The Legal Services Board (LSB) has promised the frontline legal regulators “greater autonomy” in its the framework it will use to assess regulators’ progress.
Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the oversight regulator, said the performance framework gave the likes of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board more freedom in providing evidence to show they were meeting the requirements.
The framework contains three main standards, backed by 20 characteristics which are “features of effective regulators”.
The first standard requires regulators to be ‘well-led’ and “with the resources and capability required to work for the public and to meet the regulatory objectives effectively”.
Second, they must have an “effective approach to regulation”, acting “on behalf of the public to apply their knowledge to identify opportunities and address risks to meeting the regulatory objectives”.
Third, their “operational activity” – in terms of education and training, authorisation, supervision and enforcement – must be “effective and clearly focused on the public interest”.
The characteristics range from “having a clear sense of purpose and strategy” and being “independent of the regulated professions” but collaborating effectively with them, to understanding “the needs of consumers”, actively encouraging “innovation and innovators” and improving diversity in the profession.
Regulators should take seriously concerns raised by the public and the profession and “pursue those concerns with appropriate rigour and pace under a transparent process”.
The LSB said frontline regulators would assure performance by providing evidence of how they met the regulatory objectives, as well as the performance standards and characteristics.
It said: “The new framework more explicitly puts the regulatory objectives at the heart of regulatory decision-making while giving the regulators greater autonomy to decide how best to deliver against those objectives, ensuring that they regulate in the public interest.”
In a paper on the outcome of the consultation on the changes, the LSB explained that if regulatory boards were “fully engaged in assessing their performance, then the information provided to them by their respective executives should also be sufficient to provide the LSB with the assurance it needs…
“It will be open to us to seek further information from them if the material they initially provide us with does not give us sufficient assurance.”
The LSB said the new regulatory performance framework, which replaces the existing one introduced in 2019, will take effect from 1 January 2023, and the first assessment under it will take place next summer.
Dr Phillips added: “The new framework sets out our expectations more clearly than ever before while giving regulators greater freedom to decide how to provide assurance that they are meeting the standards.”
Responding to a consultation on the framework earlier this year, the Bar Council and Law Society both criticised what they saw as a move away from an oversight to an assurance role.
The Bar Council said the LSB was “taking a quasi-governance role over the frontline regulators, essentially placing it in the role of a non-executive board, rather than its proper role as exercising oversight, at a distance”.
Commenting on the revised version of the new framework, Law Society president Lubna Shuja said the Solicitors Regulation Authority must be accountable for its performance.
“We are concerned that the new performance framework reflects an emphasis on self-reporting and that the LSB appears to be taking a minimalist approach to regulatory performance monitoring.”