Legislation to modernise lasting powers of attorney (LPAs), including allowing chartered legal executives to certify copies, sailed through its latest stage in Parliament this week.
The Powers of Attorney Bill is a private member’s bill promoted by Conservative MP Stephen Metcalfe that has the support of the government.
It will allow LPAs to be made and registered electronically, while also facilitating a new paper process.
New safeguards include the introduction of identity verification – the Office of the Public Guardian will be able to conduct identity checks on individuals involved in making, or who are named in, the LPA as a condition of its registration – changes to the objection process, and restricting who can apply to register the LPA to just the donor.
The bill also facilitates a future system in which the LPA will be registered as an electronic document, which will be used as evidence of registration, while still allowing physical proof for those who need it.
A further provision amends section 3 of the Powers of Attorney Act 1971 to enable chartered legal executives to certify a copy of a power of attorney.
Speaking at the bill’s committee stage, Mr Metcalfe explained: “The process to certify a copy of a power of attorney does not require specialist legal skills, yet, under the existing legislation, chartered legal executives – lawyers who provide mainstream legal services – are not included among those who are able to do that.
“That does not make any sense and is not in line with the evolution in the legal services sector that has allowed chartered legal executives to carry out many of the same functions as solicitors.
“Indeed, during the pandemic, the Land Registry used its discretionary powers to accept copies of lasting powers of attorney certified by chartered legal executives.”
Removing this barrier would “increase the channels through which consumers can certify a copy of a power of attorney, and promote consumer choice and generate competition in the legal services market”, the MP said.
Justice minister Mike Freer said “modernisation is no longer just an option, but an absolute necessity”.
He said: “It will help the Public Guardian to respond to changing societal needs and ultimately make the process for making and registering LPAs safer, simpler and more accessible. No doubt the introduction of a digital channel and an improved paper route will help to make an LPA more accessible for more people.
The change in relation to chartered legal executives “will remedy an anomaly in the process that allows Chartered Institute of Legal Executives lawyers to participate in the creation of a power of attorney, but then renders them unable to certify as genuine a copy of the same document”.
Mr Freer went on: “Along with modernising the LPA, that will help to make sharing and using all LPAs, whether old or modernised, easier in the future.”
Meanwhile, the first practice rights assessments for chartered legal executives delivered through the University of Law saw the 23 candidates achieve a pass rate of 96%.
ULaw is the nominated training and assessment provider for CILEx Regulation’s alternative route to practice rights; all chartered legal executives with at least five years’ qualifying employment in the legal sector can choose this new route, which includes 12 or 24 weeks of training, to obtain additional practice rights.
The first assessments, in either civil litigation or conveyancing, were made up of both knowledge and skills components.
Danielle Rowles, practitioner & authorisation team manager at CILEx Regulation, said: “The results demonstrate the viability of the alternative route and offer encouragement to other eligible chartered legal executives looking to make an application for independent practice rights.”
The other routes for existing chartered legal executives to gain independent practice rights are through a portfolio or just doing the assessment without the training, but two of the years of work experience must be in their specialist area.
Historically, chartered legal executives have had to undertake a further qualification to obtain independent practice rights but under the CILEX Professional Qualification, the new route to qualifying introduced in 2021, students will qualify with practice rights.