The legal profession's overarching regulator has dismissed calls from the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx to develop a legal aid policy position, arguing that how public money is allocated is a matter for the government and parliament.
The Legal Services Board's 2018-2021 strategy plan, published on Friday, outlines how it will achieve its vision of legal services 'that everyone can access and trust' by supporting the rule of law and effective administration of justice, and promote the public interest.
Responding to a consultation on the board's strategy and business plans, the Bar Council said the board risks 'being seen as acting as though we are another department of government by merely making statements that legal aid is a Ministry of Justice matter'. The Society 'said that we should put more weight in our first strategic objective on the needs of more vulnerable consumer groups'.
The board insists that unmet legal need is a 'key concern', pointing out that its strategy acknowledges changes to legal aid and other government policiies 'as drivers for change'. Existing research, which includes legal aid analysis, will be re-run. The board will continue to use evidence from its research to highlight where public policy decisions affect regulatory objectives. However, the board, says 'how government chooses to allocate public money is ultimately a question for it and parliament, and we are not in a position to understand or comment on the trade-offs involved in allocating tax revenues amongst many different possible areas of spend'.
The LSB anticipates a 'significant' workload arising over the next year from the Solicitors Regulation Authority's controversial plans to reform practising rules and expects an application from CILEx Regulation to become a licensing authority. It will also develop plans to 'deal promptly with a possible series of rule change applications' as Brexit negotiations evolve.
The board says its proposed £3.8m budget for 2018/19 reflects a near 23% reduction since the 2007 Legal Services Act became operational in 2010. Costs are financed through a statutory levy on regulators. The board says any surplus cash will be spent on research.