BSB considers regulating intermediaries after Absolute Barrister collapse

Nichols: Case raises wider policy issues

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is considering whether intermediaries to direct access barristers should come within its regulatory control following the demise of Absolute Barrister.

The regulator said it was also “considering the ethical issues” for barristers instructed by intermediaries.

Absolute Barrister was set up by married barristers Simon and Katy Gittins in 2013, although Mrs Gittins resigned as a director in 2017. The company went into creditors voluntary liquidation last month.

A BSB spokesman told Legal Futures that the regulator had “engaged with Absolute Barrister during the winding up of the company and sought to help members of the public who have been affected”, including by signposting them to free legal advice and representation service Advocate.

He continued: “The demise of Absolute Barrister has also caused us to look at the broader regulatory policy issues associated with intermediary companies and whether they should come within our regulatory control because currently they do not.”

The BSB said it would share its thinking on this and the ethical issues for barristers instructed by intermediary companies “in due course”.

Yesterday’s meeting of the Legal Services Board (LSB) saw a letter that Chris Nichols, its director of policy and regulation, sent the BSB earlier this month, which agreed that the case raised “wider policy questions about the status of intermediaries”, which might apply to other providers.

He said: “On this front, it is important to emphasise that we support and encourage responsible innovation that commands public trust.

“We note that there are other intermediary services apparently operating competently in the market. However, this case would appear to offer some important learning.”

There were also concerns that Absolute Barrister may have been providing more than just an intermediary service, and may also have been holding client money.

Mr Nichols sought an “assurance that the BSB is pursuing the immediate regulatory consequences for those who have been party to this scheme”.

He went on: “This would relate to those involved in running Absolute Barrister and also potentially barristers who have been providing services through Absolute Barrister, given the BSB’s rules on client money and associated guidance.

Mr Nichols noted that the BSB believed there were only nine consumers who had paid money to Absolute Barrister and were without representation, but that it had not followed up to find out if Advocate had been able to help them.

He asked for further information on what the BSB had done to ascertain who had been affected, how they could be supported and how the harm could be remedied.

The BSB told Legal Futures that its reply could not be released because it contained confidential information.

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