The number of barristers disbarred has climbed to a three-year high, as complaints to the bar’s regulator continue to rise. Fifteen barristers were also suspended in 2019/20.

The figures are contained in the first annual report of the Independent Decision-making Body (IDB), published by the Bar Standards Board. This replaces the regulator’s annual Enforcement Report, reflecting the BSB’s new and ‘more holistic’ approach to regulatory decision-making. 

Overall, the number of so-called reports – defined as any incoming information the BSB receives, including what were formerly known as complaints – was 1,489 in 2019/20. This is 10% higher than 2018/19 (1,340), and 36% up on 2016/17 (1098). Family proceedings and crime were the areas of law to generate most reports.

Disbarments (up to 10 from four the previous year) and suspensions from practice (15, up from four) both climbed sharply. By contrast, fines imposed fell to six from 18 in 2018/19 and the number of reprimands dipped from 16 to nine.

The number of cases heard by the disciplinary tribunal was up 55%. ’The picture continues to be one of an increasing proportion of cases attracting higher sanctions imposed by Tribunals, which in turn reflects the BSB’s risk based approach that means only the most serious cases are referred to Tribunal and, if proved, are likely to attract higher sanctions,’ the report says.

Some 175 cases in 2019/20 related to conduct that fell outside professional life, a ‘considerably higher’ proportion than in previous years. Fifteen related to alleged sexual harassment, compared with nine in each of the previous two years. ‘Harassment and bullying at the bar remain areas of real concern for the BSB and we will continue to develop our approach to eliminating this behaviour,’ the report adds.