Surely it is time for self-regulation to end?

The Fabian Society – that respected think-tank thought to have Prime Minister Tony Blair's ear – wants the regulation of solicitors and barristers to be taken over by independent bodies.

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) should be abolished. So long as client complaint handling is linked to the Law Society, the Fabian report says, consumers will feel they are not likely to get a fair deal.

The report comes weeks after the OSS confessed that complaints had soared by 30 per cent and admitted it was providing a sub-standard service.

The defensive snorts from Chancery Lane can already be imagined. "Self-regulation gives us influence with the politicians," goes the line. "Give that up and we can join the trade unions at the back of the queue for the ear of government." But the Law Society is on a loser with that argument, because it has nothing to do with the needs of clients.

The question is, does it really serve clients' interests to have a complaints body that is controlled by the Law Society, the representative of the lawyers whom they are complaining about?

Seemingly on the other side of the argument are the solicitors, who feel betrayed that "their" body is already too client-friendly. But the answer to these complaints is the same. Remove regulation from Law Society control and the society can even help fight the corner of solicitors who may have been mistreated by the regulator.

An end to self-regulation will have its pitfalls – some of which are illustrated in this week's Viewpoint. But if lawyers truly put public needs before their desire to maintain their own professional privileges they will see that self-regulation has to end. And end it surely will.

The profession has a choice between winning public sympathy by handing over regulation graciously, or earning even more public distrust by fighting a last-ditch protectionist stand.