The House of Lords yesterday (25 October) approved the House of Commons’ amendments to the Legal Services Bill, with the legislation expected to receive Royal Assent next week.
The bill passed the Lords hurdle after the ministers made concessions to uphold the independence of the legal profession.
One major compromise was in relation to the appointments to the Legal Services Board, which will oversee the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The Board initially would have been appointed solely by the Lord Chancellor, which raised concerns that the legal profession would become politicised.
The Government, however, conceded the point requiring the Lord Chief Justice having to be consulted.
The Bill, in addition. creates an Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) which will provide redress for consumers through a single, independent service.
This again was a bone of contention as it appeared that lawyers could be hit by double punishment through the OLC as well as the BSB or SRA, however, compromises have been reached.
Once enacted the bill will encourage greater competition in the legal services market.
Through alternative business structures (ABS), firms could potentially list on the stock exchange, sell a stake to private investors or merge with banks and supermarkets by 2011.
Ministers also offered concessions on their plans to exempt trade unions from new safeguards intended to protect consumers from poor legal advice.
Yesterday justice minister Bridget Prentice told MPs there is no need for a total exemption for unions who provide legal advice to their members.
She said: “I accept the spirit of the Lords’ desire to narrow the exemption.”