The outgoing chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has fired a parting shot at the Law Society and Bar Council – which he described as “two very strong trade unions” – for their “hostile attitude to change” and acting out of self-interest, rather than in the public interest.
David Edmonds – whose six years at the helm of the LSB end today – also said that, if he had one regret, it was that he did not “pursue more forcibly a wholesale re-write of rule books”.
Speaking in London, Mr Edmonds said the LSB and the professional bodies could have achieved much more had the latter not spent so much time battling the former.
“The fundamental shift towards proper and independent regulation that the 2007 [Legal Services] Act was designed to secure was never seen as a legitimate outcome by many of those representing key parts of the legal services sector…
“So much intellectual energy has continued to be poured into rejecting – rather than delivering – a democratically endorsed regulatory settlement reached with the support of both Houses of Parliament and all parties.”
Mr Edmonds said he remained “perplexed” at the length of most rule books.
“Why? Because I trust the vast majority of legal services professionals to know the difference between right and wrong; to have a strong and unwavering commitment to their professional ethics; and to understand how to adhere to their professional principles.
“I simply don’t accept that today’s barristers are so inherently less ethical than their predecessors or that they need a code which is 277 pages long. Or that solicitors need 468 pages of rules from the SRA… I’d go so far as to say that fewer rules make for better ethics.”
Mr Edmonds said he was proud that the LSB has “changed the game, changed its rules, the playing field and the teams taking part”. The experience of alternative business structures showed that those who had resisted them were wrong, he insisted.
“ABS has begun a fundamental shift in provision. The fact of their existence has wrought immense market change… The big businesses aren’t churning out low-quality, bulk legal services – the legal equivalent of ‘value baked beans’ piled high and sold cheap – it’s just not happening.”
He again propounded the LSB’s vision of a new single regulator, “truly independent of vested interests”, as well “simple steps that can be taken to get us on our way” to that – such as ending the compulsory funding of representative activity through practising fees.
“The list of permitted purposes for which the compulsory practising certificate fee can be put is both a restraint of trade – by requiring all lawyers to pay for activity beyond that which they need to pay in order to practice – and a tax on consumers who ultimately pay the price.”
Mr Edmonds predicted that a single regulator would happen – “but not yet and maybe not for some time. It is a box that no current political party will want to open willingly”.