29 Nov

CRL provide evidence to the Justice Select Committee

On the 28 November 2023, CILEx Regulation Limited (CRL) provided oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee on the changes needed to ensure regulation of the legal profession continues to deliver in the public interest, the role that CRL plays in supporting increased diversity and access to justice through focused regulatory oversight of the chartered legal executive community – and the impact that a lack of regulatory independence in the sector can have on its effectiveness.


In their evidence, CRL Chief Executive John Barwick and Independent Chair Jonathan Rees described what makes CRL and its regulated community different to other parts of the legal services sector and the role CRL’s regulatory framework plays in supporting access to justice, in the public interest.


Following sessions with the Bar Standards Board and Bar Council, during which the diversity of barristers was challenged, both CILEX and CRL were able to demonstrate development of a much more diverse profession in which their regulated community were more likely to be women, more likely to be older, more likely to have attended state school, and to be from an ethnic minority background, offering an important diversity of choice and access for communities that can sometimes feel marginalised when it comes to accessing legal services.


In response to questions about the effectiveness of the current regulatory regime, and in particular the Legal Services Act, Jonathan Rees agreed with Professor Stephen Mayson’s view that it was somewhat dated and cumbersome, and he set out three areas that CRL would like to see examined:


  1. The independence of regulators: “Regulation works best when regulators are able to work independently and can act without fear or favour. If a regulator is under threat of abolition or leaned on in some way, this will have a chilling effect on what a regulator does. The role of the regulator must remain to act in the public and consumer interest,” he said.

“We have the powers we need. But it is important we can exercise those powers freely and independently. And we’ve been able to perform against the LSB’s requirements effectively and without having to increase the practising certificate fee and delivering an operating surplus. We would like to see the independence of regulators enshrined in law.”


  1. Avoiding the dilution of regulatory oversight: “Unlike other legal regulators, CRL also provides independent quality assurance for more than 9,000 non-authorised paralegals.”

This further improves outcomes for consumers by providing quality assurance oversight to legal professionals that commit voluntarily to opening themselves up to its scrutiny. One of CRL’s concerns about the CILEX redelegation proposals is that the 9,000 paralegals would be taken out of independent regulation. Most consumers don’t know that some legal practitioners aren’t regulated and CRL shares the concerns of the LSB, Solicitors Regulation Authority and avoiding the dilution of regulatory oversight is important.


  1. Reviewing the work of the LSB: “I would like to put on record that there are lots of things the LSB does really well,” noted Jonathan Rees, “its work on diversity and equality, on vulnerable consumers and on technology is all really good. We meet regularly with them, and they assess our performance annually.


“But I do think there are legitimate questions about the size of LSB budget increases. If it votes through the planned 14% increase, CRL will have to find additional funding. Is it right that the oversight regulator should take money away from frontline regulation?”


He also shared his aspirations for the future relationship: “What we’d like to see is the LSB act more like a like a coach, identifying, sharing, and inspiring best practice – rather than acting as a ‘pedantic headmaster’ ticking us off. LSB has tremendous power and influence and is in a position to drive real change, generating research to support development in the consumer interest; this would be a significant cultural shift, but it’s one that we believe the new chair will welcome.”


In response to a question on the main challenges facing CRL going forward, Jonathan and John highlighted a number of points from CRL’s proposals for the future:


  • Education: “We recently overhauled our education requirements; and we fully support the LSB’s work around ensuring continuing competence, we would like to see a risk based approach based on the nature of the work being undertaken,” said Jonathan Rees. CRL’s ambition is to encourage the development of a rich and diverse community of legal professionals from all walks of life, more accurately reflecting the composition and needs of UK society in the 21st Century, by streamlining qualification requirements and accrediting additional training providers.
  • Access to justice: “There are also huge challenges around access to legal services for some communities and making that easier is a key objective. CILEX members are less likely to start or own their own law firm than their solicitor colleagues. But CRL’s proposals to make it easier and more cost-effective to start up a law firm (‘Law Firm in A Box’), will help to address this providing greater choice to consumers from some of these communities, who might find accessing a more traditional solicitors firm more challenging.”
  • Championing chartered legal executives: John Barwick added that while CILEX qualification successfully enables more people to progress into a career in the legal profession, there were still barriers to partner level, and this was something CRL were keen to examine, in partnership with CILEX.
  • Consumer protection: John also raised the broad issue of how far consumers are able to navigate the legal system to properly, to understand who they are commissioning work from and highlighted the work that was already underway, in partnership with the LSB and other legal regulators, through the creation of the Legal Choices website. He noted that the addition of new, nuanced titles like Chartered Lawyer, as proposed by CILEX could, he said, create a minefield for consumers.

Asked whether the current regulatory framework promoted the interests of consumers sufficiently, Jonathan Rees responded. “In broad terms, yes. We are all collectively trying to make more information available, through things like Legal Choices. A lot of people, when they need a lawyer, it’s not a daily occurrence, they are vulnerable and so they go on word of mouth. It’s about helping different types of consumer to access legal services in the way they want.”


Looking to the future, said Jonathan Rees, CRL agreed with CILEX Chair Professor Chris Bones that regulating by specialism, instead of title, might provide a better structure for regulation, but given the highly specialised nature of CRL’s work, it was simply not possible to compare CRL’s work to secure higher rights of audience for 50 specialist practitioners with the Solicitor Regulation Authority’s regulation of 166,000 solicitors. “This is why the CILEX proposals to transfer regulation to the SRA do not make any sense.” said Jonathan.


At the end of the session, James Daly MP sought confirmation from CRL that it believed it was doing a good job. In addition to the annual assessments by the LSB discussed earlier in the session, Jonathan Rees confirmed that, in its recent consultation with members, a majority thought both that there was no need to change regulator and that it was really important to have a focused regulator that understood the sector.


Challenging the basis upon which the CILEX proposals were founded, James Daly MP went on to note: “Common sense would suggest that, if we accept the findings of your members that you are doing a good job, it seems rather silly not to allow you to continue doing a good job.”


Agreeing with Mr Daly, Jonathan Rees concluded: “There is always a huge cost of change, you need to set out those costs, conduct impact assessments and make sure the change you are making is lawful. Our view is that the changes proposed are not lawful.”