The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is planning a “statement of consolidated good practice” for chambers, which not only sets out the minimum regulatory requirements but how to go “above and beyond” them.
The BSB said it would also gather views as to whether chambers which “exemplified good practice” should be recognised through a quality mark or awards scheme, run by the profession.
The regulator is to hold a series of roundtables across all of the circuits in the coming months to discuss “the important role that chambers can play in support of our strategic priorities of standards, equality and access”, its board meeting heard last week.
A draft discussion paper prepared for the roundtables said: “There is much good practice, but what constitutes good practice in chambers’ administration is nowhere consolidated and set down coherently.
“In consequence, chambers are not consistently the effective force for higher standards, equality and access which they could be if all chambers emulated the practices of the best.”
The BSB said it was “very conscious” that the Bar shared its strategic objectives – importantly, as regulation could only be “a partial response”.
This was partly because the BSB’s powers were not well-adapted to shaping behaviours and attitudes day-to-day.
“We can intervene in cases of serious professional misconduct, but not so readily where a barrister has an off-day in court, or has turned a blind eye to uninclusive recruitment practices, or has not challenged poor-quality information on the chambers’ website about the costs and quality of services.”
It was also small compared to the size of the profession, with 10 supervisors for 17,000 barristers.
The BSB acknowledged that the Bar Council was “active in support of chambers by promoting good practice”, for example by providing an annual chambers management package.
These initiatives were “important and helpful in their own terms”, but the “collective impact of these interventions is fragmented and uneven”.
As a result, the BSB intended to consult on the desirability and practicality of drawing up a “consolidated statement of good practice”.
It explained: “By good practice, we mean not simply examples of how to implement minimum regulatory requirements effectively – though is certainly part of it – but also opportunities to go above and beyond the minimum in support of high standards, of equality and of good customer service.”
The statement would aim to clarify “what was mandated by relevant existing regulations” on CPD, equality and transparency, to explain where to find good practice on implementing the regulations and going beyond them, and to set out the regulator’s “expectations of governance within chambers in support of standards, equality and access”.
Quality marks or an awards scheme would provide “a tangible incentive to chambers to seek out and to implement good practice”, although the BSB expected they would be developed and run from within the profession rather than by the regulator.
It also proposed that, instead of stating its requirements in terms of policies or roles, such as having an up-to-date policy on equality and diversity, the regulator would move to outcomes.
These could include fairness in the allocation of unassigned work: “This would require barristers in chambers – and particularly senior barristers – to ask hard question not just about whether the right policies and posts were in place, but whether they were making a difference.”
The BSB also wanted to consider options for supporting smaller sets, such as chambers sharing resources, for example by agreeing to share the costs of data analysts, or getting support, such as training, from the inns or circuits.