Review of super-regulators calls for more openness
The Legal Services Board and the Office for Legal Complaints should open their board meetings to the public and publish all items of spending over £500, a Ministry of Justice Review has recommended.
The report of the first triennial review of bodies established under the 2007 Legal Services Act concludes that both the board and the office are doing the job they were set up for. It congratulates the two ‘for the way they have complied with the [statutory] requirements’.
However it lists five areas ‘where some action could usefully be taken to improve compliance further’.
- Update their relationships with the MoJ to reflect their changed status under the coalition government’s ‘bonfire of the quangoes’
- Recruit more diverse boards
- Consider opening their board meetings to the public. At present ‘neither the LSB nor the OLC has an open board meeting’
- Publish all items of spending over £500 in line with the government’s transparency policy
- Prevent conflicts of interest by updating guidance on ‘political activity and appointments or employment after resignation or retirement’
Earlier this year the Law Society and Bar Council argued that the LSB had fulfilled its main purpose, set out by the Legal Services Act, and could be scaled back.
But the review found the LSB was still essential for ensuring independent scrutiny of the profession. It said the market was not yet 'mature’ enough to rely on approved regulators to protect consumers' interests. In evidence received from approved regulators, there were a number of concerns about the way the LSB carries out its functions. Others, including the Bar Standards Board, felt the role of the LSB should evolve into a judicial review nature, intervening only when front-line regulators were acting unreasonably.
A reduced brief, it was suggested, would enable the LSB to focus on areas of risk-based concern and place trust in regulators to be more hands-on. But the review concluded that it was too early to consider scrapping or reducing the scope of the LSB. There was a risk, the report said, that returning sole responsibility for regulation to approved regulators would risk the perception of a 'return to the situation before the LSA, where consumers had a perception of professional bias’. There would also be a no regulator oversight if the LSBwere scrapped.
The report added: 'If approved regulators were to prove their independence and accountability, whilst maintaining an effective redress scheme, this option might be feasible in the future. The market is insufficiently mature at the present time. It would also be difficult to ensure that a joined-up view were maintained between the regulators to address changes in the sector.’
David Edmonds, chairman of the Legal Services Board welcomed the review’s conclusions and said the board would continue to implement the programme of work set out in its 2012-12 strategic plan.