Bar calls for a ‘college of regulators’ - and no Legal Services Board
The Bar Standards Board and Bar Council have added their voices to the call for the Legal Services Board to be abolished. Both bar bodies published their submissions to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence on legal services regulation today.
The bar’s regulator says the LSB should be regarded as a ‘catalyst, which has served its purpose in kick-starting change’, but that process ‘can and will now continue without it’. It recommends that the Legal Services Act 2007 be revised to strip the LSB out. It suggests a timetable to amend the Legal Services Act by February 2015 to make changes to the LSB’s role, with a ‘sunset clause’ for the completion of current reforms, before disestablishing the LSB in 2017 and introducing a new Legal Services Act in 2018.
However, the bar’s case is unlikely to be strengthened by erroneous figures it submitted in support of its proposals. Since the LSB was established, the bar claimed today that it has been required to pay £23.7m to cover its share of the costs and running expenses over the oversight regulator; nearly £1,600 per barrister. However, after the LSB intervened to point out its error, the Bar Council admitted those figures are wrong.
The LSB told the Gazette that the cost to barristers is roughly 6% of the £23.7m figure over an approximate five-year period. The average annual cost of the LSB for a barrister is now about £30 a year and declining, it stressed.
In a statement later, the Bar Council admitted the error and issued revised figures, stating that the bar’s share of the total operating costs of the LSB since it was established is £2.4m and the cost per barrister £162.
Elsewhere the BSB argues that the LSB’s functions can be dealt with more cost effectively and in a less intrusive ways by frontline regulators, judicial review mechanisms, building on the role of the Legal Services Consumer Panel and establishing a non-statutory Council of Regulators.
It suggests the establishment of a panel of professional and lay members with experience of legal regulation to advise the lord chancellor on ‘overarching’ policy matters.
The response also calls for more the independence between regulatory and representative interests of the professions and suggests that all legal professional be regulated, not just those providing reserved activities. ‘The public expects that any person offering legal services is regulated for everything that they do. That is not the case under the act as it stands,’ the BSB says.
In its response the Bar Council calls for a new approach to regulation, also rejecting the current arrangements and the call for a single ‘super regulator’.
It proposes a new model, which would replace the LSB with a ‘college of regulators’. This would comprise a strong judicial presence, lay members and representatives from each regulator and professional body, reporting to the lord chancellor.
Bar chair Maura McGowan QC (pictured) said: ‘The public interest demands a clear and robust regulatory structure where all legal professionals are held to the highest of standards.’
But she said: ‘What we have instead is an expensive oversight regulator which consistently seeks to impose its own vision of how legal services should be delivered and expects the legal profession to pick up the bill.’
McGowan said the regulation of the legal profession is ‘at risk of spiralling out of control’. She said: ‘It is now familiar to hear colleagues all around the world express concerns about the independence of the legal profession from government, under the aegis of an over-zealous oversight regulator, which has a vested interest in increasing its own remit.’
She insisted the model proposed by the bar would provide a ‘much clearer and less bureaucratic’ system. ‘By creating a new college of regulators, including a mixture of the judiciary, lay members and both regulators and professional bodies, our new model will bring regulation back into balance, handing back standard-setting to the professional bodies with appropriate consumer input and at proportionate cost,’ she said.