The Bar Council has staunchly defended the ‘values’ of the bar, hitting out regulatory proposals to re-evaluate the role of the Inns of Court and require barristers to publish prices.
The council said the role of the Inns of Court should remain mandatory because they ‘play a fundamental role in nurturing and developing the shared culture of the bar’ and also warned against diminishing barristers’ ‘skill and judgment’ by moving towards standardised rates.
The council’s views appear in strongly-worded responses to proposals from the Bar Standards Board on Future Bar Training (FTB) and its plans for implementing the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recommendations for transparency standards.
In its FTB consultation, the BSB asked whether the roles of the Inns of Court, which include calling new barristers to the bar and supervising students’ conduct, ‘remain appropriate’. Under one option, the BSB suggested non-members could be made eligible for call.
But the Bar Council’s response insists membership should be mandatory for all. ‘We believe that most barristers share a culture of adherence to high standards of behaviour and professional ethics, not because they are fearful of punishment if they do not behave properly, but because they share a belief that there is a moral imperative to uphold high professional standards,’ the council said.
It added: ‘It does not matter whether you are the child of a judge, or have never met a barrister before in your life: you can join an inn and you will have the same opportunity to meet barristers and judges, as well as to meet your own peer group.’
‘We do not believe that the benefits provided by inn membership could be effectively replicated by any other institution… there is simply no substitute for having access to a large body of one’s peers and other practitioners of varying seniority, who have a wealth of experience and with whom a student may come into contact.’
It rejects a proposal that the BSB take over from the inns responsibilty for student conduct. ‘The inns have a depth and breadth of experience of dealing with student conduct issues that no other body, including the BSB, could easily match or better,' it states. 'Conduct decisions are made by practitioners who are immersed in advocating and administering the rule of law, and who have every interest in ensuring that prospective entrants to their profession meet the appropriate standards.’
On price transparency, the council says it has ‘significant concerns’ on proposals to require chambers to publish prices and data on complaints. The BSB’s proposals ’do not reflect the CMA’s intentions, or apply them to the specific position of the bar’, the response states.
It warns of a need to avoid creating a ‘taxi-meter approach to billing’ in which barristers are ’driven towards standardised rates in a way which reduces, rather than enhances, competition’.
‘Every case is different, and indeed the adaptability of barristers’ services is one of the key ingredients in their economy. It may therefore be impossible to give information in advance about what specific charging models will actually be available.’