The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to commission an “independent end-to-end” review of its enforcement processes in a bid to improve its much-criticised performance.
Director general Mark Neale made the announcement last night at the meeting of the BSB’s main board, having said “we have made progress with our action plan to accelerate investigations”.
The BSB came bottom of the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) recent assessment of all the regulators’ performance, with enforcement one of two areas (out of five) where it received a red rating in a traffic-light system, meaning the BSB had failed to provide the oversight regulator with sufficient assurance that it was meeting the requirements laid down for it.
Mr Neale said he recognised “the hard work and commitment of our people”, but despite their “best efforts” to keep pace with the workload, the BSB was getting slower at concluding investigations into misconduct.
“We are not content with simply a short-term fix,” he said. “We think it’s right now to look at the operational arrangements introduced in 2019 so we therefore intend to commission an independent end-to-end review of our enforcement process…
“That will enable us to identify medium-term changes which will include the efficiency, productivity and quality of the work that we do.”
He added that the BSB was also hiring a consultant “to support our assessment team identify short-term quick fixes to improve efficiency and to improve our customer care and communication with stakeholders”.
The need for the BSB to up its game is becoming urgent; we reported last month that the LSB has begun talking about taking formal action against the BSB over shortcomings in its performance on all fronts, not just enforcement. The BSB is due to deliver a plan on how it will improve by the end of the month.
Mr Neale’s report to his board said improvements in the third quarter of 2022/23 included meeting the target to make decisions within 10 days about whether cases referred by the frontline contact and assessment team should be taken forward for investigation, while the number of investigations completed was 61, double the productivity achieved in the first and second quarters.
“We still expect to hit the second KPI – that 80% of investigations be concluded within 125 days – in the second quarter of 2023/24,” he said.
By the end of the third quarter, 43 investigations had run for longer than the target of 125 days, compared with 57 cases in September 2022.
The report said the sudden death in November of Al Tucay, the head of the contact and assessment team, had led to a backlog of around 200 reports on barristers awaiting assessment – “although urgent cases have been progressed”.
A “very experienced” acting head joined earlier this month and would work with the consultant “to clear the backlog and to identify immediate operational efficiencies and improvements to customer service”.