The government has dismissed peers’ calls for the urgent scaling back of the Legal Services Board and described current arrangements as ‘fit for purpose’.
Baroness Deech, chair of the Bar Standards Board, yesterday told a House of Lords debate the self-regulator had gone beyond its remit and worked against mobility and diversity in the legal profession.
She argued that the LSB simply added to the ‘maze of regulation’ created by the Legal Services Act and duplicated the work of other regulators.
But, speaking on behalf of the government, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said it would be at least three years until significant changes are contemplated, following a review of the LSB earlier this year.
‘The reforms enabled by the Legal Services Act have provided a proportionate and effective regulatory regime that remains, currently, fit for purpose,’ he added.
‘While it is still relatively early to assess the full impact of the LSB, its functions are still needed and should continue to be delivered in their current form.’
Deech won the support of several other peers in her call for more immediate evaluation of the LSB.
She said barristers in criminal and family law were seriously affected by the built-in cost of regulation as payment had to come out of their own pockets.
When the Legal Services Bill was introduced in 2006, she continued, the annual running costs of the LSB were estimated at £3.6m. The total now borne by the entire legal profession is now up to £19.5m.
Deech said the super-regulator had also imposed too many new rules, including chambers having to collect data on barristers’ sexual orientation and economic status, and barristers having to give criminal clients written advice on how to make complaints when they first meet them in a cell.
Deech added: ‘At this stage in the implementation of the act and the introduction of alternative business structures, there remains a role for the LSB, but not many more years should pass without an overhaul of the complications introduced by the act in establishing a super-regulator.
‘I hope that the lord chancellor and the Ministry of Justice will start a discussion with the profession and identify a simpler, cheaper and more balanced future.’