The Legal Services Board (LSB) has proposed an overhaul of legal services regulation that it hopes will bring about its own demise, along with that of several other regulators.
The LSB, which oversees legal regulation, proposed creating one regulator to replace the 15 different bodies, employing 750 people, which currently police the sector at an annual cost of £70m.
Sir Michael Pitt, chairman of the LSB said: ‘Even to a casual observer this structure is not fit for purpose and is the cause of much confusion and waste. The LSB remains convinced that a single regulator covering the whole sector is the best way of delivering the independent and activity focused approach to regulation we are seeking. It would take a strategic view of the legal services market as a whole and reflect a legal sector in which distinctions based on titles and types of provider are becoming increasingly blurred. It is significant that the LSB recognises that there would be no oversight regulator, thereby marking an end to our own existence.’
The LSB’s blueprint for the sector – A vision for legislative reform of the regulatory framework for legal services in England and Wales – lays out six proposals it believes will improve the regulatory framework for legal services in the UK. At its heart is the idea that the link between representative bodies and regulators be severed, before moving towards one regulator capable of taking a strategic view of the whole legal services market. There has already been huge pressure to separate legal regulators from representative bodies, such as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority from the Law Society and the Bar Standards Board from the Bar Council.
The LSB also proposed more focused regulation on high risk activity, such as representing victims of domestic violence, vulnerable children or asylum seekers, rather than a blanket approach to regulating lawyers.
It said that ‘regulation should not be based on professional title’, but warned that any shift to activity-based regulation would have to be staggered due to the ‘strong brand power’ of solicitor and barrister titles in the UK. With the Law Society and the SRA engaged in a turf war over who controls awarding the solicitor title, a task currently under the SRA’s remit, the LSB said that this job should remain with the regulator in the short-term. Pitt said that the current framework ‘extends regulation across areas where, based on a risk assessment, it is not needed’.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘Embarking on regulatory change in this climate, especially when there is broad recognition that the current regulatory framework is working, is misconceived. We don’t believe there is any demand from clients or the legal professions for the LSB’s proposals, and therefore now is not the time to embark on disruptive and costly change.’
To read more on regulation in the City see: ‘Taxation without representation – would you pay for the Law Society to represent you?’