Sir Michael Pitt, the new chairman of the Legal Services Board, has joined calls by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, for a single regulator.
Speaking at his first press conference yesterday, Sir Michael also announced that the LSB would be carrying out a “major review” of the cost of regulation in the coming months.
The review, which could publish its findings by the end of this year, would include the question of whether the Law Society should be entitled by statute to “lump together” the cost of regulatory and representative work in the same practising certificate fee.
Sir Michael made it clear that the LSB would not abandon its attempts to make will-writing a regulated activity. He said there was “compelling evidence” that it should be regulated – an issue he “felt strongly” about.
“I don’t think we should let it drop, but we should continue to push for it,” he said. “There are wider public policy reasons as to why we should return to the topic relatively soon, regardless of the outcome of the election.”
Until Lord Thomas and Lord Neuberger spoke out on the issue in separate speeches last month, the LSB had been the leading advocate of a single regulator, with Sir Michael’s predecessor, David Edmonds, leading the charge.
Sir Michael said the current regulatory framework was “not ultimately sustainable”. An engineer by background, he said there was one Engineering Council for 235,000 engineers from 54 specialisms with a rule book 50 pages long. He said that although engineering was a “highly complex sector”, with engineers working across the world, they had found a “rational and effective” solution.
Sir Michael said the legal profession was different, so the solution would be different, and referred to Lord Neuberger’s speech, in which he suggested that single regulator could be split into different divisions for litigation, advocacy and advisory work.
“I don’t think we should guess now what the outcome should be, but it is something we will work on over the next three years.”
Sir Michael said the LSB would provide input on what a single regulator should look like and how it should be designed.
Asked whether the traditional distinctions between solicitors and barristers would survive, he said: “A blurring of the edges is going on already and the market is likely to drive it further. Solicitor-advocates are doing jobs similar to barristers, and barristers are doing direct access work.
“I think it is OK to have different designations, but as times goes by, these designations will become less discrete.”
In his first public statement since taking office in May, Sir Michael warned that primary legislation would be needed to create a more “clear and consistent” regulatory framework.
He told journalists that the government had “no appetite for it now” and there was likely to be a period of “between three and five years” before any legislation could come forward.
“We will have to make the best of the LSA. It’s a remarkable piece of legislation in terms of getting the sector moving, but there is a lot more to be done.”