A third of Bar disciplinary tribunals last year led to disbarment, nearly twice the proportion of 2013, the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service’s (BTAS) annual report has shown.
In 2014, 17 of the 53 tribunals (32%) resulted in the defendant’s disbarment. This compares with 2013, when it was 15 of the 84 tribunals (18%).
Only five-person disciplinary tribunals can impose a sanction of disbarment, and 74% of such hearings in 2014 led to disbarment, up from 44% in 2013.
Both these increases and the fall in the overall number of tribunals held are likely to be the result of the powers given to the Bar Standards Board in January 2014 to impose administrative sanctions on barristers for lower-level offences. The BSB can issue a formal warning, a fixed penalty fine of £400 and/or a discretionary fine of up to £1,000.
The report said: “The overall impact of this change is that BTAS is likely to get fewer, but proportionally more complex and serious cases.
“Similarly, the BSB has itself recently reported a marked annual fall (from 175 to 108) of the number of internal complaints it is handling. These cases are where the BSB itself initiates an investigation into a barrister’s conduct, and the drop coincides with the change from the BSB’s previous requirement for all barristers to annually submit a record of their CPD, to one of occasional ‘spot-checks’.
“A reduction in the number of cases being considered by the BSB must inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of cases then passed by them to BTAS.”
There was also a proportional increase in the number of appeals against tribunal decisions – there were nine in 2014 – but because the numbers are small, the BTAS said it was premature to say whether this was a trend. But it added: “The increased number (both in proportion and in real terms) of tribunals imposing a sentence of disbarment seems likely in itself to lead to a greater proportion of appeals.”
The report also included a review of the Inns Conduct Committee (ICC), which deals with the misconduct of student members and considers applications for admission to an inn.
There were 63 referrals from the inns in 2013/14, a considerable drop on previous years, although it was not clear why this was. The main issue was criminal convictions, followed by academic misconduct/plagarism.
Of the 54 cases dealt with by the ICC during the year, six individuals applying for admission were not found to be ‘fit and proper’, while 11 students were found guilty of a ‘serious matter’ leading either to expulsion from their inn or a lesser sanction.
Inner Temple made the most referrals to the ICC, while Gray’s Inn – as in previous years – made the fewest.