The leaders of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have made it clear that they believe it would be better for the public and the profession if they had complete independence from the Law Society.
The Treasury announced earlier this week that the government would consult next year on “making legal service regulators independent from their representative bodies”.
SRA chair Enid Rowlands said: “It’s not about us not getting on with the Law Society. I believe in the Law Society and I think it is really important that the profession is strongly represented.
“But the Law Society and the regulator have separate purposes. Making us truly independent would bolster public confidence and make things easier for the Law Society to be a representative body.”
Speaking after yesterday’s SRA board meeting, Ms Rowlands said appointments to the SRA board, including the appointment of chair, had to be approved by the society’s ruling council which could, in theory, say it did not want a chair with “certain views”.
She said regulation must be impartial to come to “fair conclusions” on issues such as opening up entry to the profession, and making sure it is as diverse and competitive as possible.
Responding to the Treasury’s plans, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon argued for self-regulation, and said the profession should be free to set its own standards and rules, and to “own” legal education and training.
However Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said the regulator believed “independent regulation would be better”.
He went on: “The current arrangements are a huge improvement on what was there before, but making the legal regulators independent is very important from a public perspective.
“We’re a public interest regulator. It is difficult to see how an organisation that represents the profession can uphold public confidence.”
Mr Philip said that as well as the society’s role in approving SRA appointments, there was currently no legal separation between the society and the SRA.
In a separate development, Mr Philip said the second phase of the regulator’s Handbook review would include the way in which fees were paid by solicitors, particularly the split between practising certificate fees paid by individuals and the turnover-based entity fee.
“We need to review this to make sure it’s the right way to go forward in the future,” he said.
Mr Philip described the current system of charging individuals a flat fee and firms a fee based on an “algorithm” as a “one size fits all” approach.
He warned that a lot of legal work could end up “out of reach” of the firm fee if it was handled by legal process outsourcers.
The fees review features in the SRA’s business plan for November 2015 to October 2016, which was approved at yesterday’s board meeting.