The Solicitors Regulation Authority has strenuously denied it was responsible for the slippage of the timetable for licensing alternative business structures (ABSs).
On Tuesday, Professor Stephen Mayson accused regulators of failing the market with the postponement of the 6 October start date to an unspecified day in early 2012.
However, he was careful not to attribute blame between the SRA, Legal Services Board and Ministry of Justice.
Opening the public session of the SRA’s monthly board meeting yesterday, chief executive Antony Townsend said it was “simply untrue” to suggest the SRA was responsible. “We have delivered all our parts of the ABS proposal to schedule and we are being held up by the parliamentary process.”
A source close to the SRA board said the authority had been “deeply upset” by Professor Mayson’s comments. Speaking at the same conference, Mr Townsend apologised for the delay and said he understood the planning problems it had caused.
In a statement issued following the board meeting, SRA chairman Charles Plant said:
“It is important to set the record straight. The suggestion that the delay in the introduction of SRA-licensed ABS is attributable to the SRA is simply wrong.
“On the two issues which have been cited as a cause for the delay – the mechanism for appeals against SRA decisions, and the provision to exempt owners and managers from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act – the SRA’s position has been established and public for a long period, and has not changed. We delivered our proposals for ABS licensing to schedule.
“We share the frustration of potential ABS applicants about the delay in implementation, and are working with the Legal Services Board and Ministry of Justice to get early clarity about the parliamentary timetable – a matter which we do not control.”
In other business at the meeting, the board approved an urgent measure to delink the solicitors’ handbook from the designation of the SRA as an ABS licensing authority as a result of the delayed start date.
Richard Collins, the head of standards, explained that the handbook had been prepared all along on the basis it would come in on the same date as ABSs were launched. Delinking was necessary to enable the handbook to come into effect on 6 October while provisions relating to ABSs come into effect after the SRA’s designation as an ABS licensing authority takes place, he said.