15 September 2019

Blog: Monthly message from our DG Dr Vanessa Davies

I am writing to you this month as our Chair, Baroness Blackstone, is on annual leave.

At our July meeting, the  Board considered the responses we have received to our consultation earlier in the year about proposals to modernise our regulatory decision-making. We will be publishing a report soon summarising those responses and how we considered them. The report will also explain our decisions to change how we deal with the information we receive as your regulator and to revise our decision-making structures in relation to professional conduct issues. 

One aspect of the consultation which has generated a lot of debate was our proposal to remove the existing rule about the time limit for disciplinary investigations. We have never believed that barristers, clients and others should feel unable to report a possible breach of the Code just because twelve months has passed since the alleged breach.    

The existing rules already provide that the Professional Conduct Committee can look at a complaint brought outside the current limit if it decides that further consideration of the complaint is "justified in the public interest, having regard to the regulatory objectives". There may be very good reasons for delay - in cases of alleged bullying or harassment, for example - and we want to assure the public and the profession that all alleged breaches of the Code will be properly assessed and investigated provided there is sufficient evidence. 

We would still encourage early reporting, which usually makes evidence easier to obtain, but the key test must be whether a matter can be fairly and properly investigated, not the time that has elapsed since the alleged breach.  We of course recognise that if documentation has been destroyed in line with legal requirements such as the GDPR that can make such an investigation impossible.

Having made a number of important policy decisions earlier in the year about the future of Bar training, we have published the proposed new rules that will replace Part 4 (also known as the Bar Training Rules) of the current BSB Handbook. We are seeking views as to whether they provide the right framework to give effect to the new policies announced as part of our Future Bar Training (FBT) programme. The new rules will be finalised in the autumn and, subject to approval by the Legal Services Board, are expected to take effect in early 2019. You can read more about this consultation on our website.

At the end of July, we held a very interesting and useful roundtable to discuss how we and others can best combat bullying and harassment at the Bar, including sexual harassment. Several members of the Board attended along with representatives from the Bar, including the Chair of the Bar Council, and other regulators. There was a valuable and important discussion of the issues, which will be of considerable use to us as we prepare to review our rules, including the current obligation to report harassment as a form of professional misconduct.

If you offer pupillages, do please also look out for our email questionnaire this month which will help you to find out how to become authorised as an Approved Education and Training Organisation under our new Bar training rules which will take effect next year.  If you don't receive such an email and want to offer pupillages next year please do get in contact with us by emailing contactus@barstandardsboard.org.uk.

Finally, we have published our latest Annual Report. If you want to know more about our work during 2017-18, I do hope that you will read it.