The market created by the 2007 Legal Services Act should undergo an independent examination to assess whether the reforms are working, the lord chief justice said today – strongly suggesting that the answer is that they are not.
The next government, he said, will ‘have to look very carefully’ at the regulation of services, including the relationship between the Legal Services Board and the regulators.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (pictured) was appearing before the House of Commons Justice Committee to answer questions on his annual report. While he has seen a ‘massive expansion’ in the population of lawyers during this career ‘what hasn’t happened is prices coming down’.
This raises the question of whether the market created by the act is operating correctly. ‘Is the profession’s structure and fee structuring working to produce legal services in a way that people can afford?’
Thomas also raised concerns about the impact of the government’s new structure of court fees, saying they could damage London’s position in the international legal market. He pointed out that Singapore’s new international court ‘provides a competitor to London’ and that judges are ‘becoming concerned about competition from the Netherlands and Germany’.
‘I think we have got to be so careful that for what are relatively small sums of money we don’t upset a business that is very important to the economy of the country.’
He also said the charging regime ‘ignores the basic fact’ that a court case which settles a point of law is a public good and thus individual litigants should not be expected to pay the whole bill.
Thomas also revealed that the Civil Justice Council's proposals for online dispute resolution will be published shortly.
Questioned about the televising of Court of Appeal decisions, Thomas said that broadcasting had ‘gone well’. However, he was cautious about extending broadcasting to judges’ sentencing remarks.
‘It is much more difficult than people think at first sight,’ he said, pointing to examples of sentencing decisions that included ‘horrific details’ of murders motivated by internet pornography.
The next type of court hearings to be broadcast may be extradition appeals, he said, recalling the strong public attendance in the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.