SRA pledges to speak out on access to justice problems

Bradley: Regulators need to be on the front foot

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has pledged to add its “unique voice” to the wider policy debate on access to justice issues as it looks to become more assertive.

The regulator said it would also speak out more when developments show up the limitations of the current Legal Services Act framework.

The SRA issued a consultation on its proposed corporate strategy to run from 2020 to 2023, which is supplemented by annual business plans on how it will actually implement the three high-level objectives it lays out:

These are:

  • “We will set and maintain high professional standards for solicitors and law firms as the public would expect and ensure we provide an equally high level of operational service;
  • We will actively support the adoption of legal technology and other innovation that helps to meet the needs of the public, business community, regulated entities and the economy; and
  • We will continually build our understanding of emerging opportunities and challenges for the legal sector and our role in effectively regulating it.”

The SRA recognised the “particularly significant issues with access to justice”, with many people unable to access the services they need to exercise their rights.

It continued: “For this reason, improving access to justice will be an area of special focus across all three of our new corporate objectives.

“Our recent reform programme was designed to create a regulatory environment that helps to improve access, and our Legal Access Challenge is focused on using technology to help people get the services they need.

“Under the first two of our new objectives we will continue this work. However, there are many other factors more significant than our regulation, that impact on the ability of people from every community to access services.

“We have therefore decided that, we should use the evidence, information and insight we gain as a regulator to add our unique voice to the wider policy debate on access to justice issues as part of our third new objective.”

The SRA said it has chosen to “embrace and shape” the changes and challenges that technology would bring.

“We think that this can help to increase access to justice, to integrate the ethical standards we expect into new ways of delivering services and to ensure proper public protections.”

This would help it to “call out emerging boundary issues”. The consultation explained: “The boundaries between professions, between sectors and between jurisdictions continue to blur and as a result the way services are delivered, who delivers them and how they are bought are all changing.

“This presents potential gaps and overlaps in protections. The rate of change makes it increasingly difficult for the regulatory framework laid down by the Legal Services Act to remain relevant.”

This might lead to the SRA working with other regulators to “deliver appropriate consumer protection between us, through co-operation and collaboration”.

But it warned that this would still not be fully effective if the regulatory framework remained static.

“We have therefore decided that we should also do more to identify the current framework’s limitations and speaking out where change is needed.”

SRA chair Anna Bradley said: “Technology has the potential to help address the problem that far too many people struggle to get the legal help they need. We want to help unlock those opportunities for the users of legal services and for the profession.”

“And in this fast-changing world, we know regulators need to be on the front foot. Our new strategy sets out our commitment to looking ahead and finding new ways of working with other organisations to best serve the public.”

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