The Law Society has accused the profession’s umbrella regulator of riding roughshod over consumers and ignoring compelling evidence in its zeal to boost competition in legal services. Chancery Lane told the Legal Services Board it had been ‘lax’ in waving through reforms that allow solicitors to practise through unregulated businesses.
The changes cleared the way for different tiers of redress for clients. Unmet legal need could actually rise in consequence, the Society warned, because vulnerable consumers will have less confidence when seeking advice about the level of protection they can expect.
Christina Blacklaws, Society president, outlined Chancery Lane’s concerns about last November’s approval of the Handbook reforms in a letter to LSB chair Dr Helen Phillips this month. This confirms that the Society has ruled out pursuing a judicial review, but berates the board for failing to exercise proper rigour in its oversight of the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
‘Where regulators are consistently pursuing deregulation, the LSB’s role under the [Legal Services Act] should provide an important safeguard,’ Blacklaws writes. ‘In particular, it falls to the LSB to ensure that the balance is maintained between competing regulatory objectives. In [this] case, an objective view of the evidence submitted would suggest the decision leans too far in favour of competition and pays too little attention to consumer protections, the public interest and the interests of the profession.’
Blacklaws urges the LSB to review its approach to evaluating the evidence and research provided by frontline regulators in support of reform. In this case, the SRA had failed to provide ‘robust and quantitative impact assessments’ alongside its proposals, she says.
Blacklaws told the Gazette: ‘We are increasingly concerned by the LSB’s lax approach to deregulation.
‘Regulation exists to protect the public, so the stakes are high if those protections are removed. We are disappointed the LSB has rubber-stamped hugely significant rule changes without rigorously applying the available evidence to understand the impact on the public.
‘Having waved through changes, the LSB must now put in place a credible strategy to mitigate the very real risks for consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, and avert a potential loss of public confidence in highly trained legal professionals such as solicitors. We urge the LSB to focus on the best interests of the public and maintain the globally recognised high standards of UK legal services as guiding principles when considering future changes to regulations.’