27 May 2015

Regulation and Compliance

Event: Legal Futures Conference 2015

Date: 28 April 2015

Speaker: Sir Andrew Burns KCMG, Chair Bar Standards Board

Thanks very much to Neil and Sabrina at Legal Futures for organising this excellent conference.

As many of you know, but some of you may not, the Bar Standards Board is the independent regulator of barristers in England and Wales.

It is our job is to regulate the Bar in order to promote high standards of practice and safeguard clients. 

As a regulator, our overriding objective is to protect the public. That is why so much of our work is taken up with monitoring barristers' services and handling complaints against members of the Bar.

But, more often than not, the best way to achieve this is to ensure barristers have the capabilities, the environment, and the right regulations to help them adapt the way they do things so they can best meet the needs of their clients and the justice system.

And this is why we've spent the last year and a half giving barristers more freedom and flexibility, while refocussing our rules and regulations on where they are needed most.

Sixteen months ago we launched the new BSB Handbook.

We stripped away superfluous rules and updated others; adopted a less prescriptive approach; and concentrated more on what the end result should be and less on defining how a barrister must act in every situation.

We allowed self-employed barristers to apply - for the first time - for permission to conduct litigation, so as to relieve clients of public access barristers from having to act as self-representing litigants and conduct the administrative tasks themselves or go through a solicitor.

We changed the way the Bar is supervised, based on how likely things are to go wrong and the impact this would have on clients; we reserved enforcement action for more serious instances of misconduct.

We still carry a big stick, but we are speaking to the profession more softly than we used to and I think this is leading to more a constructive relationship in areas such as supervision.   

Last month we began authorising BSB-regulated entities - a topic, I know, of real interest to Legal Futures. 

Already we have approved 15 new businesses; a further 94 have been in touch to express serious interest in setting one up under our regime.

We had no desire to replicate existing models of entity regulation; we wanted to provide those wishing to specialise in advocacy, litigation, and specialist legal advice with a specific and focussed regime.

And this we have done.

In uncertain times we hope this will give barristers and other lawyers more freedom to react to changes in the market; to devise new ways of working to remain competitive and best serve their clients.

This brings me to what we intend to do in the near future.

A few weeks ago we published our 2015/16 Business Plan, setting out the key things we will start and have started doing in the current financial year.

These include becoming a licensing authority for barrister-led businesses with non-lawyers as owners - otherwise known as ABSs

We want to encourage new business models to emerge and thrive and increase client choice.

As some of you know we have embarked on an ambitious programme of reform to legal education and training - our Future Bar Training programme - and I'd like to thank those of you who have already been involved.

This will be a key area of work as the coming months progress.

We want to make sure regulation does not impede training the next generation of barristers in the best possible way.

And in the face of perhaps unprecedented change, we must make sure that what we do is designed to ensure the Bar remains in a strong position to deliver to its full potential.

We will review the way in which we regulate immigration advice and services.

As we all know, those seeking immigration and asylum advice are often especially vulnerable - particularly now that recent legislative changes are showing their full impact.

And so we are particularly keen to see whether we need to provide any further regulatory protection for immigration clients.

Ultimately, this is all part of ensuring we have in place the systems that properly protect and promote what is best for the public.

We will revise our governance structures to ensure we do the job we need to do as efficiently as possible - to make sure the way in which we make decisions does not mean unnecessary complexity, cost, or delay.

We will strive to make our limited resources work most effectively in our efforts to safeguard clients.

We want to better understand the market, how the Bar operates, and the experiences of those who use its services.

To do this we will gather evidence of when, where, and why things go wrong.

This will show us where regulation is most needed and let us focus our efforts where they offer the public the best protection.

Listening to clients and the public so we know what it is like for them to use barristers' services is crucial to all that we do.  

And so we want to enrich the organisation's knowledge of consumers and enhance our engagement with stakeholders.

We cannot protect the public by regulating in a vacuum.

In terms of things we will continue to do, these include supervising chambers according to the risk they represent to the public so that our resources are targeted where they are most needed; and handling complaints against barristers and, if needed, taking disciplinary action.

But it will also be a year of reflection, as well as reform.

We will review our approach to Public Access and the impact of certain aspects of the new Handbook, introduced in January 2014.

We will reassess our new enforcement strategy and develop further an authorisation and supervision regime for BSB-regulated entities.

We will evaluate the operation of the Bar Course Aptitude Test and re-examine the Academic and Professional Stages of qualifying as a barrister.

Finally, we will also design, develop, and decide on a new strategy for beyond 2016 and all the obstacles and opportunities that lie ahead. So this will be a very significant year for us.