Watchdog to lower standard of proof in barrister misconduct hearings
Prosecutors of barristers accused of breaching professional rules will no longer have to meet the criminal standard of proof, the watchdog for the profession has announced.
The Bar Standards Board said that it would amend the standard of proof applied when barristers face disciplinary proceedings for professional misconduct.
It had held a public consultation on the proposal, which still needs to be approved by the Legal Services Board, the overarching regulator of all lawyers in England and Wales.
If the proposal is approved, the standard of proof will change from the criminal definition, beyond reasonable doubt, to the civil standard of on the balance of probabilities.
Board officials said that the move “will bring the Bar’s disciplinary arrangements in line with most other professions”.
It will also provide a boost to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the watchdog with direct responsibility for the largest branch of the legal profession. The authority has for some time been battling with the Law Society, the body that represents 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, over its aim to make the same change.
The Law Society has argued that because solicitor disciplinary tribunals can strike off lawyers and effectively bring an end to their careers, the highest standard of proof should remain in place.
The Bar Standards Board said that the revised approach would require “a period of preparation” at the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service. Therefore, it anticipated that the reform would not come into effect until the end of March 2019. “The revised standard will complement other changes that we have made recently to improve our rules and processes,” Sara Jagger, a BSB director, said.