Bar Council steps up fight against Legal Services Bill

The Bar Council has launched a massive offensive against the Legal Services Bill attacking its current form for placing “too much power in the hands of the Government”.

The Council, which represents 14,000 barristers in England and Wales, will argue that the current draft Bill will impact the independence of the legal profession. The bill currently proposes that the chair of the Legal Services Board (LSB) and its members should be appointed by a Secretary of State.

This, the representative body feels, will in turn jeopardise the Bar’s contribution to the British economy.

The aggressive lobby tactics come as research by International Financial Services London on behalf of Combar, the Commercial Bar Association, reveals that legal activities contributed almost £15bn or 1.4 per cent of the UK’s GDP in 2004, with net exports estimated at £1.8bn.

As the Bill is debated in the House of Lords, the Bar Council has begun a round of face-to-face meetings to press home its case to add to the 200 letters written to Peers already.

Geoffrey Vos QC, the chair of the Bar Council, said that the Chairman and members of the LSB should be made by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice – those who are lawyers first not politicians.

“The provisions relating to appointments to the new Legal Services Board will weaken the perceived independence of the legal profession, by placing too much power in the hands of the Government,” said Vos.

“Apart from the constitutional significance of this proposal, we believe that the Government’s approach could have a detrimental effect on our overseas markets. This approach could well threaten the Bar’s £200m contribution to the value of the UK’s service exports.”

The Bar Council will also be warning the House of Lords of the high cost of setting up the Bill’s proposed new regulatory architecture – the new Legal Services Board and Office for Legal Complaints.

It is the latter that has caused the Council major concerns. Vos said: “The ‘one size fits all’ approach towards the handling of legal complaints in the Bill is not appropriate to all types of case. It will be costly and inefficient to operate. It will create inflexibility to the detriment of consumers.”

“The Bill should be amended to provide flexibility that serves the consumer. This would allow the proposed new Office for Legal Complaints to delegate service as well as conduct complaints to approved regulators, such as the Bar Standards Board, provided the LSB was satisfied that this would be appropriate.”