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LSB feels the heat as barristers call for reduced role

Regulator has 'outlived original purpose' and 'bulk of objectives' already met

10 April 2012

The Legal Services Board has found itself on the receiving end of a comprehensive assault from barristers, with the Bar Council arguing that its role should be “confined” and the Bar Standards Board suggesting it should disappear entirely after three years.

Michael Todd QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the LSB’s role needed to be reined in to prevent it duplicating the role of other regulators and “the bulk of the original statutory objectives” of the umbrella regulator had been met.

“Proper regulation in the legal services sector, in the public interest, is absolutely vital, but needs to be balanced against both cost and existing resources and performed efficiently,” Todd said.

In its response to the MoJ’s triennial review of the LSB, the Bar Council called on the government to ensure that the LSB did not interfere further in regulatory matters or education and training, unless the approved regulators acted unreasonably or expressly asked for it.

“The LSB is a relatively large organisation which has largely outlived its original purpose, and that is plainly seeking to find an additional role for itself,” the response said.

“Much of the undesirable activity of the LSB that this response has highlighted flows as much from this as it does from mission creep. Indeed, the very existence of this undesirable activity serves to prove our point that the LSB has served its purpose.”

The Bar Council said the LSB was never intended to be a professional regulator or a market regulator.

“It is inconsistent with the supervisory role entrusted to it by parliament that the LSB should concern itself with the ‘micro-management’ of the affairs of front-line regulators.”

The response revealed the Bar’s frustration with the LSB’s insistence that the BSB should have “absolute autonomy” in staffing terms from the Bar Council and its involvement with internal rule changes, for example on public access.

It also reflected resentment with the LSB’s role in the development of quality assurance for criminal advocates (QASA) and in the legal education and training review (LETR).

On education and training, the LSB was accused of making “vague and threatening” statements and trying to carve out a “front-line role” for itself, which had no foundation in the Legal Services Act.

At best, the report predicted, it would duplicate the valuable work carried out by approved regulators, at worst it will “complicate, lengthen and increase the cost of the LETR, to the detriment of the professions and the public”.

In its submission to the triennial review, the BSB suggested that the MoJ should set “a clear date by which the LSB should have completed the tasks expected of it”.

The BSB went on: “This would enable the LSB to focus on the essential activities that it must complete within a defined time period.

“The BSB considers that approximately three years would be an appropriate period.”

The barristers’ regulator added that, just like a judge in a judicial review, the LSB should not substitute its own view for the approved regulator’s “simply because it disagrees with the conclusion reached, as long as that conclusion is reasonable”.

The Law Society has also strongly criticised the LSB’s “proactive approach” and called for its budget to be cut from £4.5m to £2.5m in 2013/14 and £1.5m the following year.

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