One man’s slashing red tape is another’s endless tinkering. Either way, the much-meddled field of legal regulation may face more intervention with news this week that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is to conduct a wholesale review of the profession’s regulatory landscape, little more than a year after the Legal Services Act (LSA) came into full force.
The move was announced on Wednesday (5 June) in a written statement to Parliament from justice minister Helen Grant. According to Grant, the review will consider ‘what could be done to simplify the regulatory framework and reduce unnecessary burdens on the legal sector whilst retaining appropriate regulatory oversight’.
This move has been billed as the first serious governmental review of the legal framework since the implementation of the LSA shook up the profession. According to the letter, the review will encompass the full breadth of the legislative framework, covering at least 10 pieces of primary legislation and over 30 statutory instruments.
The MoJ has also said it is open to comments on the interaction between the legislative framework and the detailed rules and regulations of the approved regulators, licensing authorities and of the Legal Services Board (LSB) and Office for Legal Complaints (OLC).
The review will begin with a ‘call for evidence’ from a range of stakeholders across the legal services sector, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Law Society, the LSB, the OLC, Legal Services Consumer Panel, the Office of Fair Trading, legal academics, the judiciary and legal service providers.
The move will be welcomed by some City firms in light of sentiment that multiple tiers of legal regulation make practice unnecessarily cumbersome, though there will be cynicism given that the ‘deregulation’ of the previous shake-up ushered more red tape.
Clifford Chance general counsel Chris Perrin told Legal Business: ‘It’s encouraging that this is being done as the current situation is by no means ideal. I expect there will be a lot of interest from big City firms and the City of London Law Society.’
The GC of another top 10 UK law firm said: ‘As a firm our dealings with the SRA have been constructive and helpful but if this review reduces some of the administrative minutiae and tedium then, yes, it’s a good thing and firms will welcome it.’
However, others have complained at the level of regulatory upheaval in recent years and indications of jostling between the proliferating regulators and legal bodies since the LSA’s creation. The LSA’s implementation has so far led to a string of law firms and businesses to adopt alternative business structures, with more than 140 licences being handed out since the regime came into force in January 2012.