News release

SRA warns against a return to protectionist regulation

The SRA has warned against turning the clock back when considering the future of legal services regulation.

In a speech to the Risk Management Conference 2013 at High Holborn today (Tuesday 3), Executive Director Samantha Barrass said that, in its response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on legal services regulation, the SRA had set out a range of issues to be addressed in the wider public interest. In contrast, she said, the Law Society had merely "sought primarily to seek to wind the clock back to the previous millennium". Ms Barrass said the issues raised by the society's response were too important to go unanswered. For that reason, she would be meeting the criticisms head on.

"If one looks at the Society's submission to Government, it seeks to justify a major step backwards in the regulation of this market by criticising the SRA. Frankly, this issue is too important to let that go unanswered," she told delegates.

"Our submission addressed the challenges of regulation across the whole sector and market; a market no longer defined by professional titles and one in which the artificial barriers created by those titles are breaking down rapidly. The Law Society's response did not even acknowledge such a market; focusing instead on a narrow, profession-centric, approach to regulation.

"It sought primarily to seek to wind put the clock back to the previous millennium, dismissing Sir David Clementi's review, the Legal Services Act and the major public interest concerns that led to them, as a momentary blip in the historic 'chaps regulating chaps'."

In her final speech, before she takes up a new appointment as Chief Executive of the Financial Services Commission in Gibraltar, Ms Barrass also revealed the huge pressure the SRA has come under from all sides to ignore its duty to regulate in the public interest and be less than thorough in its activities. This includes fast-tracking firm authorisation, easing up on the scrutiny of firms' finances and abolishing the Separate Business Rule.

She said: "Perhaps the biggest challenge that we've had to face, which comes with the territory of any senior regulator, is the significant pressure to take short cuts that aren't in the public interest, to achieve short term goals. On more occasions than I would like to remember, we've had to hold our nerve, maintain a firm focus on the public interest and not succumb to short term pressures which would have been all too easy, and sometimes quite tempting."

Ms Barrass reflected on her four years an executive director and the work undertaken by the SRA during that time to transform the authority into a modern, risk-based regulator.

"I'm proud that the SRA has largely delivered this change", she said, highlighting the launch of OFR, licensing of ABSs, development of new education and training proposals and work undertaken to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, as the key milestones. She also paid tribute to SRA staff, whom she described as spending "most of their time clearing up messes that no-one would argue don't need clearing up".

"As I go back to become simply a consumer of legal services, it will be with confidence in the protection provided by the work of SRA staff, and as a consumer of legal services, I would like to thank them for everything they do," she added.

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