Following consultation with the profession, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) developed new Code of Conduct rules which were subsequently approved by the Legal Services Board (LSB). The new rules will modernise the authorisation process and bring the arrangements into compliance with the Legal Services Act 2007. Section 13 (2) requires individuals wishing to provide reserved legal activities to be authorised by their approved regulator.
The new process will require all applicants to:
- verify current contact details
- verify practising status and entitlement to exercise reserved legal activities
- confirm completion of the requisite number of continuing professional development (CPD) hours
- declare that adequate indemnity insurance has been obtained and paid
- pay the practising certificate fee, and
- sign a declaration of truth, which is designed to ensure understanding of the process and new system.
The new practising certificate rules
The new practising certificate rules, which can be accessed through the BSB website, detail eligibility for a practising certificate plus the circumstances where a practising certificate will not be issued, may be refused or may be revoked. Where a practising certificate is withheld or revoked, individuals will have the right to apply to the BSB’s Qualifications Committee for a review of the decision. In certain circumstances a temporary certificate may be issued.
The rules also introduce a requirement for barristers to inform the Bar Council, within 28 days of the event, of any changes to the details of their practising certificate application. This could include, for example, changing status from self-employed to employed or ceasing practice.
Amendments to the code of conduct
The Bar Council is also making another important change. As well as introducing new practising certificate rules, rule 206 of the Code of Conduct has been amended. Rule 206 allows barristers who were Called to the Bar before July 2000, or those who are supplying legal services outside England and Wales, to hold themselves out as barristers when supplying these services, if they have registered with the Bar Council. The amendment means that any barrister who is practising in this way and wishes to remain registered under this provision must notify the Bar Council by 31 March 2012. Notification will then be required annually.
Completing the process
The Bar Council has recently invested in a new central database, which enables barristers to create an online account for the purposes of maintaining the currency of their personal data, engaging directly in both representative and regulatory activity and applying for a practising certificate. The expectation is that the latter will be completed online.
Any barrister who is unable, for some substantive reason such as a disability, to complete the application process online will be able to request and submit a hard copy application form.
Chambers and employers
Historically, many chambers and employers have paid practising certificate fees via a block payment scheme. This facility is still available provided that a barrister delegates authority when creating their online account. However, a barrister will retain responsibility for the contents of any application submitted on their behalf. There is also a further option which enables a chambers or employer simply to pay the fee, while leaving the individual barrister to complete the remainder of the process before the authorisation to practise can be granted.
Timetable and non-compliance
The due date for the renewal of practicing certificates for 2012/13 is 1 April 2012. Any barrister who has not completed all or part of the new process by 1 April 2012 will be liable to pay a surcharge. Barristers who fail to complete the process by 1 May will not appear on the BSB register, and will no longer be authorised to practise. From 1 May, any barrister believed to be practising without a certificate will be reported to the BSB, who will take such action as is considered appropriate.
Barristers need to:
- set up an online account
- complete the process online, or
- if chambers or an employer are going to complete block authorisation, delegate authority to enable them to do so.
The online application provides guidance to assist barristers, chambers and employers in completing the process. The Bar Council has set up dedicated helpline and email address for any queries about authorisation to practise or setting up an online account. Please contact us on 020 7611 1466 or email Authorisation@BarCouncil.org.uk.
Oliver Delany is the Bar Council 's Director of Central Services and Chair of the Authorisation to Practise Project Group