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