Ever wanted to grill the SRA’s top brass, but never had the opportunity? Now’s your chance, at least by proxy. Last week the Commons justice committee announced it will hear evidence on regulation from the SRA, CILEx Regulation and the Bar Standards Board. (Along with their attendant representative bodies.) MPs on the cross-party committee want you to tell them what to ask.
Coincidentally, the SRA issued a statement this week saying the complaints it received about the firm were ‘nothing out of the ordinary’. To what extent will the regulator’s costly ignorance get it off the hook? (Very costly, because 160,000 solicitors are potentially on the hook for millions in compensation.)
Axiom’s accounts were ‘well-ordered’ on their face, says the SRA. That is an exculpatory statement we have heard many times – from audit firms whose clients imploded shortly after their numbers were given a clean bill of health. The SRA is not an auditor, of course. It can be expected to allude to the benefits of hindsight.
Over-regulation is also ripe for interrogation. The scale and scope of compliance obligations continue to multiply. Logic suggests that, for smaller firms at least, there has to be a limit on their volume or practice becomes unworkable. What is it reasonable to mandate?
Empire-building might also be worth raising. Why do the SRA and CILEX consider it ‘in the public interest’ for legal executives to come under the former? There is negligible evidence that legal execs, or indeed solicitors, desire such an outcome, and the public is (surely) indifferent.
A few corollaries here: is there a hidden agenda? Is the SRA’s courting of legal executives merely a convenient conduit to superintendence of all lawyers via its transformation into a single regulator?
And what about the many businesses offering unregulated legal services? If the consumer interest is paramount, why aren’t they properly supervised too? Maybe the SRA would like the job.