Due to the uncertainty and economic volatility stoked by last week’s shock Brexit vote, the Law Society has told MPs that plans to give the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and other regulators full independence should be shelved.
In last November’s Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to separate the frontline regulators from representative bodies, which was to follow a consultation after the referendum.
At an evidence session on the legal regulatory regime before the justice select committee yesterday morning (28 June) the Law Society and the SRA disagreed on the former’s bid to take over control of setting professional standards.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘We think the current system is broadly effective. There is a journey and opportunities to improve it’s still relatively new system and embedding. But it would be the wrong time given the outcome of the referendum to undertake a full review of legal services because clearly government, the public, and the profession are going through a period of what will be unprecedented change. I question whether it’s the right time. We do have a vision for the future of regulation.’
Dixon (pictured) added that if the government wanted to undertake a review, it should be ‘holistic’ across the entire regulatory regime.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip countered: ‘This is about public perception, public trust in solicitors and in the regulation of solicitors. That as a development would be welcome. It’s a perception that is based on evidence, from polling… there are [and estimated] 20 people a day that ring up our call centres who ring up confused as to whether we are the Law Society… It’s difficult to convince people [we act in their interests] when they find out we are part of the Law Society.’
Philip has been engaged in an aggressive push to become fully independent from the Law Society since the announcement. He and Dixon have already made an agreement to separate the £40.6m in shared services costs for the two bodies – bolstered by the Treasury’s decision to consider separating legal regulation from representation.
Should ties between the bodies become fully severed, the grey area will be around training and professional standards. If the SRA and the Law Society do manage to set aside their differences and work together, there may be a workable compromise that sees the society retain some substantive role and the right to a reduced levy on the profession.