Blueprints jostle for position in regulation re-balance

Regulation
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has “served its purpose” in kick-starting change and a sunset clause for its abolition should be enacted, says the Bar Standards Board.

In its response to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence on the legal services statutory framework, the BSB noted an “incorrect balance” between “LSB prescription and front line regulator discretion”. It wants the LSB role stripped from the Legal Services Act 2007 entirely, or a new standalone, simplified Act introduced.


Under the BSB blueprint, there would be no oversight regulator at all, but the Legal Ombudsman would be retained and its remit extended. Frontline regulators would be kept, regulatory objectives revised, the Regulators’ Code applied to all regulators, and the regulatory and representative functions separated further.

The Bar Council echoed the call for abolition and argued for a return of power to the approved regulators. Instead of a single, super regulator, a new College of Regulators should be established, it said, with a strong judicial presence, lay members and representatives from each regulator and professional body. The College would report to the Lord Chancellor.

“The public interest demands a clear and robust regulatory structure where all legal professionals are held to the highest of standards,” said Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar Council. “What we have instead,” she continued, “is an expensive oversight regulator which consistently seeks to impose its own vision of how legal services should be delivered and expects the legal profession to pick up the bill.”

“Our new model will bring regulation back into balance, handing back standard setting to the professional bodies with appropriate consumer input and at proportionate cost.”

But the Bar Council later withdrew its response in order to correct a mathematical error. Its calculation of the cost per barrister of the LSB was out by a factor of ten – it should have been £162 rather than the £1602 initially calculated.

The LSB, however, firmly dismissed the idea of a return to pure self-regulation by the professions alone. That would be a “driver of cost” and not in the “public, the consumer or the legal services sector’s best interests,” was its response.

“Our prescription does not turn the clock back,” said David Edmonds, LSB Chair. “The last five years have seen an unprecedented period of change… More could have been achieved, faster, with a simpler statutory framework and bolder, more market sensitive, more independent and less risk averse regulators.”

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