The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) have been given a clean bill of health by the Legal Services Board (LSB) in its latest assessment of regulators’ performance.
While all the regulators were generally performing well in terms of authorisation, supervision and enforcement, the LSB said “the picture is more mixed for the regulatory approach and well-led outcomes”.
The oversight regulator’s performance framework measures each regulatory body against five standards and 27 underpinning outcomes.
The LSB said the SRA had met the two outstanding outcomes highlighted in last year’s assessment. The first was monitoring of the regulated community to ensure that standards were met and, if not, that steps were taken to remedy this.
The SRA met this by “deciding on and providing a detailed plan for the implementation of changes to its advocacy standards and regulations”.
The second was on transparency of decision-making, regulatory approach, the risks its regulated community faced and how these were being mitigated, performance and costs.
The regulator had now achieved this by “providing more transparency about its decision-making processes via the publication of a range of policy documents and by publishing more board papers with fewer redactions” and by “providing further information about how its board monitors the SRA’s performance”.
This is despite the fact that the SRA no longer allows press or public access to its board meetings and has back-slid on commitments to brief journalists after the meetings.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said: “We welcome the LSB’s assessment that we have met all their performance standards in a year that has been challenging for everyone.”
The CLC was also failing to meet the transparency outcome on decision-making and performance, but the LSB said this had been addressed by publication of data about its regulatory activities, complaints handling and compensation fund claims.
Stephen Ward, director of strategy at the CLC, said it was “satisfying to have met all of the LSB’s performance outcomes in this year’s assessment” and the focus for the next year would be “to maintain our level of compliance and to continue to innovate, for example by extending the information available to help consumers choose their lawyer.”
There was further good news in that all the legal regulators met the LSB’s new outcome, introduced in July this year, on regulatory independence, which applies not just to regulatory bodies like the SRA, but ‘approved regulators’ like the Law Society and Bar Council which have overall responsibility under the Legal Services Act 2007 for regulating their parts of the profession.
The LSB said: “All the bodies currently meet the standard required. This means they have demonstrated that there is separation between regulatory and representative functions.”
The LSB said that while regulatory bodies were generally performing well against the authorisation, supervision and enforcement standards, there was a lower level of achievement in meeting the standard required for outcomes under the regulatory approach and well-led standards.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) achieved one outcome by bringing the process for authorising barristers to practise under its control.
However, the BSB, along with the Faculty Office, which regulates notaries, are the subject of LSB targeted reviews which will not finish until early next year because of their failure to provide “sufficient assurance” on the LSB’s “well led” governance standard.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales continued to fail to meet the “well led” standard, partly because it “still has no plans to publish papers or minutes of its board meetings”.
Meanwhile, IPReg, which regulates patent and trade mark attorneys, was criticised for failing to collect diversity data “for several years” or to conduct consumer or other thematic research for the past two years.
The Costs Lawyer Standards Board has met five of its nine outstanding outcomes by, among other things, changing its CPD and disciplinary rules, introducing interim suspension orders and publishing board papers.
Matthew Hill, chief executive of the LSB, said: “Independent regulation protects the public and benefits the profession, and we have seen some welcome improvement across the regulatory bodies, particularly in their enforcement of standards and increased independence. However, there continue to be areas where improvement is needed.”