The legal profession's umbrella watchdog today calls for an 'open debate' on the cost of regulation which would encompass all the levies lawyers must pay in order to practise.
In its response to the government's first triennial review of its activities, the Legal Services Board also dismisses once again allegations that it is overreaching its remit by duplicating the role of frontline regulators including the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Both the Law Society and Bar Council have called for the LSB's role to be reined back.
The report of the first triennial review of bodies established under the 2007 Legal Services Act, published in July, concluded that both the board and the Office for Legal Complaints are doing the job they were set up for. It congratulated the two 'for the way they have complied with the [statutory] requirements'. In its response to that review, submitted to new justice minister Helen Grant, LSB chair David Edmonds (pictured) floats ideas likely to be included in the board's draft business plan for 2013/14.
These include increasing understanding of regulatory costs.
In a letter to Grant, Edmonds says: 'We think the time is right for an open debate on the cost of regulation. We will continue to be rigorous in managing our own costs, but these are but one small component of the total costs that practitioners have to bear in order to practise.
'So there needs to be better understanding of the costs of the LSB and OLC, the regulatory costs of frontline regulators, the costs for "permitted purposes" other than regulation which approved regulators can levy on individual lawyers, and compensation and other related costs.'
The triennial review made five recommendations in respect of the LSB's own activities but the board does not intend to implement them in full. It rejects the review's call to open up board meetings, saying this would inhibit the 'free and frank' provision of advice and debate. It also expresses reservations about publishing all items of spending over £500, saying this would 'place an additional administrative burden on our team'.
Elsewhere, the board says perceptions it is 'micro-managing' regulation are 'misguided'. It adds: 'We want to see regulation that is fit for purpose and to disregard our statutory obligations when performing our functions to facilitate changes to regulatory arrangements at odds with the act would be remiss and… in the medium term, increase the risk of more expensive and extensive intervention.'
There has been 'confusion and consternation' over the LSB's involvement in matters such as education and training, accreditation and promoting diversity, the board acknowledges. But the board remains 'convinced that this proactive role is necessary and that it does not duplicate the role of frontline regulators'.
In particular, it argues that the board's role has been 'crucial' in forcing through the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates and diversity reporting.
'In many ways it is odd we face fierce criticism,' adds the board. 'Surely even our fiercest critics do not dispute the central importance of legal services to society and to the rule of law?'