Chris Kenny, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, has said that the government is “not saying never” to the idea of a single regulator for the entire profession, and it was likely to happen anyway in the coming years.
“Where you have a multiplicity of regulators all covering much the same services, there is an incentive for firms to look for the body which charges the least and asks for the least,” he warned.
Mr Kenny was responding to the decision, announced by the Ministry of Justice at the start of this month, not to make any major changes to the statutory framework of regulation following a call for evidence, and the LSB’s own vision for a single regulator.
“We are not saying it should happen overnight, but the boundaries between the professions are becoming hazy,” Mr Kenny told the Manchester Law Society regulatory conference last week.
He said politicians were “some way” from having the parliamentary time or will to introduce a single regulator for the legal professions, but, if you looked in the “fine print” of the MoJ’s announcement, you could see that they were “not saying never”.
Mr Kenny went on: “Every 18 months the issue will come up and I suspect that in 10 years’ time, this is the direction we will travel in.”
Earlier Professor Frank Stephen, professor of regulation at Manchester University, said that a single regulator might “begin by saying it was in favour of innovation, but end up blunting it”.
He argued that although different “brands” of lawyer may be competing against each other, a single regulator could lead to a “homogenisation of what is permissible” and “would be bad not only for the profession but for consumers of legal services”.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said: “I feel that we will probably move towards consolidation, whether to one regulator or more, I’m not sure.
“In five or 10 years’ time, will it make any difference? How many firms that we regulate will not have any solicitors?”
Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said a multiplicity of regulators “suited UK plc” and was good for “dynamism and innovation”.
He added: “The Legal Services Act has shown in sharp relief the idea that the professions do not innovate and are not dynamic. In the long run, the competitive dynamic will be good for lawyers.”