Ministers ask LSB to set out strategy on AI use in legal sector

Chalk: Joint letter with science minister

Ministers have asked the Legal Services Board (LSB) to outline how it plans to approach the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI) in the sector by the end of April.

This could see it access new government money to support its work and even seek further powers.

A joint letter from Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk and Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said they wanted to be sure the LSB was “taking the risks and opportunities of AI… seriously”.

Identical letters have gone to 12 other major regulators in light of the last March’s AI regulation white paper. This week, the government published its response to the supporting consultation which went out with it.

The white paper proposed five cross-sectoral principles for regulators to “interpret and apply within their remits in order to drive safe, responsible AI innovation”.

These are: safety, security and robustness; appropriate transparency and explainability; fairness; accountability and governance; and contestability and redress.

The proposed framework is non-statutory for the time being, although the government acknowledged that it may become necessary to introduce a statutory duty for regulators to have due regard to the principles in the future.

Alongside this, the government has begun work to create a central function to monitor and assess risks across the whole economy and support “regulator coordination and clarity”.

Yesterday’s letter to the LSB said a key area of feedback from the consultation was the need to ensure that regulators were “taking the risks and opportunities of AI within their remits seriously”.

It went on: “Stakeholders wanted more detail on how the principles-based framework would be interpreted and applied by regulators to ensure that industry could prepare, government could coordinate, and civil society could scrutinise for gaps effectively.”

Along with the other regulators, the LSB has now been asked to publish an update by 30 April “outlining their strategic approach to AI and the steps they are taking in line with the expectations in the white paper”.

The letter said: “The Legal Services Board is one of the regulators from whom we would particularly value an update, given the significant potential impact of AI upon the legal sector…

“We are determined to unlock the full benefits of AI by establishing a regulatory approach which drives safe, responsible innovation. This will require a sustained effort from both the UK government and the independent regulators at the front line of implementing the framework.”

The LSB is encouraged to include in its update an analysis of AI-related risks in the legal sector and the actions it is taking to address these, and an explanation of its current capability to address AI as compared with what is needed.

The government this week announced a £10m fund to help regulators develop the capabilities and tools they need, and committed to ensuring that regulators have the powers and remits they require as well. All government departments now have lead AI ministers.

In a statement, the LSB said: “The LSB has engaged closely with the government as it has developed its approach to AI regulation and will publish an update our strategic regulatory approach to AI in the legal sector in due course.

“As set out in our sector-wide strategy in 2021, we see great potential for technology and innovation to help reduce unmet legal need and recently consulted on statutory guidance to legal services regulators to promote the use of technology and innovation in the public interest.”

The other regulators that received letters are Ofcom, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Ofsted, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, Ofqual, the Health and Safety Executive, the Bank of England, and Ofgem.

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