Comments made by the new Bar Council chairman in an interview with Legal Futures have led the Legal Services Board (LSB) to doubt whether the Bar Council truly accepted the recent findings that it improperly influenced its regulatory arm.
In a letter published on Friday, LSB chairman David Edmonds indicated that the Bar Council did not seem to understand the undertaking that it had given in the wake of the investigation.
In November, the LSB announced that the Bar Council had accepted that it breached the independence of the Bar Standards Board by interfering in its regulatory functions.
Mr Edmonds said the Bar Council had given an “unequivocal” undertaking to make its acceptance of the findings “clear in any discussion of the investigation with third parties”.
In his interview with this website last month – the recording of which we have checked in the wake of the letter – Nick Lavender said: “The basic point to make about the report was that it was disproportionate… because it made a mountain out of a molehill.” It was these comments which prompted the LSB to take action.
There was initially informal correspondence but Mr Edmonds said he was writing formally to Mr Lavender because “the reply from your chief executive gave my board no confidence that the Bar Council properly understands the nature of the undertaking”.
He continued: “This undertaking was an important factor in persuading my board that formal action need not be taken against the Bar Council. We took the commitment of the Bar Council in good faith. The recent press report of your comments on the investigation has now brought into doubt how far the Bar Council is committed to complying with these undertakings.”
Citing Mr Lavender’s comments, Mr Edmonds said: “I cannot conceive that any independent reader could construe these words as acceptance by the Bar Council of its acceptance of the undertaking.”
The LSB’s “anxiety” was compounded by the Bar Council’s failure to comply with another of the undertakings given until prompted to do so by the LSB.
Mr Edmonds said: “The LSB had originally proposed to publish a statement censuring the Bar Council. We did not take that route because of our belief that you could be trusted to fulfil the undertaking that you had given, as well as the required undertakings proposed by the LSB that you accepted.
“I would be grateful to know now what future action you propose to take to ensure compliance with the commitments of the Bar Council.”
In comments not reported in the article, Legal Futures editor Neil Rose asked Mr Lavender if the Bar Council had accepted the investigation’s findings to secure an informal conclusion and avoid a public censure, rather than because it really agreed with them. “We said in a letter that we accept [the findings] and I’m not resiling from that,” he replied.
As of 14 February, the Bar Council has yet to issue a response.