About the Ethical Enquiries Service and documents published by the Bar Council on matters of professional conduct and ethics.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) exercises the regulatory functions of the Bar Council, and it does so independently of the Bar Council. In particular, the BSB is responsible both for formulating the BSB Handbook and for dealing with conduct complaints. Service complaints are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman .
The Bar Council also publishes documents to assist barristers on matters of professional conduct and ethics in particular types of situations. These are not “guidance” for the purposes of the Handbook I6.4. Neither the BSB nor a disciplinary tribunal nor the Legal Ombudsman are bound by any views expressed in such documents.
The Ethical Enquiries Service is a confidential service. All information provided by you through this service, all oral and written responses which the Bar Council gives to ethical enquiries, and any assistance which it gives in or in relation to such enquiries, will be kept confidential to the Ethics Committee, ethical advisors and all those connected with providing the service. This is subject only to your consent and to such qualifications as may be provided for by law.
Those wishing to report serious misconduct, including suspected money laundering or terrorist financing, must do so to the BSB and not to the Ethical Enquiries Service. Under rC68.4 in the BSB Handbook, members of the Bar who become aware of serious misconduct as a result of their work on the Ethical Enquiries Service are specifically exempted from the obligation to report it to the BSB.
Under the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017, as the Supervisory Authority for the Bar of England and Wales where the General Council of the Bar knows or suspects, or has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting, that a person is or has engaged in money laundering or terrorist financing, it is obliged to provide that information to the National Crime Agency. In these circumstances it may therefore not be possible to maintain the confidentiality of the enquiry. This obligation is distinct from the obligations to report serious misconduct under rC66 of the Handbook, to which the exemption for the Ethical Enquiries Service at rC68.4 applies.
We retain written queries and our responses for no more than 18 months, and you can see the Bar Council privacy statement in full here.
Barristers are reminded that they are at all times responsible personally for their professional conduct, ethics and decisions. Whilst the Bar Council aims to guide and assist, you must reach your own conclusion on what your professional obligations and ethics require of you in any particular situation.
In the event of a complaint against you, however, you may find it easier to explain your actions if you have consulted relevant documents published by the Bar Council and/or contacted the Ethical Enquiries Service, and if you can show how, in deciding what course of action to take, you have taken into account the content of those documents and any views or advice received. In particular, the BSB or Legal Ombudsman may regard it as relevant in deciding what, if any, action to take against you in the event of a complaint; and either the BSB, the Legal Ombudsman or a disciplinary tribunal may regard it as relevant to whether you have breached your professional obligations, and may take it into account in mitigation of any penalty or other consequences.
If you wish to be able to refer to any oral response to an ethical enquiry then the onus is on you to take a note of that response and to have that note confirmed by the person on the Ethical Enquiries Service who gave it.
If a response is given to you in writing, then the Bar Council will retain a copy of that response and the original query for no more than 18 months.
If you wish to refer to an oral or written response, or to any advice given in or in relation to it, then the identity of the person who provided it may not be disclosed without the prior consent of that person or the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, except in the following situation: you may disclose their identity when responding to a complaint made to the Bar Standards Board or the Legal Ombudsman.