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BSB presses ahead with compulsory registration of youth court barristers

Youth Court: barristers will have to register and declare competence

The Bar Standard Board (BSB) has decided to introduce compulsory registration of youth court barristers, despite fierce opposition from the Bar Council [1].

However, the BSB shied away from demanding compulsory training, as recommended last year by the Taylor report, arguing that the market for youth advocacy was too “fragile” for additional regulation.

In a paper before last week’s board meeting, the BSB said the majority of respondents to its consultation supported compulsory registration, though there were some concerns that “registration alone will do little to improve standards of advocacy”.

The board backed the first option proposed in the paper – combining registration with a declaration of competency.

The BSB’s regulatory assurance team said there were “clear benefits for consumers and solicitors as they can have greater confidence that their barrister has the specialist skills and knowledge required for undertaking this work”.

The BSB said the declaration added value to the rule. “Without the direct link between registration and competency, there is a risk that registration alone will do little to achieve our aim.”

On training, the BSB said that although both the Taylor report and a number of respondents supported the introduction of compulsory training, the BSB was “not seeking to introduce this at this time”.

The BSB went on: “We recognise the strength of the case for mandatory training to be introduced once the value of this work has been raised.

“However, we are mindful that the market for work in the youth court and cases involving young defendants (those under the age of 18) that are heard in the adult magistrates’ court, Crown Court or higher court is fragile and are keen that any additional regulation we introduce is not burdensome.

“At present, we feel that introducing compulsory (and likely costly) training into an area of work which already has low fees and low status is disproportionate and is likely to discourage advocates away from this kind of work.”

Despite opposition from “a small number of respondents”, the BSB said the registration of youth court advocates would appear on its barristers’ register as it helped consumers and promoted the work as a specialism.

To avoid the risk of misleading people as to what registration meant, the BSB said it would publish “clear guidance”.

Ewen MacLeod, director of strategy and policy at the BSB, added: “We are particularly keen to highlight the important role of those practising in our youth courts and the skills necessary for this kind of work.”

The Bar Council strongly attacked the compulsory registration of youth court advocates in its response to the consultation, arguing that the move did not address the “underlying issues of low pay and status” in the youth courts and risked deterring barristers from undertaking the work.

Higher fees and mandatory training were the key demands of a report on youth advocacy for the Ministry of Justice by child behaviour expert Charlie Taylor, published in December 2016.