Law Soc and SRA in face-off over board selection

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  • It's well-known that there are tensions between the SRA and the Law Society, including (apparently) between the SRA Chairman, Peter Williamson (an ex-Law Society President, but now firmly and properly independent from his former Council members), and Des Hudson, the Law Society CEO, and those Council members, upset at the SRA's stance, some of whom have whispered that the SRA is "a runaway train" in turn.

    Antony Townsend's concerns are valid; Russell Wallman, one of the Society's longest-serving senior staff members, is implying that the SRA shouldn't be able to pick itself. So it shouldn't.

    But all Townsend is saying, and what the profession has a right to expect, that Chancery Lane has equally no business in also packing the SRA Board, just in adminstering the process- as an HR process.

    Yet absent from this report (and the comments) lies the LSB's view on the Act. The Society can't have it both ways. Either the regulator is demonstrably, and recognisably independent of the representative arm, or it isn't. And that's a matter of public, not purely professional interest.

    One is struck how Wallman's views have run contrary to the LSB's on occasion- ABS's are one example- where Edmonds has made it clear that he will act to uphold this. This might be one such case.

    Given the LSB is now the only game in town, might Chancery Lane might do better to respect that the LSB would be more likely to side with the SRA than not, rather than trying to claw back the battles conceded by Janet Paraskeva post-Clementi?

    For if tensions persist, then David Edmonds is sure to intervene. All at a time when the LSB's solicitor representative- ex-President, Michael Napier QC - has temporarily stepped down from that body- leaving the Society one voice less at the table.

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  • I hope readers will find time to read S.27 of the Legal Services Act - see below. It explains what 'independent' means in this context. The SRA is a delegate body of the Law Society and it is the parent body which would be fined by the LSB, for example, if the SRA fails to meet the high standards set out in the Act.
    There is a good deal of confusion about the role of the SRA. Contrary to the explanation from some SRA staff, the SRA is not the approved regulator; it derives its powers from the Law Society who is the Approves Regulator.
    Speaking as a member of the Law Society Council it has been very disappointing to see the progress the SRA has made in moving to become the world class regulator solicitors need. It has never been denied the resources it has requested to do the job.
    My recollection is that the SRA Board's new chairman/woman is to be a member of the selection panel for the new Board along with two non-solicitors (one from OCPA) and only two elected representatives of the profession. Is the SRA really expressing concern that its own incoming Chair lacks independence from the profession and will not be independent when working to select members of the new Board? Would it have said the same about its present Chair? It will be a bit of an Alice in Wonderland conversation when the incoming chair criticises himself for his own lack of independence.
    27 Regulatory and representative functions of approved regulators

    (1) In this Act references to the “regulatory functions” of an approved regulator are to any functions the approved regulator has—

    (a) under or in relation to its regulatory arrangements, or

    (b) in connection with the making or alteration of those arrangements.

    (2) In this Act references to the “representative functions” of an approved regulator are to any functions the approved regulator has in connection with the representation, or promotion, of the interests of persons regulated by it.
    General duties of approved regulators
    28 Approved regulator’s duty to promote the regulatory objectives etc

    (1) In discharging its regulatory functions (whether in connection with a reserved legal activity or otherwise) an approved regulator must comply with the requirements of this section.

    (2) The approved regulator must, so far as is reasonably practicable, act in a way—

    (a) which is compatible with the regulatory objectives, and

    (b) which the approved regulator considers most appropriate for the purpose of meeting those objectives.

    (3) The approved regulator must have regard to—

    (a) the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed, and

    (b) any other principle appearing to it to represent the best regulatory practice.
    Separation of regulatory and representative functions
    29 Prohibition on the Board interfering with representative functions

    (1) Nothing in this Act authorises the Board to exercise its functions in relation to any representative function of an approved regulator.

    (2) But subsection (1) does not prevent the Board exercising its functions for the purpose of ensuring—

    (a) that the exercise of an approved regulator’s regulatory functions is not prejudiced by its representative functions, or

    (b) that decisions relating to the exercise of an approved regulator’s regulatory functions are, so far as reasonably practicable, taken independently from decisions relating to the exercise of its representative functions.
    30 Rules relating to the exercise of regulatory functions

    (1) The Board must make rules (“internal governance rules”) setting out requirements to be met by approved regulators for the purpose of ensuring—

    (a) that the exercise of an approved regulator’s regulatory functions is not prejudiced by its representative functions, and

    (b) that decisions relating to the exercise of an approved regulator’s regulatory functions are so far as reasonably practicable taken independently from decisions relating to the exercise of its representative functions.

    (2) The internal governance rules must require each approved regulator to have in place arrangements which ensure—

    (a) that the persons involved in the exercise of its regulatory functions are, in that capacity, able to make representations to, be consulted by and enter into communications with the Board, the Consumer Panel, the OLC and other approved regulators, and

    (b) that the exercise by those persons of those powers is not prejudiced by the approved regulator’s representative functions and is, so far as reasonably practicable, independent from the exercise of those functions.

    (3) The internal governance rules must also require each approved regulator—

    (a) to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that it provides such resources as are reasonably required for or in connection with the exercise of its regulatory functions;

    (b) to make such provision as is necessary to enable persons involved in the exercise of its regulatory functions to be able to notify the Board where they consider that their independence or effectiveness is being prejudiced.

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  • I think the Law Society has completely missed the point here. There can be no justification for any member of the Law Society Council to play a part in the selection of the SRA Board. I can see no argument for why a representative body should have any say on who runs the regulator.



    The Law Society Council need to get on with the job of representing our interests and shouldn’t have any function that is related to the approved regulator role of the Law Society. The legal profession is facing constant attacks and battles from the current government. Seeking to influence the direction of the regulator is just distracting them from doing justice to the profession’s needs.


    At the moment I am embarrassed to be a member of the Law Society and certainly don’t feel they are representing me. The LSB seem quite clear on what they are expecting. Clearly the Law Society hasn’t accepted that the SRA needs to be truly independent from solicitors. It is worrying that people at the Law Society seem naive enough to believe that they will be allowed to carry on in this way.

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