The Bar Council has attacked the Legal Services Board’s “overconfidence” and criticised its apparent desire to become a “super-regulator” rather than an oversight body.
Its response to the LSB’s consultation on its 2012-13 business plan and 2012-15 strategic plan echoes that of the Law Society, which last week warned that the LSB is overstepping its role and micro-managing the frontline regulators.
The letter from Bar Council chairman Michael Todd QC said the LSB’s plans “disclose a level of ambition to be involved in areas of activity that we consider are either properly the province of the approved regulators themselves or that fall outside the LSB’s terms of reference altogether”.
Among the examples he cited was the LSB’s intention to help stimulate the market for legal services, for which he said the Legal Services Act 2007 did not provide a remit. “There is not, we suspect, any public appetite for recourse to the law save where necessary. In that sense, legal services is not a ‘market’ that should function like others, and use of language borrowed from other sectors is undesirable and out of line with the statutory objectives.”
Mr Todd argued that the LSB is “misunderstanding” its role as an oversight regulator – duplicating work done by the frontline regulators – and unrealistic in not stepping back from several functions now that the first phase of its work has been successfully completed.
He said that while the LSB’s planned 9% budget cut is a step in the right direction, it is “nothing like the 20% savings targets expected of Whitehall departments or the 25% cuts which the Crown Prosecution Service, for example, is expected to deliver. Against that background, the Bar Council would expect the LSB’s budget to have been cut by 20%”.
Mr Todd continued: “Because of what is has achieved to date, the tone of the LSB’s draft plan indicates a degree of overconfidence from the LSB…
“The Bar Council is concerned that observations such as references to ‘the patchwork of different regulators and different patterns of regulatory protection in different services’ allude to a desire for a super-regulator role rather than one which analyses and corrects the regulatory environment to ensure consistency of approach among all frontline regulators.”
He also expressed concern that the LSB appears to have made up its mind on some issues before seeing the evidence or recommendations from the frontline regulators, such as the Legal Education and Training Review.