In the Media

Bar to boost transparency in major strategy overhaul

PUBLISHED December 5, 2006

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) laid out an extensive strategy last Thursday (30 November) that will see the regulator make a series of changes over the next three years.

The launch of the 2007-2010 strategy came at the end of the BSB's first year of operation after the split between the Bar Council's regulatory and representative functions.

The BSB has identified five strategic objectives: protecting consumers, access to justice, independent regulation, excellence and quality, and diversity.

It will review the barristers' Code of Conduct, examine the BVC and the training regulations to ensure that new barristers have the right level of training, and establish a programme to capture diversity statistics for the profession, among other tasks.

BSB chief executive Ruth Evans said that the strategy was launched to enable the board to regulate in an evidence and risk-based way, and that it was seeking transparency and accountability.

"We want to be accountable to the profession for our work," Evans told The Lawyer. "We want to encourage diversity, and ensure there's sufficient assurance of quality. We're not just carrying on the regulatory activities of the Bar Council. We're working in, I believe, a more imaginative and focused way. We're unclouded by any other considerations.

"These values really will bring cultural change, and I think the profession as a whole will feel a difference. It's not the same as it was, it's making it better. I think the profession should get a better deal out of it."

The BSB has also selected a consumer panel, to be chaired by Dianne Hayter, a board member for the National Consumer Council. The panel is a mixture of solicitors and lay members and will advise the BSB on clients' needs.

The new strategy will also see further examination of the Legal Services Bill, which has begun its passage through Parliament after a first reading in the House of Lords on 23 November.

On the whole, Evans and BSB director Mark Stobbs welcomed the bill, although the BSB shares the Bar Council's concerns about the Office for Legal Complaints and the powers of the Legal Services Board (LSB).

Stobbs said: "The concern with the draft bill was that the LSB has a number of powers to intervene and make rules. We felt that these powers should be more proportionate."

However, the BSB is holding back from deciding its stance on issues such as alternative business structures (ABSs), as those are less relevant for the bar and its majority of self-employed practitioners.

"Clearly we're going to look at the rules against partnership; we don't want to prevent that," Stobbs said. He added that the BSB is unlikely to apply to be a regulator of ABSs, although it has not yet ruled out such a move.

Evans said the changes were designed to ensure that the Bar Council was acting in the public interest as well as that of barristers.

"One of the key messages must be that, as the regulator, we're there to balance a whole range of interests," she said.