Complaints about Barristers

The Barristers profession in England and Wales has many of its own rules and regulations regarding good practice. It prides itself of being independent and not having the government or any other authority interfere in its practice. However, what are the processes and procedures when it comes to complaint handling process? The following will show the rules and procedures that one needs to be aware of. 

 If you wish to make a compliant about a solicitor a different process is involved.

Complaints Procedures in Chambers as regards to Clients

This is detailed in s 403.2 (d) in the Bar Standard Boards Code of Conduct

  • Basically whenever a complaint is made to a barrister they must deal with these complaints in a way which is polite, punctual and deals with the relevant issues. Furthermore every Chambers must have its own complaints procedure which must be available to the client should they ask for one.

How Complaints must be handled in Chambers 

Requirements according to Annex S of the Code of Conduct:

  • The most important information is that when barristers are instructing a lay client or a professional they must as soon as possible inform them that a complaints procedure form is available should they request one and that they need not make a complaint through a solicitor but can do so directly (s1 a & b)
  • Furthermore complaints procedures must be available to both professional clients and lay clients as well as any intermediaries.

Response to Clients 

According to s 5 a to c of Annex S of the Code of Conduct:

  • After prompt acknowledgement of complaint the complainant must be given the name and description of the individual within Chambers who will deal with that complaint, be provided with a copy of the complaints procedure form, and be informed of the date when the claimant will further hear from the Chambers.

Accordingly, s 6 a to b of the Code of Conduct, the following needs to be done if a complaint is referred to the Commissioner:

  • The Head of Chambers must notify the Commissioner after 6 weeks of the referral as regards to the progress or outcome of the consideration of the complaint and when there is no outcome update the Commissioner every 6 weeks until there is an outcome at which point the commissioner must be notified.

Complaints against Barristers through the Disciplinary Tribunal Process

The following information is based on the Bar Standard Board’s ‘Complaints against Barristers’ document and the Annexe J- Complaint Rules 2009.

When complaints against a Barrister can be adjudicated using the Disciplinary Tribunal Process?

Complaints about a barrister will only be sent to a Disciplinary Tribunal after there is a thorough investigation which accumulates enough evidence to show a breach of the Code of Conduct so the complaint will be sent for adjudication.

According to Annexe J of the Complaints Rules 2009 from the Bar Council:

  • S 21) if a complaint is not dealt within 3 months by the Chambers without any adequate explanation, the complainant could notify the commissioner
  • S 25) the onus is on the complainant and they have the burden of proof. Furthermore, the complainants have to make the complaint 6 months after the incident which is complained of or 3 months if not content with the investigation of the complaint.
  • S 26) if complaint not made within time frame identified in s 25, it will be dismissed unless the Commissioner feels that it should be examined further due to an ‘exceptional circumstance’ or ‘seriousness of act or omission’.
  • S 27) this sections looks at criteria for further consideration such as seriousness of claim, capability of being properly investigated, other reasons for not looking at the complaint etc.

Respective Roles of the Bar Standards Board and Complainant in Proceedings:

  • Once the decision is made that the case will go to the Disciplinary Tribunal the complainant cannot be a participant in the proceedings. Instead the Bar Standards Board will take on the responsibility for prosecuting the case against the barrister.

Different Types of Tribunals and the Authority they have:

There are two different types of tribunals, ‘three person disciplinary tribunals’ and ‘five person disciplinary tribunals’. The allocation of the complaint to either of these tribunals depends on seriousness of the breach.  

Three Person Disciplinary Tribunals

  • These tribunals usually consist of a chair, a barrister, and a lay member. The chair is oftentimes a Queen’s Counsel, but in some instances could also be a judge.
  • They have the power to impose various penalties

Five Person Disciplinary Tribunals

  • This tribunal consists of a chair (Judge) plus two barristers as well as two lay members.
  • They can impose the same penalties as above plus they can suspend or disbar a barrister.

The Process of Disciplinary Tribunals

This procedure finds it source from the Bar Council’s Code of Conduct and its full details can be available from the Disciplinary Tribunals Regulation 2009. These will be briefly summarized below: 

Stage 1

This stage involves the charges being served along with the supporting documents.

Stage 2

This is the stage in which directions are made. At this stage the timetable is consented upon and complied with.

Stage 3

At this stage the date of the hearing is approved after being agreed upon.

Stage 4

This is the final stage where the actual hearing will take place

The various procedures and complaint handling processes have now been briefly explained. It can be seen even from this brief explanation that the process can be quite arduous. Despite this the procedure is in place should you desire to use it.