SRA’s plans for CILEX paralegals “risk to reputation of solicitors”

Jeffery: Not necessary to have non-authorised CILEX members regulated

Plans by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to regulate CILEX paralegals are a risk to the “reputation of the solicitor profession” and unnecessary, the Law Society has argued.

Meanwhile, their current regulator, CILEx Regulation (CRL), has warned that the plans, which depend on the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) switching from CRL to the SRA, did not “adequately address” how the 25% of unauthorised CILEX members not working for SRA law firms would be regulated.

After being approached by CILEX to consider whether it would take over from CRL, the SRA ran a consultation on the basis of regulating only so-called authorised persons, in this case chartered legal executives.

The SRA concluded form this that it remained “open to the idea” but said work was needed on various outstanding issues, including consulting on regulating non-authorised CILEX members, which it issued in March.

Some 47% of CILEX’s 17,500-strong membership are paralegals or students and thus non-authorised persons.

In its response to the consultation, the Law Society said it was not necessary to have unauthorised CILEX members regulated as individuals at all, “given the types of work undertaken, the supervision arrangements and existing regulatory oversight” already in place.

“Meanwhile, the risk to the quality of regulation and reputation of the solicitor profession from the further dilution of the current bespoke regulatory arrangements is very real, despite the SRA’s refusal to acknowledge it.

“With ongoing issues related to Axiom Ince, the SSB Group and the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, this is not the time to expand its regulatory remit.

“The risk of increased consumer confusion is also very likely in our view, negatively impacting the regulatory objective to protect and promote the interests of consumers, which the SRA has a duty to uphold.”

By applying “the same high standards to all CILEX members”, the SRA was “not only blurring the lines between the qualifications and responsibilities of solicitors and authorised legal executives, but between those two legal professions and the mass of non-authorised CILEX members, who range in role from students to paralegals and others”.

The Law Society said the SRA should withdraw the plans to regulate any CILEX members so it could “focus on its core regulatory responsibilities”.

Ian Jeffery, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “The premise of this consultation is the SRA seeking views to enable it to regulate CILEX members should CILEX decide to proceed with redelegation. This removes from scope the question of whether this is something the SRA should be doing…

“It is not necessary to have non-authorised CILEX members regulated, as CILEX can deal with them as a membership issue. There is also no case presented in the consultation as to why individual regulation of non-authorised members is required in the way the SRA is proposing.”

In its response, CRL said the proposals did not “adequately address” how the 25% of unauthorised CILEX members currently not working for SRA law firms would be regulated, without diluting the “coverage and rigour” of existing arrangements.

The SRA argued that of those not working for the law firms it regulated, almost half worked for CILEX law firms, leaving around 1,000 working in other settings.

CRL chair Jonathan Rees said the SRA was proposing to continue raising practising fees from authorised CILEX members to pay for those who were unauthorised.

CILEX bye-laws currently ban charging the cost of regulation to unauthorised members, he said, but “our view for some time is that the costs of regulation should be borne by those who benefit from it”.

Mr Rees also noted that the SRA did not plan to continue with CRL’s existing mechanisms for auditing CPD records on an annual basis.

“We believe this represents a significant dilution of the current regulatory arrangements which ensures the public can have confidence in the ongoing competence of those who are regulated.”

The SRA also gave “no detail” on how it would enable unauthorised practitioners to thrive.

“We continue to take the view that absorbing these practitioners within the SRA, with your myriad of other priorities, would harm the development of an important group of legal professionals to their detriment, consumer detriment and would not be in the public interest.”

Mr Rees repeated “for the record” CRL’s view that CILEX’s proposals to redelegate responsibility to the SRA were unlawful.

“Whilst we welcome the SRA’s decision to consult on these proposals, we remain concerned about the merits of consulting currently, while the fundamental question as to the lawfulness of CILEX’s proposals to redelegate regulation remains unanswered.”

Mr Rees said CRL’s invitation to the Legal Services Board “to seek clarification through the courts” remained open.

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