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ICAEW renews calls for simplification of law

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 11 Aug 2021

The Institute has said simplifying the rule of law should be high on the government’s agenda if it wants to kickstart business and help wider society.

ICAEW made the suggestion in its wish list to the Law Commission of legislation it wants reviewed and reformed, stating such a project should be carried out long-term and run by successive governments of any party.

The Commission undertakes a public consultation every few years with a view to submitting the Lord Chancellor a draft programme of legislative changes. This year, its 14th programme, includes five suggested themes, two of which align with key ICAEW strategies, including better regulation around emerging technology and the environment, and a handful of other possible projects.

The Commission has suggested reviewing the European legislation Britain kept in place post-Brexit with a view to enhancing competitiveness on the international stage. It has also proposed introducing tweaks to legal resilience in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One major proposal concerns the simplification of law, which ICAEW backed strongly in its consultation response. A founding principle of the Commission is the simplification of law, including through codification or consolidation, but it admits such work has not always been in vogue.

“This is a constant issue raised by our members when commenting on proposed changes in law,” ICAEW said in its response. “Undue complexity makes it harder for businesses and individuals to understand the law, and so to comply with it. This undermines the rule of law and justice.”

While the costs of undue complexity may be difficult to quantify, ICAEW believes they are substantial and often not well reflected in government impact assessments. This includes the costs required to obtain professional advice and the costs of bodies who seek to make law and regulation more comprehensible by producing explanatory guidance or the like. 

ICAEW also said it would welcome a review on the law of execution of deeds; and separately, on data sharing and information law. Although the consideration of will writing by the Law Commission has been delayed from the 12th programme of reform, ICAEW said it would like to see those proposals included in the current initiative. 

ICAEW has also proposed a further theme for Law Commission projects; building trust in the profession. And it has also put forth additional ideas for laws that impact members and wider society, including the simplification of the tax code; a review of corporate criminal liability; and a more extensive look at dividend payments as part of the government’s plan to reform the audit market. 

“We welcomed the consultation and agree, in particular, that simplification of the law is an important theme and note that there is another government consultation on this issue,” said Charles Worth, ICAEW head of business law. “If it is so complex that those bound by it can’t reasonably be expected to understand it, then it isn’t really fair. I frequently hear members say that we don’t need new laws but need existing laws to be enforced better.”

The full ICAEW response can be read here.

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