Dr Vanessa Davies, director of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), has made it clear that the regulator will push for more independence in the future.
Looking beyond the next 18 months to a point where there was “political will” to revise the Legal Services Act, Dr Davies called for a clearer separation of representative and regulatory functions between the Bar Council and the BSB.
“Both ‘sides’ would in my view be stronger and more effective in their respective important and proper roles without the paternalistic architecture of the approved regulator concept in the current Act,” she said.
“It was a compromise for its time, and actually served well, in that our approved regulator did agree to the complete (ish) separation of the regulator without too much fuss. But we need to move to a next phase of maturity in this relationship.”
Speaking at last week’s Wesminister Legal Policy Forum Dr Davies said there should be a continuing “robust and independent” set of mechanisms for consumer redress, with “fewer cracks for consumers to fall between than is currently the case”.
Dr Davies said there should be continued “permissive approaches to the structures” for delivery of legal services, combined with “some statutory hierarchisation” of regulatory objectives in the Act.
“Wherever our policy and operational priorities settle, I would like to see us going beyond regulatory ideology, which has served us lamentably in respect of financial services and also possibly health services and test whether we have sufficiently good and legitimate regulation not by reference to the relative prescription of, for example, the Legal Services Board’s regulatory standards framework – useful though that has generally been for the BSB as a driver for our modernisation agenda.”
Instead, Dr Davies put forward new criteria for judging whether regulation was good or legitimate, based on the work of professors Baldwin, Cave and Lodge at the London School of Economics.
These, she suggested were leglislative mandate, accountability, due process, expertise and efficiency. Dr Davies said efficiency meant a regulatory process that did not “predispose towards duplication or less than lean use of resources”.
She added that “more and better” public legal education was needed, because of diversification in legal services and the reduced amounts of publicly funded advice and representation.
Professor Stephen Mayson told the same conference that the Legal Services was moving closer to “the regulatory equivalent of the knacker’s yard”.