Outcomes-focused regulation will go ahead on 6 October even though it is unlikely that the Solicitors Regulation Authority will be able to start licensing alternative business structures (ABS) “much before the end of the year”, chief executive Antony Townsend has confirmed.
After Legal Futures exclusively reported the delay to ABSs  last week, the Ministry of Justice has now officially told the SRA that parliamentary approval processes will not be completed in time for it to be a designated licensing authority for ABSs on 6 October.
However, the SRA has stressed that the introduction of outcomes-focused regulation, including the new code of conduct for solicitors and other legal services providers regulated by the SRA, will go ahead as scheduled on that date.
“We were on track to license ABS from 6 October, so it is disappointing to learn that we will not be able to do so,” said Mr Townsend. “We will work with the Ministry of Justice to do all we can to speed up the process. But we are in the hands of the parliamentary timetable. It seems unlikely that we will be able to license ABS much before the end of the year, and we shall make further announcements as soon as we have more certainty.”
The plan has been to allow those firms that want to be in the first wave of ABSs to apply two months before the start-date.
Legal Futures understands that it is premature to say that the SRA will not start licensing ABSs before next year.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said its “hope and expectation” is that the SRA will be designated before the end of 2011. However, he said there has still been no decision on whether to introduce an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 that would make would-be external investors in law firms declare any convictions, whether spent or not. The SRA has indicated that it may refuse to allow ABSs with external owners without this.