The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published its new Strategic Plan for 2016-19 and its Business Plan for 2016-17.
The new strategy builds upon the BSB’s progress over the last few years in becoming a more modern and efficient regulator. Examples of what has been achieved during the period of the last Strategic Plan, include the publication of the BSB Handbook in 2014, the introduction of a risk-based approach to supervision and enforcement, and the licensing of new legal businesses (entities) specialising in advocacy.
The latest Strategic Plan sets out the context in which the regulator will be operating over the next three years. It describes the opportunities and challenges this context presents for the BSB in fulfilling its statutory regulatory objectives. One of the challenges for the BSB is to deliver its strategic aims in a way that ensures value for money. The regulator’s budget in 2016-17 represents a four per cent reduction in direct operating costs compared with the previous year, and the Strategic Plan commits the organisation to hold that level of expenditure on direct operating costs for the next three years.
The strategy focuses on three aims over the next three years. It also explains how the BSB intends to fulfil them. The aims are:
- Regulating in the public interest
- The BSB wants to help the public better understand the fast-changing and complex market for legal services, so that users of those services can make informed choices and have a better understanding of their legal rights and duties as citizens.
- The Strategic Plan outlines several ways in which the BSB intends to go about this and results in a number of different activities to be undertaken.
- Supporting those we regulate to face the future
- The BSB will assist the Bar in preserving its professional identity for the benefit of the public. This is particularly necessary where unregulated competition is being felt in areas of barristers’ work. For example, the public needs to understand the difference between a fully qualified, regulated and insured barrister and a “McKenzie Friend” – whether paid or unpaid. The BSB will help the profession to work more closely with solicitors and other legal professionals where that may offer advantages to the public.
- The BSB will ensure regulation does not pose unnecessary barriers to entering the market. Legal education and training will be reformed to support the barristers of the future.
- A strong and sustainable regulator
- The BSB will continue to position itself as the regulator of legal services which have advocacy, specialist legal advice and litigation at their core. There is a distinct public interest in the BSB doing this because of the close relationship between those activities and the upholding of the rule of law and access to justice.
- To be a strong and sustainable regulator, the BSB will continue to operate in a way that is independent of both government and the profession it regulates. Doing this in a way that is accountable to the public – whose interests it protects – is an essential consideration in strong regulation at the Bar. This applies irrespectively of whether the BSB separates fully from the representative body, or not.
- The BSB will continue to promote its core values in all that it does: fairness, integrity, respect, excellence and value for money. The BSB will maintain its strong track record of transparency, accountability and good stewardship of resources by setting out clear and meaningful measures of success and reporting on them openly
The approach taken by the regulator when preparing the new Strategic Plan has been to identify three priority areas in relation to what it considers as the biggest risks to its regulatory objectives. These are: meeting unmet consumer need, improving diversity and enhancing equality, and, where it is in the public interest, helping those we regulate to respond to commercial pressures.
Evidence to support these risk themes will be published in a few weeks’ time, when the BSB publishes its first Risk Outlook. The Risk Outlook will also provide more information about what the BSB intends to do to address these risks, and will provide further explanation about how the BSB now regulates in a risk-based way.
The Business Plan for 2016-17 provides a greater level of detail about the regulator’s proposed activity for the year ahead. This includes more information about its everyday “business as usual” activity as a regulator.
BSB Chair Sir Andrew Burns said: “We are pleased to announce the publication of our Strategic Plan for 2016-2019. The next few years could be pivotal in ensuring that the market for barristers’ services is sustainable in the long term and exists in a way that everyone can access it fairly. We believe this is of fundamental importance in sustaining the rule of law and in providing genuine access to justice for all. For these reasons, the need for strong, independent regulation of the Bar is paramount.
“These are challenging times for us, as much as they are for barristers. We hope that our new Strategic Plan and the activities it outlines, will play a significant role in bringing about a settled and sustainable Bar that is accessible to everyone.”