Temperature rises as Law Society and SRA row over regulator’s independence

Law Society: disappointed by SRA

Law Society: disappointed by SRA

An extraordinary war of words between the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) stepped up yesterday after the regulator was accused of “seemingly seeking to undermine” Chancery Lane.

Wading back into the debate over whether the regulator should be completely independent, a Law Society spokesman said comments by the SRA’s leadership this week were “perhaps… an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession”.

The row broke out in the wake of this week’s Legal Futures’ interview with Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon, in which she made the case against the SRA having the complete independence that upcoming government reforms are likely to effect, and urged the profession’s role in setting standards.

The SRA hit back, suggesting that independence was in the public interest and that the £35m from practising fees that currently go to the society could be returned to solicitors if it happened.

Responding to that, a Law Society spokesman said: “Individuals and businesses seek and depend on excellent legal advice at critical times. It is essential that consumers and businesses are protected by basic rules to ensure their money is safe, regardless of who is providing the advice. This is the role of effective regulation.

“The solicitor profession recognises the need for a professional body to represent, promote and support the profession. The Law Society undertakes that vital role and additionally has a public interest role to support access to justice, individual rights and freedoms, and uphold the rule of law. This role is considered to be so important that it is enshrined in legislation.

“The cost of the Law Society is significantly lower than that of the professions’ lay regulator, the SRA. We do not agree with the saving figure reported by the SRA. If we really want to cut the costs of regulation to the solicitor profession and reduce the practice certificate fee, it should be the profession that owns and set its own standards.

“This will enable a legal service regulator to properly and efficiently regulate the legal services market. This will reduce the regulatory burden on solicitors whilst ensuring that the public is protected when employing unregulated providers, which make up an increasingly large percentage of the legal service market.

“Solicitors are having to compete with unregulated providers and as a result the public interest is not protected and the legal service market is unfair.

“We are disappointed that the SRA is seemingly seeking to undermine the solicitors’ professional body and devalue its work. Perhaps this is an indication of the lack of value our regulator places on our profession and why it is so keen to remove any involvement of the solicitor profession in the setting of standards, entry levels, and the awarding of the professional title of solicitor from the profession.”

    Readers Comments

  • David Severn says:

    What I find odd is the regulatory structure set up under the Legal Services Act. I said to Chris Kenny when he was at the LSB that the structure seemed to be a throw back to the arrangements for financial services of the 1980s. Under the Financial Services Act 1986 the Treasury delegated powers to the Securities and Investments Board (read LSB) which in turn recognised various Self Regulating Organisations (SROs) which were the front-line regulators for particular sectors of financial services (just as the SRA is for solicitors). The SROs had significant practitioner involvement. A new government swept away the old structure (among other reasons because it was not seen as sufficiently independent) and replaced it with a statutory regulator – first the FSA and now the FCA/PRA. Interestingly the FCA has re-introduced a small elememt of self regulation through accredited bodies which oversee the professional standing of individuals. The move to strengthen the SRA’s independence seems to me no more than the legal profession catching up with what happened in financial services years ago

  • Peter Pettigrew says:

    The Law Society is nothing more than gift shop funded by solicitors rich and poor.

    The moneying up of the products it offers is a far cry from spending time ensuring that trainees are paid a fair wage or legal aid is protected. It is a toothless old miser, keen on lining it’s pockets.

    Nobody likes regulation, but it is a necessary evil. The Law Society can at least claim it isn’t evil.

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