Bar complaints setup due for rejig

The Bar Standards Board’s new independent complaints commissioner is set to overhaul the bar’s disciplinary and complaints system to increase transparency and efficiency.

Robert Behrens, who was appointed in June 2006, said there were three key weaknesses with the present complaints system: the views of complainants are not taken into account enough; there is not enough feedback given; and it is not transparent enough.

“I don’t think the system is fit for purpose in the sense that it doesn’t tell barristers the outcome of issues in the sense that it will improve their performance,” Behrens said. “The test is public confidence.”

He has launched a full-scale review of the bar’s disciplinary and complaints system as well as a quantitative study of complainants and barristers.

Behrens said: “I think there’s a lot which can be done to improve the system. It’s very important that we get some rigour into this process.”

Behrens said he had been generally impressed with the way the system currently works, but added that there were improvements to be made. He said he and the board were concerned that the introduction of a single Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) under the Legal Services Bill will disadvantage the bar.

“I’m clear that there are lessons which were not learnt in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report [into the funding of the new regulation], which will create problems for the OLC,” Behrens said.