The Law Society is to enlarge the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) so as to introduce parity between the number of solicitor and lay members, in a deal struck with the Legal Services Board (LSB).
It follows a similar agreement between the LSB and Bar Standards Board (BSB), whose offer to introduce parity on the road to a lay majority has been accepted.
The compromise means the LSB will have to wait more than two years longer than it wanted to achieve a lay majority on the SRA board, but averts a confrontation with the Law Society.
The LSB had previously told the Law Society that introducing a lay majority when a new board took over in 2013 – as Chancery Lane planned to do – was not acceptable compliance with the LSB’s internal governance rules (see story), which require it by the end of this month. The Law Society initially rejected this (see story), but following talks, the LSB has compromised by agreeing to parity (although a solicitor majority will technically remain because the headcount excludes solicitor chairman Charles Plant).
This will be achieved by adding a new lay member next year as part of the recruitment process to replace the two members of the previous SRA board who were given shorter terms when they joined the new board – solicitor Yvonne Brown and lay member Stephen Whittle. While their replacements will not take up post until 1 January 2012, the new lay member will be appointed at once – likely to be next June or July.
Law Society chief executive Des Hudson is also to ask the society’s council to change its rules and provide for a lay majority from 1 January 2013.
In a letter to Mr Plant and Law Society president Linda Lee, LSB chairman David Edmonds said: “My colleagues and I are pleased with the progress that has been made towards compliance and with the clear commitment to achieve full compliance when the board is reconstituted at the end of its current term.”
At the Bar, the BSB has been leading on the issue, rather than the Bar Council. It is due to move to a lay majority from 1 January 2012, but again the LSB wanted quicker change. The BSB has four vacancies to fill at the end of this year – two barrister and two lay – and with some reluctance offered to fill one of the barrister posts with a lay member. The lay member will replace either the chairman of the complaints committee or the representative of the employed bar.
BSB chairwoman Baroness Ruth Deech wrote: “While this does mean the potential loss of a significant expertise and ‘voice’ at the boardroom table, in the spirit of attempting to offer a sensible working solution, the board is prepared to recruit with the commitment to getting to a lay majority very much in mind.” Two further barrister members retire at the end of 2011 and they will be replaced with lay members to secure a majority.
As with the SRA, the BSB will have parity excluding Baroness Deech, who the LSB counts as a barrister even though she has never practised and who argued in her letter to the LSB that she does not have “any greater vested interest in the Bar than any lay member would have”.