Plans by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to introduce a more flexible, outcomes-focused CPD scheme have met with widespread opposition from barristers.
Only two of the proposals in the BSB’s latest consultation received a positive response from individual barristers, while both the Chancery Bar Association and Inns of Court expressed a range of concerns.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel supported the new approach and called on the BSB to go further by introducing periodic reaccreditation for higher risk areas of law. A total of 84 individual barristers responded to the consultation.
At the BSB board meeting last week, lay member Rob Behrens described a comment by the Inns of Court on supervision as “one of the most deeply depressing paragraphs I have come across in recent months”.
The Inns were commenting on the BSB’s proposal to change the way CPD is policed, so that barristers are no longer assessed on whether they have completed a fixed number of hours, but on “relevant and appropriate” activities.
The Inns said: “Barristers should be able to make their own choices on CPD. The circumstances of intervention should be closely defined.”
Mr Behrens said the Inns showed a “lack of comprehension of what the BSB is about” and hoped the regulator would give a “robust and educative” reply.
A majority of respondents to the consultation agreed that there should be “no compulsory CPD activities for established barristers” and that previous CPD records should be taken into account when assessing CPD in any one year.
However, a majority disagreed that the BSB’s guidance provided “adequate support”, that requiring barristers to plan their learning objectives for the year ahead would help make their activities more relevant, and that requiring barristers to reflect on them would be a positive move.
A majority of barristers also disagreed with the planned approach to the regulation of CPD compliance.
The Inns of Court “worried that a barrister may only complete a very small number of CPD hours in good faith but would nonetheless face disciplinary action”, and suggested that 12 hours should remain a benchmark that would ensure compliance.
The Chancery Bar Association argued that “detailed planning of specific outcomes gave little room for changes in the law during the course of the year or unexpected opportunities during the year that may arise”.
However, the consumer panel supported the proposals, saying they should “help create a culture where individuals lead their own development and focus on what they need to do to stay up to date” and improve performance.
“The onus is placed on the barrister to identify personal objectives and to provide hard evidence to demonstrate delivery against these.”
The panel said the BSB should include periodic reaccreditation for “higher risk areas of law” before finalising its plans.
Vanessa Davies, director general of the BSB, told the board meeting that the regulator’s proposals were in line with guidance from the Legal Services Board.
BSB board members agreed that revised CPD rules and guidance should be drawn up and included in a further consultation, scheduled to begin in June.