A voluntary register for the overarching regulation of paralegals has been set up in a bid to establish the sector as a ‘fourth arm’ of the legal profession, alongside solicitors, barristers and legal executives.

However, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has questioned the extent to which the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) can effectively impose sanctions and controls where misconduct is suspected among paralegals who have voluntarily registered.

It said the potential lack of quality assurance could ‘confuse consumers as to the level of security they may get compared to using a CILEx paralegal or fully regulated professional, with whom they will be fully protected’.

The not-for-profit PPR was founded by the Institute of Paralegals and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals in response to the Legal Education and Training Review in June 2013 for voluntary regulation of the unregulated sector.

The review was a joint project by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards.

PPR director David Holland, who is also chief executive of the Institute of Paralegals, said the register had two primary objectives: to professionalise the ‘diverse’ paralegal sector, which with 200,000 practitioners 'is now probably larger than the established legal sector', and to increase the diversity of high-quality cost-effective legal services provided to the public.

Holland said the register would offer a 'second tier of recourse to consumers in the event of a complaint as to the quality of legal services provided to them which they do not believe have been satisfactorily addressed by either their legal provider or his/her professional body’.

A Register Regulatory Committee and an Adjudication and Appeals Panel will be able to impose a range of sanctions ranging from fines to disqualification, he said.

However CILEx said it ‘remains to be seen’ how the register could ‘robustly scrutinise’ paralegals who voluntarily put themselves on the list given it was not an approved regulator under the Legal Services Act or overseen by the Legal Services Board.

It said: ‘They will need to demonstrate the extent to which they rely on the membership bodies involved in the Register to provide the frontline regulation.

‘Outside of the standards and disciplinary measures used by those organisations, they will need to assure the public of what real mechanisms the Register has to effectively impose sanctions and controls if misconduct is suspected amongst its paralegals.

‘Without this, the potential lack of quality assurance will raise serious concerns about these arrangements, and importantly it may confuse consumers as to the level of security they may get compared to using a CILEx paralegal or fully regulated professional, with whom they will be fully protected.’

Only paralegals who are members of a professional body that meet the PPR’s criteria in terms of experience, qualification and code of conduct can appear on the register.

PPR director Rita Leat said the PPR’s tier system would make it ‘abundantly clear once and for all’ what a paralegal can do.

Paralegals in tier 2 or above can, for instance, apply for a paralegal practising certificate, which is issued to those who have the ‘requisite knowledge, skills and experience’ required under the Paralegal Practising Certificate Rules. Paralegal practitioners must also have a minimum of £1m professional indemnity insurance cover.

Fees paid by members will be used to administer the register and provide funding for any compensatory awards. Nearly 2,000 paralegals have signed up to the register so far.