The Bar Standards Board is seeking new powers to step into 'failing chambers' and other barristers' businesses when something goes wrong.
These include giving the BSB powers along the lines of those enjoyed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to seize client files and to intervene and take charge if a chambers is seen to be failing or has gone into administration.
'This would ensure a level playing field between different regulatory regimes,' a consultation document entitled 'Amendment to Bar Standards Board powers' says.
The regulator is also seeking views on setting up a compensation fund. Although the BSB does not envisage that it will be necessary to set up such a fund at the moment, as chambers do not hold client money, it says it is seeking the powers to prepare for changes in the market.
The regulatory body cites the increase in public access work, of barristers undertaking litigation and the advent of new business models as factors that could alter the risk landscape.
The powers being proposed are the same as those the BSB will be granted if it is licensed as a regulator of alternative business structures, for which it applied last week. However if approved, the new powers will apply to 'all persons regulated by the BSB, including individual barristers, entities and their owners and managers'.
Ewen Macleod, director of regulatory policy for the BSB, said: ‘To be clear: these are powers that would be used very rarely, but we think that, in the event something goes awry, all clients should benefit from the same safeguards - regardless of whether they’re the client of an ABS, a BSB-regulated entity, or a barristers’ chambers.’
The BSB also hopes to put its existing regulatory powers on a statutory footing. This includes the power to discipline and disqualify barristers or lay persons working in a chambers or entity.
Although the BSB has disciplinary controls over non-barristers through the contractual relationship entered in to with those it regulates, it wants these to be stated ‘unambiguously’ in legislation.
The proposed powers would also allow it disqualify support staff such as clerks.
The BSB is consulting members on these proposals, and will be accepting feedback until 31 July.