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Legal regulators should work “much more closely together”, Conservative MP says

Julie Brannan [1]

Brannan: “we’re all going in the same direction”

An influential Conservative MP has said he is “very keen” to see how the legal regulators could work “much more closely together”.

Alberto Costa, a solicitor and member of the justice select committee, said that, “in the words of Michael Gove”, there was “a fear that the regulators are simply tripping over themselves”.

Speaking at a Westminster legal policy forum on education and training yesterday, Mr Costa said a consumer “really doesn’t know the difference” between someone regulated by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) or someone who trained as a barrister. “What they want is high quality advice from a lawyer”.

Mr Costa said that, as a former Government Legal Service lawyer, he had witnessed the similarities between solicitors and barristers.

Referring to a meeting of the justice select committee in July [2] attended by the justice secretary, he said: “That’s why I put the question to Michael Gove if there was going to a Legal Services Act review and he confirmed that there will be.

“I’m very keen at looking at where the different regulators can work much more closely together.”

Mr Costa was responding to a comment from Brett Welch, training principal for barristers at the Government Legal Department, which won a round of applause from delegates.

“All the legal regulators are doing their thing,” Mr Welch said. “They’re all looking at very similar questions. They’re all doing it separately at slightly different times, and there are slight different places they are likely to get to.

“All parts of the legal profession are struggling with the same issues. If you look at employed lawyers, the differences between a barrister and a solicitor are marginal if anything in terms of what they actually do.

“You all need to be talking to each other. It’s a disappointment to me that your consultations came out at different times when you’re asking the same questions.”

Dr Simon Thornton-Wood, director of education and training at the Bar Standards Board, responded: “The regulators have slightly different timetables and different approaches to answering the same questions, but make no mistake there is communication.

“We’re very conscious as regulators that we’re working with communities where, unless you carry people with you and are speaking their language, then your ability to regulate is compromised. I think it’s only right that with our different constituencies we engage them in a way that works for them.”

Dr Thornton-Wood said it was right that people saw “a bit of the debate that goes on” between regulators and if there was “a single regulator, a single voice, you might not see some of the richness and complexity” of the questions involved.

David Gilbertson, board member of CILEx Regulation, said: “It shouldn’t be assumed that the three core regulators don’t talk to each other. We do talk regularly and develop strands of policy, as far as we can, on a fairly regular basis.”

Mr Gilbertson said that although the public “really don’t care” about who regulated their lawyers, “if there is effective regulation which can be demonstrated by enduring standards, that’s a win, win for everybody”.

Julie Brannan, direction of education and training at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said: “We are talking to each other. I think you can see that, in broad terms, we’re all going in the same direction and focussing far more on outcomes.

“We all want to see greater flexibility in terms of pathways and training.”