The justice secretary has told MPs that he has not given up on reforming legal services regulation – and blamed regulators and the profession for failing to come up with ‘quick fixes’ in the Ministry of Justice’s regulatory review.
Questioned by the House of Commons Justice Committee today Chris Grayling said many parts of the profession are ‘over-regulated’ and many partners in high street firms are spending too much time on regulation and less on earning money and helping clients.
It is, he said, important to have ‘sensible regulation’ to stop malpractice, but he said ‘you can go over the top’.
He told the committee he is a ‘deregulator’ but said he did not want to just ‘rearrange the deckchairs’.
The MoJ announced in May that it would not be taking forward any changes to the regulatory framework, despite conducting a lengthy review.
Grayling said he had asked for ‘quick wins’ that could make a difference, but that none had been forthcoming. Responses from the profession and regulators, he said, were ‘inconsistent and gave no clear pattern to follow’ and he had been given no steer from the regulators over what to do.
Grayling told the committee ‘I haven’t given up on it’ and said it is an area that he or the next lord chancellor should be ‘looking to pursue’ to reduce the burden of regulation on the sector.
He re-asserted his desire for the overarching regulator, the Legal Services Board, to work towards abolishing itself and said that a single legal regulator is an option, but that he could not make any change before next year's general election.
Questioned on the future of the independent criminal bar, Grayling said it is ‘very important’ that it has a good future, but said it faces ‘significant structural’ issues due to the continued growth in the number of advocates and the decline in work.
He invited the justice committee to examine the future provision of independent criminal advocacy, following the report published by Sir Bill Jeffrey in May.
Grayling dismissed the continuing protest action by solicitors over legal aid cuts, saying there had been ‘some limited disruption’ to the courts in the past few months.
While he understands there are ‘unhappy people’, he said he is not aware of any ‘significant disruption’, only isolated problems.