The chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has hit back at Law Society criticism of his organisation, and warned that Chancery Lane is creating an unnecessarily complex relationship with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that goes against the recommendations of the Hunt review.
David Edmonds also warned against the society using shared services as a way to exert a measure of control over the SRA.
Earlier this month, Law Society President Robert Heslett talked about the LSB having a “direct line to government” and concerns that the Legal Services Act created a structure which could, in certain circumstances, represent a real threat to the independence of the profession, such as the LSB’s power to take over regulation (see story).
Addressing the Law Society Council last week, Mr Edmonds assured members that “I spend far more of my time talking to your president than I do talking to ministers… Independence from government is an absolute – and so is independence from the profession”.
He also dismissed Mr Heslett’s warning of the dangers of misuse of power by the LSB. “I do not believe for a moment that a board comprised of distinguished lawyers and lay people, and chaired by someone who has spent over 40 years working for public organisations, has any intention of misusing our powers. Nor do I believe is there any evidence to suggest that our work is not analytical, consulted upon, reviewed, and results in anything other than board decisions that are debated on as outcomes of that process.
“The reality is that the appetite of my board for intervention is in inverse proportion to the success of the approved regulators in pursuing this agenda themselves.”
Mr Edmonds then threw back at the Law Society Mr Heslett’s assertion that “there is no evidence from any field of human endeavour that supports the idea that adding complexity can create simplification”.
He said: “We would like to see a relationship between the Law Society and the SRA that is clear, straightforward, simple to operate and effective. We are worried that creating complex structures runs the risk of adding to, rather than easing, uncertainty. We should not be involved in the detail, but we do need to be sure that there is effective separation of the representative arm from the regulatory arm, and that the regulatory arm has the competence and the resources to run its business effectively.
“I asked my staff to draw a diagram of our understanding of relationships between the Law Society and SRA. The numerous lines of accountability between committees and structures currently proposed support well, I would suggest, the president’s argument that adding complexity may not aid simplicity.”
Mr Edmonds went on to “gently suggest” that bringing this debate to an end would enable the society to “devote all its energy to carving out a major presence on the public policy stage – and more fearlessly advancing the interests of the profession against the background of an improved reputation for lawyers amongst consumers and commentators”.
He said the Hunt report – which was commissioned by the Law Society – “offered a clear way forward: a corporate hub, from which resourcing of both the professional and regulatory elements can take place… whilst securing the independence of the SRA. For me, the key issue is that shared services have to exactly that – services. Not prejudicing what you have proposed, they cannot be a means of imposing control by the representative arm. The more the SRA manifestly has the freedom to acces the services it needs, the less need there will be for intensive regulation.”