At his appearance before the Justice Select Committee on 15 July, the Lord Chancellor indicated that there would be a review of the Legal Services Act 2007 during this Parliament. It is therefore perhaps timely that, as part of the follow-up to the Ministerial summit called by his predecessor a year earlier, the regulators had already been working together on a number of issues that could improve the lot of both regulator and regulated, and contribute to any such review.
For present purposes, the most relevant of the work done is the exploration of legislative options for reforming the Act. The Legal Services Board has now published the paper that results from cross-regulator discussions held between January and May, and which it was my privilege to chair. The paper has already been shared with Ministers, and is intended to frame and inform further debate about reform of the Act. Continue reading
This morning’s result from the UK General Election 2015 prompts thoughts about ‘where next for the legal landscape during the next Parliament?’. Although I suspect that the political outcome of the Election would have made little actual difference to future public funding for legal aid, it is likely that the number of citizens facing a potentially unmet need for legal advice and representation in the next few years will continue to increase unless new forms of provision can be encouraged. Given that these new forms will not be paid for from the public purse, private and third sector innovation must be key.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Sir David Clementi’s final report on the regulatory framework for legal services in England & Wales. How time flies! The report is still a good read, and a helpful reminder of what needed to change – and why.
The report laid the foundations for the Legal Services Act 2007 (even though the Act went further on alternative business structures than Sir David was willing to recommend). Its principal aims can be summarised as:
- creating the Legal Services Board and establishing the principle of regulation that is independent from professional representation
- improving the way in which – and the speed with which – complaints against legal services providers are handled, including setting up the Office for Legal Complaints and the Legal Ombudsman
- liberalising the business structures through which lawyers can operate by permitting ownership and investment by individuals who have not qualified as lawyers, and allowing legal businesses access to external capital.
All of these primary objectives have been achieved – more or less. So what now?