Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I venture to suggest that this order is straightforward and uncontroversial. It designates the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales—for ease, I will refer to it the institute—as an approved regulator under the Legal Services Act 2007 for the reserved legal activity of the administration of oaths.
In summary, the order, if approved, will allow the institute to authorise and regulate individuals and firms administrating oaths within the scope of the Commissioners for Oaths Act 1889, the Commissioners for Oaths Act 1891 and the Stamp Duties Management Act 1891.
As the Committee is aware, the Legal Services 2007 Act defines six reserved legal activities, which only individuals and firms regulated by one of the 11 approved legal regulators can provide to the public. The administration of oaths is one of these activities.
The institute is already an approved regulator and licensing authority under the 2007 Act, but only in respect of probate activities, which is also a reserved legal activity. It regulates more than 300 firms providing probate services and wishes to expand the range of legal services its members can provide. As such, it made the required application to the Legal Services Board, seeking to expand its functions. Following a recommendation from the Legal Services Board, the then Lord Chancellor confirmed in May 2019 that he agreed to make an order to designate the institute as an approved regulator for the reserved legal activity of the administration of oaths. It is envisaged that expanding the institute’s remit will improve consumer choice, enhance competition and enable firms who are regulated by the institute to expand their practice.
This order fulfils the statutory objectives in the Legal Services Act 2007 and is supportive of better regulation in the consumer and public interest. I commend the draft order to the Committee.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, has just pointed out, this is uncontroversial. I have no objection to it. It took me back to my years as an articled clerk in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the perk that one had was to take clients to another solicitor who would administer an oath on probate papers. This would cost the individual 10 guineas, and the shillings in those guineas were for me. There were only 10 shillings, but at a time when I was earning £4 a week, which was extended to £5 a week when I got married, that was quite a considerable sum.
I have only one question. It was thought the right policy that oaths should not be administered by the solicitor, or commissioner for oaths, who was handling the case, but should be taken elsewhere to another solicitor. If he did not give the articled clerk the shillings and the guineas, he did not get the work, because the articled clerk knew where to go. Is that still going on, 50 years later? Is that intended to be the practice when it comes to dealing with chartered accountants?
I am most obliged to noble Lords, if only for their brevity. I am not certain what happened to the shilling or the guinea, but I understand that the practice remains that, where the oath is to be taken, it is taken by a lawyer in a different firm or entity.
The noble Lord referred to the administration of oaths by accountants. That is not necessarily the case. The institute will be the regulator, but it will regulate, in due course, alternative business structures that will include lawyers. Generally speaking, it is to enable those lawyers to be engaged in this reserved activity that this order is being made.