SRA reappoints former Herbies partner Plant to chairman role

The SRA has extended the term of office of chair Charles Plant for a year, with the former Herbert Smith litigation partner now stepping down at the end of next year.

Speculation had been rife over the future leadership of the SRA after the authority announced in May that its chief executive, Antony Townsend, was unexpectedly leaving later this year (2 May 2013). Plant’s current term was set to expire this December, after four years in the job, but he expressed a desire to stay on to recruit and bed in a replacement chief executive.

The SRA told The Lawyer today that it does not have a specific date for Townsend’s departure and no timetable for a recruitment process for his replacement.

Owing to the labyrinthine regulatory structures of the legal profession, a quango body known as the business oversight board – consisting of the SRA, Law Society and independent members – proposed the extended appointment to the full Chancery Lane council last week, which rubber-stamped the recommendation. The society remains the “front-line regulator” of solicitors under the Legal Services Act 2007, although in practical terms the SRA is operationally independent.

Plant took over as chairman of the authority in 2009, and since then he has overseen a range of projects, including the introduction of an outcomes-focused regulation regime, licensing of ABSs and a move to a single site in Birmingham for most SRA staff.

Following the announcement, Plant said his priorities for the next 18 months include “bringing forward as soon as possible firm proposals to implement much needed change in some areas of the legal education and training regime” following release several weeks ago of a major report on the subject (25 June 2013).

He also flagged up the SRA’s approach to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence on further reforms to legal sector regulation.

“The complexities of the current arrangements with multiple front line regulators and an oversight regulator, are costly, confusing and distracting,” Plant said. He said the SRA would “press the case for simplification of the regulatory framework and the removal of unnecessary burdens, which will bring benefit to consumers, the profession, and law firms”.

A Law Society spokesman said Chancery Lane shared ”the SRA chair’s stated objective of a better balance between the benefits to consumers and the burden on the profession of regulation”.