Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
Just who are the members of the Legal Services Board (LSB)? They have stayed in the shadows, as chairman David Edmonds and chief executive Chris Kenny are the public faces of what they do. We don’t even know much of what they do in their meetings, because the minutes are not easily accessible on their website and Mr Edmonds is always implacable whenever I suggest that it would be good if their meetings were open – or at least part of them, in the same way that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) split their meetings between public and private sessions.
He does not think it aids good decision-making, but it’s a shame the board cannot demonstrate the same transparency as those it regulates, dare one say (given what an emphasis it puts on transparency generally).
There are currently nine members of the LSB (including Mr Kenny) and the lay/professional balance of the board has been somewhat skewed by the resignations of two of the solicitor members since they were all appointed – Michael Napier (in May 2009) and Rosemary Martin (March 2010). This means that there are only two lawyers on the board at the moment, although we understand that a recruitment exercise is imminent.
This is important because the LSB is seen abroad as a government agency and there is disquiet at what this means for the independence of the profession, although there is a thought that this might be an excuse for some jurisdictions to keep out City lawyers. Even if there is no sign at present of the LSB trying to “control” the profession, the worry is that the machinery is in place that would enable that to happen. I was surprised, when speaking to the president of the American Bar Association just two weeks ago, that she raised this issue without prompting.
Of particular note is that in David Edmonds we have a former commissioner of the Legal Services Commission, in board member David Wolfe a current commissioner, and in strategy director Crispin Passmore a former senior member of commission staff. It’s fair to say that the commission does not exactly have an unblemished record of success and has been roundly criticised by the likes of the National Audit Commission and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in the past year. Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke said last week that the Coalition is likely to stick to the previous government’s plan to merge it into the Ministry of Justice as an executive agency.
First up we have Terence Connor, a former media analyst and a former executive director of Mirror Group plc. He is currently a non-executive director at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (a scheme which became central to many firms’ thinking as banks were going down, putting their client accounts at risk). Interestingly, given the enthusiasm of consumer group Which? for the Legal Services Act reforms and where it may take its own legal services arm, he was a non-executive director of Which Ltd for six years.
Steve Green is a former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire. Now retired, his roles include being a non-executive director of Octavian Security, which is part of the Octavian Group. According to the register of LSB members’ interests, the group’s main purpose is security-related services, but it does have a law firm within the group, Octavian Law (now called Aspect Law, a web search indicates). An alternative business structure in the making?
Bill Moyes is full-time executive chairman of Monitor, the independent regulator of the NHS Foundation Trusts in December 2003, and before that was director-general of the British Retail Consortium, and in banking and the civil service.
Barbara Saunders is described as an “independent consumer consultant with experience of public policy in the UK and European Union”, and lists several present and former non-executive roles. She was also once a lay member of the Law Society professional standards appeal panel and so presumably knows a thing or two about dodgy lawyers. She too reveals a link with Which? in the register – but only as a subscriber to the magazine.
Nicole Smith was previously deputy chief executive at the Electoral Commission and is now a fellow of the Institute for Government and a panel chair at the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Andrew Whittaker is a solicitor and general counsel to the board of the Financial Services Authority, an organisation which in the past more than one City firm has privately said it would prefer as a regulator to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (although that was before the financial system melted down).
David Wolfe is a barrister specialising in public law and founder member of Matrix Chambers. He is the Legal Services Commission’s lead commissioner lead for the development of a scheme of quality assurance for advocates – something the LSB is concurrently doing by overseeing the work of the SRA, BSB and ILEX Professional Standards in trying to agree common advocacy standards. The register discloses that his partner sits on the BSB’s Legal Services Act 2007 advisory group.
I had a quick look at the published expenses of the board members and senior staff, hoping to find a hidden MPs-style scandal, of course, but they are rather boring, mainly just cab and train fares (Barbara Saunders charges £2 in mileage for the five miles from her home to the train station, if you’re interested). Andrew Whittaker has never claimed a bean, and I did have to wonder whether LSB general counsel Bruce McMillan could have walked the 5-10 minutes from the Law Society to the LSB’s offices in Holborn on 24 March, rather than spend £5.50 on a cab, but maybe he was in a rush.
Ordinary members of the LSB are paid £15,000 a year.