Regulation of legal services will have been a work in progress for the best part of two decades when and if the government implements another overhaul. The permanent revolution appears certain to continue indefinitely.
Following the announcement of a wide-ranging review in mid-2013, the coalition parked the prospect of further reform as ‘too difficult’ a year ahead of the general election. Justice minister (then as now) Shailesh Vara said the consultation process did not reveal any options to cut the burden on practitioners or simplify the framework that did not entail changes to primary legislation.
His rider that there was ‘no consensus on the longer-term vision’ for regulation among stakeholders was a masterpiece of understatement. Relations between the Legal Services Board and the approved regulators were often strained to the point of fracture, for example, under the tenure of outspoken former LSB chair David Edmonds.
The LSB recommended a departure from ‘prescription’ and the introduction of single regulator to cover the whole market. But critics were not slow to point out that this did not work out too well in financial services, when the defunct FSA pioneered ‘principles-based’ regulation ahead of the 2008 crash.
Will the Conservatives legislate in this tortuously complex arena in this parliament? Michael Gove should not be underestimated, but he may not yet be aware of the scale of the task.
There is no ‘quick fix’ here.