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Chancery Lane in bid to regain regulatory control

Law Society calls for SRA to become arm's-length division and for narrower remit of LSB

5 September 2013

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Law Society calls for SRA to become arm's-length division and for narrower remit of LSB

The training and authorisation of solicitors, along with the setting of professional standards, should revert to the Law Society, Chancery Lane has said in a bid to regain control over the regulation of the profession.

The proposal is one of a number of "relatively minor changes" that the society has recommended in its response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on the regulation of legal services.

In a direct attack on the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Chancery Lane said "much of the SRA's work attempts a one-size-fits-all approach which leads to significant burdens and bureaucracy for firms".

As a whole, it said, the current system is "expensive for the profession which pays for the arrangements, though with little say on how the money is spent" and "hinders innovation in the legal profession".

Chancery Lane's other recommendations include more flexible regulatory arrangements that would take account of the nature and size of firms.

It also recommends that the regulatory function of the current SRA, including investigation and prosecution of regulatory offences, should be folded back into the Law Society as an arm's-length division.

The new regulatory arm would have independent decision-making powers but report directly to the society, addressing one of Chancery Lane's main gripes that "the Law Society, although responsible for the performance of the SRA, has no levers to control that performance".

The society also slammed the SRA for "poor management" and regretted "a lack of available financial information and complex mechanisms for gaining this information".

"It is easy for the SRA to ignore legitimate requests from its parent body," it said.

Chancery Lane's list of reproaches aimed at the SRA also included "significant delays" at authorising law firms as alternative business structures, unrealistic turnaround deadlines for firms to provide information, forcing sole practitioners to adopt the COLP/COFA model, consumer protection requirements irrelevant to large commercial firms, and stifling innovation in the profession.

There was criticism for the Legal Services Board too, with the society saying the LSB "has shown itself to be more concerned about perceived infringements of regulatory independence and looking at macro policy about engineering the profession, than in the performance of regulators".

"This has blurred the lines between the role of the LSB and the SRA with the LSB often seeking to take decisions or direct policy when this is the role of the regulator. Examples of this include QASA and the Legal Education and Training Review," it said.

While the LSB should remain, the society said it should be chaired by a judge, have "significantly reduced staff", and a more narrowly defined remit. It also called for the abolition of the consumer panel.

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