The Ministry of Justice has indicated that it is happy for now with the set-up of linked regulators and professional representative bodies - killing any immediate prospect of formally separating the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority.
In a ’tailored review’ of the work of the Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints published today, the MoJ acknowledges there is an issue about the perception of interference of representative bodies in the work of their associated frontline regulators.
But while the review found more can be done to secure ‘appropriate separation’, this could be achieved within the existing legislative system created by the 2007 Legal Services Act.
In February, the LSB, the oversight regulator, announced a formal investigation into the relationship between the Law Society and the SRA. The government has considered a revamp of regulations since 2015, without any proposals being put forward.
Today's review suggests the LSB ‘could do more within the current framework, particularly around providing visible assurance to the professions and the public that regulation is carried out independently of the professional representative bodies’.
This should involve ensuring the super-regulator provides ‘robust assurance’ on the separate functions of the representative bodies and regulators.
Elsewhere the review finds the LSB to be ‘generally effective’ in promoting regulatory objectives and delivering what it is required to. But it finds ‘unclear’ lines of accountability and ‘lack of clarity’ in its roles and responsibilities, as well as the perception that the LSB engaged in activities outside its remit.
The LSB was recommended to clearly highlight on published research how that research was relevant to its regulatory functions, and conduct a review of its senior staffing structure with a view to establishing ‘future efficiencies’.
On the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC), the legal complaints handler, the organisation had made ‘significant progress’ in its governance and financial management, after controversy two years ago about its expenses scheme and the resignation of the former chief ombudsman.
The OLC was advised to look again at the viability of becoming an approved alternative resolution dispute body and at its role in providing feedback.
Both the OLC and LSB were backed to continue in their current regulatory functions.
Responding to the call to share client opinion, Wanda Goldwag, chair of the OLC, said: ‘We are particularly keen to push forward our communication with the public and regulators, so we look forward to future collaborations with partners, like the MoJ and LSB, to achieve this. Sharing feedback is a key way of improving legal and claims management services for the public.’
Commenting on the review overall, Law Society president Joe Egan said: ‘The Legal Services Board has a pivotal role to play in maintaining stability and certainty in the UK legal services market, holding frontline regulators to account and demanding sound evidence for any proposed regulatory changes.
‘We support the LSB’s aim of ensuring the system as a whole is working for clients, the wider public and the profession, and agree with the Ministry of Justice that this can be achieved within the current legislative framework.’