Concerns about deregulation of the solicitor profession and new rules rejected by the oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board, must be taken into account, the Law Society of England and Wales has said, as the LSB considers proposals to create different tiers of solicitors and reduce consumer protections.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: "The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) appears to be pursuing a deregulatory agenda based on flawed premises and at the expense of consumers.
"The misguided proposals now being considered by the oversight regulator fail the litmus tests for regulation: they jeopardise the public interest and risk weakening the rule of law.
"The proposals are not supported by robust impact assessments or cost-benefit analysis appropriate for rule changes that will fundamentally change the legal services landscape.
"The rule change application to the LSB is misleading. It overstates support and understates opposition, disregarding consumer groups, legal experts and evidence stacked against its propositions.
"We urge the LSB - as the oversight regulator - to reject the SRA's ill-conceived scheme to create a dangerously complex marketplace for legal services. Flexibility for solicitors should never come at the expense of protection for consumers."
Ms Blacklaws continued: "We would welcome simpler rules governing solicitors, but there is no evidence that consumers would benefit from the changes proposed by the SRA, and ample evidence that consumer protection would be reduced and consumers confused.
"Unnecessary complexity would make it much more difficult for consumers to reach informed choices about legal services. This could put consumers at risk and ultimately undermine trust in legal services.
"The SRA has not evidenced any strategy to mitigate the risk that multiple solicitor brands would result in consumers and the public being misled and losing confidence in the system.
"We are concerned that unmet legal demand would increase as vulnerable clients could become less confident about seeking legal advice. The regulator has even acknowledged that vulnerable clients are less likely to benefit from the remedies it proposes to mitigate consumer confusion.
“Today, anyone who consults a solicitor can be confident their adviser is highly trained and operating within a robust regulatory framework that ensures consistent and comprehensive protection to give people peace of mind in case something goes wrong. This allows consumers to make a clear choice between regulated and unregulated legal advisers.
"The Legal Services Board must apply the rules for changes to regulatory arrangements rigorously, and reject the SRA's rule change application because it is prejudicial to regulatory objectives and contrary to the public interest," Ms Blacklaws concluded.
The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.
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