The Bar Standards Board is inviting comments on its proposals to bring the standard of proof into line with all professionals other than Vets and, for now, solicitors. Lucy Reed has exceeded her own high standards with an exceptional blog post on this.
In terms of the three questions the BSB asks, I agree that the standard of proof should be the civil standard, that the decision should not await the SRA making such a shift, and I do not perceive equality or other impact concerns that should stop them doing so. I don;t propose to go into the arguments as the BSB’s document does that admirably and with concision.
I suspect one argument that may be made against the proposals is the risk of ‘political’ prosecutions of barristers for handling controversial cases. This is a risk that faces other professionals, although it might be thought to be a greater risk for lawyers, who’s work inevitably implicates them in greater controversy. Any such risk is properly protected by the independence of the regulator and prosecutorial decisions, rather than an artificially high burden of proof.
I hope also that a more public interest oriented standard of proof will also open the door to a wider range of enforcement, redress and restoration – with perhaps more disciplining of misconduct but a wider range of responses to such enforcement. Ethics is important but it should perhaps rarely be the life and death of someone’s career. In particular, it is to be hoped that practitioners are less likely to fight made out misconduct conduct charges and more willing to engage in meaningful contrition and learning from their errors. This is not an approach likely to develop in scheme which has a criminal, adversarially oriented approach of which the balance of proof is one significant element.