In July the Bar Standards Board (BSB) launched a three-month public consultation on our proposed approach to the regulation of non-professional conduct and on barristers’ use of social media. Simultaneously, interim Social Media Guidance was published, which will be updated following the consultation. The consultation is due to close shortly, and any responses must be submitted to by 20 October 2022 at 5pm.

 

The consultation documents and interim Social Media Guidance were both developed with input from a stakeholder reference group consisting of external experts (including practising barristers) and BSB Board members.

 

The BSB is seeking to clarify where the boundaries should lie in the regulation of conduct that occurs in a barrister’s private/personal life (which we refer to as “non-professional life” or “non-professional conduct”), taking account of the circumstances where it is accepted in case law that it might be legitimate for regulators to intervene. Non-professional conduct may be of regulatory interest to us because barristers’ conduct in their private/personal lives can have an impact upon the public’s confidence in them as individual barristers or in the wider profession. Regulation must therefore balance barristers’ human rights against the public interest in preserving public confidence.

 

The BSB is also revising its Social Media Guidance (which applies to barristers in both their professional and non-professional lives) and seeking to strike the right balance between regulatory intervention in relation to social media use and freedom of expression (as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998). A revised Social Media Guidance document is included in the consultation, but in the interim, we have published a revision of the current guidance.

 

The full consultation documents can be accessed on the BSB website. Responses can be submitted via an online digital survey, or by using the form on the BSB website and sending it to CNPL@BarStandardsBoard.org.uk by 20 October 2022 at 5pm.

On 22 September, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) launched their 12-month Digital Comparison Tool (DCT) pilot study. A DCT is digital tool which allow consumers to locate and select service providers. DCTs are common in many sectors, and typically allow users to search for possible service providers by a range of criteria, including location, price, ratings and reviews.

The BSB is inviting barristers to take part in their DCT pilot. Your input is vital to the pilot – it will help them understand whether, and how, the DCT market could offer a benefit to consumers and the Bar. To register your participation in the pilot, please email DCTPilot@barstandardsboard.org.uk. The BSB invite both public access and referral barristers to participate.

There are currently four DCTs participating in the pilotYou can find out more about participating DCTs on the BSB website.

If you would like to learn more about the DCT pilot, please check out the dedicated webpage. You can also sign up to a pilot webinar, which will be held on 20 October at 17:30pm. At the webinar, you will have the opportunity to ask questions of panel speakers. Speakers will include legal regulators, DCTs and consumer group representatives.

Kathryn Stone OBE Blog

September has been an important month for the BSB.   We published our Annual Report, appointed a new lay Board member, launched a pilot looking at digital comparison tools, announced the new minimum pupillage awards, and published a “toolkit” about religion and belief.  At the beginning of October, we also published a report about bullying, discrimination and harassment and a wellbeing statement and began a series of roundtables looking at the role of chambers in promoting standards, equality and access.

You can read the Annual Report on our website. As you’d expect, it records how we did in delivering our business plan last year.   It also offers detailed figures for our performance in delivering our key regulatory activities where our top priority currently is to improve the timeliness of our decision making.

Our new lay Board member is Gisela Abbam FRSA MBA. I am delighted to welcome Gisela to the Board.  She brings with her a distinguished record in science, business and government affairs and she is also currently Chair of the General Pharmaceutical Council. We will shortly be publishing a video interview with Gisela which will also form part of our celebration of Black History Month.

So does the BSB’s interest in digital comparison tools mean that the BSB thinks that choosing a barrister is just like choosing a B&B using TripAdvisor?  Certainly not!  But digital comparison sites are starting to take an interest in the legal services market and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is already looking at this issue with the encouragement of the Competition and Markets Authority.  Like the SRA, we also have the statutory objectives of improving access to justice and promoting competition in the provision of legal services.  But we don’t think we should simply rely on the SRA’s research because we know that the market for barristers is not the same as that for solicitors.   So, the key question here is whether digital comparison might be helpful to consumers and the Bar?  We shan’t know until we have tested the idea, so we do hope that barristers will take part in our pilot.  You can find out more on our website and by joining our webinar on 20 October.

As you may know, we set minimum pupillage awards having regard to the Living Wage Foundation’s annual hourly rate recommendation.  That’s usually announced in November but it’s earlier this year in response to the rapidly increasing cost of living.   So, from 1 January 2023 the new minimum awards will be £20,703 pa for London and £18,884 pa outside London.   We know this is a significant increase, but it reflects the general pressures on the cost of living which will be particularly acute for those barristers starting out on their careers.

You may also wonder why the BSB is interested in the area of religion and belief.  Well again we do have a regulatory objective under the Legal Services Act to promote diversity at the Bar.  So this toolkit, which has been prepared in consultation with experts on our Religion and Belief Taskforce, is intended to provide chambers and entities with some guidance in the hope that this will increase inclusivity amongst the profession.  We hope it will prove useful.

Last week we also published two important documents which address culture at the Bar: a Report on Addressing Bullying and Harassment at the Bar and a Commitment to Wellbeing Statement.   The BSB firmly believes that bullying, discrimination and harassment have no place in a modern, inclusive Bar and we intend to work closely with the profession to do all that we can to eliminate such behaviour.

We also believe that those who are subject to bullying and harassment, or who are dealing with poor mental or physical health or workload issues, should be better supported.  That’s why we have issued our Wellbeing Statement.  Again, improving the wellbeing of barristers is a responsibility which we share with the Bar Council, the Inns and the profession but we do believe that the regulator has an important part to play.

We have now held the first of our roundtables talk about the role of chambers in promoting standards, equality and access here in London and we are planning a second in London in November with further roundtables in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.   I am really keen to hear from Heads of Chambers about how we can best work with the Bar Council, the Inns and Circuits to promote best practice.  These meetings also give me a great opportunity to meet more of you, to hear from the Bar outside London, and to answer any other questions you have about the work of the BSB.  So, if you do receive an invitation, I do hope that you will join us.

Meanwhile the Government has announced new sanctions in response to Russia’s attempted annexation of parts of Ukraine.   Do please keep an eye on our sanctions webpage and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation website for updates.

Finally, I’d like to remind you of our consultation about the regulation of non-professional conduct and social media which closes on 20 October.   This is a very sensitive issue and we really do want to hear from you as to whether you think we have got the balance right between respecting barristers’ human rights and the public interest in preserving public confidence.

Kathryn Stone OBE

Chair

 

Also in this month’s online Regulatory Update:

BSB appoints new lay Board member

Sanctions Update

BSB launches digital comparison tool pilot – register to join our webinar for more information

BSB roundtables: The role of chambers in promoting standards, equality and access

BSB announces minimum pupillage award from 1 January 2023

BSB publishes Report on Addressing Bullying and Harassment at the Bar and a Wellbeing Statement

Limited time remaining to submit your response to the BSB consultation on the regulation of non-professional conduct and on proposed new Social Media Guidance and interim Social Media Guidance

Reshaping Legal Services conference, 13 October 2022