The chairman of the Bar Standards Board has countered calls for a single overarching legal regulator by putting a case for ‘smaller’ expert regulation.
Lady Deech said the financial market crash and scandals in the healthcare sector demonstrate the dangers of relying on a large, single and distant regulator.
Her view runs counter to the calls from the lord chief justice Lord Thomas, the president of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger and most recently the new chair of the Legal Services Board, Sir Michael Pitt, who favour a single regulator.
Speaking at the international regulators’ conference at Gray’s Inn this morning, she said the ‘small expert regulator’ is now seen as doing a better job.
Deech (pictured) said the financial market regulatory failure was widely thought to have happened as the Financial Services Authority was ‘too distant and too big’, and it has now been split in two.
NHS scandals, she said, were not noticed by the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, which she said is ‘universally regarded as too big, with too big a remit’.
In contrast she said: ‘Smaller regulators can and do exercise better tighter focused control over their community. They understand intimately the areas of education, access and ethical conduct pertinent to their regulated community.’
Pointing to the impracticality of a super-regulator, Deech, who steps down at the end of the year, said it would have to split in to three subcommittees – one for advocacy, one for litigation, one for transactions.
By the time it was set up, needing primary legislation, she said, either the context would have changed, or the expense would be seen to be out of proportion, while the expertise and familiarity of the existing regulators would have been lost.
This, she said would put at risk the international reputation of the UK legal professions.
Stating the achievements of the BSB, Deech highlighted the development of entity regulation, the new handbook for flexible outcomes-focused regulation, and amending the rules to enable direct access work and litigation.
She contrasted the achievements with those of the Legal Services Board.
In its initial 2009 business plan, Deech said, the body claimed that by 2013 there would be more one-stop shops for consumers who would be more knowledgeable about accessing legal services and that the market would work more effectively.
Unfortunately, she said, this has not happened and consumers remain ‘unserved’ and ‘left to fend for themselves’ in the face of legal aid cuts, an issue she said the LSB has not addressed.