Competition watchdogs will return to assess the legal sector later this year – and the outcome could be further-reaching than that which followed their last visit.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) confirmed today it will look again at whether the current make-up of the sector encourages competition and in turn protects consumers.
Concerns remain that recommendations following the CMA’s last review in 2016 have not been fully implemented, a senior figure said, with the market still lacking flexibility, limiting innovation and confusing consumers.
Speaking today at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, CMA economics director Chris Jenkins said the time was now right to look again at what changes have been made since 2016.
Back then, he said, the CMA had wanted to ensure consumers had relevant information to make choices, including on price. This has largely been achieved – the Solicitors Regulation Authority now requires all regulated firms to publish prices and service information for certain practice areas – but the CMA is less impressed with progress on providing open data for comparison websites and changes to the regulatory framework.
Jenkins added: ‘There has been good progress particularly in implementing recommendations on transparency. The key will be to look to what the impact on the market has been. Consumer protection progress has been slow. Redress for consumers of unauthorised services has yet to be resolved.’
The CMA may propose either reforming or replacing the Legal Services Act – which created the current system of representative bodies and regulators. At the same time the government is likely to face pressure to legislate to create regulatory independence.
Stephen Mayson, honorary professor in the faculty of laws at University College London, told the conference the time had come to end links between the Law Society and the SRA.
'The Law Society regards its primary role as being to represent the views and interests of its members,' said Matson. 'I respect that – indeed, I admire and welcome it. I regard it as vital that the professions continue to be represented robustly and fearlessly.
‘Consequently, they should no longer be constrained in that role by the artifice of approved regulator status or the contortions of the internal governance rules. My certain view, therefore, is that the time has come to cut the Gordian knot between approved regulators and representative bodies.'
Mayson is currently conducting an independent review of legal services regulation which he will present to the Ministry of Justice later this year.
However Law Society president Simon Davis, invited to respond, disagreed with Mayson’s assessment, saying the Society's role went beyond representation into upholding the rule of law and promoting legal services more widely.