Bar regulator kicks off code of conduct overhaul

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is set to overhaul its code of conduct for barristers for the first time since it was published in 1981, setting aside three years for the project.

The BSB has published a consultation paper for barristers to give their opinions on how to update the rules to take into account the Legal Services Bill. It will also consider suggestions from the Office of Fair Trading that certain parts of the code may be anticompetitive.

BSB director Mark Stobbs said: “It’s the sort of thing as a brand new regulator that we should be doing. We’ve got a whole lot of things coming up in the Legal Services Bill, especially alternative business structures.”

Stobbs said one of the main priorities for the review was to put together satisfactory rules on partnerships and the type of businesses barristers can take part in.

In the paper the BSB also calls for a review of a variety of rules, including those governing entry requirements to the bar, administration of chambers and what work barristers can and cannot take on.

This includes the controversial ‘cab rank’ rule, which forces barristers to take on cases that they might otherwise have refused.

The consultation paper said: “In requiring barristers to represent people they disapprove of or achieve results that go against their profoundly held beliefs, it could be said to be contrary to their human rights.”

The launch of the consultation paper coincides with the release of the BSB’s first annual report. The total cost of the BSB has risen to £3.5m from £3m last year, a rise that is attributed to increased staff and research costs.

Stobbs said: “I think the Bar Council set us up thinking it would be business as usual. But they’ve been very helpful in finding additional resources to fund research projects and find the additional staff we needed to get the work going.”

He added that the coming year would feature a report from the BSB’s complaints commissioner about the handling of complaints at the bar, as well as an investigation into the quality of barristers.