The chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB) has strongly criticised the Bar Council for its approach to dealing with the board, characterising its reaction to the Legal Services Act reforms as “walking backwards slowly”.
In an unprecedented public chiding, David Edmonds said he could recall “few examples of where the positive changes we have sought to make have been picked up, welcomed and developed by those mandated to represent the Bar”.
Writing in the Bar Council magazine, he said that more often the LSB seemed to face the “classic response of those defending a vested interest – a desire to argue over every detail, to define very detailed rules, and to assault the legitimacy of the regulator”.
Mr Edmonds added: “Most surprising to me has been seeing the Bar, which is – quite rightly – absolutely determined to safeguard its own independence from the state, so often turning to government to seek to persuade it to constrain the independence of the statutory regulator. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ may be a cliché, but it is particularly apposite in this context.”
Quoting strong criticisms of the LSB contained in the Bar Council’s submission to the Ministry of Justice’s triennial review of the board, Mr Edmonds said he found the language “somewhat depressing to hear [as] the considered response of a professional body to three years of work by its oversight regulator, a body which plays such a key role in the context of its membership and with which it will need to work in the future”.
He said his disappointment was compounded by the increasing evidence of individual barristers and chambers being “ever more keen” to explore the opportunities with which the Act presents them.
Mr Edmonds said that following the clean bill of health received in the review, the LSB will press on with its “ambitious” programme of active oversight and opening up the legal sector. “I have explained this to the incumbent and incoming chairman of the Bar and have suggested that we spend more time in future working out effective ways of working together.”
Despite the Bar Council’s direction of travel, Mr Edmonds said “we will be walking forward briskly”.