Revealed: Most barristers failing to comply with transparency rules

Websites: BSB plans spot checks

Little more than a third (37%) of barristers, chambers and firms regulated by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) are fully complying with its rules on price and service transparency, it has emerged.

A review by the BSB found that a further 38% are partially complying with the rules, introduced last summer, with a quarter failing completely.

The regulator said this group would be subject to spot checks next year.

The BSB warned: “While we strongly prefer to continue to ensure compliance through constructive engagement, especially at this very difficult time for the Bar, those who do not engage with us to take corrective action, where it is needed, are likely to be referred for possible disciplinary action.”

Barristers had until January this year to comply with new transparency rules, requiring them among other things to provide details of the services they offer, explain their most commonly used pricing models and give guidance around timescales for work.

Additional rules for direct access barristers included providing details of indicative fees, additional costs such as court fees and an indicative timescale for the key stages of the proceedings.

The BSB carried out a compliance review of 195 chambers, 34 BSB firms doing direct access work and 211 individual barristers earlier this year.

The most common failings for all barristers were not publishing information about the timescales of a case, failing to provide a link to the decision data page on the Legal Ombudsman’s website and a link to the BSB’s barristers register.

Barristers who did not have a website, and instead provided a fact sheet, often referred to their complaints procedure without “either including this information or attaching it to the fact sheet”.

For direct access barristers, the most common failings were in providing indicative fees and when they might vary, additional costs such as court fees, and an indicative timescale.

The BSB said it was encouraged that 75% of barristers were either fully or partially compliant with the new rules, which represented “good progress”, but there was “more work to be done”.

The regulator said it had carried out three reviews of the level of price information provided on chambers’ websites in 2017, 2019 and this year.

Almost a third (32%) of chambers websites included “numerical” information on fees – a huge rise on the 3.8% the year before which probably reflected the fact that the rule change only came into force this January.

Fewer than a quarter (24%) gave more detailed information about how fees were calculated, a rise of around seven percentage points on the previous year.

The proportion that gave “no information” on how fees were calculated was just over 21%, compared to 56% the previous year and three quarters in 2017.

Along with the spot checks, the BSB said its regulatory return was due to be completed this autumn of this year and this process would “provide another opportunity to engage with the profession on the rules”.

The BSB said that when the supervision team assessed the return, it would check barristers, chambers and BSB entities’ websites or fact sheets for compliance and “where non-compliance is identified, will require corrective action”.

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