Barristers’ chambers will be required to allow self-employed members to take up to a year’s parental leave under a policy approved by the Bar Standards Board yesterday. 

Since April 2015, employed barristers and their partners have been able to share parental leave between both parents in the first year of a child’s life, or one year from adoption. However, there was no requirement for chambers to make similar arrangements for self-employed members.

A BSB consultation on changing the rules, backed the representative body the Bar Council, was published last November. It was approved by the regulator’s board yesterday.

The new rules allow a self-employed barrister to share leave of up to a year with their partner. It will be up to their chambers to decide how much they contribute to rent and expenses during the leave period. However, where rent is paid on a flat rate basis, a barrister on parental leave must be allowed six months rent free. 

The regulator says that the majority of its 19 responses to consultation on the policy had been positive. They indicated that the increased burden on chambers was ’unlikely to be very large’, the board said. ’The respondents argued that the likely increased burden would be justified, as it would be outweighed by the benefits to the work/life balance of parents, benefits of the child and long term benefits to the chambers.’

However, two respondents were not in favour of the proposals. The regulator said either they ‘denied the existence of a problem’ or supported an alternative proposal that would apply only to mothers.

Ewen MacLeod landscape

Ewen Macleod

Director of strategy and policy, BSB

The BSB outlined four scenarios in which the new policy could be implemented.

These were: when both carers are self-employed barristers operating out of the same chambers, both carers are self-employed barristers operating out of different chambers, one carer is a self-employed barrister and the other is employed and finally, one carer is a self-employed barrister and the other is not in paid work.

Under the first scenario both carers would have an entitlement to full leave and rent free arrangements, in the second situation both barristers’ chambers would grant full parental leave entitlement.

In the third scenario the self-employed barrister would be entitled to leave arrangements regardless of whether their partner took leave or not and in the fourth situation the self-employed barrister is entitled to leave, irrespective of the employment status of their partner.

During the meeting, Ewen Macleod, the BSB’s director of strategy and policy, said the policy should be seen as ‘everyone having the same leave entitlement’ rather than shared leave.

The BSB said the plans will promote its objectives of encouraging a strong independent and diverse bar.

Macleod added: ’The rule change will allow barristers to share parenting, by allowing them to take whatever leave they want up to a whole year, without having to compromise the other parent’s ability to also take a whole year of parental leave. We think this could help the bar to retain those with parental responsibilities by making it easier for self-employed barristers to combine work and family life. This could help with efforts to encourage more gender diversity within the profession, especially at the senior end.’

Andrew Langdon QC, chair of the bar, said the move signalled a 'watershed moment'.

He said: 'This is challenges the assumption that one parent should have to take more time out of their career, and take on more caring responsibilities, than the other. We know that women who leave the Bar for extended periods of time, such as for maternity, find it hard to come back. This move will help to place both parents on a more equal footing.'