The new chair of the bar has renewed his predecessor’s call for the government to review the Legal Services Board amid concern the oversight regulator is overreaching.
In his inaugural speech as head of the Bar Council, Nicholas Vineall KC said the LSB had been ‘surprisingly explicit about its disapproval of the regulatory regime created by parliament, and under which it is supposed to operate, and equally explicit about its desire to be a sector-wide regulator’.
The LSB was established under the Legal Services Act 2007. Vineall said the act ‘struck a careful balance between the continuation of separate self-regulating professions and the need for independence in the performance of certain key regulatory functions’.
It is important that bodies who regulate under the act perform ‘only the tasks that parliament intended them to have’. However, the LSB’s 2021 consultation paper on a draft strategy for legal services regulation ‘reveals that the LSB is treating its remit as wider than it in fact is’, Vineall said.
‘We believe there is a serious and important debate to be had about whether or not it is the job of the LSB to develop a strategy for the entire legal services sector, especially given that firstly, the LSB’s principal role is oversight of the frontline regulators, and secondly the legal services sector extends well beyond authorised persons.’
Vineall said the LSB, a non-departmental public body, used to be subject to triennial reviews by the Ministry of Justice as its sponsoring department. The last tailored review took place in July 2017. ‘That was before the LSB decided that its role was to develop an overarching strategy for the entire legal services sector, both regulated and unregulated. Nothing in the last review suggested it ought to be doing that.
‘So we invite the MoJ to carry out a further review of the LSB. This would be particularly timely as we await the announcement of the identity of the incoming chair of the LSB and it would allow the LSB under its new leadership to be confident that it was setting off in the right direction.’
Vineall added that 2023 is also a good year to carry out a ‘deduplication exercise’ to ensure the work of the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board do not unnecessarily overlap. He pointed out that the BSB’s spend has increased from £.8.3m to £11.2m over the past five years whereas the Bar Council’s spend has increased from £5m to £5.4m.