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Deech calls for full independence for legal regulators

Baroness Deech [1]

Baroness Deech: “We want more independence”

The legal regulators should have full independence, and ‘approved regulator’ role of the Bar Council, Law Society and other professional bodies should be abolished, the chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) argued yesterday.

In a major speech on the future of regulation, Baroness Ruth Deech said the Legal Services Act (LSA) did not give regulatory bodies “the separate standing we need”, because their responsibilities were delegated by other bodies – described in the Act as the approved regulators.

“We want more independence,” she said. “I believe that legal services regulators in the UK should aspire to be seen as world leaders in our independent governance arrangements.

“After six years of the LSA, I fear that this is not the case. Both representative and regulatory bodies would be stronger and more effective if this ‘approved regulator’ concept did not exist.

“For both barrister and regulator, the value of independence cannot be overstated. The days of self-regulation are rightly over, as they are in many other professions.”

In its submission to last year’s government review of legal regulation, the Solicitors Regulation Authority also called for structural independence from the Law Society.

Speaking at yesterday’s London Law Expo, Baroness Deech, who is leaving her post as chair of the BSB at the end of this year, went on to attack calls for a “single, giant regulator”.

These were originally led by former chairman of the Legal Services Board David Edmonds, but they were unexpectedly supported this summer by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas [2], and Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court [3].

“Smaller regulators are better placed to know what their regulated communities do, to understand the opportunities and risks, the excitement and anxieties that invariably approach our collective gates,” Baroness Deech said.

“We are accountable to the profession that funds almost all of our activities, of course. But our duty is and always has been to serve the public. And we are closer to both groups than a giant regulator could ever be.

“The recent history of financial services shows only too well the risks that come with a regulator being too big, too uninformed, and too slow to react.”

Baroness Deech said Sir David Clementi had himself concluded that the current system of frontline legal services regulation would be better than “one enormous, overarching regulator”.

On the future of advocacy, without naming names, the baroness attacked “an agenda to achieve affordability by flooding the market with paralegals and paid McKenzie Friends, undertaking advocacy – but without any regulation, underqualified or without qualifications, and presenting a risk to the public”.

She warned: “These moves may well not reduce price but result only in the downgrading of a professional service whose quality has been built up over the years and is renowned internationally.”

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has led the way in demanding recognition of the role played by paid McKenzie Friends [4].

On the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates – which is bitterly opposed by the Criminal Bar Association – Baroness Deech said the BSB’s efforts had been misunderstood, and that the scheme was about protecting the public from the “minority of advocates” who were not as good as they should be.

“Myths about QASA being an MoJ-led initiative – a plot to pave the way for government reforms – were untrue and unhelpful,” she said.

“No profession in the public sphere is immune from quality assurance and it is paramount that victims, witnesses, and defendants can expect the same standards of competence from all advocates working in the criminal courts.

Baroness Deech concluded by describing the Bar as having a “makeover by regulation, like the mature lady who has a facelift and sheds a few pounds”.