New legislation published by the Scottish Parliament today, 21 April 2023 risks seriously undermining the independence of the legal profession from the state, the Law Society has warned.
The new Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill introduced by the Scottish Government will see the Law Society continue as the regulator of Scottish solicitors, with additional powers to act to protect the public interest. Changes are also proposed to the complaints system to make it simpler and quicker.
However, the Law Society has warned new proposed powers allowing Scottish Ministers to intervene and direct regulators are “deeply alarming” and risk seriously undermining the independence of the legal regulation from the state.
Commenting, President of the Law Society, Murray Etherington said:
“Some aspects of the proposed Bill are deeply alarming. One of the most important roles of the legal sector is to challenge government on behalf of clients and hold it to account. The proposed new power allowing Scottish Ministers to intervene directly in regulation risks seriously undermining the independence of the legal profession from the state. This is clearly unacceptable and needs removed from the Bill by the Scottish Parliament as the Bill progresses.
“There is still an opportunity to use this Bill as a catalyst for real, positive and long-lasting change. Maintaining professional standards and protecting clients is some of the Law Society’s most important public interest work. However, much of the existing legislation on regulation is now over 40 years old and is simply unfit for today’s modern and diverse legal sector. This is why we went to the Scottish Government almost a decade ago, asking for change. The complaints system in particular needs reformed to make it quicker and simpler for the benefit of all involved. There is also a chance to better protect consumers from unqualified providers of legal services, especially when things go wrong."
David Gordon, the non-solicitor convener of the Law Society Regulatory Committee said:
“The new legislation provides a chance to build on the huge progress made over the last few years. Our independent regulatory committee has already shown the value in having non-solicitors at the very heart of the Law Society. This has helped ensure solicitor standards are high and that complaints numbers low. Nevertheless, we know we can do more in terms of the committee’s transparency and accountability and the Bill provides an important framework to help make that happen.
“The legislation is also an opportunity to expand our public interest powers and allow us to step in at an earlier stage when things go wrong. We think the Bill could go even further than is currently proposed, especially in terms of how our complaints are handled, so cases are dealt with more quickly for the benefit for all involved. However, we need to avoid hard-wiring too much detail into the Bill which will only restrict our ability to adapt and evolve as the market changes.”