The Solicitors Regulation Authority today welcomed government proposals to make legal services regulators fully separate from representative bodies.
SRA chair Enid Rowlands (pictured) told a board meeting in London that modern regulators should be ‘independent and fully accountable’ to the public.
Chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Sajid Javid revealed plans earlier this week to consult on the change by spring 2016. In effect the plans would re-draft the Legal Services Act, which created legal services regulators that retained links to representative bodies.
Rowlands said the key to public confidence is independence and public accountability.
‘It is impossible to see how a regulator could have the confidence of the public if it is also the body that represents those who are regulated,’ she said.
‘The public deserves proper independent regulation, and the profession deserves proper representation. But the two functions must be, and must be seen to be, separate.’
Speaking after the meeting, Rowlands acknowledged that her view was in contrast to that of the Law Society, which has said that public protection demands that the setting of rules and standards for legal services must be independent of government.
The SRA chair said she fully supported the legal profession but that it was not in her organisation’s remit to promote its interests.
‘I spend weeks every year on the road talking to the profession,’ she said. ‘I take it incredibly seriously and we must be able to understand and communicate with the profession, but I never lose sight that their interests are not necessarily totally aligned with the public interest.’
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said the problem was one of ‘perception’ rather than many practical issues with the current arrangements – although he questioned why representative bodies are still involved in selecting the chairs of regulatory boards.