The outgoing chair of ‘super-regulator’ the Legal Services Board yesterday launched a fierce attack on the profession's principal representative bodies, accusing them of resisting freemarket reforms that are ‘in the interests of consumers’.
Speaking at yesterday’s Modern Law conference in London, David Edmonds said his group has had ‘battle after battle’ with representative bodies the Law Society and the Bar Council.
Edmonds (pictured), who steps down this week, called the groups ‘trade unions’ which have never accepted the legitimacy of the LSB and the Legal Services Act which created it.
But representatives of the profession vigorously defended their stance on regulation, urging the government not to accede to Edmonds’ wish for a single overarching regulator which would sit ‘in the pocket of government’.
At the same conference, justice minister Shailesh Vara said a response to the government’s consultation on regulation, which closed last September, is expected ‘very soon’.
Edmonds told delegates that representative bodies had shown a ‘failure to recognise that life has changed – going back is not an option’.
He added: ‘I don’t admire a hostile attitude to change, resistance to an approach about better meeting the needs of consumers. Unfortunately this is something I have often come to expect from those who purport to speak on behalf of the legal profession.
‘Resistance to our very existence even though we are a creature of statute, willed into being by parliament, has been worrying. The past always seems more important that the future.’
Edmonds said his one regret from his time as the first LSB chair was not pursuing more forcibly a wholesale rewriting of rule books.
‘The current rule books have too much baggage, too much incremental change, too much planning for every eventuality – the details and level of prescription have created a culture of dependency within the sector. Professionals are deemed unable to think for themselves about what is right and what is wrong in a given situation.’
He added that the government should remove the statutory guarantee of funding for professional bodies and pursue a single regulator, although he conceded there would be little appetite for any political party to create one.
Edmonds’ comments provoked an impassioned response from representative bodies and the audience. Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson agreed with a delegate who noted that the ‘consumer interest is not the same as the public interest’.
Hudson said: ‘The Legal Services Act says the LSB is here to assist frontline regulators. That role could be easily achieved by being chaired by a judge appointed by the lord chief justice. It would create space for all [solicitors] to innovate, compete and operate in international markets.’
Baroness Deech, chair of the Bar Standard Boards, said a single regulator would create new problems. ‘We have seen what happened with a single huge regulator in financial services. The LSB is always trumpeting competition and we need competition in regulation.
‘With a monopoly there is no less chance of a mistake. We’re subject all the time to information from the LSB which we simply know to be wrong. Do we want a single regulator staffed by quango kings and queens in the pocket of government?’