Regulator’s new approach to working with chambers can help improve barristers’ businesses

24 Oct, 2014

Today the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has published the findings of its pilot supervision visits to chambers. The supervision programme is part of the BSB’s new targeted and proportionate approach to regulation launched at the beginning of the year.

The pilot supervision visits have helped to bring about real improvements in chambers’ policies, procedures, and controls. The BSB believes these visits could aid the spread of good practices, like more transparent and effective complaints processes, across the profession.

Chambers received the visits positively and staff appeared to appreciate a more constructive relationship with the regulator, working collaboratively to help improve chambers’ management of risk and compliance with regulatory requirements.

“I hadn’t fully grasped that the intention of the visit was to assist and help chambers. I thought it was to check what we might be doing wrong. However… it quickly became apparent that the BSB are offering assistance, guidance, and help.”

“We were able to have an open conversation about the issues that all chambers face these days”.

“…the supervision did make us think about things that are less obviously necessary and on the whole I think this was a good thing.”

The BSB’s Director of Supervision, Oliver Hanmer, said: “We have been really encouraged by the tangible improvements we have seen in chambers’ risk management, governance, and service delivery. We are delighted with the positive responses from the chambers we have worked with. It’s clear that this approach is helping to foster a more constructive relationship between the BSB and those who we regulate. Fundamentally, these visits are vital in helping the BSB better protect the interests of clients by preventing potential risks snowballing into real problems.”

The BSB visited 13 chambers as part of the pilot. Of these, seven were selected randomly. Another six were selected on a risk basis due to referrals from the BSB’s Professional Conduct Department.

Following the 13 pilot supervision visits, some 120 actions were raised, which were split into one of four categories – for immediate attention, urgent, important, and merits attention – depending on priority. Around half of these actions were defined as important, and about a third were considered to merit attention.

Six actions warranted immediate action. Of these, five related to the financial vulnerability of three chambers that were selected for visits on the basis of risk. The BSB have required these chambers to prepare emergency plans in the event that they were forced to close unexpectedly, so as to minimise the accompanying impact on their clients. The chambers have since been subject to ongoing monitoring by the BSB.

The sixth and final action categorised as “immediate action” related to delays in paying Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund insurance premiums. The chambers was requested to address this immediately.

Among the actions raised from the visits, key themes were:

  • Risk management (eg, whether a chambers had prepared a plan for how it would manage and respond to risks and uncertainty);
  • Viability (eg, whether a chambers had a contingency plan in the event of sudden closure);
  • Complaints (eg, whether a chambers had clear complaints handling and monitoring procedures); and
  • Equality and diversity requirements (eg, whether a chambers had devised an Equality Action Plan).

More supervision visits will now be rolled out as part of the BSB’s wider, better targeted approach to supervision.

The report is available here.

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