Professional Conduct Department User Satisfaction Survey of Complainants and Barristers. Annual Report 2010

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1 Professional Conduct Department User Satisfaction Survey of Complainants and Barristers Annual Report 2010 September 2011

2 Contents Introduction... 3 Methodology... 3 Response Rates... 3 Supplementary Research Report... 4 Survey Results... 7 Accessibility... 7 Staff Performance... 9 Timeliness and Efficiency...11 Transparency and Openness...12 Quality of Service...15 Disciplinary Action...16 Comments...16 Diversity Monitoring...18 Disability...18 Gender and Ethnicity...18 Conclusions...20 Action points...21 Annexes: Annex 1 Research Report: Understanding Complaints Data 2

3 Introduction 1.1 This is the second annual report on the user satisfaction survey sent to complainants and barristers with recent experience of the complaints handling service provided by the Bar Standards Board. Questionnaires were sent to all complainants and barristers involved in complaints closed between January 2010 and December 2010 (both internal and external). 1.2 The survey was rolled out in April following a three-month pilot study as part of the implementation of Recommendation 18(a) of the Complaints Commissioner s Strategic Review of the Complaints and Disciplinary Processes of the Bar Standards Board published in July The Commissioner recommended that short questionnaires should be sent to both complainants and barristers at the conclusion of each case to provide basic information about user satisfaction. 1 Methodology 1.3 The survey used four questionnaires: two shorter versions issued to complainants and barristers where the complaint was dismissed or was otherwise disposed of (e.g. withdrawn, no further action taken etc.); and two longer versions containing an additional section for complaints that resulted in disciplinary proceedings. For the purposes of the analysis, the responses to the short and long questionnaires have been combined for questions common to both forms. 1.4 Questionnaires were sent to a total of 332 complainants and 452 barristers whose cases were closed in the 12 month period between January 2010 and December For complaint closures between January and May, questionnaires were sent out in monthly batches after a deferment of three months to allow for any referrals to the Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO) to be initiated. The remainder of the questionnaires were sent out in one batch in February 2011 due to the staff member responsible for the user satisfaction survey leaving the BSB and there being a significant gap before a replacement was in post and fully trained. In all cases, reminders were sent to recipients where questionnaires had not been returned within three weeks. 1.5 As with, this was a postal survey and there was no sampling strategy employed except to exclude overseas complainants. The recipients were therefore representative of all barristers and complainants with experience of the BSB s complaints handling service in Response Rates 1.6 Table 1 shows the overall response rates to the 2010 survey and shows that 39% of complainants and 44% of barristers responded to the survey. These response rates are 1 Recommendation 18a Commissioner s Report (p.53) 3

4 an improvement on the figures which benchmarking suggests were already good for a postal survey. Table 1: Response rates by questionnaire type Survey Recipient Version Number of Surveys Sent Response Rate Survey Complainants Short % 36.8% Long % 31.3% Total % 36.4% Barristers Short % 47.4% Long % 17.6% Total % 40.6% 1.7 The survey report highlighted the low proportion of barristers responding to the long version of the survey with only 18% returning completed questionnaires. This trend continued in 2010 with a 17% response rate and again suggests that barristers who have had disciplinary action taken against them may be unwilling to participate in a survey issued by the prosecutor. 1.8 Although the response rate is high, the number of surveys received remains low for statistical purposes. While this is unavoidable due to the relatively small number of complaints handled by the BSB, there is an associated margin of error in the statistics that means that in most cases there is no statistically significant difference between the survey results for and Where there is a significant difference this is highlighted in the commentary. 1.9 Analysis shows that complainants are considerably more likely to give a positive response across all of the survey questions where their complaint was referred to disciplinary proceedings. In both and 2010, 6% of complainant survey responses were of this type so the results are directly comparable. Conversely, barristers are slightly more likely to give a negative response where the complaint against them was referred to disciplinary proceedings. In, 10% of barristers were of this type compared with 7% in 2010 so again the results are comparable. Supplementary Research Report 1.10 Following the survey, a study was commissioned in January 2011 to benchmark the results of the BSB s user satisfaction survey with those of other complaints handling organisations and also to provide detailed information on the experiences of disabled barristers and complainants. The resulting report Understanding Complaints Data is included at Annex 1 to this report. 4

5 1.11 The Understanding Complaints Data report was commissioned due to the ongoing significant disparity between complainant satisfaction (low) and barrister satisfaction (high) with the complaints and disciplinary system. The disparity had been shown not only in relation to the pilot of the user satisfaction survey and the results but also in previous research conducted by MORI and Kings College. While it was accepted that such a disparity was the norm in relation to complaints handling organisations, the aim was to provide evidence of this and also benchmark performance against other organisations. Further, the survey results, as well as previous surveys, had revealed that there was a lower overall satisfaction rate in relation to both barristers and complainants who had a disability. This was a cause for concern and it was thought important to explore the reasons for this further The supplementary research, which was conducted independently by IFF Research, covered both areas referred to in paragraph For the benchmarking exercise, a number of regulators and Ombudsman s services were used as comparators and the same disparities the BSB had experienced were revealed. However, in the cases where data was available, the disparity between complainant and barrister satisfaction experienced by the BSB was greater than that of other organisations. Unfortunately it was not possible to factor in the outcomes of the complaints into the benchmarking exercise so it may be that the BSB s high dismissal rate for third party complaints is the cause of the difference In relation to the views of those with disabilities, qualitative research was conducted, via face to face or telephone interviews with a total of 16 disabled barristers and complainants. The results are detailed in the report at Annex 1. The IFF Research team concluded that some of the feedback from the disabled users was likely to be applicable across all users and they recommended the following improvements: a) In initial communication to both barristers and complainants, explaining clearly the different steps of the complaints process and the amount of time that the overall process might take; b) Implementing a service standard surrounding speed of response and overall speed of resolution; c) Allocating a case manager to each individual complaint so that individuals have someone to ask for when they call; d) Reviewing the tone and language of letters from the BSB to complainants; and e) Possibly considering greater focus in outcome letters (particularly dismissal letters) in tying the outcome to individual points raised by complainants. 5

6 1.14 The recommendations listed above are referred to in relevant places in the rest of this report. However, it should be noted that the recommendations were based on the views of users who experienced the complaints system prior to the radical restructure of the processes and staff teams that took place in January 2011 (as was the case for all respondents covered in this report). To a large extent the recommendations resulting from the supplementary research were, coincidentally, issues that had already been identified by the BSB and were addressed by the restructure. However, there are still areas for improvement as identified in this report. 6

7 Survey Results 2.1 The following sections outline the survey results in each of the five main areas of the complaints handling service standards: accessibility; staff performance; timeliness and efficiency; transparency and openness; and quality of service. Comparisons are made with the results from the survey carried out in. 2.2 Complainants and barristers were given the opportunity to put forward any suggestions or comments at the end of the questionnaire. These are summarised in the Comments section below but are also referred to in the following paragraphs where they relate directly to survey questions. Accessibility 2.3 Figure 1 shows complainants responses to the question on how they first found out about the BSB s complaints procedure. Whereas in the most frequent source was the Law Society, in 2010 the internet was the most frequently selected category with 20% of complainants selecting this option compared with 17% in. The only statistically significant difference compared with last year is the use of Advice Centres which accounted for 3% of responses in 2010 compared with 8% in. This would indicate that the BSB s website is becoming an increasing resource for information about the complaints system and the pending launch of the new BSB website will hopefully contribute to further increased use in the future. Figure 1: How did you first find out about the Bar Standards Board's complaints procedure? Other Can't remember Through being in the legal profession From a press article From a leaflet in the library From a leaflet in court From a friend / relative From the internet From an Advice Centre From the Bar Council / BSB From the barrister's Chambers From the barrister From the Law Society From a solicitor 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% Percentage of Respondents 2.4 Both complainants and barristers were asked whether they attempted to telephone the Complaints or Hearings Team during office hours. A total of 40% of complainants and 7

8 34% of barristers responded that they had sought advice or assistance with 92% and 91% respectively able to speak to someone about their query. This is a slight improvement on where 88% of respondents were able to speak to someone. 2.5 The majority of barristers, at 85%, stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the assistance or advice received compared with 69% of complainants. These figures are slightly lower than when 74% of complainants were satisfied but there are no statistically significant differences. 2.6 The survey recipients were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements relating to the ease with which information can be obtained about the BSB s complaints procedure and the clarity of the information and advice available. The responses from barristers echoed those of with 90% of barristers agreeing that information was easy to obtain and communications were clear and easy to understand. 2.7 As in, complainant respondents were less likely to agree; especially with the statements relating to the clarity of the BSB s letters and advice. While 76% of complainants found the BSB s leaflets easy to understand, the proportion of complainants finding the BSB s letters and advice clear and easy to understand decreased compared with. Figure 2 shows that 56% of complainants agreed that the advice they received was clear compared with 67% in. Figure 2: The advice I was given in writing and/or on the telephone was clear Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree 2.8 Although not a significant increase, 74% of complainants said that information about the complaints procedure was easy to obtain compared with 68% in. However, there was a slight decrease in the proportion of complainants finding the complaints form easy to fill in with 78% agreeing that it was easy in 2010 compared with 85% in. This is 8

9 despite changes being made to improve the complaints form. It should be noted, however, that 88% of disabled respondents agreed that the form was easy to fill in compared with 64% in ; so the changes appear to have been effective for disabled complainants. 2.9 Accessibility Summary: Barristers showed very little change in their opinion of the accessibility of the complaints procedure with the vast majority having no particular problems. Complainants continued to voice a lower opinion and although they appear to have found information easier to obtain than in, they are finding the communications from the BSB more difficult to understand. This was an issue identified in the IFF Research paper (see Annex 1) and, while the standard letters used by the BSB have already been reviewed as part of the restructure, it is accepted that they should be re-examined to ensure that they are written in a manner that is suitable and accessible for all users. In light of the responses, the complaints form, and its accompanying guidance, will also be looked at again to ensure they are clear and easy to use. Staff Performance 2.10 Both complainants and barristers were asked to rate staff performance in a number of areas. Many respondents, however, were not in a position to answer all of the questions in this section as they had no contact with BSB staff during the course of the complaint. This was particularly the case for barristers who, due to the nature of the complaints process, are only notified of a complaint, which does not require investigation, after it has been dismissed or withdrawn. All respondents who were unable to comment have been accounted for in the statistics but are excluded from the percentage calculations set out below There was no change compared with in how helpful the staff were perceived to be with 62% of complainants rating the staff as good or excellent compared with more than 90% of barristers. Equally there was no change in the proportion of barristers and complainants rating staff as good or excellent for being polite and professional and no change in responding to telephone calls Complainants rating the staff as good or excellent at responding to s improved from 60% in to 70% in 2010 while responding to letters and faxes saw a decrease in satisfaction from 68% in to 61% in This is probably due to staff becoming more accustomed to dealing with complaints by . However, the performance level for the more long-established forms of communication must be maintained for those complainants who prefer to use them. Barristers maintained their high satisfaction levels in both areas with 87% of respondents rating the staff as good or excellent Staff performance in explaining queries showed no change for either complainants or barristers; with 55% of complainants and 84% of barristers rating performance as good 9

10 or excellent. However, the proportion of complainants rating the staff as very poor increased from 22% in to 30% in The report highlighted this as an area where improvements needed to be made but the restructure of the department came too late to impact on the 2010 results. It should also be noted that where the complaints in question were referred to disciplinary proceedings, all complainants gave positive ratings The ratings for staff performance in providing information about the progress of a case, without having to ask, display the only significant change between and 2010 and also the least positive figures for any staff performance question. Figure 3 shows that while the ratings for barristers mirrored those of, 42% of complainants rated staff performance in this area as good or excellent in 2010 compared with 54% in. This is a clear decrease in performance but the significant delays in 2010 at Complaints Commissioner level as well as the three month absence of the Commissioner in summer/autumn 2010 undoubtedly impacted on the results here. The restructure of the complaints processes and staff teams was specifically designed to address this problem by giving staff the power to take decisions on complaints in appropriate circumstances and also the ability to control directly the frequency at which updates are given to complainants and barristers. Figure 3: Providing information about the progress of the case without having to ask Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Excellent Good Poor Very Poor 2.15 Staff Performance Summary: Barristers showed very little change in their opinion of the performance of the staff, with the majority rating the service as good or excellent. Complainants continued to show a lower opinion of the staff with particular concerns around explaining queries and providing updates two areas where satisfaction ratings decreased compared with. Some of the underlying issues that may have given rise to the levels of dissatisfaction have already been addressed as part of the restructure. 10

11 However, it should be noted in relation to the 2010 results that preparations for the restructure itself placed a great burden on staff, and in particular managers, arising from the various restructure working groups. Timeliness and Efficiency 2.16 Both complainants and barristers were asked to indicate how satisfied they were with the time taken by the BSB in a number of areas When rating the time taken for their complaint to be acknowledged, 66% of complainants responded that they were either satisfied or very satisfied. This is a decrease from the 79% of satisfied complainants in. Barristers remained satisfied with the time taken to notify them of a complaint against them, although there was a slight decrease with 76% satisfied in 2010 compared with 82% in There were no changes from the figures for either barristers or complainants when assessing the time taken for a response to telephone calls, s and letters. Approximately 80% of barristers and 60% of complainants expressed satisfaction in these areas The report highlighted the dissatisfaction of complainants with the time taken for a final decision to be made on their complaint. Figure 4 shows that the 2010 results are almost identical to those of and thus no improvement was made. A key aim of the restructure was to improve upon the figures of 30% of complainants and 68% of barristers satisfied with the time it took to conclude their complaint. Evidence to date 2 suggests that the turn round times for complaints received since January 2011 have improved significantly and hopefully the survey results from 2011 will improve accordingly. 2 Professional Conduct Department Trends and Performance: Second Quarter 2011 report 11

12 Figure 4: Time taken to come to a final decision on the complaint Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Very Satisfied Satisfied Dissatisfied Very Dissatisfied 2.20 Timeliness and Efficiency Summary: Compared with, neither barristers nor complainants responded any differently when rating the time taken by the BSB to process their complaints. The majority of complainants continued to express dissatisfaction with the time taken for a final decision to be made on their complaint. The Understanding Complaints Data research paper recommended that the amount of time each stage of the complaints process might take should be clearly explained to both barristers and complainants in our initial communications with them. The PCD and the Committee have recently agreed standard time lines for the completion of all stages of the complaints and disciplinary processes which will be used to assess performance. It is intended that, in future, information about the main time-lines will be included in standard letters and also posted on the BSB s new website. Transparency and Openness 2.21 The survey recipients were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements relating to the openness and fairness of the complaints process. This is the section with the greatest disparity between barristers and complainants with complainants considerably more likely to disagree with the way in which their complaints were handled. Inevitably the outcome of the complaints appears to be a crucial factor in the opinions given by the respondents Both barristers and complainants were asked for their opinion on whether the BSB considered all of the evidence relating to the complaint. Figure 5 shows that 25% of complainants agreed that all of the evidence was considered compared with 89% of barristers. This opinion was reiterated by 12% of complainants in the comments section (see paragraph 2.36). These results are consistent with the figures and there is no 12

13 indication of any improvement in this area. In stark contrast, 88% of complainants whose complaint was referred to disciplinary proceedings agreed that all of the evidence was considered compared with 64% of barristers. This appears to indicate that the outcome of the complaint has an impact on the way users view the BSB s assessment of the evidence. Figure 5: The Bar Standards Board considered all of the evidence relating to my complaint Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree 2.23 An almost identical response was received when survey recipients were asked whether the reasons were clear for the final decision made on the complaint. Overall there was no significant change compared with and while more than 90% of barristers felt that the reasons for the final decision were clear, only 24% of complainants agreed. The proportion of complainants who felt strongly that the reasons were unclear increased from 35% in to 46% in The supplementary research carried out by IFF Research also revealed that clarity of final decisions was an issue and therefore this is an area that clearly needs to be addressed by the PCD and the Committee It should be noted that the Committee has placed great importance on accessibility in drafting decision letters in 2011; with particular emphasis on the issue in training new members, subsequent master classes and significant lay member input into the drafts when they come up for discussion When asked whether the complaints process is open and fair there was again no significant change compared with with 82% of barristers agreeing that the process is fair compared with 20% of complainants; as shown in Figure 6. This was mirrored in the subsequent question on the survey where the recipients were asked whether they have confidence in the BSB s complaints system. These opinions again appear to be very closely linked to the outcome of a complaint as 100% of complainants, 13

14 who completed a survey in relation to a complaint that was referred to disciplinary action, said that they were satisfied that the process is open and fair. Figure 6: The complaints process is open and fair Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree 2.26 One of the reasons for the general dissatisfaction of complainants can be gauged from the comments section. Of the complainants leaving comments, 38% felt that the system is biased towards barristers and there is a common feeling that the BSB because of its association with the Bar Council is not acting as an independent body. This has partly been addressed with the introduction of the Legal Ombudsman so it is hoped that the survey results for 2011 will show an improvement. Nonetheless the BSB must endeavour to display transparency in its complaints handling and communicate the rigorous steps taken to ensure the complaints process is fair Transparency and Openness Summary: The 2010 survey results showed the same picture as the results. The majority of barristers continue to be satisfied that their complaints are handled fairly and transparently whereas the majority of complainants feel the opposite way. Understandably given the time and effort it can take to make a complaint, these results appear to be closely linked with the outcomes of the complaints. The Understanding Complaints Data research paper identified issues with the communications between the BSB and complainants specifically that the letters gave the impression that the BSB was an organisation for barristers and not the general public. Reviewing the tone and language of letters to complainants may begin to address the issues identified by the survey in recent years. The supplementary research also highlighted that complainants felt that the outcome letters (particularly dismissal letters) did not address all of the specific issues they raised which led them to feel that their argument had not been taken into account. Steps have already been taken to 14

15 address this issue which, along with the planned review of standard letters, should help to improve the survey results in these areas in the future. Quality of Service 2.28 Both barristers and complainants were asked as a standalone question to indicate how satisfied they were overall with the general level of service. The Understanding Complaints Data research paper highlighted that, as the outcome of the complaint may have a significant bearing on the response to this question, it should be amended to try to separate the outcome and the level of service received. This will be implemented for all future surveys Figure 7 shows that 80% of barristers completing the survey were either satisfied or very satisfied with the general level of service the same percentage as respondents in. The rating of complainants decreased slightly to 20% either satisfied or very satisfied compared with 25% in although the change is not statistically significant. Where their complaints were referred to disciplinary action, 57% of complainants rated the service as satisfactory. Nonetheless the discrepancy between the satisfaction of barristers and complainants remained and there was no improvement observed amongst surveyed complainants in Figure 7: How satisfied were you with the general level of service? Barristers Complainants Percentage of Respondents Very Satisfied Satisfied Dissatisfied Very Dissatisfied 2.30 The Understanding Complaints Data research paper indicates that such a discrepancy between complainants and the professional/commercial object of the complaint is reasonably common, although the disparity seen by the BSB appears to be larger than for other complaints handling organisations. Unfortunately it was not possible to factor in 15

16 the outcomes of the complaints into the benchmarking exercise so it may be that the BSB s high dismissal rate for third party complaints is the cause of the difference. Disciplinary Action 2.31 The longer version of the questionnaire was sent to barristers and complainants who experienced the BSB s disciplinary action procedures 3. Eight complainants and fourteen barristers responded so the numbers are too small for any reliable analysis or comparison with the figures for. Nonetheless, the results are set out below When asked what decision the Complaints Committee made about their complaint, 100% of barristers and 75% of complainants answering the question were able to correctly identify the type of hearing to which their complaint was referred. The two complainants who did not correctly identify the action taken made relatively straightforward mistakes in relation to the type of tribunal that heard the case, rather than showing a misunderstanding of the outcome. The majority of complainants felt that the decision to refer the complaint to disciplinary action was the correct decision compared with 36% of barristers. This is to be expected given the action taken by the BSB was inevitably perceived by the complainant to be beneficial and by the barrister to be detrimental. It also shows that views can be almost reversed where the outcomes of decisions are not those that the user welcomes Approximately 60% of barristers and 60% of complainants felt that the outcome of the hearing was fair (for both groups 90% of cases were upheld). Again the outcome influences these statistics with those complaints that were concluded in favour of the respondent resulting in the more positive feedback. Comments 2.34 Out of the 199 barristers completing the questionnaire, 107 left comments or suggestions. While the individual comments often relate to specific details of each complaint there are some general themes that can be identified. Dissatisfaction with the time taken to conclude the complaint was mentioned in 25% of comments with several barristers specifically stating that they felt that the complaint was hanging over me ; which some found to be particularly stressful. A further quarter of barristers stated that they were not made aware of the complaint until after it had been dismissed. For most barristers this was appreciated or no opinion was given although 3 of the 27 barristers making such comments would have preferred to have been informed as soon as the complaint was received rather than after it was dismissed without investigation Other common themes for barristers included: 3 In 2010: Disciplinary Tribunal, Determination by Consent, Summary Hearing, Adjudication Panel 16

17 i. Suggestions that more screening of complaints is required to root out those with no merit before investigation (8%); ii. Complaints that an investigation was started before the barrister had been approached to provide information (5%); 2.36 Out of the 131 complainants completing the questionnaire, 99 left comments or suggestions. Here the most common theme (as mentioned in paragraph 2.26) concerned a perceived bias in the complaints process towards barristers a typical view being that the BSB is not acting independently and looks to protect barristers. The introduction of the Legal Ombudsman in October 2010 as an independent body for service complaints will hopefully improve the view going forward although it remains to be seen whether this will have an impact on the BSB s survey results in relation to misconduct complaints Other common themes for complainants included: i. Not all of the evidence was considered (12%); ii. Complaints took too long to be concluded (8%); 17

18 Diversity Monitoring 3.1 The four questionnaires all include a monitoring section to capture information on the gender, ethnicity and disability status of complainants and barristers. For returned surveys, 94% of barristers and complainants completed the monitoring section. Disability 3.2 The report highlighted a discrepancy between the results for disabled respondents and the overall figures. Although the number of disabled users was small there was evidence to suggest that disabled complainants and barristers were less likely to think the complaints process is open and fair and less likely to have confidence in the complaints system. The Understanding Complaints Data research paper highlighted a number of issues around access and also stress/anxiety that was related to the users impairment or condition. A number of improvements were suggested some of which, such as allocating a case manager for the entire life cycle of the complaint, were coincidentally introduced as part of the departmental restructure in January In 2010, 25 of the responses received were from disabled users: 19 complainants and 6 barristers. In contrast with, disabled barristers and complainants responded more positively to the survey questions as compared with the overall figures. Although the numbers are again small, this is encouraging and suggests that some of the problems highlighted in the report such as difficulties in obtaining information and completing the complaints form have been addressed. Similarly, views of disabled complainants were in line with the overall results in relation to the proportion agreeing that all of the evidence relating to their complaints was considered and the proportion that were satisfied with the general level of service. 3.4 Two questions continue to show a lower rating than the overall figures. Disabled complainants appear less likely to consider that the reasons for the decision made on their complaint were clear and less likely to find the complaints process to be open and fair. The Understanding Complaints Data research paper contained a recommendation that the tone and language of letters from the BSB to complainants should be reviewed with particular focus on the outcome letters. Planned changes in this area (as stated in paragraph 2.27) will hopefully impact positively on the disproportion in these areas. Gender and Ethnicity 3.5 For the key questions of whether the complaints process is considered to be open and fair and the rating of the general level of service, there is no significant difference between the responses of male and female barristers and between white and black or minority ethnic (BME) barristers. For complainants the responses are also very similar although for both questions female and BME complainants were slightly more likely to be 18

19 satisfied with the general level of service and slightly more likely to agree that the complaints process is open and fair. 19

20 Conclusions 4.1 The user satisfaction survey has been, and continues to be, successful in its aim of obtaining feedback from complainants and barristers with experience of the complaints handling service in Response rates in 2010 were higher than in the previous year and suggest that the current methodology is sound. 4.2 The survey results, on the whole, reiterated the opinions of complainants and barristers in. For barristers in particular, the 2010 results were almost identical to the previous year with the majority of barristers expressing satisfaction in all areas of the complaints handling process. Where criticism was given it continued to be in relation to the time it took to reach a final decision on the complaint against them. The changes introduced in January 2011 (which was after the period covered by this report) were intended to address the time taken to reach decisions on complaints. Early evidence 4 suggests that the restructure is achieving its aims and there has been a significant improvement in the time taken to reach decisions on cases that do not warrant disciplinary action. 4.3 Similarly there was little change in the opinions of the complainants compared with and there remains a large disparity between the views of complainants and barristers. The supplementary research conducted by IFF Research indicates that such disparity is not unusual in relation to complaints handling. However, the areas of most concern are those relating to transparency and openness with 20% of complainants believing that the complaints process is open and fair compared with more than 80% of barristers. The issue of perceived bias towards barristers that was highlighted in can still be considered to be a major issue for complainants particularly for those whose complaint was dismissed. The introduction of the Legal Ombudsman in October 2010 should, to some extent, address the issue of impartiality and the planned review of standard letters may also assist. 4.4 The disproportion between the views of disabled respondents and the overall figures highlighted in the report appears to no longer be an issue, at least in In their answers to the 2010 survey, disabled users have tended to give either the same responses or in some cases more positive responses compared with the overall figures. However, the recommendations made in the Understanding Complaints Data research paper have been considered and, where appropriate, action is planned. 4.5 It should, however, be taken into account that there are a number of differences between the complaints handling processes that existed in 2010 compared with The BSB no longer has jurisdiction over complaints of inadequate professional service and January 2011 saw a significant restructure of the decision making processes and the staff teams. These changes have already addressed a number of areas of potential concern raised by the survey results and the recommendations made in the 4 PCD Trends and Performance Report Second Quarter

21 Understanding Complaints Data research paper. For example, as a result of the restructure, all standard letters were reviewed and updated. However, it is has already been recognised that more work needs to be carried out in this area and, with the assistance of the Independent Observer, it is intended that all the standard letters will be revisited before the end of Further, agreed standard time-lines for each stage of the process have recently been developed in light of the restructure and therefore, as part of the review of the standard letters, information about relevant time lines will be included and information about the time-lines will also be posted on the new BSB website. As to the issue of allocating case managers, the restructure of the staff teams was specifically designed to address this issue by introducing cradle to grave case handling and only time will tell if this change has been effective. 4.6 It is hoped that the changes outlined in paragraph 4.5 and elsewhere in this report, will create a positive impact on the views of complainants and barristers experiencing the system. 4.7 To a large extent this report represents the final state of the old system and is not reflective of the radical changes made to the complaints system since January The survey questionnaires have been adapted to suit the change in the BSB s complaints handling remit since 2010 and it will be interesting to find out if user views differ in future as a result of the new regime. 4.8 However, regardless of the processes applied, it is clear, from both the user satisfaction results for 2010 and the supplementary research, that the outcome of a complaint is a factor in the views expressed by users. Given the fact that the BSB dismisses a high percentage of complaints on the basis that there is no clear evidence of professional misconduct on which it would be reasonable to refer a case to disciplinary action, it is not surprising that many complainants are dissatisfied whereas many barristers are content with the outcome. In this regard it is interesting to note the reversal of views where a complaint is referred to disciplinary action: with 100% of complainants being satisfied that the decision was correct and only 36% of barristers. 4.9 In conclusion, the User Satisfaction Survey is a hugely valuable tool for the BSB to obtain feedback on the way in which it handles complaints. The survey will continue but the questions asked will be adapted to suit the more limited remit of the BSB, since 31 March 2011, of dealing with complaints of professional misconduct only. Action points 5.1 In light of the outcomes referred to in this report, and the relevant recommendations made as a result of the supplementary research, the Professional Conduct Department and Committee intend to take the actions listed below by the end of 2011: 21

22 a) Review all standard letters used to ensure that the tone, language and content are appropriate to the audience, in particular to ensure that complainants fully understand the intended message communicated and are fully informed of what is happening in relation to their complaint; (b) Ensure that the users are given more information in relation to the time lines for progressing complaints via both standard letters and information on the new BSB website; (c) Review and adapt the current complaints form, and its associated guidance, to ensure they are clear and easy to use; and (d) Introduce new survey questionnaire questions to ensure that responses to outcomes are separate to responses in relation to the service received. Sara Down Head of Professional Conduct Simon Lofthouse QC Chair of the Complaints Committee September