BSB: “self-certification” the way forward for youth court barristers

Hanmer: 10% of barristers will be checked

Barristers in the youth courts will have to make a declaration that they have reached the standards set out by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to continue providing the service, it has emerged.

But there will be no compulsory training so as to avoid discouraging counsel from doing low-paid youth court work.

The BSB’s compulsory registration scheme, to be introduced this autumn, is the first of its kind for barristers.

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.

Oliver Hanmer, director of regulatory assurance at the BSB, said youth court advocates could be paid up to 50% less than other barristers for the same type of case.

“We know the market for advocacy in the youth court is fragile,” Mr Hanmer said. “We don’t want to find barristers saying the money is not enough and they’re asking for mandatory training, so we’re not going to appear in the youth courts.

“This would limit access to justice and be contrary to the public interest.”

Mr Hanmer said that instead youth court barristers would make a declaration that they meet the competencies set out in guidance published by the BSB last month.

The BSB will then register them, and the register will be published on the regulator’s website in the same way as the register of all barristers.

Mr Hanmer said the BSB would check advocates had met the standards by “sampling” a proportion of them, probably around 10%.

“We will be asking for evidence that they’ve met the competencies set out in the guidance, either by having had training or through experience of taking cases through the courts.

“Asking all youth advocates to provide evidence would not be proportionate and out of step with risk-based regulation. Sampling could be a deterrent. A barrister who made the statement without meeting the standards could be acting dishonestly.

“Our general regulatory approach where youth court is concerned will be to recommend training first, then take disciplinary action if necessary. The approach will concentrate on helping advocates meet the standards.

“We don’t want to frustrate the proper administration of justice. The nature of criminal work is that hearings can happen very quickly and people drop out at short notice.

“We wouldn’t want to prevent someone appearing in the youth courts simply because they have not registered, for example if they are doing the work for the first time. They will be able to register immediately and retrospectively if necessary.”

Mr Hanmer said the BSB would work “very closely” with district judges and the Magistrates Association on enforcement, and there was nothing to stop them asking if a barrister was registered, particularly if they were concerned about standards.

“Our research indicates that these cases often involve barristers with no training on youth court law or procedure, or on how to engage effectively with young people,” Mr Hanmer said.

“Barristers can develop competencies through the registration scheme which they can transfer later to work with adult clients.”

He added that other practice areas could be suitable for specialist regulation by the BSB, subject to risk assessment and evidence suggesting that it was necessary.

“A self-certification approach is a useful means of the profession taking ownership of its competence and developing a constructive regulatory contract between the regulator and its regulated community.”

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