Calls from the bar for the disbanding of the Legal Services Board met with a cool reception from the government this week.
Bar Council chair Michael Todd QC told the bar’s annual conference that the super-regulator was going ‘beyond its brief’ and creating ‘burdensome costs’. Todd said he had raised the issue with justice secretary Chris Grayling, who had ‘sympathy with the notion of over-regulation’.
But the Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday that when the board’s future was reviewed in July ‘no respondents called for the board’s abolition and the review concluded that it should continue with its role’. The board said it had noted Todd’s comments ‘with interest’.
The bar conference heard concerns expressed repeatedly about the relationship between the two branches of the profession following the government’s legal services reforms.
One speaker was concerned about potential conflicts of interest over damages-based agreements, created by the Jackson reforms, when barristers deal directly with clients. Kevin Leigh, vice-chair of the council’s access to the bar committee, said: ‘Without a solicitor, you are supposed to [give] exactly the same sort of advice as a solicitor would give.’
However, ‘in the real world’ there may be a tension between the client’s interests and the barrister being paid. ‘Someone needs to think that through,’ he said.
The new Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates also came in for criticism at the conference. The chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Michael Turner QC, said the scheme is not being introduced to protect the public from rogue advocates, but as a necessary precursor to one case, one fee.
Meanwhile, a former Court of Appeal judge called for lawyers who pay or receive ‘corrupt’ referral fees to be reported to the police.