The new Regulators’ Code – bringing regulators to account?

The new Regulators’ Code – bringing regulators to account?

An event which has passed without comment from regulators in the legal sector is the coming into effect on 6 April of the new Regulators’ Code (the Code) which replaces the previous Regulators’ Compliance Code. But will it make regulators more accountable to those whom they regulate or is it just another bunch of words that will be ignored and forgotten?

A product of the Better Regulation Delivery Office of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the new code is designed to “provide a clear, flexible and principles-based framework for how regulators should engage with those they regulate.”

Accompanying the Code is a summary of the regulators and regulatory functions it covers which includes the Legal Services Board, the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Insolvency Practitioners Association and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives appears to have escaped – perhaps due to the fact that they were not referred to in Schedule 3 of the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 which is used as a basis for the inclusion of professional bodies.

The Code appears to require that those regulators covered by it must have regard to it when developing policies and operational procedures and when setting standards or giving guidance. However, it also states that if a regulator concludes that a specific provision of the Code is either not applicable or is outweighed by another relevant consideration, then that regulator is not bound to follow that provision.

It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the introduction of the Code will have any effect whatsoever on the activities of those who regulate the legal sector.

It would be good to think that it might have some effect. It certainly contains some requirements that would be ideal aspirations for our own regulators, including:

  • Regulators should avoid imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens through their regulatory activities;
  • Regulators should consider how they might support or enable economic growth for compliant businesses and other regulated entities ….. [by] …. minimising the costs of compliance for those they regulate;
  • Regulators should ensure that their officers have the necessary knowledge and skills to support those they regulate, including having an understanding of those they regulate that enables them to choose proportionate and effective approaches;
  • Regulators should provide an impartial and clearly explained route to appeal against a regulatory decision or a failure to act;
  • Regulators should ensure clear information, guidance and advice is available to help those they regulate meet their responsibilities to comply;
  • Regulators should ensure that their approach to their regulatory activities is transparent.

Would that these words were being heeded now in relation to the regulation of our businesses.

The Code goes on to say that the Government is committed to making sure the Regulators’ Code is effective and to achieve this it want businesses, regulated bodies and citizens to challenge regulators who they believe are not acting in accordance with their published policies and standards.

Perhaps now is the time to start doing a bit of challenging!

If we want to ensure that we are regulated in a way which does not harm our businesses, subject us to time consuming form filling and procedures then perhaps we need to be aware of the provisions that the Code contains and challenge the regulators when it appears that those provisions are being ignored.

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