The bar regulator is to consider setting targets for the time taken to conclude disciplinary proceedings after becoming concerned at the increase in the duration of proceedings.
According to the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) annual enforcement report, the time taken to conclude disciplinary cases this year increased by nearly three months, rising from an average 15.1 months to 17.9 months. There were 16 cases that took two years or more to conclude.
BSB chair Baroness Blackstone (Tessa Blackstone) told board members that ‘taking two years to conclude a case is too long’. ‘If a barrister is innocent they should be relieved of the pressure in less than two years, similarly if they are liable for something they should be sanctioned sooner,’ she said.
She suggested that a target could be considered within which a case should be concluded.
The enforcement report, some of which was published in the BSB’s annual report earlier this year, revealed that the number of complaints about barristers had risen by a third - 475 were opened in the year ending 30 April 2018, up from 366 the year before.
Of those complaints, 133 alleged serious misconduct. The regulator received 57 ‘self-reports’ and 76 reports of alleged misconduct by others.
The number of complaints about misleading the court increased from 121 to 159 while the number of complaints about rudeness more than doubled, from 22 to 53. Eight reports of sexual harassment were made in 2017/18 - up from zero the previous year.
Complaints from litigants in person shot up by 64% - up from 47 to 77. However, the BSB said 90% of these complaints were closed at the preliminary assessment stage.
Despite the rise in number of complaints, fewer barristers are being thrown out of the profession: six individuals were disbarred in 2017/18 compared with 19 in 2016/17.