Review calls for overhaul of bar complaints system

A wide-ranging review of the bar’s complaints-handling process has called for the implementation of 52 recommendations in a bid to address significant weaknesses in the current system.

The review, by the independent complaints commissioner of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) Rob Behrens, is the result of a 10-month programme of research and interviews designed to scrutinise the system.

Although the review highlights strengths in the system, it also finds that it is far from ‘state-of-the-art’ and needs to improve its consumer-facing aspects.

Behrens said: “There’s a failure to communicate effectively with complainants so they have little confidence in the system and find it relatively inaccessible and complicated.”

As a result he made a number of what he calls “common sense” recommendations such as a dedicated telephone helpline and the rewriting of all public information to improve clarity.

There are also recommendations aimed at directing the system towards complaint resolution rather than disciplinary action. For example, it calls for the introduction of new non-disciplinary powers to address ‘improper behaviour’ towards non-clients.

BSB chair Ruth Evans agreed with the review’s conclusions and said that once the improvements were made, removing complaints-handling from the BSB after 2011 could result in ‘huge consumer detriment’.

Subject to the approval of the BSB, the recommendations should be implemented by summer 2008.