In a speech at the offices of the Bar Standards Board last night, Mark Neale, the Director General of the BSB, set out five arguments for the independent regulation of the Bar by the BSB.
He argued that:
- professional regulation is not like the regulation of utilities and the regulator can and should collaborate with the profession – “we are not adversaries”
- but the interests of the public and those of the profession are not always the same
- so the regulator must make independent judgements as to how well the profession is serving the public interest
- the risks and opportunities at the Bar will not necessarily match those of the other legal professions
- and therefore independence of decision-making and operational and psychological independence are essential to the Bar Standards Board’s ability to do its job.
He argued that the tradition of self-regulation has been an important safeguard of the independence of the professions from governments or causes and that that independence “is more important now than ever”. Representative and regulatory bodies should work together to secure their shared regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act. They should also be mindful of the need not to duplicate requests for information from the profession and he announced that the BSB will in future make only targeted information requests and not repeat the five yearly regulatory return process.
But he also argued that the long traditions of the Bar may underwrite unexamined practices which no longer work in the interests of consumers or the diversity of the Bar itself. Would the cumulative decisions being taken now by chambers and employers about how many pupillages to offer necessarily ensure the adequate supply of barristers in every area of practice for example? Or might it be in the interests of both clients and barristers if, when solicitors refer clients to barristers, the client were to be given more choice?
He also made clear that, while exploiting opportunities to work with the profession and with other regulators, the BSB must always be wholly independent of all other interests, deciding for itself when it should collaborate and when it should act independently. The BSB must focus on operational excellence – matching the quality of decision-making with speed and responsiveness – and must ensure that regulation is always proportionate to risk and evidence-based
About Mark Neale
Mark Neale joined the BSB in February 2020. From 2010, he led the Financial Services Compensation Scheme for nine years, transforming its capability in the wake of the financial crisis to protect consumers in the event of major failures, and putting many of its services online. Before the FSCS, Mark was a civil servant in both policy and delivery roles. This culminated in Director General roles in both the Home Office where he was responsible for counter-terrorism, organised crime and international work from 2002 to 2005, and in HM Treasury where he was the Managing Director for Budget, Tax and Welfare between 2005 and 2010. Mark has also worked as a civil servant on education, employment and welfare