The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given both the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) a clean bill of health in the way they enforce their rules.
An end-to-end review of their enforcement processes has provided “assurance” that the two main legal regulators meet the six expected outcomes laid down by the LSB in its regulatory performance framework.
In essence, the outcomes look to ensure that every legal regulator has an accessible and clear enforcement process which is consistent, independent, risk and evidence based.
Further, it must ensure that it reviews and prioritises all complaints, that processes are both efficient and timely, that decision-making procedures are transparent and that affected parties are kept up-to-date.
The LSB noted that, in achieving these outcomes, both regulators had improved the speed with which they handle complaints. The BSB’s average time to conclude cases reduced by 60% between 2014-15 and 2016-17, while over the last four years, SRA case completion has reduced from an average of 120 to 80 days.
Further, the SRA completes an initial assessment of a complaint in an average of five days, as opposed to 14 days in 2015.
The LSB said: “Both the BSB and the SRA have demonstrated a commitment to improving their practices through recently implemented and planned developments.
“We have been encouraged by this and expect them to ensure that there is a continuous improvement in their enforcement functions as a result.
“Through our ongoing regulatory performance and relationship management work with the BSB and the SRA, we will monitor their progress in implementing and assessing the impact of their planned improvement work.”
Next month, the BSB will introduce the change to the civil standard of proof for all disciplinary proceedings – a decision approved by the LSB last October but delayed to allow time for the Bar to adjust and for relevant training to take place.
The LSB said the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on whether to make a similar move was expected by Easter.
Such was the positive picture painted by these reviews – as well as the LSB’s recent reviews of all the regulators’ performance more broadly – that the LSB’s has ditched its five-year-old strategic priorities in enforcement to focus on three new ones.
The 2014 policy positions covered transparency, the consistent use of the civil standard of proof, fair and effective appeal arrangements, and consistency of powers and sanctions.
They are being replaced by a focus on the timeliness of enforcement processes, the effective and consistent use of interim sanctions, and assurance of the quality of enforcement decisions.
LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said: “Effective enforcement functions are vital to consumer and public confidence in regulated services. We are encouraged that the BSB and SRA are committed to ongoing improvement and we will continue to monitor their progress.
“Over the coming years, we will focus on the timeliness and quality assurance of the regulatory bodies’ enforcement action, as well as their effective use of interim sanctions to protect consumers.
“We will also consider whether there are any developments in regulatory enforcement outside of the legal sector that we can learn from, to inform our future approach and expectations.”