A review of the Bar’s disciplinary functions, chaired by Desmond Browne QC, has highlighted a series of administrative failures including panel members whose appointment has expired.
Some lay representatives and barrister volunteers appointed to the Council of the Inns (COIC) panels in 2005 and 2006, respectively, have exceeded their three-year terms and are therefore ineligible to take further part, according to the final report of the COIC Disciplinary Tribunal and Hearings Review Group.
Some barrister volunteers never received a letter of appointment, while other panel members are potentially ineligible due to a conflicting committee membership which could give rise to a claim of apparent bias. Two honorary Queen’s Counsel panel members are ineligible because they do not hold a working rank, while some barrister volunteers may not be of sufficient years’ Call.
Browne’s review, on an initial assessment, found nearly 700 cases may have been affected by eligibility issues. COIC will contact affected barristers. However, he noted that a recent decision of the Visitors to the Inns of Court, Russell v Bar Standards Board  Lexis Citation 49 (QBD), indicates that the presence of a panel member whose term has expired does not invalidate the panel’s verdict.
According to Browne’s review, there has been “inadequate record-keeping” and “inadequate staff supervision”. He recommended that COIC invest in better IT and case management systems as well as new accommodation for the Tribunals Secretary.
“It rapidly became clear that far too much had been expected of the Tribunals Secretary, who had been neither adequately supervised nor supported,” he wrote in the introduction to the review.
“In particular, record-keeping in the small, one-room office in a set of barristers’ chambers was such that the extraction of vital information was often very difficult, invariably time-consuming and sometimes quite impossible.”
BSB chair, Ruth Deech, said: “The publication of the COIC tribunal review report is a vital step in assuring the public and the profession that the disciplinary arrangements for the Bar of England and Wales are open and transparent.
“The BSB will continue to work with COIC as it implements the recommendations contained in the report. The improvements brought about by full implementation of the recommendations will cement the creation of an independent and modern hearings service, operating fairly, transparently and efficiently in the public interest.”