The Solicitors Regulation Authority insists its ‘radical’ handbook reforms will widen access to justice, acknowledging that certain safeguards will be needed if solicitors are given greater freedom to deliver legal services outside regulated firms.
Last month the regulator opened an unprecedented 16-week consultation on new separate codes for solicitors and firms.
The Law Society said the proposals had serious implications for client protection, legal professional privilege, professional supervision, competition and the standing of the solicitor profession.
However, SRA chief executive Paul Philip told a media briefing yesterday that the regulator was trying to make the regulatory model more proportionate and open up competition.
He said: ‘The idea that we would be able to allow solicitors to practise law and provide advice and other services outside of an authorised entity [will] make a contribution to giving greater access to legal advice and therefore enforcement of civil rights by individuals.’
Philip said the regulator’s proposals are radical. However, alluding to the Society’s concerns, he acknowledged certain safeguards would be needed.
‘The consumer will need to understand what protections they have and what they don’t have, the need to understand the position of legal privilege, the need to understand whether or not the individual has professional indemnity insurance… ,’ Philip said.
The regulator has yet to receive responses to its latest consultation, which opened just over a month ago. It closes on 21 September.
Jane Malcolm, SRA executive director of external affairs, said the regulator is currently talking to members of the public, consumer representative groups and the legal profession to gather people’s views.
She added: ‘We see the suggestion that solicitors should be able to provide legal advice outside authorised entities as a significant contribution to helping with access to justice and to help people access quality services from a solicitor.
‘It’s absolutely right that people should have a choice of where they go to get that kind of service. And I think it’s absolutely right that solicitors should be able to provide that as widely as possible.’
The revamped handbook will not be published before spring 2017.