It also has an important meaning for society because regulation exists to protect the public. It says, this job is important, and there could be a significant risk if it’s not done correctly. That risk usually means the people in these jobs need to have undergone specific training, need be registered with a regulator and are subject to a complaints or disciplinary process.
Legal services are regulated because of their vital importance in supporting the rule of law and access to justice. That places some regulatory burdens on them to ensure they meet the required standards, but also delivers certain privileges in terms of market access.
Over the past fortnight, I’ve attended events on both legal services and healthcare regulation. They were all concerned with how regulation can be agile enough to protect the public from harm, without stifling innovation or improvement.
That includes looking at how technology can help bring access to justice to those who would otherwise struggle to access legal support. Or how data can help to identify areas where early intervention, for example in initial training or continuing professional development, could help to avoid common problems for certain groups of practitioners.
In any sector, it’s vital that the legislative framework that underpins regulation keeps pace with changes in the sector and in wider society. It needs to be responsive to the needs of the people who use the service, and support those it regulates to deliver a quality service.
In both the healthcare and legal sectors there’s reform on the horizon and it’s hoped that will enable regulation that is more flexible, proportionate and efficient. That means regulation that is fit for today’s changing landscape, and able to adapt to future challenges and opportunities.
The Scottish Government recently announced plans for a Legal Services Regulation Reform Bill with an aim to provide a modern regulatory framework which promotes innovation. That move is welcome as the framework for regulation and complaints is inflexible and overly prescriptive. It’s vital that the regulatory system adapts to changing public expectations and a changing legal services market.
Of course, most users of legal services don’t think about regulation. They just want their problem solved, and to be able to find any legal advice or support they need to do that. They want that support to be provided by an individual or firm with the knowledge and expertise to help them, at a fair cost and with a professional level of service. They want to know that they will be protected, and that if something goes wrong, it will be addressed.
So while the technicalities of regulation can be complex, the purpose is simple. We regulate to protect the public and to promote public confidence in vital services, whether that’s health and social care, education or legal services. We’ll all use these services at some point in our lives, so we all have a stake in regulating them for the public good.
Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission