The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has backed a more flexible, outcomes-based continuing professional development (CPD) regime, despite the fears of some board members that it would degenerate into a “paper exercise”.
The move follows a consultation exercise to which only one individual barrister, along with six organisations, responded.
In a paper for last week’s board meeting, the BSB said the new approach would “place the responsibility on individual barristers to determine the type and amount of CPD they should do each year” to maintain their competence, as with the new scheme for solicitors that begins next month.
The BSB described the response to the consultation as “more limited” than for one on the issue last year, which received 84 responses, but it said the result was “anticipated” because the latest proposals had a “narrow technical focus”.
Board member Andrew Mitchell QC said that although he would not have “sleepless nights” worrying about CPD, he was concerned the new approach would “turn into a paper exercise”.
He said it was “very important” that barristers, like himself, did not resort to simply “tweaking” a template produced by the Commercial Bar Association. “Otherwise even the best chambers will have these things on file and they’ll be pretty meaningless.”
Lay board member Keith Baldwin commented that while planning and setting objectives were crucial to the new scheme, the “most difficult bit” would be reflection.
“What exactly does this mean?” he asked. “This is the bit where I would be most worried about it becoming a paper exercise. It should be about what you are doing differently as a result of achieving your learning objectives. Somehow we need to get across the message that this is about helping barristers do their job properly and they need to think about it.”
Dr Vanessa Davies, director-general of the BSB, said a series of roadshows, beginning in January, would enable barristers to bring in their problems and help the regulator make improvements. She said she also hoped for more engagement from barristers’ clerks.
Chantal Aimée-Doerries, chairman of the Bar Council, added that roadshows would be essential to achieving “buy-in” from the profession. She predicted that the new approach to CPD would “in the long term be better”, but there would be a hurdle in terms of “first impressions”.
In a separate development, the BSB’s independent observer, Isobel Leaviss, said in her latest report on the regulator’s enforcement processes that she was “unable to find any publicly available equality or diversity data” for its professional conduct staff and committee, and diversity training for new BSB board members “appeared to have lapsed”.
Recommending the resumption of monitoring and training for all board and committee members, Ms Leaviss told the board meeting she had “not observed anything untoward” in terms of discrimination, and described the data and training shortcomings as an “uncharacteristic blip”.
Lay member Rolande Anderson said the technology being used at the BSB was partly to blame for the problems with diversity data and training. “Some of us had the experience of filing our monitoring forms several times and still being told we hadn’t done so,” she told the meeting.
“We completed our online training, but there appeared to be no centrally kept records that we had done.”
Ewen Macleod, BSB director of regulatory policy, told board members that he would be working with the IT department to improve processes.
Overall, Ms Leaviss concluded that the system was “operating in line with the BSB’s enforcement strategy and in accordance with its policies and procedures. I have not identified any major systemic issues or individual cases giving rise to serious concerns”.