A “significant number” of barristers are still unaware that a new scheme for continuing professional development (CPD) has been in force for nearly two years or are unclear on how it works, Bar Standards Board checks have found.
“Several barristers returned a CPD record on templates used in previous years, with 12 hours of activity recorded as was previously prescribed,” the BSB’s main board was told at its meeting yesterday.
“Many barristers did not produce a plan or reflection to accompany their record of activities.”
The new scheme – replacing the old requirement to achieve 12 CPD hours a year – came into force on 1 January 2017.
Under it, all barristers with three or more years of practice behind them have to plan their learning objectives at the beginning of the year according to their individual development needs and areas of practice.
They must record their activities throughout the year and then reflect on what they have learned at the end, including how they have met their learning objectives and what their objectives should be for the future.
To test how this was working, the BSB asked for and undertook spot checks of 707 barristers’ CPD records – just under 5% of those covered by the regime – and found that 58% of them were completely compliant.
A further 29% were compliant but received feedback on ways to achieve best practice for the future.
Common areas of feedback were that the barrister had a limited range of learning objectives, or the objectives were too generic; recorded a limited range of CPD activities; or showed limited reflection on their CPD activities, how they met their planned learning objectives or consideration of future learning objectives.
The remaining barristers were a mix of those with non-complaint records, who did not submit their CPD records as requested, or, in a few cases, those with mitigating circumstances, such as impending retirement or maternity leave.
The board was told that 80% of these people had now submitted records assessed as totally compliant or compliant with feedback. Those with mitigating circumstances received waivers.
A further 35 barristers who were not selected for the spot check nonetheless declared during the authorisation to practise process in 2018 that they had not complied with their CPD requirements in 2017. These have been contacted for further discussion.
The mood among members of the board was that the level of non-compliance was disappointing – given the roadshows and online information the BSB had provided in the run-up to the scheme’s introduction – but not surprising.
The paper said a main theme was that many of the records had “little or no evidence” that a barrister had done any form of reflection.
“Reflection is a vital aspect of the new CPD scheme… The BSB may need to provide more support to barristers to understand how reflection can benefit them and to promote a culture throughout the profession of continual self-directed learning.”
Andrew Walker QC, chair of the Bar Council – who attends the BSB meetings as an observer – said he was not surprised that it was taking time for barristers to get to grips with the reflection requirement as it was a new CPD concept for them.
The paper said: “It is clear that work must be done to continue to raise awareness of the scheme and what must be done to achieve compliance.
“Further promotion of the scheme by both the BSB and specialist Bar associations, circuits and the Bar Council could help to reach those who are less engaged with the communications from the BSB.”