Search for

Latest Posts


Chief Exec's blog

Chief Exec's Blog : Read ICAS Chief Executive Anton Colella's blog

Balancing act for the professions

27 May 10

Can a professional body be both a “representative” association and a regulator? The was the question put to Scotland’s lawyers this week, but it’s relevant to any and every professional body

It’s been a busy week of vote-counting for professional bodies. The Faculty (Scottish) and Institute (English and Welsh) of Actuaries voted overwhelmingly in favour of a crossborder merger for the actuarial profession, and meanwhile, the members of the Law Society of Scotland returned once more to the polls to decide on the future role of their own professional body. Once the new regime in legal services is in force, should the Society continue to be a regulator?

The argument against the dual role is principally that it’s not possible to fulfil both a policing role and an advocacy role, or to put it another way, the “representative” and “regulatory” roles are mutually exclusive. This is not just a matter for lawyers to debate – at one time or another, the question has been asked of just about every professional body, including ICAS.

Arguably, the dual riole creates potential conflict, and professionals, of course, are very wary of any conflict of interest. There are alternative models: the medical profession has the British Medical Association, which unashamedly represents doctors’ interests, and the General Medical Council, which acts as a regulator and enforcer. Similarly in financial services, regulation is carried out by the Financial Services Authority and its subsidiary bodies, while a range of associations represent the interests of different players in that sector.

One argument in favour of keeping the dual role is that if you do not have self-regulation, the government will come with something even more onerous.

But I believe there is an even stronger argument for the traditional model of a profession. With self-regulation, the profession concerned is defending not simply a set of minimum standards laid down by government, but the reputation of the profession itself. That means every single member of the profession has an interest in ensuring that, as Lord Smith once put it, the “shiny badge” keeps its shine. There is a commitment to quality and integrity that I do not believe would be the same in a trade association or lobby group.

One of the things that defines a “profession” rather than an “occupation” is that, in the former, your peers can throw you out if you are seen to be letting the side down.

In the end, the Scottish lawyers voted resoundingly for keeping the dual role, with 73 per cent of votes cast being in favour. There may be some tricky issues inherent in being both policeman and advocate, but that is a balancing act the professions have been managing for many years.

Bookmark with:


Law Society | actuaries | representative | regulator | dual role