First of all, you will see that your Journal has a new and different look this month. The magazine was due a refresh, and with input from the Society and the solicitors on the editorial board we are now using Uni Neue as the principal font. We welcome feedback on the effect.
It is the Society itself that would have a new and different look if the proposals in Esther Roberton’s review of legal services regulation are given effect. Not surprisingly they have already been the subject of much public discussion, and there is bound to be ongoing coverage beyond what we bring you in this edition.
Debate will focus squarely on the desirability or otherwise of having an independent regulator for what all agree should be an independent profession. There is no doubt that there are strong currents that are pulling in that direction. Roberton cites authority influential in Government circles that that is the future, as well as what she believes to be the direction of travel internationally, and no doubt sees herself as taking the bold approach in concluding that Scotland should make the change in a single leap rather than in stages as elsewhere.
At the same time there remain strong arguments against outside regulation, both in principle and at a practical level, yet any proper discussion or analysis of these is difficult to find in the report. For example, major concerns were raised in Ireland (and beyond) only a few years ago, when a reform bill there aimed to place elements of control fairly starkly in the hands of Government, yet Roberton appears to see only the consumerist perspective that the bill was simply watered down in the face of an orchestrated campaign from the profession.
The profession has a handicap in such a debate, having to combat the perception that it is acting out of self interest as well as the beguilingly simple appeal of having an external body that appears to hold the ring between profession and public. And it needs to be seen to be willing to accept, and work with, some form of official external scrutiny such as an ombudsman if policymakers decide that such should be created. But the values of independence from institutions of state that its members might have to challenge on behalf of citizens, of regulation reflecting high professional and ethical standards while informed by an understanding of the impact on practice, and of upholding the considerable public protections that the present system permits, should not be put at risk in the pursuit of a consumerist agenda.