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Legal regulators eye piloting new price and service transparency requirements

Davies: BSB director-general at group’s first meeting

Plans to force lawyers to be more transparent about their fees and complaints records could first be piloted across areas of work that have different regulators, it has emerged in the first sign of formal activity following December’s report [1] by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) could also widen its plan for an online register [2] of solicitors’ regulatory data to encompass all regulated lawyers.

Minutes of the first meeting of the ‘remedies programme implementation group’ (RPIG) – set up to oversee the changes sought by the CMA – have just been published, some seven weeks after it took place.

The meeting was chaired by CMA acting executive director Rachel Merelie – although in future the Council for Licensed Conveyancers will have the chair – and included chief executives or very senior figures from all the regulators, including SRA policy director Crispin Passmore and Bar Standards Board director-general Dr Vanessa Davies.

The CMA’s report called on regulators to set a new minimum standard for disclosure on price and the service provided. The minutes recorded that each regulator’s approach to this – in terms of how much to include in rule books and how much in practice notes – might vary.

“However, the members recognised the need for a degree of consistency in setting minimum disclosure requirements, particularly for services the providers of which could be regulated by different regulators. “It was noted as a possibility that the piloting of transparency requirements across a number of high-volume service lines (the providers of which could be regulated by different regulators) could be used to facilitate implementation of the CMA’s recommendations in other service areas.”

The regulators also agreed to engage with their respective representative bodies to discuss how they could support the process of implementing the CMA’s recommendations.

The CMA report also said the regulators needed to open up access to regulatory data, a project the SRA had already begun.

It told the other regulators that its online register “could serve as a common platform available for use by the other regulators for the purpose of implementing the CMA recommendation” – although delivery of the register could take around two years.

However, no decision was taken since the other regulators needed first to seek approval from their boards.

An SRA spokesman said: “’ We will be discussing the CMA report and recommendations with our board in due course, ahead of reporting back to RPIG . We are also considering responses to our recent discussion paper on regulatory data and consumer choices. Our priority is to ensure that the public can access meaningful information about legal services and providers.”

The CMA set the regulators a 30 June deadline to publish action plans on how they would implement the recommendations, and the minutes said they agreed that this was feasible.