The barristers' representative body has poured cold water on proposals by the regulator to make the process of handling complaints from third parties more independent. In a consultation response the Bar Council said it disagreed with the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) proposals to replace the professional conduct committee (PCC) with an independent decision-making body.
It marks the third time in recent months that the council has expressed concern over BSB proposals. It has also made the regulator rethink proposals for rerforming training and on price transparency.
The latest proposals stem from a paper published for consultation in March. The proposed independent body would consist of a pool of 30 lay and barrister members from which panels of three or more would be drawn to take individual decisions. It would replace the PCC, which has 32 lay and barrister members, divided into two teams. The proposals also include abandoning the term ‘complaints’, instead treating all incoming information about the profession as ‘information’.
In its response, published last night, the Bar Council says it is concerned that the BSB is ‘already committed’ to the creation of an independent body and is at an advanced stage in its planning. ‘We urge the BSB to keep an open mind as to its approach,’ it says. ‘It is worth stating at the outset that we consider the PCC to be working well and do not believe that it ought to be disbanded. Our primary concern is that the new structure could lead to a loss of professional knowledge and practice area insight that comes from the wide-ranging backgrounds of those who sit on the PCC.’
The Bar Council has not been afraid to use its influence before. The representative body’s strong criticism of BSB proposals to limit the role that the Inns of Courts play in the qualification of barristers was abandoned after pressure from the council. The BSB also backed away from plans to require chambers to publish hourly rates and fixed fees on their websites after the council weighed in on the proposals.
On phasing out the term ‘complaints’ the council says a call to ‘provide information’ is potentially vague and might not encourage people to come forward. ‘Alternative phrasing such as ‘report a concern’ might be clearer’, it suggests.
The consultation closed on 31 May.