24 November 2015

Bar Standards Board announces new governance structure

24 November 2015

The Bar Standards Board has adopted a new governance structure, which will be put in place over the coming months. 

The purpose behind the changes is to distinguish more clearly between policy- making and decision-making on individual cases and to ensure that all policy development is undertaken by the executive staff, led by the Director General, and directly overseen by the Board itself (which comprises eight lay members and seven barristers, under lay Chairmanship).

The Board believes that the changes it has in mind will further strengthen public confidence in the independence of the BSB and its ability to regulate the barrister profession to a consistently high standard.  

The changes will devolve many decisions currently reserved at Committee level onto our trained professional staff.  This should speed up case work and policy development and increase our adaptability and ability to respond to new regulatory demands.  The new arrangements are aimed at ensuring that we are a robust, independent, dependable and optimally-resourced organisation with a clear separation between policy and implementation.

The governance structure will look quite different when the changes are completed.  The Board will have only two permanent committees in future:  one focusing on finance and one focusing on risk and assurance. 

The Board, the Executive and the two permanent Committees will be supported by:

  • a retained pool of independent subject matter experts, including members of the Bar as well as lay figures with other kinds of relevant expertise;
  • arm's-length decision-making Panels (together with the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service, BTAS, run in conjunction with the Inns of Court) to provide independence in our regulatory decision-making as it affects individuals, and to provide a means to review staff-based decision-making.

Policy development and decision-making on individual cases will be undertaken by the executive so far as that is possible. Where independence is required, an arm's-length panel will be used. In time, this will include activities currently undertaken by operational committees within the BSB, such as the Professional Conduct and Qualifications Committees.  The final shape, form and size of these arm's length panels has not yet been decided. 

These changes will take places in stages.  The first changes will affect our Standards, Equality and Diversity, and Supervision Committees, which will be disbanded at the end of 2015.  The Education and Training Committee will remain in existence to underpin the policy development required in the Future Bar Training Programme.  Its terms of reference and membership will be refreshed in order to complement our programme management arrangements for FBT but the Committee will only remain in existence for as long as necessary to complete that programme.

The Qualifications and Professional Conduct Committees will continue to operate broadly along the same lines as they currently do, for at least the next 18 months.  Opportunities to increase staff decision-making will be explored but major structural changes will require BSB Handbook amendment, a process which necessarily takes more time. 

The Board will review its own size, role and composition as these new governance arrangements take effect.   

These changes mark a significant new stage in the evolution of the Bar Standards Board, reflecting its need to be flexible and able to adapt to a wide variety of circumstances.  The Board is confident that these changes equip us better to fulfil our vision of becoming a more modern and efficient regulator.