Lord Hunt of Wirral was commissioned by the Law Society in October 2008 to advise on what was needed to establish best modern practice in the regulation of solicitors. His terms of reference were:
‘In light of current and forthcoming changes in the Legal Services market, the differing needs of different types of client, current regulatory debates and the need to promote equality and diversity, to consider the appropriate regulatory rules, monitoring and enforcement regime to ensure high standards of integrity and professionalism for solicitors and their firms in all sectors, and to make recommendations.’
This week the Law Society published his report. In his â€˜Welcomeâ€™ to the report, Lord Hunt acknowledged that the legal sector is undergoing a radical transformation. Alternative Business Structures will have to be assimilated into the legal regulatory system, the ever changing demands of clients will need to be satisfied, and English and Welsh law must maintain the high international reputation which provides so many business benefits for the UK. â€œFor these, and many other reasons, it is critically important that the regulatory system is constantly revaluated to ensure it is fit to meet both new challenges, and long standing regulatory needsâ€.
Lord Hunt makes 88 specific recommendations, and there are four main themes in the report. He stresses that all firms must be regulated to the same standard, by a knowledgeable and credible regulator and in accordance with the well-established BRE principles of better regulation. But this does not mean that every firm should be treated in the same way. He advocates a system which he describes as Authorised Internal Regulation (AIR). AIR will be available to all firms, not just those concentrating on corporate work, who demonstrate their willingness and ability to set up internal governance standards that are robust enough to secure compliance. Secondly he recommends the extension of the regulatory net to include will writing, claims management companies and all of probate, as these are complex matters with potentially far reaching consequences.
Lord Hunt recommends that legal professionalism should be translated into regulatory principles. He says it is essential to base any regulatory system in a strong and transparent theoretical framework, ensuring that it has the necessary resilience and flexibility to adapt to the changing world in which it operates. His view is that legal professionalism, rooted firmly in the concept of the rule of law, provides a sound base for the regulator to build on. The fourth theme concerns the regulation of Alternative Business Structures (ABS). He does not oppose the 2011 launch date, as proposed by the Legal Services Board, but stresses the importance of getting it right. It is crucial that appropriate public and consumer safeguards are put in place. Regulators must be clear about the information they require, the scrutiny they intend to undertake, and how they will deal with regulatory breaches. He recommends that ABS should be subject to the same regulatory requirements that govern other law firms.
Bob Heslett, President of the Law Society, welcomed the report and said â€œLord Hunt has set out an imaginative and thought provoking blueprint which I am confident will be invaluable to the SRA [Solicitors Regulatory Authority] as it charts its way forward for the future. We look forward to working closely with the SRA as it develops its approach.”
The full text of Lord Huntâ€™s report can be found at: