A new report said the level of government involvement on the proposed new regulatory system for legal services – proposed in the draft Legal Services Bill – was potentially damaging to the independence of the legal profession from government.
In particular, the all party joint Lords and Commons Parliamentary select committee unanimously identified concerns about the proposed role of the Secretary of State (the Lord Chancellor) in the appointment of the chairman and members of the new Legal Services Board.
The report urges the draft Bill should be altered so that initial membership of the Legal Services Board is appointed by the Secretary of State, but only after full consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee of the Commons.
It also proposes that the board should then be allowed to establish a nominations committee to appoint future members, other than the chairman, who would continue to be appointed by the Secretary of State after full consultation with the Lord Chief Justice.
The committee voices concerns with regard to the direct powers over the legal profession the draft Bill would grant to the Lord Chancellor. It asks the Government to consider whether these powers are necessary, and to transfer as many as possible back to the legal regulators.
The MPs and peers also draw attention to the critical importance of the legal profession being perceived by the public to be independent from government influence.
There are also criticisms of proposals in the draft Bill to “deregulate” the business structures within which legal services can be provided.
The report raises concern about potential conflicts of interest in these Alternative Business Structures, particularly between lawyers and shareholders if firms offering legal advice have outside ownership.