The Legal Services Board (LSB) may look for ways in which it can increase the independence of the frontline regulators from representative bodies if the proposed government consultation on full independence does not materialise, it emerged last night.
It is now nearly a year since the government said it would consult on regulator independence, but although we reported last month that it was still on the agenda, it remains unknown when it might happen.
At an event organised by University College London and the LSB to discuss the latter’s recently published vision for the future of legal services regulation, LSB chairman Sir Michael Pitt suggested that its reform agenda did not have to be done “in one big bang”.
Indeed, he indicated that it might be better to be done step by step: “If we try to get all of this through Parliament in one go, it will get chewed to pieces and we’ll probably end up with something that we didn’t wish for.”
Regulator independence would on its own “be a tremendous step in the right direction”, Sir Michael said, and if the government consultation does not happen, “we’re even thinking about what we can do about stimulating a more independent arrangement even under the existing legal framework”.
He told the audience: “I can tell you that there is a huge amount of friction between the approved regulators [such as the Law Society and Bar Council] and the frontline regulators. So much so that when I meet them individually, which I do on a very regular basis, it is sometimes very difficult to move off that subject on the agenda about how much the other party is causing problems for them.
“And frankly that is a huge amount of wasted energy and time… There is something dysfunctional about the structure if it’s causing that much wasted time.”
Speaking afterwards to Legal Futures, Sir Michael stressed that the LSB had not begun working on this as the government’s approach was the best solution.
However, he said areas the LSB could look at included much greater transparency on how practising fees are separated between the regulators and their representative bodies – improvements at the Law Society were “better but are still a long way from being clear”, he observed – and ensuring complete independence in the appointment of members to the regulatory bodies’ boards.