Here we go, then. The profession now has not one but two Government-appointed independent reviews looking at matters central to legal practice, with the review of legal aid under Martyn Evans having been followed by the appointment of Esther Roberton’s panel to scrutinise the regulation of legal services and legal complaints.
The Society should be pleased, as the latter review’s terms of reference seem to cover its shopping list: this included updating the 1980 Act to reflect modern types of legal practice, fixing snaggings in the legislation providing for alternative business structures, regulation of the likes of will writers and claims management companies, entity regulation and an overhaul of the complaints regime.
Still, such a study is bound to take time, and even if the review meets its deadline of reporting to ministers by summer 2018, it is safe to say that any action thereafter will involve thinking time within Government and further consultation ahead of any Holyrood bill. So the best we can probably hope for is legislation passed by about 2020 – if the bill can find room to breathe in amongst whatever is necessary to deliver Brexit, in a parliamentary programme that also has more devolved powers to act on than at the time of previous bills covering legal services.
Not that all will be quiet on the regulatory front until then. SLAB has opened up a different front with its draft code of practice on criminal advice and assistance, and it and the Society are, at time of writing, some distance apart on whether the draft significantly innovates on what is expected of solicitors particularly in providing police station advice, and encroaches on what the Society might reasonably regard as its proper province. In any event, the Society is rightly concerned at the legal aid fee levels on offer for the 2016 Act procedures, and seeking resolution here before agreeing any benchmarking of service levels to be expected of solicitors.
And in addition to the profession pointing out to the Roberton review the weaknesses in the present regulatory framework, it would be worth doing some homework on influences brought to the panel by its non-legal members. The SLCC, for example, has already in its paper promoting legislative change, pointed to the “innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions”, and has welcomed the health sector expertise represented on the panel. While it is good that the panel has a broad remit and is able to take a holistic view, if new approaches are to be put forward it is desirable that they are properly scrutinised and debated at the outset.