The Legal Services Board (LSB) has reacted angrily to a draft report from the International Bar Association (IBA) which said the oversight regulator was subject to “a degree of government control”.
The IBA’s presidential task force on the independence of the legal profession, published last week, drew this conclusion on the basis that “the LSB is funded by the Ministry of Justice, and all its members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor”.
In a letter to IBA president David W Rivkin, LSB chief executive Neil Buckley pointed out that the LSB was actually funded by a levy on the approved regulators of the profession.
Further, “it is a well-accepted principle that while members of the LSB may be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, the appointments process for the members of the LSB takes place under rigorous independent scrutiny, includes judicial representation and is also subject to consultation with the Lord Chief Justice.
“Moreover, the members of the LSB, once appointed, take their decisions without fear or favour from government. That is what the LSB does and it is very regrettable that you should suggest otherwise.”
Mr Buckley said the inference that members and staff of the LSB made decisions which were subject to government control was “entirely misconceived” – not least because LSB members must perform their duties to meet the statutory duties laid out in the Legal Services Act 2007, which include protecting the public interest, supporting the rule of law, and encouraging an independent legal profession.
He continued: “I hope you will also appreciate that this statement could be interpreted as impugning the integrity of the members of the LSB, all of whom take their duty to act in the public interest and to uphold the independence of the legal profession very seriously.
“No decision made by the LSB and its executive has ever been at the ‘control’, behest of or subject to any improper influence whatsoever by the government. Since the statement in your report is false, it should be removed from the final report.”
The IBA report said that while external involvement in regulation did not in itself harm the ability of lawyers to carry out their professional duties, “where there is some executive control over the regulatory process, the risk of infringements on lawyers’ professional independence is greater”.
It also identified as concerns in the UK threats to legal professional privilege, the existence of unregulated legal services providers and attacks by the government and media on lawyers who act for alleged victims of abuse at the hands of the British military.
Speaking after publication of the IBA report, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “It is notable that in a recent LSB report outlining its vision of regulation, this government body failed to recognise the importance of an independent legal profession, which if lost would undermine the very fabric of our society and our ability to maintain the rule of law.”