Chalk accepts “growing case” to review regulation of lawyers

Chalk: Sensible recommendations

There is “a growing case” for a review of the regulatory framework created by the Legal Services Act 2007, the Lord Chancellor has acknowledged.

Alex Chalk said he has asked officials at the Ministry of Justice “to consider when the appropriate time to conduct a thorough review of the Act might be”.

The statement marks a significant shift in position by the ministry, which has hitherto batted away similar calls.

Mr Chalk was responding to what he described as the “sensible evidence-based recommendations and conclusions” made by the justice select committee on regulation of the legal profession, which said the case for reviewing the Act was “growing stronger and stronger”.

In it, chair Sir Bob Neill said: “We recognise that there is relatively little appetite in the sector for far-reaching regulatory change, however, it is undeniable that the case for re-examination of the legislative framework underpinning regulation is growing stronger and stronger.”

The committee cast its recommendation in the light of damage done to the profession’s reputation by the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Mr Chalk said: “The independent regulators of legal services continue to hold professionals to high regulatory standards and, of course, it is essential that any breaches of such standards are identified and rooted out with the full force of the robust sanctions available to the regulators.

“I will watch closely for the outcome of the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry. Of course, it will be important for the regulators and government, where necessary, to respond appropriately to the inquiry’s conclusions.

“The Solicitors Regulation Authority is also conducting its own investigation into the Post Office scandal. I expect this to be finalised after the inquiry concludes.”

The committee made recommendations on a variety of other topical regulatory issues: the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) review of the internal governance rules, CILEX’s proposals to re-delegate its regulatory function and change the titles of CILEX lawyers, the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority’s approach to in-house lawyers and the Bar Standards Board’s institutional independence.

Mr Chalk responded: “As you know, the regulation of legal services is independent of the government and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to comment on these matters.

“My department enjoys positive working relationships with the regulators and representative bodies, and I will draw their attention to your recommendations and conclusions.”

The committee also called for a review of the LSB but Mr Chalk was non-committal. He wrote: “The Ministry of Justice has considered a review of the LSB under the 2022-25 Public Bodies Review Programme on several occasions.

“Given the need to prioritise bodies based on risk profile, size of budget, and opportunities for efficiencies, the LSB has not yet been included. However, I note the arguments for a review of the LSB and will keep this matter under consideration.”

He gave a little more hope on making the role of LSB chair subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the committee: “I note your argument… My officials are giving consideration to this recommendation and I will keep you updated.”

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