Ministers baulk at reforming legal profession regulation

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Dec 20, 2017
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Lord Keen, a justice minister, said the legal sector could do more within its existing framework

Andy Rain/EPA

Regulation of the legal profession does not need immediate legislative reform, ministers said yesterday in response to the competition watchdog’s proposals for more transparency in lawyer rules.

The Competition and Markets Authority had suggested that justice ministers should review the current state of independence of legal profession regulators in England and Wales. There has been growing concern among some observers that the two biggest front line regulators – the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standard Board – remain too financially tied to the representative bodies, the Law Society and the Bar Council. 

However, in a response to Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, Lord Keen of Elie, a justice minister, said that the government’s view was that “now is not the right time to consult on legislative change”. Lord Keen said that “the sector itself can do more within the existing framework”.

He highlighted a planned review of the Legal Services Board’s internal governance rules and moves by the overall watchdog to investigate whether the governance arrangements between the Law Society and the SRA comply with the requirements of the Legal Services Act 2007. Lord Keen also said that the LSB investigation is expected “to consider the balance between appropriate oversight by the Law Society as approved regulator and the ability of the SRA to operate independently as intended by the Act”.

The Ministry of Justice’s response will come as a relief to the Law Society and to a lesser extent the Bar Council. Both organisations are reliant on taking a significant proportion of practising certificate fees raised by their regulatory bodies to finance their own activities. Senior officials at both representative bodies have been concerned for some time that a review of regulation would result in the government insisting that their organisations must raise their own funds.

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