Barristers have criticised their regulator for eroding confidence in the bar after it suggested that commercial pressures could force barristers to compromise ethical standards. 

In its first risk outlook last month, the Bar Standards Board said that growing pressures from cuts to legal aid and increased competition could threaten barristers’ independence and tempt them to take risks that harm consumers.

But at an event seeking feedback on the outlook, barristers warned that by highlighting this risk, the BSB could encourage doubts among the public about the ethics at the bar, which could erode confidence.

By emphasising the risk, the BSB implied that providers are ‘likely to respond to those pressures by compromising their ethical standards or lowering the standards of services’, a BSB summary of the event said.

'By drawing attention to a potential risk in the future, we may be creating a new - and very real - risk in the present. A few barristers were concerned it could be interpreted as a judgement on their integrity.’ 

Barristers at the event also noted that there was a growing anxiety among young barristers that chambers are being increasingly run as ‘corporate organisations’ rather than as collectives of self-employed barristers.

They said: ‘Coupled with the regulatory focus on chambers and entities rather than individuals, this could erode the principle of individual responsibility at the bar.’

The responses also highlighted concerns that risks to consumers ‘were likely to increase as the bar innovates and provides different services’. 

Sir Andrew Burns (pictured), chair of the BSB, said: ‘The risk outlook is a living document and we must scan the horizon continually for risks to our regulatory objectives.

‘We can only do that by continuing our dialogue with the profession and the public it serves. The publication of this new report shows that we take the input of the bar and stakeholders seriously.’