Allowing the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to regulate reserved legal activities could create ‘consumer confusion’ while failing to increase competition, the Law Society said today.
The accountants’ body revealed in February that it wanted to apply to regulate providers of all reserved legal actives following what it said was the success of its move into probate regulation. It claimed that extending its remit would promote more competition in the legal services market.
But the Law Society said today that there was no tangible evidence that the ICAEW’s regulation of probate has increased competition or increased access to justice.
It said: ‘The ICAEW’s business case is not compelling (and based on research undertaken by the ICAEW with member firms only). Outside the large firms there has been relatively little interest in offering other reserved legal activities, indicating that a widening of the ICAEW’s regulatory capabilities is unlikely to have a major impact on the legal services market.’
Chancery Lane warned that not only would the move fail to cut costs for consumers or increase competition, it might also ‘create consumer confusion’.
While the ICAEW has said it will restrict the activities it regulates to taxation, in reality the application is an unlimited application to regulate reserved legal activities, the Law Society said. This presents a danger that clients will be confused about the extent of services that can be provided by an accountant.
The Society also said the ICAEW had not given enough information about the level of training that accountants applying to undertake reserved legal activities will have to take.
It said: ‘This could mean that accountants undertaking reserved legal activities are unable to recognise elements that arise outside their area of expertise, and on which they should seek further advice.’
The Law Society also suggested that the planned level of professional indemnity insurance of £500,000 was too low, and said the ICAEW’s plans were not compliant with the Legal Services Board’s internal governance rules.