Don’t “lump together” all lawyers under FSA-style regulator, says Bar

The difference of opinion between the two sides of the profession over the Clementi review on the regulation on legal services deepened this week when barristers took issue with being “lumped together” with solicitors under proposals for a new super-regulator yesterday.

One of the central questions of the Clementi consultation paper, as published this week, was “whether a regulatory system should see a clear distinction between the regulatory role of a professional body, where public interest issues should have primacy, and the representative role, where the interests of members have primacy”. The paper flagged up two possible regulatory models – the Financial Services Authority-style super regulator that would have regulatory responsibility for all the professional bodies and leave existing professional bodies merely as representative organisations. The other option is leaving the present structure largely untouched but creating an oversight body, a Legal Services Board.

The Bar Council restated its controversial ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ line on the debate. “There is nothing to be gained lumping all lawyers together,” commented Bar Council chairman Stephen Irwin QC. “We believe the Bar Council’s excellent track record on self-regulation means we have earned the right to continue to regulate ourselves, albeit with a strong lay input,” the silk continued. “As a professional body, our representative functions are underpinned and enhanced by the culture of self-regulation.”

Meanwhile, Chancery Lane was making its case for the oversight model. “Profession-led regulation is vital because it underpins independence from the State, but we want to find ways of increasing the role of the public in the regulation of solicitors, so that consumers can have confidence that the Society regulates in the public interest,” commented the Law Society president Peter Williamson. He added that the Law Society recognised that there was “a legitimate question about regulatory bodies also holding representative roles”. “We believe that, properly organised, these functions can complement each other to the benefit of the public rather than being in conflict,” he added.