The legal profession and the Office of Fair Trading have exchanged frank and sometimes differing views on a number of key issues – such as the investigation into the operation of the Master Policy and, more recently, the reform of legal services. But that has also led to a closer working relationship, often behind the scenes. And OFT Chairman Philip Collins, who recently met President Elect Ian Smart on a visit to Edinburgh, says identifying issues of common concern will help produce solutions to future problems.
He explains: “In the context of the legal profession, we are often defined as adversaries. Of course, we will have our differences but we are also challenging many of the same practices. The OFT shares common interests with legal advisers – working to ensure conditions for fair trading businesses to prosper and for consumers of goods and services to be suitably protected.”
As the UK’s consumer and competition authority, the OFT is charged with making markets work well for consumers. It has a wide range of tools available to address problems, including enforcement action, studying markets and recommending action, business guidance, consumer education and voluntary consumer codes. Collins, a solicitor who practised as a general corporate and commercial lawyer before specialising in competition law, joined the OFT in 2005. Two years later, the authority opened its Edinburgh office to work specifically with a range of Scottish interests in developing awareness and understanding of the competition and consumer protection regimes.
“Establishing the Edinburgh office significantly enhanced our contact with the Law Society of Scotland, as we are just around the corner in Walker Street”, Collins comments. “In specific areas of our work, such as market studies, we appreciate the ability to engage with particular interests across the Society’s membership.
“For example, having in recent months been much engaged in matters of home building, property management and now house buying and selling, we are in frequent contact with the Conveyancing Committee. Other opportunities to discuss the work of OFT and developments in competition and consumer law, as the In-house Lawyers’ Group of the Society offered last October, are most welcome.”
The Society and OFT have also held a range of discussions on alternative business structures, through common membership most recently of the Scottish Government’s Bill Reference Group examining reform of the profession.
Collins recognises that on issues such as this, not all members of the Society share the OFT’s approach, but says the OFT values highly the opportunities for detailed discussion, which contributes to identifying new solutions.
“There is a shared sense with the Scottish Government and the Society that change is necessary, and collectively it’s possible to move forward in a way that looks at the genuine interests of the profession but also very much focuses on the interests of the consumer and access to justice. The sort of solutions put forward by the Scottish Government, which are commanding quite a lot of consensus, were arrived at by organisations working together and managing their own constituencies.
“Having seen the painful and desperately slow reform process in England & Wales, it is a pleasure to see what is actually been achieved in Scotland. The process may have started much later but it has the opportunity to move rapidly. All credit to those who have actually driven it forward, including in the profession at large.”
In this issue
- Spanish executry law – cross border issues
- The Scottish Parliament’s Emergency Bill procedure
- One year on
- Unequal before the law (1)
- Ian Smart's inauguration speech
- Your new First XI
- Dangerous loophole
- Unlocking the rule of law
- Our guiding light
- A hit for the conference
- Of chairs, trains and escalators
- Unequal before the law
- Matters of the mind
- New game, new rules
- Advance on all fronts
- Making openness work
- The First XI
- Society parleys with the OFT
- Professional Practice Committee
- Committees: the unsung heroes
- Find a client?
- Platform for success?
- Ask Ash
- Constant foe
- Killer question
- A time to be inventive
- Deep pockets required?
- Win some, lose some
- New client - new problems
- Website review
- Book reviews
- A business view