Legal Services Board to dig deep into Law Society’s relationship with SRA in independence probe

Buckley: business and oversight board to be examined

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is to review the conduct of the Law Society since autumn 2014 to determine whether Chancery Lane interfered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s independence, it has emerged.

In setting out such a wide scope for the investigation it announced last month, the LSB has indicated that it intends to dig deep into the internal workings of the Law Society.

A finding that there was interference would strengthen the calls to separate completely all legal regulators connected to representative bodies.

The LSB said it was opening the investigation into the society’s internal governance arrangements following representations made by the SRA, which has been agitating hard for structural independence on top of the operational independence it is meant to have now.

In a letter to both bodies last week, LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said the aim was to investigate whether the Law Society’s oversight and monitoring of the SRA was “such that representative functions impaired the independence and effectiveness of the performance of the SRA’s regulatory functions, in breach of rule 8 of the LSB’s internal governance rules”.

In particular, the LSB is to review the intended role and subsequent operation of the business and oversight board (BOB), which was the main oversight link between the two bodies, and as well that of the Law Society’s ruling council, its remuneration committee and its audit committee in so far as they exercised oversight and monitoring.

Mr Buckley said the investigation would focus on the period from autumn 2014, “when [the Law Society] and SRA indicated to the LSB their intention to review the rule of BOB, up to 15 February 2017”.

He added: “Please note we do not intend to consider any activity currently being undertaken by [the Law Society] and the SRA to remedy any potential areas for improvement within the current oversight and monitoring structures, or propose solutions.”

The LSB said it would not make any further public comment until the investigation has concluded, and asked the Law Society and SRA to do the same.

This is only the second such investigation of its kind launched by the LSB. The first, in 2013, led to the Bar Council accepting that it breached the independence of the Bar Standards Board by interfering in controversial changes to the cab-rank rule.

However, the LSB agreed to an informal resolution involving undertakings, having considered censuring the Bar Council, despite what Legal Futures understood was strong support among staff to take more formal action.

It is not known how long the current investigation will last, but the Bar Council probe took around six months.

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