Monday 12 November 2012 by Rachel Rothwell
The barristers' profession cranked up its pressure on the Legal Services Board this weekend as the chair of the Bar Council called for the super regulator to be 'disbanded'.
Michael Todd QC told the bar's annual conference that the LSB was going 'beyond its brief', and criticised the 'burdensome costs' it was creating for barristers, clients and the public purse. He questioned the need for an overarching regulator given that the professions already have 'clearly competent' frontline regulators.
Todd said he had already raised the issue with justice secretary Chris Grayling, who had 'sympathy with the notion of over-regulation'. Attorney-general Dominic Grieve has also raised the matter with Grayling.
Todd said: 'I think there is a very good case for disbanding the overarching regulator… Regulation is one thing, but what [the LSB] should not be doing is seeking to shape the legal landscape in which we provide services; they are going beyond their brief.'
Todd added that the LSB was adding to the cost of legal services. 'It is [the professions] who pay for it. The LSB doesn't mind what it spends. They are not using their own money… When they want to do something, they put a levy on us.'
He added: 'It is in the consumer interest not to have burdensome costs. In publicly funded work, this has to be absorbed by the part of the profession that is already under pressure.'
In the closing address to the conference, Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, revealed that he had also raised the issue with Grayling, 'at the very first meeting I had with him'.
'The LSB is not exactly flavour of the month with any of the professions,' Grieve said. 'I think there are justifiable concerns that it may at times tend towards micro-management. I do share the bar's concern with that.'
Grieve added that a solution must be found through which the overarching regulator can 'keep its role for superintendence' but give 'greater latitude' to the frontline regulators.
Todd's call for the LSB's disbandment follows similar criticisms of the overarching regular from the bar's frontline regulator, the Bar Standards Board, earlier this year. Responding to the government's triennial review of the LSB in April, the BSB suggested that the LSB would no longer be needed once alternative business structures have been introduced and independent regulators are well established.
Last month, LSB chair David Edmonds used an article in Counsel magazine to criticise the Bar Council's attitude towards it. He said there were 'few examples of where the positive changes we have sought to make have been picked up, welcomed and developed by those mandated to represent the bar,' despite the strong appetite among many barristers to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Legal Services Act.
Edmonds added that the LSB often faced 'the classic response of those defending a vested interest - a desire to argue over every detail, to define very detailed rules, and to assault the legitimacy of the regulator'.
Separately, Todd suggested that solicitors who practise advocacy should be regulated by the Bar Standards Board. 'Really we ought to be looking at bringing all advocates under the one regulator, and that is the BSB,' he said. However, he conceded that in some cases this would mean that solicitor-advocates would be subject to dual regulation.