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Now England & Wales gets a legal services regulation review

13 July 2018

An independent review into the regulatory framework for legal services, focusing mainly on England & Wales, is to be led by Professor Stephen Mayson of UCL (University College London).

The review, which is being undertaken independently and with no external funding, is intended to explore the issues raised by the Competition & Markets Authority in its 2016 market study, which concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework is unsustainable in the long run. It called for a review of that framework to make it more flexible as well as targeted at areas of highest risk where regulation is most needed.

To be carried out by the Centre for Ethics & Law in UCL's Faculty of Laws, the review's terms of reference state that the provision of effective and properly regulated legal services is critical to maintaining the rule of law, and the effective and efficient administration of justice, and also necessary to sustaining the UK’s position and reputation as a world-leading jurisdiction for the governing law of international transactions and for the resolution of disputes. Its objectives will therefore be to consider how the regulatory framework can best:

  • promote and preserve the public interest in the rule of law and the administration of justice;
  • maintain the attractiveness of the law of England & Wales for the governance of relationships and transactions and of its courts in the resolution of disputes;
  • enhance the global competitiveness of its lawyers and other providers of legal services;
  • reflect and respond flexibly to fast-changing market conditions being driven by innovation and advances in technology;
  • protect and promote consumers’ interests, particularly in access to effective, ethical, innovative and affordable legal services and to justice; and
  • lead the world in proportionate, risk-based and cost-effective regulation of legal services, consistent with the better regulation principles.

In addition to reflecting these objectives, the scope of the review will include what and who needs regulating, who should regulate, the independence of legal services providers from both government and representative interests, and how best to avoid the inflexibility of the current regulatory framework.

An advisory panel will be appointed in the near future with a range of expertise across law, regulation and governance, ethics, business, economics and consumer matters.

Professor Mayson, a longstanding proponent of reform in the regulation of the profession, commented: “In the light of Brexit, ‘taking back control’ presumes full confidence in our domestic rule of law and legal institutions, as well as maintaining our performance and competitive position in the global economy. The provision of effective and properly regulated legal services is critical to maintaining the rule of law, and the effective and efficient administration of justice. It is also necessary for sustaining the UK’s position and reputation as a world-leading jurisdiction for the governing law of international transactions and for the resolution of disputes.”

He added: “This review will consider how we can best ensure that our legal services remain of high quality and are effective, and their regulation proportionate and fit for purpose. We also need to re-examine how to give the public much-needed transparency about the legal providers they use and the services they pay for, and ensure that they understand their options and the consequences of their choices.

“For instance, many people assume that if something goes wrong (say, with a will), they can seek redress. But current regulation doesn’t require all legal services, including will-writing, to be regulated or all providers to be professionally qualified, and therefore does not offer universal protection.”

The review will seek to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, and Professor Mayson aims to complete it by the end of 2019. Its conclusions and recommendations will be presented to the Ministry of Justice, and the final report will also be made publicly available.

The independent review of legal services regulation in Scotland, being carried out for the Scottish Government by Esther Roberton, is due to report by the end of this summer.

 

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