The chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has responded to strongly worded criticisms this week from the Legal Services Board (LSB) by the describing its report as “the best ever” received from the oversight regulator.
However, Mr Philip told Legal Futures that there were parts of the LSB’s report and performance review where the SRA had a “different opinion”, but this was the nature of the process.
“I think the SRA is in the best operational state it has ever been in its life. This is the best report we have ever had from the LSB.”
The LSB said there were concerns about the quality and timing of the SRA’s consultation papers and warned that the overhaul of the Handbook “may be too much” for firms and the regulator to cope with.
Mr Philip responded that the Handbook review, which would be launched “shortly”, had been discussed with the LSB “for about a year”.
He said: “The Handbook is too bureaucratic and needs to reflect a principles-based approach. It’s a big change and we will take time over it.”
On the LSB’s criticism of enforcement by SRA, including weaknesses in case preparation, Mr Philip said the regulator’s legal arrangements were being reviewed and he was confident they would improve.
On IT, where the LSB said an “effective solution” was still lacking, Mr Philip said: “There are plans in place to resolve his. We need better IT – there’s no doubt about that.” He said that, having appointed external consultants, the SRA was now in a “much better place” than the situation described in the report.
“It’s always useful for regulators to account to the LSB,” he added. “The dialogue is more important than the document, and we’re talking to them about where we go from here.”
Elsewhere in the report, the LSB called on CILEx Regulation, the regulatory body for chartered legal executives, to “start thinking about how it can supervise individual practitioners in an evidence-based and proactive manner”.
Helen Whiteman, chief executive of CLR, said the LSB had recognised the “good progress” the regulator had made. “However, as the review points out, there is still further work to be done in particular in relation to the supervision of individual practitioners,” Ms Whiteman said.
“To this end we will be looking to develop our regulation practices to include verification of practice specialism.”
Ms Whiteman said the regulator was developing an action plan, in consultation with the LSB, “which will address the recommendations outlined in the review.”
The LSB kept some of its harshest words for the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB), disagreeing with the regulator’s belief that it had a “proactive, proportionate, risk and evidence-based approach to supervision” and that its approach to compliance was “sufficient to supervise the profession”.
In response, a spokesman for the CLSB said: “The CLSB board will be considering the outcome of the LSB assessment and will work with them on agreeing an action plan in due course”.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) fared better than the SRA in its performance review, earning two “satisfactory” grades – the second highest of the five grades under the LSB’s system – compared to the SRA’s one.
Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar Council said there was “clear evidence” of progress having being made at the BSB. However she hit back at the LSB’s arguments, outlined in a section of its thematic report, that the regulators should be completely independent of their representative bodies.
The Ministry of Justice is expected to publish a consultation paper after the European referendum.
Ms Doerries said: “From the Bar Council’s perspective, there is no evidence in the LSB’s report to suggest that the current arrangements for regulating the Bar are insufficiently independent of the Bar Council’s representative functions or that those functions have resulted in delaying reform, or hampering the transparency of the cost of regulation or that they have risked confusion in government about the respective roles of the Bar Standards Board and the Bar Council in its representative capacity.
“While it is important not to be complacent, the LSB’s findings reflect our experience that the current regulatory framework is working satisfactorily.”