A single regulator for the legal profession would be a ‘retrograde step’, the chairman of the Bar Council said this evening.
In a well-trailed speech intended to head off proposals to reform the regulatory system established by the 2007 Legal Services Act, Nicholas Lavender QC said that a ‘super-quango’ was ‘the last thing we need in this country’.
He called for more time to let the current regime bed in. ‘The act is still very new. It only came into force six years ago.’ While ‘it was bound to take time for the relevant parties to settle into the new roles accorded to them by the act and to work out their proper relationships with one another’, the profession is now ‘getting the hang of how to make the new regulatory arrangements work’.
He noted that, within the space of eight months, starting in May this year, the LSB (Legal Services Board), the BSB (Bar Standards Board) and the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) will all have acquired new chairmen, and the LSB is to acquire a new chief executive.
‘It would be good if these new leaders had the opportunity to get on with their jobs and to make the present system work without being distracted by the armchair legislators and endless debates about what a different act might look like.’
He said that it would be ‘an inappropriate and retrograde step’ to set up new bodies. ‘And establishing a super-quango, with the attendant bureaucracy, would be a backwards step because it would be likely to lead to regulation which was both more expensive and of poorer quality.’
Claiming that the bar is a special case, Lavender also pointed to problems with moves towards entity-based regulation, singling out advocacy as one area where such an approach would not work. ‘Advocacy is a very different type of activity from what most lawyers do most of the time,’ he said.
‘There are around 150,000 practising lawyers in England and Wales. But only about 15,500 of them are barristers. So we account for only about 10% of practising lawyers.
‘And there is an obvious risk that, as regulating the majority of lawyers takes up the majority of regulatory time and effort, the particular circumstances of the bar can be overlooked or misunderstood.’