The Legal Services Board (LSB) has shown a lack of understanding and judgement, and an unwillingness to listen to the approved regulators, the Bar Council has claimed.
In a move that will fuel questions about the current role of the LSB, the Bar Council also expressed surprise at plans to increase LSB staff costs at a time of public sector cuts – saying it should take a “Big Society” approach to its work – and also questioned whether the board is overextending its remit.
The key theme of the Bar’s response to the draft LSB business plan for 2011/12 is that the LSB is not just fulfilling its strategic oversight role but becoming unnecessarily involved in day-to-day issues that should be the responsibility of the ARs.
In a covering letter to LSB chief executive Chris Kenny, seen by Legal Futures, Bar Council chairman Peter Lodder QC said that in relation to a variety of issues – including the Quality Assurance for Advocates scheme, referral fees, chambers complaints handing, and equality and diversity issues – “the LSB has shown a lack of understanding (and occasionally judgment) and an unwillingness to listen to the ARs. This can result in time-consuming remedial work and explanation from the ARs, possible extra costs incurred by the LSB and certainly duplication of effort”.
He added: “All of this has the capacity to add to the ‘hidden costs’ of regulation borne by the regulated community and is not in the public interest.”
The business plan envisages LSB staff costs of £2,856,000 in 2011/12, £2,927,000 in 2012/13 and £3,001,000 in 2013/14. Mr Lodder said: “In these straitened times, in which public sector staff numbers and costs are decreasing by around 20%, the Bar Council would expect at least some evidence of the LSB considering how its activities could be restructured to reduce costs. There is none and instead, surprisingly, staff costs are set to increase.”
The response said such a restructuring could be achieved “by undertaking fewer activities or by reprioritising planned activities, or by looking to the regulated community, after consultation, to assume some of the functions and activities undertaken by the LSB’s staff; a ‘Big Society’ approach by ARs would surely resonate with the needs of the time”.
Legal Futures has heard complaints from several regulators that the LSB has moved beyond the role of an oversight regulator, namely directing and monitoring the work of the approved regulators.
Mr Lodder said the LSB is taking “a rather broad interpretation” of its role and going beyond “merely ‘assisting’ the ARs in discharging their regulatory responsibilities and into micro-management”.
He explained: “On occasion it seeks to drive the agenda for change and becomes more prescriptive about what the ARs should be doing and how they should be doing it,” he said. “The ARs increasingly both have to fulfil their own objectives and additionally respond to LSB demands.” This represents further hidden costs of the LSB, borne by the profession, he added.