The decision of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to withdraw from the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) could be a “turning point” in the regulation of barristers, the in-coming chair of the Bar Council has said.
Andrew Walker QC called for a “proper dialogue” between the Bar Council and the Bar’s regulators, both the Legal Services Board (LSB) and BSB, based on “respect, understanding, discussion and persuasion” rather than “diktat, coercion or constricted formality”.
Mr Walker said it had not always been appreciated that “regulation of the Bar involves regulation of a profession”, and barristers were not “simply the providers of a service to consumers”.
He went on: “If our regulators want to speak to us effectively and persuasively, then they must recognise and appreciate our commitment to our clients and the court. Yet, over the years, this has rarely been mentioned.
“The same applies, too, to the objectives of supporting the rule of law, and encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.
“I still see the absence of all this in the ideology and fixations that remain in some quarters to this day.
“Not only do these errors and omissions miss a crucial point about the Bar, but they have led to a critical lack of understanding, and a gulf in perception. This is entirely unnecessary and thoroughly unhelpful.”
Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Bar Council as chair-elect this week, Mr Walker said a possible “turning point” had come with the announcement at the end of last month of the demise of QASA.
“In killing this off, the BSB has in no way taken its focus away from being assured that the Bar is providing the quality of service that the public expects, and the public interest demands, but it has shown us a direction of travel that we should welcome.
“That direction is identified in the BSB’s press release, in which they laid down a challenge to us to take greater responsibility for our own learning and development, and to manage our own professionalism and standards in the quality of practice.
“The language is theirs, not mine, but it represents a turning point in recognising openly and clearly that the standards in question are our standards, and the professionalism in question is our professionalism.
“And the opportunity is to take back control of them. If we want to avoid what we see as unnecessary regulatory burdens, we must play our part in making them unnecessary.
“If we want to avoid the sort of thing that is exemplified by accreditation schemes, some sort of offspring of QASA, or a multiplicity of kite marks, then we must avoid the need for them.”
Mr Walker called for regulation that was “wise, mature and effective”, and a recognition that regulation “neither requires nor benefits from the profession being distanced from it, artificially and illogically”.
He added that that the Bar Council had already “taken a first step” towards greater understanding with the LSB.
“I hope, too, that they will give us the space to work more effectively with the BSB, who I think do appreciate much of this, and with their new chair, Baroness Blackstone, and that they will allow us to do this without unnecessary and resource-sapping distractions.”