Simplification of the way solicitors and law firms can be exempted from rules and regulations would be welcome in principle but Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) proposals may put consumer protection at risk and are set out in too little detail, the Law Society of England and Wales said in its response to a consultation.
The SRA's proposals would allow any rule or regulation that is not a legal requirement to be waived provided this was not at odds with the regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act. If two regulatory objectives were to compete then the waiver would have to be in the public interest to be approved.
This would replace the current system of granting exemptions only in 'exceptional circumstances' via two existing waiver policies (one for professional indemnity insurance (PII) applications, the other for all other rules and regulations).
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: "Simplification of the waivers process is, in principle, desirable, but any new waivers policy must safeguard robust consumer protections in the public interest. The SRA has provided far too little detail on how a new process would operate to allow for a meaningful consultation.
"The Law Society would oppose any weakening of the criteria for granting professional indemnity insurance waivers in particular. PII is a direct protection for clients and it is appropriate that stricter criteria are required before these rules can be waived."
The SRA provides insufficient information on how the proposed waivers policy would operate.
Robert Bourns continued: "The Law Society does not and will not support proposals to change regulatory protections that are expressed in such limited detail.
"A comprehensive explanation of how the tests would be applied with a thorough impact assessment must be published and consulted on before any new policy is decided.
"Any future policy must be transparent to minimise competitive disadvantage for firms that have not applied for waivers, particularly where this might create confusion for consumers and so undermine the integrity of the legal system. The SRA needs to provide more detail on what information it would make available to achieve this."
Notes to editors
Read the Law Society's response to the SRA's consultation.
The regulatory objectives in section 1 of the Legal Services Act 2007 are:
- protecting and promoting the public interest
- supporting the constitutional principle of the rule of law
- improving access to justice
- protecting and promoting the interests of consumers
- promoting competition in the provision of legal services
- encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession
- increasing public understanding of the citizen's legal rights and duties
- promoting and maintaining adherence to the professional principles.
About the Law Society
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