The Legal Services Board (LSB) has said it expects the cost of regulating lawyers to be “going down, not up”.
The comment came as it approved a small increase of 1.25% in the practising certificate (PC) fee for barristers – but only after demanding additional information.
“While the increase is small in absolute terms, it is nonetheless contrary to the expectation that the costs of regulation should, at this time, be going down, not up,” Neil Buckley, chief executive of the LSB, said.
In a letter to Dr Vanessa Davies, director general of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), Mr Buckley said the LSB needed to “understand the evidence base and rationale” for a regulator’s proposal to increase PC fees.
He said the Bar Council had explained that its finance committee, which has equal representation from the Bar Council and BSB, had carried out a three-year review of spending for 2016-19.
Mr Buckley said the review had concluded that the PC fee for barristers needed to increase over the next three years, to ensure there were “sufficient financial resources”.
Mr Buckley said the review found that although some of the costs could be met by reserves, it was necessary to build up a surplus.
He welcomed an assurance from the Bar Council/BSB that ultimately there would be “downward pressure” on the PC fee in the medium to long term.
Mr Buckley said it was important that barristers, as well as the LSB, knew how money was apportioned and what happened to any “additional monies” collected.
To improve transparency, he called on Bar Council/BSB to provide “much greater information, in a form that is clear and easy to understand, of income and spending and the general movement of the budget over time.
“While the LSB approves the application for this year on the basis of this additional information and contextual information, we remain of the view that the general trajectory of costs should be down.”
The LSB set out plans earlier this month allowing it to study in more detail spending by approved regulators, such as the Law Society and Bar Council, before it approves their practising fees.