Opposing views on reforming the regulation of legal services in Scotland have been put to the Scottish Government by the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Both bodies published today their responses to the Government's consultation setting out options for reform, which range from a new single regulator taking over the functions of the legal professional bodies as well as the SLCC, to leaving regulation with the professional bodies subject to ensuring the independence of their regulatory committees.
The Society believes that reform should focus on the currently "complex and cumbersome" complaints system, but rejects the "unnecessary and costly" options to set up new and additional regulatory bodies.
It also proposes action to tackle the unregulated legal services market, which puts consumers at risk, and believes that allowing cross-border regulation would position Scotland as a more attractive jurisdiction in which legal firms can be based and offer the chance to grow inward investment and jobs.
President Ken Dalling commented: "Some of the options set out by Government risk undoing what already works well and has delivered strong public confidence and trust in the solicitor profession.
"The cost of legal services is one of the biggest barriers to people getting the advice they need. Yet the consultation presents an option of creating a brand new regulatory body, adding substantial costs which consumers would ultimately have to bear. This threatens the competitiveness of the Scottish legal sector, just as we recover from the COVID pandemic, and risks a loss of jobs to other parts of the UK. There is simply no evidence to justify moving forward with such a bureaucratic or expensive process."
He added: "We are very proud of the trust and satisfaction shown in solicitors’ work. However we need reform to the regulatory system to make it more flexible and more relevant to today’s diverse and technology-driven legal sector."
In its response, however, the SLCC has again supported the recommendations of the Roberton review, published in 2018, which recommended the new single regulator model.
Chief executive Neil Stevenson urged ministers to "grasp the thistle" and take bold action to end the present polarised debate on the way forward.
He said: "When the minister responded to the Roberton review’s recommendations, she said she hoped to build consensus, where possible, on the way forward prior to deciding on a course of action.
"The continued polarised debate over the past two and a half years suggests this is unlikely. Some may also question if it is desirable. The compromise legislation on legal regulation delivered in 2007 and 2010 has ultimately failed to tackle criticisms of the current system, and could be said to have made things more complicated and costly in the pursuit of consensus.
"In response to this consultation we expect to see a growing momentum and a building evidence base for change. Drawing on experience here in Scotland and beyond, we believe many responses will suggest that bold reform is not only the best way to create a modern, forward-looking legal services regulation framework for Scotland, but that it is the only way.
"Anything less is likely to simply prolong this polarised debate until the current system becomes untenable."