The Lord Chancellor has set the Legal Services Board (LSB) the task of working towards its own abolition as part of a push to reduce the burden of regulation on the legal profession, he revealed yesterday.
Chris Grayling also hit back at criticisms of him holding the post while not a lawyer by saying it allowed him to look at the system “afresh”.
In a wide-ranging speech to the presidential dinner held by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Mr Grayling repeatedly stressed the need for change in the legal system, and he said this included regulation.
“I’ve been persuaded, without it has to be said too much difficulty, that there is too much of it,” he told the event in London. “It is too time consuming and intrusive, particularly for smaller firms. Too much of your time is spent dealing with regulation rather than the job you’re there to do.
“My aim is for a simpler, easier to understand regulatory framework, one that is proportionate, that promotes growth and innovation, while also providing the necessary protection for consumers and the wider public interest.
“I also think there are too many layers of the regulators. I have said to Sir Michael Pitt [the new chairman of the LSB] that during his time at the Legal Services Board, success means creating an environment where that organisation is not necessary in the long term. This won’t happen overnight but I am clear that this should be the direction of travel.”
Mr Grayling said that in the meantime he wanted to hear from the profession about “quick wins that would make a real difference now as well as in the long term”.
While recognising the challenges facing smaller law firms in particular, the Lord Chancellor said there is “scope for real innovation to ensure that the public can access the full range of quality, local professional services on their high street”. CILEx is part of that, he said, as is “co-operation between different professions”.
He dismissed suggestions that the changes he is introducing to the legal system are because he is not a lawyer and does not understand, or care about, it. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he insisted.
Mr Grayling pointed out that his predecessor, Ken Clarke, “a distinguished QC”, was “no less convinced of the need for change than I am and indeed many of the changes that have taken place, particularly in relation to legal aid, were introduced by him, rather than by me”.
He added: “I happen to believe that not having a legal background does allow me to look afresh at some of the longstanding issues in our justice system.”
The pressures have been building up “for years and years and years and have remained unaddressed. They’ve been accentuated by the financial crisis, but if they remain unaddressed, they will do long-term damage to justice in our country”.
As an example, Mr Grayling said he had listened carefully to stories of junior advocates “fighting for scraps in the magistrates’ courts and some deciding to abandon the profession because it is just too financially tough”. But he said this was not because of the legal aid cuts – which do not affect magistrates’ courts fees – but “because there are now unfortunately too many people chasing too little work”.
He praised the recent Jeffrey review, saying: “Sir Bill’s put forward some interesting and in some cases compelling recommendations for change. I’m keen that we have a thoughtful dialogue about what he said.”
The Lord Chancellor also strongly defended his controversial reforms of judicial review, saying that while it should continue for people who have been on the “wrong end” of a decision by a public body, “judicial review is being used today as a campaigning tool by pressure groups [and] as a delaying tactic by people who don’t like the decisions that government has taken…
“It shouldn’t be a grandstanding vehicle for too many people in our society to make a point and that is why it has to change.”