The Covid-19 pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on everyone, including the businesses and institutions that support access to justice and underpin the rule of law.
At the LSB, we are mindful of the needs of both the profession and consumers, and will ensure that we are not placing unnecessary burdens on others at this time whilst ensuring that effective regulation of legal services in the public interest continues.
We have been in contact with all the legal services regulators to discuss how we will work together during this period and the support that the LSB will provide. We have also been considering our own priorities and are keeping activities under review. Our Chair also wrote to regulators on 6 April 2020.
One of our early actions in response to the pandemic was to proactively issue a fast track approvals mechanism for changes to regulatory arrangements that may become necessary as a result of Covid-19. This will remain active and available to regulatory bodies throughout the pandemic.
Looking forward, we will be turning our minds to consider the wider role that regulation might play in supporting and promoting economic recovery.
Our key priorities
On 1 April 2020, we published our business plan for 2020/21. The plan was developed and consulted on before the pandemic. Nevertheless, it remains the central guide to our ambition for the year. However, our plans remain flexible as the legal sector deals with and then recovers from the outbreak, and we are committed to playing a role in supporting that recovery.
In delivering our plans, we will adopt the following scheme of priorities, based on delivering our statutory obligations under the Legal Services Act:
- Statutory decisions, compliance with the Internal Governance Rules 2019 (IGR) and other core regulatory functions;
- Oversight of Office of Legal Complaints and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal;
- Regulatory performance oversight of regulatory bodies, including concluding our current IGR consultation; and
- Our wider policy areas such as LSB strategy, ongoing competence, and technology, where we are taking a more measured approach to our external engagement.
We have published a flexible activity schedule which we will update regularly as milestones are planned for new areas of work as part of our response to Covid-19 developments.
Our response to Covid-19 – 15 July 2020
We have published a Covid-19 data hub to monitor the impact the pandemic is having on legal services and access to justice. It aims to inform regulators and policy makers by indicating the impact on demand for legal services across different legal issues as well as the health of the legal services market in England and Wales.
As we explain in the accompanying data bulletin, Covid-19 is having a profound impact on the demand for and provision of legal services. Consumer demand is soaring in some areas and falling in others, while organisations that consumers rely on for legal advice are facing new challenges to their ability to continue to provide these services.
At our Board Meeting on 14 July 2020, the Board once again focused on the work the LSB was doing to support the recovery of the sector whilst ensuring the public continue to be protected by an effective system of regulation. The Chair’s blog published following the meeting provides some insight into the Board discussion.
To summarise, the following actions are being progressed:
- communicating to stakeholders the need to consider recovery from a public interest perspective
- engaging with regulatory bodies to ensure we understand any impact of Covid-19 on their operational and financial resilience
- considering actions in relation to slowed operations within our purview as a result of the pandemic
- identifying and removing any regulatory barriers to new ways of working
- making use of the LSB’s data hub to monitor any trends
- as part of our work developing a new strategy for the legal services sector, we are considering whether we can use the regulatory levers available to us through the Legal Services Act to aid recovery.