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Edmonds insists on lay control of SRA board

22 September 2009

The Legal Services Board has said, following a consultation, that the board of the SRA must have a lay majority. The board is currently made up of nine solicitors, including the chairman, and seven lay members.

David Edmonds, chairman of the LSB, told Solicitors Journal that the move, opposed by the Law Society, would send out a “very powerful, public signal” that the profession was willing to accept change.

Edmonds said there was widespread agreement on a perception by the public that self-regulation had failed. Even in the case of lawyers, he said many accepted that regulation had not been sufficiently independent.

“Clearing out the issues regarding independence means that professional bodies will be able to concentrate on the viability of business structures in the sector,” he said. “I hope we can put this to bed almost as a non-issue.”

He said the prize on offer for the profession in dealing with the question of independence would be the removal of years of “aggravation, acrimony and antagonism”.

Edmonds said that, given the “degree and depth” of the consultation, any further amendments to the latest plans would need to be “very powerfully argued”.

He said there was no fixed timetable for professional bodies, like the society, to implement the rule changes, which come into force in January next year.

However, they must “self-certify” the extent to which they comply with the rules by April 2010, and include a plan showing how they will comply with them all within a “reasonable” time.

In one of a number of compromises, the LSB will allow the chairman of the SRA to be a lawyer, meaning that Charles Plant, former head of litigation at Herbert Smith, will be able to take up the post next year and will not need to be replaced.

Other regulatory bodies, such as the Bar Standards Board, will also need a lay majority. Eight members of the BSB board are barristers, compared to seven lay people, including the chair, legal academic Baroness Ruth Deech.

The LSB has dropped its previous demand that the appointment of regulatory bodies must not be by approved regulators such as the Law Society.

Instead the LSB proposes that there must be “compelling evidence” that the SRA or the BSB have a strong voice in the process.

In a further compromise, the LSB has said it will permit the Law Society and SRA to share corporate services, such as accommodation, HR, finance and IT.

Antony Townsend, chief executive of the SRA, said he was pleased by the LSB’s emphasis on securing the “independence and effective resourcing of regulatory bodies, and on the importance of the involvement of non-lawyers in regulatory boards”.

However, Des Hudson, Law Society chief executive, said the LSB proposals were a “curate’s egg”, with some parts more appetising than others.

“We are concerned that the LSB has concluded that the regulatory board should have a lay majority,” he said.

“There is a risk that this may undermine the perception of an independent legal profession, particularly overseas.”

In a separate development, the LSB has abandoned a plan which would have enabled it to recoup 70 per cent of its set-up costs in its first year from the legal profession.

Chris Kenny, chief executive of the LSB, said that, following a consultation, the board had decided that the levy could be paid by the professional bodies in three equal instalments.

He said the paper had originally proposed a payment of 70 per cent in the first year, 20 per cent in the second and 10 per cent in the third.

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