Handling complaints made against you
You are probably an excellent barrister. This does not mean you will never face a complaint, and it certainly does not mean you will never get things wrong.
If you do receive a complaint, there are good resources available online. Members of the Bar operate a confidential advisory service for those against whom a complaint has been made – see http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/member-services/barristers-complaints-advisory-service-(bcas)/.
There is guidance for the operation of a Chambers complaints procedure on the BSB website at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/code-guidance/first-tier-complaints-handling/.
- Complaints may take many forms. A minor gripe or forgotten attendance note may be sorted out by you, the client or solicitor and your clerks and should not need to involve formal procedures or the BMIF.
- If the complaint is more serious, and you are comfortable doing so, talk to other members of chambers and/or clerks if a complaint is made against you.
- You will need to speak to your Head of Chambers if the matter is serious (and you may want to even if it is not).
- Inform the BMIF as soon as possible.
- If a complaint is going to a tribunal, the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund (‘BMIF’) should pay for your representation. If for any reason it won’t, ask a more senior member of chambers for help.
- The best advice is not to sit on a complaint or put your head in the sand and hope it will go away. Engage and respond, even if it is painful or infuriating.
- Always respond to letters and emails from the BSB, as failure to do so may be a separate offence.
Carolyn McCombe, Chief Executive of 4 Pump Court says:
“I agree – and I particularly support the advice that young barristers should not put their heads in the sand and hope that any problem will go away. If they do get something wrong e.g. forget to ask for interest or costs at a hearing, it is much better that the clerks find out from them immediately rather than later from a disgruntled solicitor. Everybody makes mistakes and the sooner you put your hands up the easier it will be to deal with – the cover-up will be much more damaging than the transgression.”
Your chambers will have a complaints handling procedure, with strict timetables for procedure. You must comply with it. Every complaint must be treated seriously. If a complaint comes direct to you, inform your senior clerk or head of chambers immediately so the complaints procedure can be complied with.