Newsletter – June 2023

Spotlight on… the role of regulation in public protection

I’m very conscious that the title of this piece might have already put readers off, but, on the assumption you’re still with me, I’m going to talk a little about the importance of protecting the public through robust regulation. It’s not as dry and it sounds, I promise. My reflections are drawn from my experience across a range of regulators, each in quite a different context.

My role as a lay non-executive director of the Board at the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB) means that I don’t take decisions about regulation in individual cases here. Away from the Costs Lawyer profession though, I chair regulatory panels at the pharmacy, nursing/midwifery, osteopathic and accountancy regulators, as well as at the regulatory tribunal for solicitors and barristers in Ireland.

In healthcare, it’s fairly obvious why public protection and the public interest are at the heart of regulation. None of us would want our healthcare practitioner to be somebody who had been found not to be meeting professional standards or, for example, who had been convicted of a serious criminal offence.

The same, of course, applies to all of the legal professions. Thankfully, CLSB’s independent decision-makers are not often required to determine individual cases, but it matters to the public that the profession has robust regulation in place and deals with concerns properly, whenever and however they arise.

In healthcare, how concerns are raised varies widely across the regulators, depending on the nature of the profession. For example, most osteopaths practice independently and might often be the owner of a clinic in which they work; some will be sole practitioners. This means that, in osteopathy, complaints often come from patients who have a reason to make a regulatory referral.

At the other end of the spectrum, most nurses work in the public sector and often as part of a team with some management structures around them. That means that it’s often their employer who makes sure that the regulator knows about issues or concerns, although there will sometimes be referrals from other professionals or from patients. Each of these allow the regulator to decide if there may be a public protection or public interest issue at play.

For Costs Lawyers, concerns can be raised by a host of people. Occasionally it will be appropriate for an individual Costs Lawyer to refer themselves (for example, if they had a criminal conviction) or a concern might be raised by a fellow practitioner or a client. Equally, those who work in larger corporate organisations, mainly law firms, will want to reflect on the importance of making the regulator aware if there are any systemic or firm-wide regulatory concerns that need to be addressed.

Being part of a regulated profession has many benefits and privileges. One of those is to be able to say to clients that you are a regulated professional and that you’ll be held to account should that ever be needed. Your profession has a clear set of standards which are overseen and enforced by an independent body.

Certainly, most of those who I meet in regulatory processes are very keen to ensure that their regulator upholds standards and ensures that the very tiny minority whose professional behaviour or conduct doesn’t meet the appropriate standards is held to account.

All of this means that, whether we go to visit a dentist for a check-up, or we commission a Costs Lawyer to undertake work, we can be confident that there is an underpinning professional code and an assurance that – in the rare event that something goes wrong – there is somewhere we can turn.

Across all the work that I do in regulation, the common theme is protecting the public. That’s just as important for the Costs Lawyer profession as for any other, albeit that the ‘public’ in its case comes in all forms and sizes.

None of us should fear regulation – we are all ‘the public’ in most parts of our lives. And, whilst there are few cases involving misconduct by Costs Lawyers, having fair and robust regulation in place to deal with those cases is a vital part of what we do at the CLSB.

Andrew Harvey is Chair of the Professional Conduct Committee at the General Osteopathic Council, a chair of Fitness to Practise panels at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, a Chair of the Tribunals Committee at the ICAEW, Deputy Chair of the Investigating Committee of the General Pharmaceutical Council and a member of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal in Ireland. He is also a non-executive director and Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee at Registers of Scotland (the Scottish Government land and legal documents registry) and an independent member of the Civil Nuclear Police Authority.

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