A 15 month review into the regulation of legal services and complaints handling in Scotland was launched today by the Scottish Government.
Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Legal Affairs confirmed the move to implement an SNP manifesto commitment in a parliamentary answer.
To be led by Esther Roberton, current chair of NHS 24, the independent review will make recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework covering the profession.
"The review is intended to ensure a proportionate approach to regulation that supports growth in the legal services sector", Ms Ewing stated. "It should also place consumer interests firmly at the heart of any system of regulation, including the competitive provision of legal services. The review will focus on the current regulatory framework, the complaints and redress process for providers of legal services including solicitors and advocates, and ongoing market issues such as investigating the benefits of regulating firms as well as individual solicitors.
"Key stakeholders including the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Scottish Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal have previously produced policy papers calling for change to the current system including reviewing the complexity of current processes."
She added: "Some ‘legal’ matters such as will writing and other issues may be handled by unregulated firms or persons. Additionally claims management companies are unregulated in Scotland. The review will be able to investigate all of these areas."
Ms Roberton has extensive senior leadership experience in the NHS and elsewhere. She was chairman of SACRO (2010-2014) and until recently also sat on the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service Audit & Risk Committee.
Other confirmed members of the review are:
- Christine McLintock, Immediate Past President of the Law Society of Scotland;
- Alistair Morris, chief executive of Pagan Osborne and also a former Law Society of Scotland President;
- for the Faculty of Advocates, Laura Dunlop QC, Hastie Stable and Derek Ogg QC, MacKinnon Advocates;
- Neil Stevenson, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission;
- Nicholas Whyte, chair of the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal;
- Ray Macfarlane, chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board;
- Jim Martin, outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman;
- Dr Dame Denise Coia, chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland;
- Professor Russel Griggs, chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group;
- Professor Lorne Crerar, chairman, Harper Macleod LLP; and
- Trisha McAuley, McAuley Policy and Management.
The review panel is expected to undertake stakeholder engagement with the full range of stakeholders with an interest in its work, and have due regard to relevant research and previous reviews into the regulation of legal services where appropriate. Its full remit is "To review the regulation of legal services in Scotland and in undertaking this review, to:
- consider what regulatory framework would best promote competition, innovation and the public and consumer interest in an efficient, effective and independent legal sector;
- recommend a framework which will protect the public and consumer interest, promote the principles of accountability, consistency, flexibility, transparency, cost-effectiveness and proportionality;
- ensure that the regulatory framework retains the confidence of the profession and the general public;
- undertake specific research into the extent of the unregulated legal services market in Scotland and investigate any impacts on consumers, as well as developing a better understanding of the structure of the legal services market.
It is intended that the review will reports to ministers within 15 months. The outputs will inform future reforms of the regulatory system for legal services.
Responding to the news, Eilidh Wiseman, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "We have been pushing for a review of this kind for several years.
"We welcome today’s announcement because we have argued strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation governing the legal sector, some of which is 35 years old and no longer fit for purpose.
"We know the processes for complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients and we will emphasise this to the review panel."
She added: "In order to protect the public and avoid confusion amongst clients, the same level of regulation should be required for all legal services. Many people are unaware that some types of legal work are not regulated – for example, someone receiving employment advice from a non-solicitor. They may have little or no course of redress if something goes wrong. Consumers deserve the same level of protection whether they choose to go to a solicitor or to use another legal services provider."
For the SLCC, Neil Stevenson, one of the review panel members, commented: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this review, in line with the manifesto commitment. We hope our Reimagine Regulation legislative change priorities paper, which we published last year, will be one helpful contribution to the review. In that paper we looked at some of the innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions, so we are especially delighted to see that expertise represented in the review panel alongside huge knowledge of the legal sector. We look forward to this range of experience and expertise being shared as part of this process, and a collaborative approach to identifying priorities and opportunities for reform.”