LSB pushes legal regulators to put consumers first following BSB governance review

Today, the Legal Services Board (LSB) published the findings of its review of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) under the ‘Well-led’ standard of the LSB regulatory performance assessment framework. The oversight regulator found concerns about leadership and governance at the BSB and little evidence of a focus on the needs of consumers and the public interest. In response, the LSB has urged the BSB and the other legal regulators to ensure the regulatory objectives are central to their decision making.

The BSB was unable to demonstrate meaningful consideration of the regulatory objectives when its Board took the decisions examined in the review.

The overarching finding was that:

“It was difficult to be assured by the material of the BSB Board’s focus on its statutory duty to protect and promote the interests of consumers, or the duties to improve access to justice and increase public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights. As a result, we are concerned that the BSB allowed the interests of the public and consumers to be outweighed unduly by those of the profession when taking key decisions.”

The LSB also found:

  • The decision-making process for major decisions did not follow the BSB’s own procedures, such as the BSB’s risk policies.
  • On several occasions, the Board was not provided with sufficient information to support key regulatory decisions. For example, when it decided in March 2019 to withdraw funding from Legal Choices (1), the BSB Board did so without any specific materials to support its discussion.
  • The BSB’s stakeholder engagement strategy has not been effective in building partnerships with its target organisations.
  • The governance architecture is fragmented and difficult to access.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the LSB, said:

“Robust leadership and strong governance are central to effective decision-making and to building trust among the public and the profession.

“The fact that the BSB has accepted our findings and developed an action plan to address our concerns is a further step towards independent regulation truly in the public interest.

“I hope the leadership at the BSB, and at the other regulators, learn from this report. We expect to see the BSB make the changes needed quickly so the public and the profession can be confident the regulator is well-led, consumer-focused, and uses learning to improve performance.”

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the LSB, said:

“We initiated this review because we had concerns about leadership and governance at the BSB. We found shortcomings in the governance of the BSB and the effectiveness of the Board’s decision-making.

“We expect decisions made by all the regulators to be evidence-based, promote the regulatory objectives, and protect the public interest. For the key decisions we looked at in this review, we found the BSB was unable to show how it had achieved this and, as a consequence, it could not demonstrate that its decisions were in the public interest.

“Going forward the BSB has committed to putting the regulatory objectives at the heart of its decision making and to demonstrate how it is doing so. We will monitor its progress in delivering against its action plan and our performance framework.

“There are lessons here for all the legal services regulators. We encourage them all to note the findings of our report and to review their decision-making processes in the light of our findings.”

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