noticed to date.
The evaluation shows that many chambers, barristers, and BSB-regulated entities recognise the business benefits which greater transparency about their prices can bring.
BSB Director of Strategy and Policy, Ewen Macleod, said:
“Despite the health emergency and its impact on the Bar, we recognise those in the profession who have made every effort to comply with the new transparency rules. Whilst the majority of practices are complying – and many are already seeing the benefits of doing so – a significant minority remain non-compliant. This is unacceptable - the profession has had ample time to comply with these rules, which are designed to improve the information available to the public. It is therefore right that our approach to non-compliance changes and we will take enforcement action where necessary to ensure compliance.”
The BSB will be publishing a separate report on the impact of the new rules on consumers at a later date.
Notes to editors
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