82% of Public wants independent regulator for Solicitors

The Times published this article

Public backs total independence for solicitors’ regulator

Public backing for a regulator of solicitors that is completely independent from the professional body is overwhelming, survey figures released today claim.

According to a ComRes poll, 82 per cent of adults in England and Wales back a model in which the watchdog over solicitors is not linked in any way to the professional body. Only 6 per cent said solicitors should be self-regulated.

The research – which was commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and released to The Times – will add fodder to that body’s campaign for the last apron strings attaching it to the Law Society to be cut. Under the Legal Services Act 2007 the society remains the technical regulator, although it is forced to delegate all practical operations and decision-making to the SRA, which is quasi-independent.

Paul Philip, the SRA’s relatively new chief executive (pictured), has over the past few months ramped up a campaign for total independence. He claims the society should be forced to stand financially on its own feet instead of relying on a share of the practising fee. Currently about 30 per cent of that fee goes towards underwriting the representative body.

The survey found that about 70 per cent of the public would feel more comfortable making a complaint about solicitors if the regulator were completely independent. And 77 per cent agreed that the government should act to force the Law Society to cut the regulator free.

Catherine Dixon, the Law Society’s chief executive, told The Brief that wholesale reorganisation of the legal profession regulation was required. “Currently, the regulatory maze is complex,” she said. “There are numerous regulators of legal services and there is an opportunity to consolidate to save cost. There is an opportunity to redefine what regulation should cover to ensure that it is simple and better, and applies to all legal services.”

In what some will interpret at the society bidding to claim responsibility for turf normally ruled by the SRA,  the society’s top bureaucrat maintained that “regulation should not include professional standards and conduct, or entry into the profession and awarding a professional title.”

 Legal profession regulation ‘not sound’, claims oversight body

The legal profession’s uber-regulator has also spiced up the debate, telling the UK’s competition watchdog that the current system “is not based on sound rationale”.

In a letter to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) yesterday, the head of the Legal Services Board said that “a programme of deregulation and liberalisation [in the legal profession] has reduced burdens on providers, but the underlying legislative framework needs reform”.

Neil Buckley, the LSB’s chief executive, said that “progress on consumer empowerment has been sluggish”. He maintained that existing and potential clients “are not driving competition through their purchasing behaviour”.

Buckley’s letter came in response to the CMA’s announcement last month that it would be reviewing the legal sector. The Legal Services Board boss will have provided succour to the SRA by adding in the letter that in the view of the board “there is insufficient independence between some lawyers and their regulators”

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