The chair of the Bar Council has criticised the Legal Services Board’s proposals to create a single regulator, while dismissing comparisons made with the sewage industry.
Speaking at the International Bar Association meeting in Washington DC, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said she was concerned that if there was no longer a ‘strong independent legal profession’, there would be no one to step in to uphold the rule of law.
Doerries was speaking at the launch of a draft report on the independence of the legal profession.
Referencing the oversight regulator’s proposals, outlined last week, Doerries said she was ‘surprised’ that the board does not agree with the objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007, which she said encourages an ‘independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession’.
‘It [the report] describes this objective as problematic – suggesting that it does not stem from the fundamental justification for sector-specific regulation, namely the public interest and consumer protection,’ Doerries said.
Doerries added that the LSB had undertaken a survey of the objectives of some of the UK’s largest regulators, including Ofwat, which regulates waters and sewers, and found that there are no other regulators with objectives relating to the strength of their regulated sector.
‘It is, to my mind, evidence of the challenges that legal professionals face in the 21st century that the regulation of their profession is compared to the task of sewage regulation,’ Doerries said.
Doerries also criticised the LSB’s proposal that regulation should not be based on professional titles such as barrister and solicitor.
‘Perhaps it is putting it a little high to describe this as an attack on professionalism and professionals, but that is what it feels like,’ she said.
She added that proposals for modernising courts, including through online facilities, were ambitious and could help improve access to justice for vulnerable people but that it was ‘concerning’ that there was ‘little recognition in government, that access to courts and tribunals had been eroded in recent years by increased court fees, and radical cuts to legal aid’.