The Bar Standards Board has laid out plans for new statutory powers to step into “failing chambers, companies and partnerships” to enable it to protect clients where something has gone “seriously wrong”.
In a consultation paper launched last month, it argued that it should have statutory powers to intervene and take control of client files in instances of failure to comply with regulatory requirements, dishonesty and insolvency.
The powers, similar to those already held by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, will enable it to obtain alternative representation for clients and secure any papers and assets that belong to them.
The consultation also proposes powers to establish and require contributions to a compensation fund. While not needed at present as chambers do not hold client money, the BSB said the situation may change “as the market develops and risks change”.
The BSB’s Director of Regulatory Policy, Ewen Macleod, said “These are powers that would be used very rarely, but we think that, in the event something goes awry, all clients should benefit from the same safeguards.”
He added: “Other regulators already have similar controls so we want to ensure there are no holes in the safety net for consumers.”
The consultation followed the BSB’s application to the Legal Services Board to become a regulator of alternative business structures.
In its application, it said it would provide “lighter weight and less costly” regulation compared to other bodies.
The BSB said it is “keen to regulate a range of entities to ensure that the market in legal services is strong and vibrant, with a variety of models, which allow the profession to innovate”.
But it stated there is “little advantage” in establishing a regime which simply replicates that of the SRA or others.
Rather, it said it aimed to operate as a “specialist entity regulator” for those whose permitted range of services is broadly the same as those permitted to the self-employed Bar and whose risks and regulatory requirements are similar.”