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The committee scrutinising the draft Legal Services Bill today (25 July) warned that the current proposals will harm the independence of the legal profession.
The joint committee, led by Beachcroft former senior partner Lord Hunt of Wirral, said in its report published today that many of the Bill’s proposals will potentially harm the reputation of the UK’s legal profession abroad, by giving the government too many direct powers.
Hunt told The Lawyer: “If the government seeks to establish the Legal Services Board as an arm of government, it will come to regret it, as will the country.”
The report asks the government to considering transferring powers granted to the Lord Chancellor back to the profession’s regulators, and also that nominations committees are established to appoint the members of the umbrella regulator, the Legal Services Board.
The committee wants the government to move back towards the recommendations of Sir David Clementi, set out in his regulatory review. In particular, it said that the government should have consulted more widely over the implementation of alternative business structures, or multi-disciplinary practices.
Constitutional Affairs minister Bridget Prentice MP said that the government “will be keen to make sure that the interest of consumers continue to be placed at the heart of these proposals”.
Law Society president Fiona Woolf welcomed the report, saying that the new regulatory regime should build on the strengths of the existing structure.
The twelve members of the committee, who come from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, also criticised the short amount of time they were given to produce their report.
Hunt said that he had written to the leaders of both Houses, Jack Straw MP and Baroness Amos, to protest against the timescale given. The committee had less than eight weeks from its foundation to produce the report.
“Our very strong view is that the government must give enough time for very complicated issues to be done properly, and we have not been able to do our job properly,” Hunt said.
Normally Parliamentary committees are given 12 weeks to complete their work.