The thorny issue over whether to grant the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) full independence from the Law Society continues to prove divisive as the former has this week directly appealed to the government to execute the plans.
The appeal relates to last November’s Autumn Statement where Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to separate the frontline regulators from representative bodies, which was to follow a consultation after the referendum.
Though scheduled for spring this year, it has yet to happen and on Monday, a pre-Autumn Statement submission to the Treasury said independence was needed ‘to support our vision for a modern, open legal market which, in turn, will support a competitive UK economy post-Brexit.’
The SRA said that the Treasury ‘touched on the case for independence in its anti-money laundering consultation document of April 2016, flagging up the problem of perceived conflicts of interest. It might be easier for law enforcement to share information with supervisors if the supervisory arm is distinct from the representative arm.’
The SRA further argued that the Legal Services Board and Competition and Markets Authority were also advocates for independent regulation.
‘The Autumn Statement should re-establish the commitment first made in November 2015, with details of a timetable for its implementation. This is not the time to put the brakes on reforms that will support a healthy legal market, inject more competition and innovation, provide more opportunities for solicitors and improve access to law.’
‘Rather than retreat into the past as we leave the EU, there is now an opportunity to reform legal service regulation and make sure legal service providers are able to compete nationally and internationally, while at the same time enhancing public and business access to solicitors.’
Quick to jump on the uncertainty and economic volatility stoked by June’s shock Brexit vote, the Law Society told MPs this summer that plans to give the SRA and other regulators full independence should be shelved.
Historically, City law firms have shrugged off the Law Society’s lack of engagement and considered the fees they pay a gesture of professional solidarity. But the government’s plans to fully separate the SRA from the Law Society raises the possibility that Chancery Lane will lose its right to fund itself from the compulsory fees.