Lawyers’ Self Governance Under Threat?

I was surprised to learn, browsing through Bencher election material, that in the UK solicitors have lost the right of exclusive self-governance.

According to candidate Graeme Mew in the UK, self-governance of the profession has been “severely limited”. Solicitors in England & Wales, who used to be regulated by their Law Society, are now regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (“SRA”) which is overseen by a Legal Services Board (“LSB”). It is appointed by the government. According to Mew, “The obvious concern is that the governance of the profession will be influenced by government objectives which, in the UK, currently include the decimation of publicly funded legal services.”

The Law Society which represents solicitors in England and Wales states in their website : “From negotiating with and lobbying the profession’s regulators, government and others, to offering training and advice, we’re here to help, protect and promote solicitors across England and Wales.”

The SRA is the independent regulatory body of the Law Society. It deals with all regulatory and disciplinary matters, and sets, monitors and enforces standards for solicitors across England and Wales. Its work is overseen by the SRA Board, which is made up 16 members, of which nine are solicitors (including the Chair) and seven are lay members. Its stated aim is to give the public full confidence in the solicitors’ profession, and to serve the public interest and protect consumers of legal services.

Barristers are represented by the Bar Council. Its independent regulatory arm is the Bar Standards Board.

Complaints against UK lawyers are now handled by the office of the Legal Ombudsman which is completely independent from the legal profession. This new service took over formal powers to resolve client complaints about lawyers from 6 October 2010.

But at the apex of all the approved regulators of UK legal services is the LSB. It has currently 10 members. Seven of them are non-lawyers. It has been established to be the single independent oversight regulator of the legal profession and sector in England and Wales. It is responsible for ensuring standards of competence, conduct and service in the legal profession both for the benefit of individual consumers and the public generally. The Board came into being on 1 January 2009 and became fully operational on 1 January 2010.

Apparently similar developments are being considered or implemented in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Could this happen in Canada? Mew predicts it could.


  1. “Could this happen in Canada? Mew predicts it could.”

    Perish the thought.

    I have written, on a number of occasions, that if lawyers are to properly protect the interests of their clients, they should not depend on what is essentially an arm of government for their livelihood. Too much of the work of the profession involves challenging government action and policy.

    We, and the public, have come to take our independence for granted. I firmly believe history will show this to have been an unfortunate and misguided initiative.

  2. Self-regulated professions have to be widely seen to regulate in the interests of the public, not in the economic interests of their members. Otherwise representatives of the public are more and more willing to ignore traditional forms of governance to ensure public protection. Whether the new forms are better at that task remains to be seen. Whether they pass over some other benefits of self-governance, such as independence from ‘power’, also remains to be seen.

    One of the collateral benefits of stopping appointing QCs is that it ended the unseemly currying of favour of politicians by lawyers who otherwise liked to vaunt their independence from government.

  3. I think this discussion would benefit from a lot less self-justifying rhetoric from the legal profession. Political interference is an issue, but so is the “thin blue line” tendency of professions to defend their own interests. Australia and the UK have hardly become police states because the public stopped believing the latter problem was worse than the former. If lawyers want to keep self-regulating, they should do a better job of it.