Hunt slams Govt’s role in bill

The government was last week embroiled in a row with the committee charged with the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Legal Services Bill.

The joint parliamentary committee, led by former Beachcroft senior partner Lord Hunt of Wirral, published its report on Tuesday (25 July). The 177-page document warned that the current proposals will harm the independence of the legal profession and criticised the short length of time given to examine the legislation.

Lord 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.”

But, in a statement, the Government claimed that safeguards in the legislation would mean that the independence of the profession is protected.

The committee of six peers and six MPs, many of them former or practising lawyers, unanimously stated that they found the proposals to introduce alternative business structures worrying.

“We are worried both about the speed of approach and the level of uncertainty about the impact of the reforms, particularly on access to justice in rural areas and legal aid provision,” the report said.

The committee said that the legislation could harm the reputation of the UK’s legal profession abroad by giving the Government too many direct powers.

The report asks the Government to consider transferring powers granted to the Lord Chancellor back to the profession’s regulators, and also requests that nominations committees are established to appoint the members of the umbrella regulator, the Legal Services Board.

The committee said it had had insufficient time to examine the legislation, and quoted Winston Churchill: “I am going to give a long speech as I have not had time to write a short one.”

The committee had less than eight weeks from its foundation to produce the report.

“Our 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.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs said the timescale was to enable the legislation could be introduced in the autumn.

Several law firms, including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, submitted written evidence to the committee.