The Solicitors Regulation Authority has claimed the profession will not command public confidence until the regulator formally splits from the representative Law Society at Chancery Lane.
Speaking yesterday during the SRA board meeting, chief executive Paul Philip (pictured) said the organisation is preparing to make a case to government for complete separation that will also focus on potential savings for solicitors.
However, the Law Society has today hit back, calling into question the regulator's figures and suggesting the SRA's flawed priorities are perhaps 'an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession'.
The regulator and representative body are still funded through the same process and they remain linked in other ways through the regime installed by the 2007 Legal Services Act.
But the Treasury and Ministry of Justice have both pledged to review the current arrangements.
The Law Society opposes complete separation on several grounds, notably defending the international reputation of the domestic legal profession and retaining a say in standard-setting and entry.
Philip addressed relations with the Law Society in an address that was not included on the board’s agenda. He said the SRA will ‘beg to differ’ with the Society on the issue of independence.
‘Public confidence is very much key to regulation and we can’t demand full confidence while we are part of the representative body,’ he said.
‘The standing of the profession [internationally] is fundamental to us, which is part of being an independent regulator.
‘Education and training are also fundamental components of the regulatory model and to suggest those rest with the representative body is simply wrong.’
Philip hinted the SRA will argue its case to government partly based on the potential costs to solicitors and the need to drive them down. He stressed that a slice of the practising certificate fee goes to the Law Society each year, a figure that he said equates to around £250 per solicitor. The Society disputes that figure.
‘That is money that should be returned to the profession, which is something we would very much consider,’ he said.
SRA chair Enid Rowlands said the British Medical Association, which represents around 50% of doctors, is an example of an organisation that has thrived independently of regulation.
‘We believe in a strong regulatory body with a good clear voice. But it is a very different set of objectives to be a representative body and a regulator,’ she added. ‘It requires all of us to look forward and not be tempted to look back.’
The government consultation on regulation of the legal profession is expected to be published this spring.
A Law Society spokesperson said: 'Individuals and businesses seek and depend on excellent legal advice at critical times. It is essential that consumers and businesses are protected by basic rules to ensure their money is safe, regardless of who is providing the advice. This is the role of effective regulation.
'The solicitor profession recognises the need for a professional body to represent, promote and support the profession. The Law Society undertakes that vital role and additionally has a public interest role to support access to justice, individual rights and freedoms, and uphold the rule of law. This role is considered to be so important that it is enshrined in legislation.
'The cost of the Law Society is significantly lower than that of the profession's lay regulator, the SRA. We do not agree with the saving figure reported by the SRA. If we really want to cut the costs of regulation to the solicitor profession and reduce the practice certificate fee, it should be the profession that owns and set its own standards. This will enable a legal service regulator to properly and efficiently regulate the legal services market.
'This will reduce the regulatory burden on solicitors while ensuring that the public is protected when employing unregulated providers, which make up an increasingly large percentage of the legal service market. Solicitors are having to compete with unregulated providers and as a result the public interest is not protected and the legal service market is unfair.
'We are disappointed that the SRA is seemingly seeking to undermine the solicitors’ professional body and devalue its work. Perhaps this is an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession and why it is so keen to remove any involvement of the solicitor profession in the setting of standards, entry levels, and the awarding of the professional title of solicitor from the profession.'