The Legal Services Board (LSB) has told the regulators it oversees that now is the time for them to prove they can deliver what is expected of them, warning that it will put their promises “to the test”.
Publishing its draft business plan for 2013/14, the LSB said its focus in the 12 months from April will be on the performance of the regulators.
The challenge – essentially to prove they are fit to regulate without active supervision – could be seen as a riposte to continuing calls from the Bar, Law Society and elsewhere for the LSB to be scaled back or abolished.
In a joint foreword, chairman David Edmonds and chief executive Chris Kenny said the overarching regulatory framework is now in place and the LSB has now set “clear expectations” of the regulators around independence, standards of regulatory performance, quality and diversity.
“Regulators have told us that they now know what they need to do to meet those expectations and to deliver the statutory regulatory objectives: they tell us that they can be trusted to deliver… There is no better time than now to put the regulators’ categorical commitments to the test.”
All the regulators have been asked to submit self-assessments against the four main regulatory standards – an outcomes-driven approach, understanding the risks in their sector, supervising firms and individuals according to risk, and a compliance and enforcement approach that deters and punishes appropriately – along with actions plans for development.
The draft plan said: “In 2013/14 we will monitor regulators’ adherence to their action plans closely and, where appropriate, take action for failure to keep to them without good reason.”
At the same time, the LSB also published its own baseline assessments of the performance of all the regulators except the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board, whose assessments will be released early next year.
The LSB concluded that there was a wide range of competence, both across the different regulators and within each of them individually. They are the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, ILEX Professional Standards, the Intellectual Property Regulation Board, the Costs Lawyer Standards Board and the Faculty Office (for notaries).
It said: “Some regulators demonstrate a clear understanding of the need to adopt an approach to regulation that delivers an outcomes-focused code, clear risk assessment, active supervision against those risks and robust enforcement when that is justified.
“But all the regulators… are at a comparatively early stage in developing and implementing that approach. A sustained drive to implementation is still needed.”
The assessments highlighted some common failings, particularly a “general lack of understanding” of the needs of consumers who use legal services; a lack of consumer engagement; and a failure to seek to identify the different risks in the different segments of the markets in which they regulate.
Mr Edmonds said: “A number of regulators are making significant progress. However, substantial work will be required for each one to achieve their ambitions. And significant improvement in consumer understanding and engagement will be required across the board if regulators are indeed to show that they can meet successfully the challenges that they face.”