LSB fires warning shot over SRA closing board meetings as it applauds regulators’ performance

Board meetings: SRA decision to be monitored

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given the frontline regulators largely positive reviews of their performance, but warned the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that it will be monitoring the impact of its controversial decision to end public and press access to its board meetings

It also expressed concern at the high staff turnover at the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

All of the legal regulators are working to their own regulatory standards actions plans – which outline how they will meet the LSB’s requirements – and the oversight regulator this week issued progress reports on how each has been performing against them since they were agreed last year.

On access to board meetings, the LSB said: “The SRA has introduced a number of measures related to transparency. As part of its changes, it is no longer holding public board meetings due to lack of attendance, although it does publish agendas, CEO reports and minutes on its website.

“It has also advised us that it intends to publish most board papers in the future.

“Transparency is an important issue for the LSB. We will be monitoring these changes to ensure that members of the public and those that it regulates are able to understand how regulatory decisions are made.”

On staff turnover at the BSB, the LSB noted a “high” rate of 31.7% for the financial year 2015-16, which had topped 40% by the end of the third quarter of the following financial year.

“It is important that the BSB continues to monitor this and considers what measures it could take to manage this,” the LSB said.

More generally, the LSB praised the SRA for “considerable progress” and the BSB for “significant progress” against their plans.

The LSB said the SRA’s Handbook review and the development of its new IT system would be “key” to its effectiveness. It emerged last June that the SRA had been forced to abandon work on a replacement IT system and start all over again.

The LSB said development and implementation of the latest system would be “ongoing over the next two years”.

It praised the SRA for its “wide range” of consumer engagement activities and “research on consumer needs and how consumers use services”.

The BSB was praised for “seeking to embed a consumer focus into the whole organisation” and publishing a consultation on lowering the standard of proof for disciplinary actions from the criminal to the civil standard.

The LSB said CILEx Regulation had made “considerable progress against most areas of its action plan”, particularly on understanding the needs of consumers, risk and transparency.

The regulator was praised for its training and guidance on consumer awareness, taking action on immigration firms with “issues” and improved risk management.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) was also “making progress”, particularly in building up evidence for its review by consultations on authorisation, fees, accounts and CPD.

However, the LSB said the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) had made only “some notable progress against its action plan”.

The oversight regulator, which last month approved an application by the ICAEW enabling it to regulate all the reserved legal activities in tax matters, said the accountancy body had “further work to do” in developing a risk framework and “making some progress on consumer-facing actions”.

The Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB) was described as having made “considerable progress”, developing a client survey and revised guidance on client care letters while removing references to “protecting the status and interests of costs lawyers” from its business plan.

The LSB welcomed “significant progress” at the Intellectual Property Regulation Board, which issued a news bulletin and publishing “accessible key principles” on its website.

Meanwhile, despite “some notable progress” at the Faculty Office, two initiatives were “overdue and have progressed more slowly than expected”.

The LSB said these were preparing a “publicly available document setting out the approach to supervision in a clear and user-friendly manner” and publishing a guide to enforcement for consumers.

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