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Super legal regulator ‘the last thing we need’, says Bar chief

'We are getting the hang of how to make the new regulatory arrangements work'

26 November 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Now is the wrong time to start trying to change the way that UK lawyers are regulated, the Bar Council's chair has said.

Speaking at Lincoln's Inn this week, Nicholas Lavender QC warned against introducing a new super-quango as a single regulator for the legal profession.

"The last thing we need in this country, and certainly in the legal profession, is more or bigger quangos," he said.

"I trust that no-one in this room would consider it appropriate for lawyers to be regulated directly by a government minister."

There is also a risk of a super-quango failing to understand the differences within the legal sector and trying to impose a one-size-fits-all concept of regulation, he warned.

"Establishing a super-quango, with the attendant bureaucracy, would be a backwards step because it would be likely to lead to regulation which was both more expensive and of poorer quality," he said.

"We need a regulatory system which respects the independence of lawyers and of the legal professions."

Lavender argued that the Legal Services Act 2007 and the regulatory regime it introduced are still in their infancy.

"It was bound to take time for the relevant parties to settle into the new roles accorded to them by the Act and to work out their proper relationships with one another. That is what we have all been doing since 2007, and we are getting the hang of how to make the new regulatory arrangements work."

He added that, in recent months, there have been leadership changes in most of the regulatory bodies.

New chairs have been appointed at the Legal Services Board, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority since May 2014; the LSB is also set to have a new chief executive.

"It would be good if these new leaders had the opportunity to get on with their jobs and to make the present system work without being distracted by the armchair legislators and endless debates about what a different Act might look like."

The Bar Council chairman suggested that there are problems with a move towards entity-based regulation, which has been widely discussed in recent years.

"This is not an expression which is used in the Legal Services Act, let alone something which is required by that Act. It is not a necessary feature of our regulatory landscape at all. It is simply a fashionable idea amongst regulators."

He singled out advocacy as one area in which such an approach wouldn't work

"I believe that advocacy is different from other legal services. Whatever the legal context, advocacy is a very different type of activity from what most lawyers do most of the time. And this is a concern," he said.

"We account for only about 10 per cent of practising lawyers. And there is an obvious risk that, as regulating the majority of lawyers takes up the majority of regulatory time and effort, the particular circumstances of the Bar can be overlooked or misunderstood."




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