The BSB – not among friends

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1 March 2011


Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures

Deech: acting in the public interest

My recent blog on whether the Bar Standards Board (BSB) sometimes seems to take too pro-barrister a position for a public interest regulator certainly provoked a response from various people.

One barrister saw the mere fact that the BSB and Bar Council share office space as further evidence of a lack of independence, while it also brought out barristers who simply dislike the BSB generally (in a way that echoed the relationship many solicitors seem to have with the SRA, in fact).

Speaking at the Inner Temple legal education event the other week, BSB chairman Baroness Deech said she didn’t understand why people were having a go at the board for speaking out in the public interest on legal aid – but my question was whether the BSB strayed a bit too far by making general points about the impact of legal aid cuts (albeit by reference to the regulatory objectives in the Legal Services Act), rather than confining itself to how its regulated community would be affected.

Anyway, there is a postscript. The director’s report to the most recent BSB board meeting has provided further grist to this particular mill. It said: “We have worked closely with the Bar Council representation and policy directorate to ensure that BSB responses to the Ministry of Justice consultations on legal aid and the Jackson report are aligned with the [Bar Council] response but clearly focused on the regulatory objectives.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with the regulator and representative body discovering that they have similar views and even submitting a joint response (ILEX and ILEX Professional Standards have done this several times, for example), but another to suggest that the two are purposely aligned.

I asked the BSB about this, and received this response: “The Bar Council is the approved regulator as per the Legal Services Act 2007. The Bar Standards Board is the Bar Council’s independent regulatory arm. Both work with one profession and there are some shared regulatory objectives. Where a consultation topic is of such overwhelming significance to the justice system that both parts of the organisation are responding – such as legal aid – then inevitably the responses will not be mutually exclusive.”

Maybe I’m just making too much of sloppy wording in a brief report, but that doesn’t quite seem to answer the question.

Footnote

The BSB is not just unpopular among some of those it regulates. I have come across an entertaining rant from Law Society council member David Dixon, who is taking part in a blogging “experiment” on the society’s website as a way to improve council members’ communication with constituents and the profession at large (although only one other member, Peter Wright, has thus far taken part).

Mr Dixon, who has represented south Wales on the council for five years, teaches on the legal practice course at Cardiff Law School. His blog at first talks about his interests and how he enjoys working with his local law societies and colleagues and staff at the Law Society.

“However, this affability masks deep discontentment,” he continues. “I don’t like CFAs. I don’t like the government. I didn’t like the last government. I don’t like the LSB. I don’t like ABS. I don’t like bankers. I don’t like insurers. I don’t like the Bar Council and I don’t like ILEX. I don’t like their regulators (BSB and IPS). I don’t trust our regulator (the SRA) as I don’t trust authority. I don’t like lenders and insurers acting like regulators. Many practitioners share these views.”

The good news is that he concludes by saying he does not intend his blog to be inflammatory. Read the whole blog here.

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