The Legal Services Board (LSB) has emphatically rejected calls to join the protests against legal aid cuts, and suggested instead that the profession needs to work harder to provide access to legal services.
The LSB said the question of its role in the debate over public funding was the “common theme” in the consultation on its 2015/16 business plan and 2015-18 strategic plan, issued in December.
But publishing its response to that consultation, the super-regulator said that as a non-departmental public body, it is obliged to be politically impartial.
While it had to take into account the consequences of legal aid funding changes on the legal services market, “for the avoidance of doubt, LSB will not deviate from its politically impartial stance that the size and distribution of the legal aid funding pot is a matter for government”.
The response continued: “What is important is that LSB continues to address the challenges of a market which, since 2009, has seen an 11% growth in the number of professionals, and a 12% rise in real turnover, and yet which remains unable to meet fully the needs of individual citizens and small businesses, in terms of affordability and diversity of services provided.”
Where it did need to consider the impact of legal aid cuts, the LSB said, was in relation to providers largely dependent on legal aid and consumers who were no longer eligible for it. “Given this context, the three themes of our strategy 2015-18 are even more important in helping to promote access to justice.”
These three themes are: breaking down regulatory barriers to competition, growth and innovation; enabling need for legal services to be met more effectively, and ensuring that the regulators and the Legal Ombudsman are operating effectively and that there is a shared understanding of the legal services market.
The LSB added: “We will continue to press regulators to ensure that they understand their respective regulated communities’ ability to meet demand and any restrictions that either regulatory barriers or costs are imposing unnecessarily on providers’ ability to adapt and change.
“The Bar’s enthusiastic embracing of direct access is an excellent example of how adjustments in regulation and provider innovation can deliver wider access to services and we will continue to encourage open dialogue between those with ideas for new solutions and those who act as gatekeepers to the market.”
The main changes made as a result of the consultation were in relation to the areas where the LSB intends to undertake reviews over the next year. It has dropped six, most notably a thematic review of education and training, which was criticised for coming so soon after the Legal Education and Training Review.
A review of barriers to firms moving between regulators is also among those to be shelved.
The LSB will, however, press ahead with reviews of restrictions on the choice of professional indemnity insurance in some branches of the profession, how the frontline regulators deal with the under-spend of practising certificate fees, and the effectiveness of the complaints-handling requirements placed on lawyers.