Wednesday, 12 September 2012

New E&D Rules - is it complicated

I wrote earlier about the new Rules from the Bar Standards Board with regard to Equality & Diversity. I was approached by a Senior Clerk yesterday and asked if it was all that difficult to comply with the new new Rules. I decided not to mention that the new Rules were now in force and so it might be a little late to start worrying - and instead ran through the work involved...

Your chambers will need to have:

A new Equality Policy
This will need to be fully compliant with the new Rules and that includes sections on parental leave, returning to work, fair access to work, flexible working, etc

That sounds OK - but the general guidance from the BSB suggests that  this should be a single document rather than a collection and so someone will need to combine what exists, get it into a single format and ensure that it complies with the Rules, including some of the suggested wording in the Guidance.

You will need to tell chambers about the new policy - but I will deal with communication and training later. At this stage I will just mention the new duty that exists under the Rules for every member of chambers to ensure compliance - not just the Head of Chambers. That i.s likely to require a couple of meetings with all members, and update in writing and then a way of making sure that everyone has seen and understands the new policy.

Sometimes it can be easier to start from scratch than to try to amend an old policy - but either way I think there are probably a couple of days' work in there.

Action Plan
New to this set of Rules is the Action Plan. The Rules require a detailed plan that says how the policy will be implemented, who will perform each task, when they will perform it, and how the managers of chambers will know that each task has been completed.

This will take a while. Every statement in the Policy needs to be backed up here with a statement of who, when, what, and how.

So maybe another couple of days doing this.

Processes and Procedures
Your action plan will lead on to a requirement for new procedures and processes so that the tasks and requirements of the Action Plan are implemented automatically and become part of the operational life of chambers.

I have dismissed in two paragraphs a huge amount of work. Your E&D Policy will say that, for example, all members will have fair access to work. Your Action Plan will then probably address that point by detailing a member or group of members to define 'fair access to work'; the senior clerk (probably) to making sure that fair access is given; the same senior clerk to making sure that the record keeping in chambers is capable of reporting; and then someone will be detailed to produce a periodic report for the management committee to prove that the Policy is being adhered to. So far so good. Your chambers will then need a procedure to ensure that there is a systematic way of recording how work comes into chambers, who does the work and how (or whether) that work is allocated. Another procedure will be required to report to the clerks day to day so that if any patterns are emerging, they have time to do something about it. Ideally there will be some sort of process to automatically collect the statistics, but if not then there will need to be a procedure to gather and analyse them, say, monthly. Finally there will need to be a standardised report than can be completed. The management committee will then need to have a procedure to make sure that comments from their report are fed back into the systems above.

Remember, this is a new set of Rules. It is not enough to say that the documents and procedures are there. The Rules will be audited by looking for evidence that statistics are gathered and that they are discussed and acted upon.

The same sets of steps will be required for each statement in the Policy and each line in the Action Plan.

Depending on the quality of your existing documents, I estimate that this is 7 to 10 days' work. Each process and procedure must be documented and implemented - and then 'trained in'.

Training & Communications
The 'old days' of being compliant by having the documents in place somewhere are over. As I have already mentioned, members of chambers have a personal responsibility to ensure compliance and so they will need to know what is done in chambers. There will need to be a process to report to members and a way for them to get information.

Members of staff need to be trained on their responsibilities. A compliance audit might simply walk into the clerks room and ask one of the clerks - not the Senior Clerk - what they know about fair access to work. They need to know and there needs to be evidence that they have been told. So a set of procedures to make sure that there are regular updates and training sessions and that these sessions are recorded. Chambers only defence might be to be able to say "We do train the clerks regularly and here is the information we tell them, this is how often we tell them, and here are the attendance records showing that the clerks attended recently".

Your chambers will have a number of training sessions and an annual calendar of the activities required throughout the year

There's more...

This is another new requirement. Every set of chambers must gather various sets of statistics - on recruitment and on the make-up of chambers, for example. Chambers must gather statistics on its members, using a formula of questions supplied, and analyse and publish these statistics on their web site by the end of December this year. If you have ever tried to get information out of busy people (particularly if, as is likely in this case, they feel that the questions are either stupid or just plain nosey)? Agreeing the detail of the questionnaire could take a month and then getting replies out of barristers could easily take another month - so without any preparation or analysis we could already be in November... Suddenly a deadline of 31st December 2012 doesn't seem so far away.

So my answer yesterday was "it's a lot of work". Of course I then said that the best way to get this done was to find a friendly consultant who could do it for him...

Chambers has to comply with the new E&D section of the Code of Conduct. So now is the time to get started.

I will happily repeat my naked plug from my previous post. Mar-aon Consulting can help in producing the new Policy, Action Plan and Procedures - and the questionnaire. Get in contact today for an informal (and free) discussion. Email Peter Blair here.

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