The government needs to provide further clarity and guidance on how the ban on referral fees will operate in practice, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has warned.
The call came following a roundtable event in London yesterday organised by the SRA in which representatives from government, regulators, claims management companies, insurers and law firms debated how the ban could best be implemented.
The ban – which only affects personal injury work – is in part two of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, implementation of which the government announced this week would be delayed by six months to April 2013. The bill requires regulators such as the SRA to enforce the ban.
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said regulators and other interested parties must work together to ensure the ban will operate consistently and effectively in the public interest.
Mr Townsend told participants: “There are clear challenges associated with carrying out the government’s proposal on referral fees. We are not here to debate the rights and wrongs of the ban. Our
aim today, and in the future, is to work towards adopting a workable and consistent approach to implementing it.”
Key issues highlighted in feedback, following group discussions, included the need for further clarity and guidance on how the ban will operate in practice – including the definition of referral fees and enforcement policy – timescales for introduction and further analysis of the potential impact the ban may have on the market.
Deborah Evans, chief executive of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, told the event: “Care must be taken to ensure that working arrangements under a ban are practical and do not put the consumer at risk through overly speedy implementation. Firms need clarity on what they can and can’t do and sufficient time to change their business arrangements.”
The SRA said it will brief the Ministry of Justice on the issues raised at the forum, and publish a discussion paper in the spring, once the bill receives final parliamentary approval.
Other organisations represented at the event were: Ministry of Justice, HM Treasury, Office of Fair Trading, Legal Services Board, Financial Services Authority, Bar Standards Board, Law Society, Association of British Insurers, Claims Standards Council, Motor Accident Solicitors Society, Association of Regulated Claims Management Companies, National Accident Helpline, Accident Advice Helpline, AXA Insurance, Amelans/InjuryLawyers4U, Spencers Solicitors and Minster Law Solicitors.