As a result, ICAEW will be able in future to authorise individuals and firms for the reserved legal service of probate. And it will also be able to act as regulator for firms wishing to restructure themselves as ABSs so that they can form multi-disciplinary practices with other professionals such as lawyers.
In so doing, it has become the first non-legal body to regulate a reserved legal activity – a significant achievement and one that fulfils the objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007 to open up the legal services market to greater competition.
Until now, accountancy firms were forced to apply to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority if they wanted to go down the ABS route. This has proved costly and burdensome as it meant that they had to be regulated by two separate bodies for different purposes.
ICAEW first applied to become an approved regulator in 2012 but it wasn’t until December last year that the Legal Services Board announced that it would be recommending the application to the Lord Chancellor for approval.
In a letter to ICAEW chief executive Michael Izza, Shailesh Vara, a Ministry of Justice minister, said that he had decided to approve the LSB’s recommendation and would be making an order under the Legal Services Act 2007 to that effect.
The draft statutory instrument will have to go before both Houses of Parliament for final approval but the process is likely to be just a formality.
Welcoming the announcement, ICAEW executive director Vernon Soare said, “Today’s decision is great news for consumers looking for probate services who will now be able to use appropriately qualified ICAEW chartered accountants as an alternative to traditional providers.
“The Lord Chancellor has broken new ground in approving our application as the first non-legal body to be able to regulate probate services and licence ABS. It is practical evidence of the role that the Legal Services Board is playing in transforming the provision of legal services and giving more choice to the consumer.
“Between now and the date when the relevant orders are approved by Parliament, we will be working closely with ICAEW member firms to ensure they have access to the training and support they need to be able to offer these new services to consumers.”
The Lord Chancellor also gave his approval to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ application to become a regulator for the purposes of probate services.