BSB director general pushes for independent regulation of Bar
In a speech on 3 July, Mark Neale, the director general of the Bar Standards Board, argued for the independent regulation of the Bar by the BSB.
Neale argued that professional regulation is not like the regulation of utilities and the regulator can and should collaborate with the profession. “We are not adversaries,” he said in his speech at the offices of the BSB in London.
However, the interests of the public and those of the profession are not always the same, so the regulator must make independent judgements as to how well the profession is serving the public interest. The risks and opportunities at the Bar will not necessarily match those of the other legal professions, he said, and therefore independence of decision-making and operational and psychological independence are essential to the Bar Standards Board’s ability to do its job.
He argued that the tradition of self-regulation has been an important safeguard of the independence of the professions from governments or causes and that that independence “is more important now than ever”. Representative and regulatory bodies should work together to secure their shared regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act. They should also be mindful of the need not to duplicate requests for information from the profession and he announced that the BSB will in future make only targeted information requests and not repeat the five-yearly regulatory return process.
But he also argued that the long traditions of the Bar may underwrite unexamined practices which no longer work in the interests of consumers or the diversity of the Bar itself. Would the cumulative decisions being taken now by chambers and employers about how many pupillages to offer necessarily ensure the adequate supply of barristers in every area of practice for example? Or might it be in the interests of both clients and barristers if, when solicitors refer clients to barristers, the client were to be given more choice?
He also made clear that, while exploiting opportunities to work with the profession and with other regulators, the BSB must always be wholly independent of all other interests, deciding for itself when it should collaborate and when it should act independently. The BSB must focus on operational excellence - matching the quality of decision-making with speed and responsiveness - and must ensure that regulation is always proportionate to risk and evidence-based.