The Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) is the representative body of the four Inns of Court responsible for the composition and administration of the Bar’s disciplinary tribunals. In November last year, COIC established a review of its disciplinary functions under the chairmanship of Desmond Browne QC. The review was asked to make recommendations to ensure that COIC’s procedures were in line with the best regulatory practice and that there was a proper degree of independence from the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
The Disciplinary Tribunals and Hearings Review Group reported to COIC on 18 July 2012. The review identified a number of administrative failures in the maintenance of the list of those chosen to sit as non-judicial members of disciplinary tribunals. Where panels included members who were arguably ineligible to sit (for example, because their appointments were time-expired), COIC will be writing as soon as possible to the barristers concerned. It is not for COIC to determine the legal consequences of this state of affairs, but a recent decision of the Visitors to the Inns of Court (Russell v. BSB) indicates that the presence on the panel of a time-expired member does not invalidate the verdict of the panel. Other cases will raise different issues.
The Disciplinary Tribunals and Hearings Review Group recommended that the Tribunals Service adopt and work to the following statement of purpose:
|a)||to provide a hearings service that is efficient, effective, timely, professional and transparent and one that uses up-to-date practices and processes;|
|b)||to facilitate high quality decision-making in the public interest; and,|
|c)||to be independent, providing clear separation of the adjudicatory function from the Bar Standards Board, as the prosecuting body for the Bar.|
The report includes a number of recommendations intended to put the Tribunals Service on an up-to-date professional footing for the future:
|-||Unifying the administration of the Bar's disciplinary tribunals with the Inns' Conduct Committee for student discipline.|
|-||Relocating the Tribunals Service to dedicated accommodation within Gray's Inn which better suits the requirements of a modern adjudicatory service.|
|-||The recruitment of a registrar to oversee and manage the COIC Tribunals Service.|
|-||The recruitment of an interim manager responsible for the immediate stages of implementing the approved recommendations of the Review Group.|
|-||Improved systems of administration including investment in IT systems for case management.|
In anticipation of the final report, COIC acted in March to reconstitute the Tribunals Appointments Body (TAB) under new terms of reference and with a new chair, Lord Justice McFarlane. The TAB is currently engaged in a recruitment campaign for new barristers and lay representatives for COIC’s Disciplinary Pool.
For the future COIC is determined that with efficient administration and proper resources (including new dedicated accommodation) it will provide the service which the public interest demands and the Bar deserves.
A copy of the Disciplinary Tribunals and Hearings Review Group Report is available on the websites of each of the Inns. A copy of the judgment of Mr Justice Singh in Russell v. BSB can be found on the BSB website.