17 Jan 2020

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published its annual Enforcement Report for 2018-19.

The report provides an overview of the regulator’s enforcement work during the year to 31 March 2019 – the last full year of the enforcement processes in place prior to the changes introduced in October 2019 - and includes statistics about the volume, trends and outcomes of complaints about barristers, including disciplinary proceedings.

The key statistical findings of the report are as follows:

  • Overall, 80% of complaints were concluded or referred to disciplinary action by the BSB within the service standards of eight weeks for initial assessment, five months for concluding investigations which the BSB instigates without an external complaint being received, and eight months for concluding investigations into complaints received from a third party. There was a strong performance in relation to the service standard for completing the initial assessment of external complaints, but the service standards for completing investigations were not achieved;
  • The volume of enquiries and reports about possible misconduct by barristers (known as "pre-complaints") received by the BSB rose to 1,087 in 2018-19 from 1,026 in 2017-18;
  • The number of new complaints opened by the BSB in 2018-19 (479) increased slightly compared with 2017-18 (475), and 2018-19 saw the highest number of new complaints opened in one year since 2013-14. Of the 479 complaints, those received from the public (known as “external complaints”) continued to increase for a second year running. 359 external complaints were received as compared to 304 in 2017-18 (an increase of 18%);
  • Complaints from litigants-in-person (people who represent themselves in court) continued to account for a significant number of external complaints made to the BSB, increasing from 77 in 2017-18 to 95 in 2018-19. However, 91% of these complaints were closed at the preliminary assessment stage mainly because they did not reveal any breaches of the Handbook and stemmed from the complainants not fully understanding how the court system operates or the role of barristers;
  • Reports of serious misconduct received from the profession decreased to 100 in 2018-19 from 133 in 2017-18;
  • The number of complaints referred to disciplinary action increased to 50 cases in 2018-19, compared with 37 in 2017-18;
  • 27 disciplinary tribunals took place during 2018-19 compared with 39 during 2017-18 with findings of professional misconduct made in 84% of the cases heard by a tribunal – the same percentage as the previous year; and   
  • The number of barristers disbarred in 2018-19 decreased to four, down from six in 2017-18, and the number of barristers suspended in 2018-19 was four, compared to eight in 2017-18.

In October 2019, the BSB introduced substantial changes to its regulatory operations and decision-making, and future reporting will reflect this. The reforms, which were designed to enable the BSB to deal with reports about barristers more efficiently and effectively, included establishing a new Independent-Decision Making Body and appointing an Independent Reviewer, as well as a new single initial point of contact for sending information to the BSB.

Commenting on the latest report, the BSB’s Director of Legal and Enforcement, Sara Jagger, said: “The findings of this report reflect our continued success in taking action against the small number of barristers who pose a risk to the public. We are committed to embedding our reforms to our regulatory operations, which will enhance our risk-based approach to regulation and help to ensure that our resources are targeted on the most serious breaches of barristers’ professional obligations.”

Read the full BSB Enforcement Annual Report 2018/19 on our website.


Notes to editors

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: 020 7611 4691 or email press@barstandardsboard.org.uk.

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