Who Regulates our Legal Services?

We tend to place a lot of trust in the legal system. These services are enlisted when our own abilities to negotiate have been dried up, when a significant wrongdoing has been brought against us or even leading up to achieving a milestone (homeownership, launching a new business, etc.). It’s also during times of distress that legal services are required, which makes it even more important to have representatives who can be trusted. But who regulates these professions? This article will outline the regulatory bodies within the legal profession. 

Legal Services Board (LSB)

The LSB is the overarching regulatory board for all regulatory boards that oversee the legal system in the United Kingdom. These regulatory boards will be listed in the proceeding sections, but they refer to any legal regulators. 

The LSB was developed in 2009 and is an independent regulatory body serving both England and Wales. It has a mandate that focuses on safeguarding the regulation of legal services and in a way that is conducted with public interest in mind. As part of this public focus, the LSB established a Consumer Panel, which acts independently of the LSB. Its purpose is to advise the LSB on the consumer perspective rather than on the legal one.

Legal Ombudsman

Another regulatory institution that covers multiple facets of the legal sector in England and Wales is the Legal Ombudsman. This role is responsible for handling complaints across the legal system in an informal setting. This means it does not rely on judicial processes, but instead uses an agreement process. These processes are outlined as part of the Legal Services Act 2010, and outcomes of these reviews are not legally binding. 

The Legal Ombudsman is often used as a first step in the complaint resolution process. 

Law Society

Solicitors are required to take on membership with the Law Society. The Law Society is the regulatory board for over 125,000 solicitors in England and Wales, and it deals mainly with training, qualifications and complaints. 

The Law Society was founded in 1831, before becoming a sovereign union in 1845. Members of the Law Society are regulated under the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which operates independently of the Society. 

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)

Following on the former regulatory body, the SRA was formed in 2007 under the Legal Services Act 2007. It has used an outcome-oriented regulatory approach since 2011, which replaced the previous rules-based methodology. 

The SRA regulates and enforces said regulation independent of the Law Society. It aims to ensure the standard qualifications of those regulated under the SRA have been met and continue to be maintained. 

In the event that an infraction occurs, the SRA has several potential outcomes that it can enforce. These include: a written warning; a disciplinary sanction or fine; taking control over, revoking or refusing to renew recognition of a firm or an individual; shutting down a firm; or filing a referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The SDT is a statutory tribunal under the Solicitors Act 1974. The Tribunal acts as the judicial body for those under review of breaching the Code of Conduct. The rules and regulations used within the Solicitors Act 1974 are intended to protect the public and maintain their confidence in the legal system.

Bar Council and Bar Standards Board

The Bar Council pertains to Barristers in England and Wales. It was founded in 1894 and is governed by the Bar Standards Board. It is, perhaps, best described as the organisation that advocates for its members, whilst holding them accountable. It seeks to provide fair access to judicial services for all; maintain the quality of the services provided by Barristers; set the standards of practice as they relate to ethics, equality and diversity within the profession; and develop business opportunities for members. 

The Bar Standards Board is the official regulatory body of the Bar Council, and it is an independent organisation. It uses an agreed-upon protocol between the Bar Council and itself to ensure both independence and consistency in the regulation of Barristers in England and Wales.  

Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO)

The final regulatory body is the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO), which was previously known as the Office for Judicial Complaints until 2005. The newly recognised Office came into effect as part of the Constitution Reform Act 2005 and operates in conformity with the Judicial Discipline Regulations, which were established in 2014.

The JCIO aims to ensure that any judicial disciplinary issues are handled in a consistent, fair and efficient manner. Complaints can be filed by members of the public or through legal representation and must pertain to complaints related to members of the judicial system, including judges of all levels and coroners.  

It is important to conclude by noting that there are other regulatory bodies within the legal system of the UK. However, those mentioned in this article are the most widely recognised regulators of the legal profession.