Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures
I thought I would post an update on what I have heard about the Coalition’s thinking about the legal services reforms – there’s nothing concrete, because ministers are still not talking about this subject publicly (beyond Jonathan Djanogly’s comments here). This comes just from being round and about and talking to those who are (or at least claim to be) in the know, so I can’t vouch for its total accuracy.
First of all, the Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) are not on the Ministry of Justice’s list of quangos that could be done away with (every department is drawing up such a list). They think it is because they offer the possibility of reducing regulation and cutting costs; that may well be, but I suspect the more basic reality is that because they are funded by the legal profession, there is no financial benefit to getting rid of them.
Second, the OLC and alternative business structures (ABSs) will survive scrutiny by Vince Cable’s reducing regulation Cabinet committee. I’m told the decision is 99% there but has not been formally signed off.
Third, though there has been talk about ABSs possibly being delayed for a few months, it would appear that we are still on course for 6 October 2011.
Fourth, on a bit of a tangent, but a relevant one, there appears to be more enthusiasm about the Jackson review than there was among Labour ministers. There is talk about a consultation paper later in the year, but it still has some hurdles to jump. Further, it is linked in with the fundamental review of legal aid – legal aid cuts will obviously increase the importance of other methods of funding cases, and so the government will need to be sure that, in implementing Jackson, it is not leaving those no longer eligible for legal aid between a rock and a hard place. A final possible spanner in the works is Lord Young’s review of health and safety laws, which includes the so-called compensation culture, in which the role of claims management companies will presumably come under scrutiny once again.
Finally, and most importantly, should we be using the term Office for Legal Complaints or Legal Ombudsman to describe the new complaints-handling operation in Birmingham (in answer to Brian Rogers’ query here). Well, I’ve asked and both are right. The OLC is the formal name contained in the Legal Services Act, and Elizabeth France chairs the board of the OLC. Legal Ombudsman is the trading name to make it sound more approachable. LeO appears to be the preferred acronym – LegO, sadly for those of us who have headlines to write, has fallen by the wayside.