Chambers face probe over quality of service and financial stability


Hanmer: smarter regulation

Barristers are to get a taste of solicitors’ regulatory medicine from January with the launch of a new supervision scheme that will assess how effectively chambers and sole practitioners are managing potential risks such as ineffective governance and inadequate pupillage training.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) said those identified as high risk will be “supported” to reduce the likelihood of serious problems occurring.

“Well-run chambers, which set out and comply with clear policies on matters such as complaints handling and pupillage training, will gain a low risk rating and will have little contact with the BSB,” it pledged.

The risks that chambers and individuals will be assessed against include: ineffective or dishonest governance; provision of a poor service to clients; insufficient consideration of equality and diversity in administration or service delivery; inadequate or unfair pupillage or training; and incompetent or dishonest financial management.

The new regime replaces the chambers monitoring system that only began in 2010. Under this, over 700 chambers were contacted to verify compliance in key areas, a process repeated in 2012. However, the BSB found this lacking, in part because the focus was on identifying and addressing previous non-compliance, rather than assessing the likelihood of future non-compliance.

Next spring, chambers will receive an impact audit survey designed to first identify the impact that any potential breach of the regulatory rules would have on the public and consumers.

This will allow the BSB to judge, among other things, the effect of the chambers’ business model, structure or membership on competition and consumer choice, and on the professional principles.

Most chambers will then have to complete a supervision return form – detailing how effectively potential risks are being managed – to help the BSB determine the likelihood of them actually materialising.

Those chambers that are seen to be managing risks less effectively will receive more supervisory support.

The BSB’s head of quality, Oliver Hanmer, said: “We all know that prevention is better than cure. This new approach is about smarter regulation for the Bar and better protection for the public. Working with us to prevent potential risks materialising will mean minimising the amount of supervision chambers receive, and a more targeted use of resources on our part.”

The BSB is recommending that chambers appoint a member as its point of contact with the regulator.

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