The information on this webpage provides an overview of the checks which are administered by the Inns of Court to ensure that only those who are “fit and proper” are Called to the Bar.
We have agreed detailed Guidelines with all four Inns of Court and the Inns Conduct Committee (ICC) for determining whether you are a fit and proper person, how any disclosures about your conduct will be considered and, where appropriate, likely outcomes. The Inns and the ICC will apply the Guidelines when seeking to determine whether an applicant or a student is a fit and proper person to become a practising barrister. We recommend you refer to these Guidelines if you require any further information.
Fit and proper person checks
The fit and proper person checks are completed at two key stages on your journey to becoming a barrister: when you apply to join an Inn of Court and prior to being Called to the Bar. Your Inn is also responsible for conduct matters whilst you are a student (and before you are Called to the Bar) which may bring into question whether you are a fit and proper person.
Whilst there are two stages at which you are required to make disclosures to your Inn, it is important to emphasise that you have an ongoing obligation to make disclosures that may have a bearing on whether you are a fit and proper person and it should not be viewed as only being relevant when completing an Admission Declaration or Call Declaration. Any matters arising between those two declarations which may bring into question whether you are a fit and proper person should be disclosed immediately; any failure to do so may affect the overall assessment of your fitness to become a practising barrister.
The checks are intended to ensure that clients and the wider public can have confidence in their barrister and the profession. This is tested by a consideration of any disclosures or reports from third parties (such as your university, your Authorised Education Training Organisation (AETO), or members of the public) about your conduct which may call into question whether you are capable of upholding the Core Duties set out in the BSB Handbook which underpin the behaviour expected of barristers.
How disclosures are made
Set out below are the ways in which disclosures may be made. If you would like to discuss how any disclosures may be considered by your Inn further to this information, you will need to contact your Inn.
When you apply for admission to an Inn of Court as a student member, you will complete an Admission Declaration which asks a number of questions to help your Inn determine whether you are a fit and proper person.
Once admitted as a student member of an Inn, you have an ongoing duty to report any matter to your Inn which could call into question whether you are a fit and proper person. Once Called to the Bar, your ongoing duty to self-disclose transfers from your Inn to us, your regulator.
If you are eligible to be Called, you will complete a Call Declaration shortly before your Call ceremony. This asks similar questions to the Admission Declaration.
Matters which may affect your fitness to become a practising barrister
You have a duty to disclose any behaviour or determinations by others (eg regulatory bodies or educational institutions) which may call into question your fitness to become a practising barrister.
There are a number of other factors which could call into question whether you are a fit and proper person. These are separated into the following categories and are set out in more detail below:
You have a duty to disclose any ongoing criminal investigations, pending prosecutions and spent or unspent criminal convictions, cautions, or final warmings, except those which are “protected” by law. Subject to your ongoing duty to self-disclose matters whilst you’re a student member of an Inn, disclosures are required at two separate points: at the point of admission to an Inn, via self-disclosure; and at Call to the Bar, via self-disclosure and, from 1 July 2021, a Standard DBS check; where relevant, the international equivalent checks will also be required. Disclosure of a criminal matter will not automatically result in an application being refused.
As the regulator of barristers in England and Wales, we have powers to require all students to disclose any criminal offences they may have committed in the past. These powers are set out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (“the Exceptions Order”) as amended by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2013. These powers apply equally to applicants from the UK or overseas.
Protected and filtered convictions and cautions
Certain minor offences will become protected and are automatically removed or filtered from Standard DBS criminal record certificates, if certain criteria are met.
The following time periods must have passed in order for a conviction or caution to become protected.
- Cautions (for over-18s) - six years from the date of caution
- Cautions (for under-18s) - two years from the date of caution
- Convictions (for over-18s) - Eleven years from the date of conviction
- Convictions (for under-18s) - five and a half years from the date of conviction
Only certain offences are capable of being protected or filtered and some offences, known as listed offences, will never be protected or filtered. Listed offences must be disclosed, regardless of the above. Listed offences include serious violent or sexual offences and other certain offences. These can be found on the Disclosure and Barring Service website.
Convictions will only be protected if the offender received a non-custodial sentence and has no other convictions. Suspended sentences involving a custodial sentence are classed as ‘custodial offences’ even if no time was spent in custody.
If you have a previous conviction, caution, reprimand or final warning which is capable of being protected, you will not be asked to disclose this information and you are legally entitled to withhold the details of anything that would now be considered protected when self-disclosing for the purposes of being admitted to an Inn or being Called to the Bar.
If you have a protected conviction, caution, reprimand or final warning, it will automatically be filtered, and it will not appear on a Standard DBS certificate that is undertaken before you are Called to the Bar. Although information that is filtered will be removed by the DBS from a Standard DBS certificate, it does not get ‘removed’ or ‘wiped’ from police records.
Regardless of your nationality, if you are applying to be Called to the Bar, you will need to state whether you have lived in another country continuously (or in total) for twelve months or more in the five years preceding your application and, if you have, you will also be required to undertake the equivalent to the Standard DBS criminal record check in all relevant jurisdictions.
Those applying for admission with convictions, cautions or final warnings from jurisdictions outside England and Wales are advised that the same protections will apply. However, if you are unsure whether you have protected criminal matters, we advise you to seek advice or obtain an equivalent criminal record check to ensure that they are equivalent to those in England and Wales before making disclosures. The Home Office has prepared guidance for obtaining criminal records checks from overseas.
If you are still unsure whether you should disclose a criminal record matter, you can:
- seek advice from a specialist organisation such as Unlock or Nacro (see below);
- obtain a copy of your record by completing a subject access request (this can be done online or through a local police station); or
- speak to your Inn’s relevant officer.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) reports
When you complete your Admission Declaration, you will need to agree to your Inn undertaking a Standard DBS criminal record check. Applications from candidates to be Called to the Bar at the ceremonies being held from 1st July 2021 onwards will include a requirement to undertake a Standard DBS criminal record check and an equivalent check in all relevant jurisdictions, where appropriate.
What will be contained in the ‘Standard’ DBS certificate?
Standard DBS checks will disclose all convictions and cautions (including youth cautions, reprimands and warnings) held on the Police National Computer (PNC) which are not protected, ie filtered.
You can find the list of offences that will never be filtered from a criminal record. These can be found on the Disclosure and Barring Service website. For those requiring overseas criminal records checks, the Disclosure and Barring Service advise it is not possible to capture a definitive list of all equivalent offences under the law of all other jurisdictions.
You must disclose any other matters (other than protected convictions and cautions), which might reasonably be thought to call into question your fitness to become a practising barrister. Your Inn or the ICC will take into consideration if you have:
- been responsible for behaviour:
- which is dishonest;
- which is threatening, violent or harassing; and/or
- where there is evidence of unlawful discrimination towards others;
- misused your position to obtain advantage;
- misused your position of trust in relation to a vulnerable person;
- been responsible for other forms of behaviour which demonstrate that you cannot be relied upon to discharge your duties as a barrister;
- been declared bankrupt, entered into an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA), or have had a Relevant Order made against you; and/or
- have received treatment or a diagnosis for a condition (including addition to drugs or alcohol) which means you may pose a risk to any member of the public or which may impair your judgment as a practising barrister.
Disclosures regarding treatment or a diagnosis for a condition (including an addiction to drugs or alcohol) will not automatically result in an application being refused.
You must disclose any previous academic or disciplinary findings against you by a higher education institution, particularly deliberate action which amounts to plagiarism or cheating to gain an advantage for yourself or others.
You must disclose any previous or pending supervisory action, complaint, investigation, disciplinary proceedings or disciplinary findings against you by a professional or regulatory body, including in any jurisdictions outside England and Wales. This will also include whether you have:
- failed to disclose information to a regulatory body when required to do so, or have provided false or misleading information;
- been refused registration by a regulatory body; and/or
- failed to comply with the reasonable requests of a regulatory body.
Reports to your Inn by third parties
Concerns related to your conduct may also be raised by a third party, such as your university, AETO, another professional or regulatory body or a member of the public.
After a disclosure has been made
If you, a third party, or the DBS certificate, identifies a matter which could call into question whether you are a fit and proper person, the matter will be considered as follows:
Following a disclosure, your Inn will consider the extent to which your conduct calls into question whether you are a fit and proper person. They have a number of powers, which include dismissing the matter or advising you about your future conduct.
If your Inn is concerned that your conduct could call into question whether you are fit and proper, and their powers are insufficient, they will refer your case to a screening panel of the ICC.
In the event of a referral, your case will be reviewed by a screening panel. The panel will either conclude that the matter referred does not bring into question whether you are a fit and proper person and, in those circumstances, will remit it to the referring Inn. If the screening panel does conclude that there is evidence to suggest that you are not a fit and proper person, it will refer your case to a hearing panel.
If your case is heard at an ICC hearing, it will consider all of the evidence and you will have the opportunity to make either an oral or written submission. The hearing panel has a number of sanctions which it may impose, depending on the severity of your conduct. These range from a warning to expelling you from your Inn (see below). The rules and procedure governing this process can found here.
How disclosures are considered
The remainder of this information is dedicated to providing you with an overview of how your Inn or the ICC will consider any disclosures about your conduct.
Evidence can be provided via a self-disclosure, DBS report or third-party report, as outlined above. Your Inn or the ICC will consider all other evidence and may consider the below information (where relevant):
- where appropriate and/or available, an independent report relating to the event(s), such as sentencing remarks following a criminal conviction;
- evidence of any rehabilitation (eg probation reports, references from employers and/or tutors);
- your attitude towards the event(s);
- credit check information (in relevant circumstances); and
- actions you have taken to clear any debts, satisfy any judgments and manage your finances.
This is not an exhaustive list and we would encourage you to read through the decision making guidelines for further information.
The onus is on you to provide any evidence you consider necessary and/or appropriate. Your Inn has the right to carry out their own investigation and (unless and until the matter is either referred back by a screening panel or determined by a hearing panel) to refuse your application for admission or Call to the Bar.
Your Inn or the ICC will assess all evidence to assist their decision as to whether you are a fit and proper person. The below factors will also be considered (where relevant):
- your age at the time of the behaviour under consideration;
- the length of time which has passed;
- whether it was an isolated incident;
- whether there has been more than one incident;
- whether the incident(s) were linked to professional practice;
- whether there was substantial financial harm to vulnerable creditors or others;
- whether the circumstances were beyond your control and/or could not have been reasonably foreseen;
- whether use of drugs or alcohol was a factor;
- whether the matter was disclosed to your employer, educational establishment and/or regulator;
- whether you pose a risk to clients or members of the public; and
- whether there is evidence that your judgment was or continues to be impaired.
The above is not an exhaustive list and we would encourage you to read through the decision making guidelines for further information.
When considering any criminal offences, the ICC will consider any aggravating or mitigating factors, such as:
- the nature of the offence;
- the seriousness of the offence;
- the sentence received;
- whether there is a pattern;
- circumstances at the time; and
- your attitude towards the events.
Sanctions in the event that a matter which calls into question your fitness to practise as a barrister is proved
On application for admission to an Inn
If the ICC finds that you are not a fit and proper person to practise as a barrister, it will direct the Inn not to admit you. The ICC will let you know about your right to appeal and the process for doing so.
At any point as a student member (including on application for Call to the Bar)
If the ICC finds that your conduct calls into question whether you are a fit and proper person, it may:
- advise you as to your future conduct; or
- reprimand you;
- order that your Call to the Bar be postponed for a specified period; or
- direct that you be expelled from the Inn (in which case the Inn must expel you).
Reviewing ICC decisions
Once you have received the outcome from the ICC hearing panel, if applicable, you may wish to apply to have the decision reviewed. You can do this by submitting an application to our Independent Decision-Making Body (IDB).
After you have received the outcome of your review to the IDB, you have the option to appeal to the High Court. Details of how to do this will be provided with the decision letter you receive from the IDB.
There is further information on reviewing decisions of the ICC on this webpage.
The following organisations can provide further information or advice:
Disclosure and Barring Service
Customer Service: 0870 9090 811
Helpline: 01634 247 350
See also Memoranda of Understanding