Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Future of the Legal Services Board....

Neil Rose at Legal Futures discusses whether or not the Legal Services Board is needed or not, or at least in the future. He points out that it is on the list of schedule 7 of the Public Bodies Bill (the bonfire of the quangos). What he doesn't point out is that the bill is not sailing smoothly through parliamentary waters and schedule 7 may yet be breached and sink.

The UK coalition came into power promising to cut government waste--well, don't they all?--and compiled a list of "useless" quangos. Schedule 7 is a list of possibles. Besides the LSB it includes in the legal sector the Legal Services Commission which deals with legal aid and other access to justice issues, and the Civil Justice Council and the Criminal Cases Review Commission. (And in the spirit of disclosure the Arts and Humanities Research Council for which I review and decide on fundable research projects is also on the list.)

Of course as comes clear in Neil's article is that the Law Society and by extension, the Bar Council, would love to see the LSB disappear. Why? The LSB is finally holding the legal profession to account, something which has been needed for many years. Moreover, the professional associations haven't been able to regulate their own groups with any great success for the public or consumer interest.

The Legal Services Board may be new but in its short career it has managed to put diversity in the profession so clearly on the agenda that it can't be any longer ignored. It is the first of the regulatory groups to take a rational approach to regulation in the legal profession. Stephen Mayson's paper on reserved activities demonstrates that the legal profession isn't too adverse to taking advantage of historical accident.

The legal profession has shown itself to be dangerously complacent at times. It is too important to permit that to occur so we need institutions whose task it is to rattle a few cages.

Coda: Two other quangos for which government has no time are the UK Film Council, which in this its final year is reaping the benefits of a BAFTA and potential Oscar winner, The King's Speech, produced for less than £10m. The second is the Forestry Commission. The government came up with the truly daft idea of selling our woodlands to private developers who would somehow promise to keep them open for public use. Last time woodlands were sold the public were locked out. There's been such a public stink over this that the government is rethinking, ie. forgetting it.


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