The Solicitors Regulation Authority and other legal regulators will have to appoint lay chairmen or women under plans announced by the Legal Services Board this morning.
Announcing the response to a consultation opened last October, the super-regulator said that lay chairs are a likely route to improved outcomes and greater independence not only from the representative bodies, but also from the profession as the regulated community.
The board said it has concluded that amending the governance to require lay chairs for regulatory bodies 'provides a workable and proportionate route to increased independence in legal services. The LSB reached the view that greater independence will help safeguard the delivery of the regulatory objectives aligned to the principles of better regulation'.
The Law Society and SRA both opposed the change.
Current rules for the composition of regulatory boards were set by the LSB in 2009.
The changes to the internal governance rules (IGRs) come into effect immediately and will apply to all new appointments.
David Edmonds, the board's chair, said: 'Independent regulation is central to the aims of the 2007 Legal Services Act. This decision to require lay chairs for regulatory bodies represents a significant and sensible step towards embedding and strengthening independence in legal services regulation. It brings the regulatory bodies into line with the LSB’s own lay-chair requirements set out in the 2007 act.
'I also believe that restructuring the appointments and reappointments process would be a proportionate further step to safeguard the independence of regulatory boards. We therefore set out, for further consultation, a series of detailed additional changes to the IGRs to strengthen the ability of the regulators to run their own appointments processes.'
Charles Plant, chair of the SRA, is a solicitor and former litigation partner at a City firm. Lady Deech, chair of the Bar Standards Board, is an academic and non-practising barrister.
The LSB stressed that its position on lay chairs ‘is in no sense a comment on the commitment to good regulation’ of the existing chairs – rather it is ‘an institutional issue’.
The SRA said in a statement: 'We understand the LSB decision on lay chairs. The SRA thought it was a finely balanced issue and we respect that, in exercising its statutory role, the LSB has reached this conclusion. The board will be discussing the implications in due course.'
Vanessa Davies, director of the BSB, said: 'Chairs of regulatory boards should be appointed on merit. The LSB’s decision is based on an assumption that lay chairs will behave independently in circumstances where legally qualified chairs would not, and we believe there is little evidence to support this conclusion.'
A spokesperson for the Law Society said: 'We are disappointed but not surprised with the LSB's decision. We strongly believe that regulators should be free to choose the best person for the job regardless of their background.'