The Legal Services Consumer Panel has indicated its desire to see the composition of the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) change before the end of the current members’ terms so as to achieve a lay majority.
It also expressed “deep disappointment” at the failure of three of the approved regulators – including the Law Society – to submit their regulatory independence certificates by the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) 30 April deadline.
The certificates certify compliance with the LSB’s internal governance rules, which includes the requirement for a lay majority on regulatory boards; as of 30 April, only the Bar Council/Bar Standards Board and Institute of Legal Executives/ILEX Professional Standards had provided them. In addition to the Law Society, the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents and Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys – which have joined forces to create a single regulator – had also not submitted their certificates.
There are three other approved regulators; however, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and Faculty Office (which regulates notaries) do not have representative functions and so do not need to provide certificates, while the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen – the smallest of the eight regulators – has yet to separate regulation from representation, but has submitted a plan to do so in the future.
In a letter to LSB chairman David Edmonds, panel chairwoman Dianne Hayter said the rules are “an essential building block of the reform agenda, underpinning public confidence that regulatory decisions will be taken in the public interest, rather than sectional interests”.
She pointed out that the three organisations have known the deadline since December 2009, “which gave more than enough time… That they have failed to do [meet it] hardly breeds confidence in their existing regulatory arrangements.”
The panel is to examine the certificates and Dr Hayter said it is likely to pay particular attention to the lay majority requirement, “an area where change in the current composition of these structures will be necessary in order to achieve compliance”. She continued: “The panel would find it unacceptable if the frontline regulators were simply to wait for the terms of their current board members to expire, as the Bar Council has indicated in its certificate. In the case of the Law Society, this would mean that the Solicitors Regulation Authority would not have a majority of lay members until 2013 – six years after the passage of the Legal Services Act.”
Dr Hayter urged the LSB “to show strength on this important issue” and not tolerate further slippage in the timetable to implement the rules “nor allow any watering down of the lay majority requirement”.
Legal Futures has requested comment from the three approved regulators named in Dr Hayter’s letter and will update this story as and when they are received.