The Bar Standards Board has signalled its support for the government’s proposals to make legal services regulators fully independent.
Outlining its draft strategic plan for 2016-19, the BSB said that ‘ultimately’ there should be separation between the regulator and the representative body.
It said that separating the two would enable the BSB and Bar Council to carry their respective roles ‘more transparently and powerfully, in the public interest’.
The bar regulator joins the Solicitors Regulation Authority in backing full separation. But the position puts it at odds with the new Bar Council chair, who in her inaugural speech last month urged the government not to reshape legal services regulation.
Although the Bar Council has not officially stated its position on the government’s proposals, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC (pictured) said that the current arrangement allows regulation to be carried out cost efficiently with no less independence.
The BSB’s support for the government’s proposals came as it gave its financial forecast for the next three to five years, saying that changes to regulatory approaches will put more pressure on its cost base. It notes that it uses only 65% of the funds raised from the profession, with the remaining 35% going to the Bar Council.
This, it said, restricts its capacity to reduce the burden of regulator costs on the profession, as it is constrained by the strategies and work not owned by the BSB.
It said that the financial relationship with the representative body should be made clearer.
The plan also outlined the key risks the regulator seeks to address: a failure at the bar to meet consumer needs, a lack of diversity in the profession and discriminatory culture at the bar, and commercial pressures on legal service providers.
Outlining the commercial challenges that lie ahead, the BSB said that these can adversely affect access to legal services and threaten professional independence.
But it acknowledged that in some cases increased competition can benefit consumers. An example of this is the growth in the number of public access barristers ‘who can meet the needs of consumers without using intermediaries such as solicitors’.