Plans to merge the Legal Services Consumer Panel into Citizens Advice will need to overcome issues around confidentiality and conflicts of interests as the charity is also a provider in the legal market, Legal Services Board chairman David Edmonds has warned.
Mr Edmonds told Legal Futures that he needed a few days to reflect on the surprise news that the government is minded to merge all non-financial consumer bodies into Citizens Advice, which he only heard about on the day of the announcement (see story).
But as a legal services provider – a role that is likely only to grow with the imminent legal aid cuts – Mr Edmonds pointed out that Citizens Advice is currently in a different position from the panel, which “totally reflects the consumer voice”.
He paid tribute to the panel, which has been “incredibly helpful to me”. It has provided “focused and clear advice” on issues such as referral fees and the independence of the approved regulators. Mr Edmonds added: “In Dianne Hayter and the panel we have recruited some very experienced people in consumer areas with a great deal of knowledge.”
Dr Hayter has reacted strongly to the news – which she also only heard on Thursday – saying that Citizens Advice will not be able to replicate the role of the panel. There are also concerns that providing advice on the detail on legal regulation would not be a high priority of an expanded Citizens Advice.