Scottish Government backed down after threats from lawyers. AFTER TWO WEEKS of bitter campaigning by solicitors who threatened to derail passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill through the Scottish Parliament over certain powers which allowed Ministers to appoint non-lawyers to the Law Society’s ‘decision making’ Council, it has been revealed the Scottish Government has caved in to demands from the legal profession who want the Law Society’s ‘decision making’ Council to remain an exclusive lawyer-only affair.
The sudden climb-down by the Scottish Government, who are now also expected to cave into more demands from the legal profession intent on watering down the Legal Services Bill proposals to retain their long held monopoly over the public’s access to justice in Scotland, come after an intense two weeks of campaigning by solicitors, law firms, and even the Law Society of Scotland, who, while officially supporting the Legal Services Bill, were privately threatening to kill off the bill’s chances of securing a successful passage in the Scottish Parliament, after it became known several MSPs had been contacted by Law Society officials & individual solicitors keen to see the bill would not accumulate enough support for its passage into law.
Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Communities & Safety was wheeled out at a Law Society ‘road show’ to announce to angry solicitors their beloved ‘Council of the Law Society of Scotland’ would remain a lawyer-only club, making the following announcement :"The power of Scottish Ministers to make regulations specifying the proportion of lay members and the criteria for selection was intended as a fall-back, only to be used in the unlikely event that there would be a need to resolve any disagreements regarding the proportion of lay members.”
Mr Ewing continued : "Following representations from the Law Society of Scotland, in which it re-affirmed its commitment to lay appointments, I no longer consider it necessary for Scottish Ministers to have this fall-back power. Therefore, I intend to bring forward an amendment at Stage 2 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to delete section 92(4), (5) and (6) of the Bill."
Ian Smart, still pulling the strings against wider transparency at the Law Society. Ian Smart, President of the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the Scottish Government’s capitulation to lawyers vested interests, saying : "This is an important concession and very good news for the profession. The government promised to listen to the Society and the profession’s representations and they have done so. We, along with others, have pressed hard for changes to key aspects of the Bill and I am very pleased that the first of these have been taken on board and that amendments will be made.”
Mr Smart continued along the theme of putting a gun to the head of the Legal Services Bill & wider consumer rights of access to justice : "We’ve had a constructive working relationship with the government which we want to continue, and we will be seeking further amendments. Independence of the legal profession is essential and we have stressed throughout the ABS debate that, along with the profession’s core values and principles, it cannot be compromised. We have also maintained that consumers must be protected and that access to justice is a priority – legal services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity.”
Mr Smart seems to think the way in which Scottish solicitors fleece the public with expensive, poor quality legal services should not be treated as a purely commercial activity, rather he casts up these non-existent ‘core values & principles’, of what one may ask ? What values do solicitors have these days when consumers have a better chance of winning the Euromillions lottery than finding an honest law firm in Scotland who wont rip them off ?
Law Society wins the day again after the usual threats of a split & intimidation of Scottish Government. Section 92 of the Legal Services Bill had required the Law Society to appoint a number of non-solicitor members to its Council to represent the public interest - a joke, surely as the Law Society have never represented the public interest. The now withdrawn proposals would also have allowed Scottish Government Ministers after ‘consultation with the legal profession, to set limits or requirements on how many non-solicitors would sit on the Law Society’s Council.
The proposals drew bitter arguments from within the legal profession, which boiled over onto television with arguments between the Law Society’s current president, Ian Smart & Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre, who along with several other law firms aligned to the Glasgow Bar Association threatened to split from the Law Society over the issue of control of the Law Society’s Council and perceived Ministerial interference, which it was claimed, would lead to a fundamental loss of the legal profession’s independence.
I reported earlier on the arguments within the profession which led to today’s climb-down by the Scottish Government, here : Lawyers squabble over control of legal services monopoly & regulation as Scots consumers forced to wait for wider access to justice, accompanied by a video clip, worth watching again :
Law Society’s Ian Smart & Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly argue the toss on Legal Services reform :
Law Society wins the day again after the usual threats of a split & intimidation of Scottish Govt. While it may look to some the bitter arguments between lawyers & the Law Society threatened to disturb the ‘harmony’ of the legal profession, seasoned observers are well used to these kind of tactics, where part of the profession will break off in an outburst against Government proposed reforms, while the Law Society feigns support to a certain degree for the disputed Ministerial plans. A few days or weeks later, the plans are then quietly (or as in this case, spectacularly) dropped by Scottish Ministers, allowing the legal profession to regain its harmonious outlook of ripping off consumers and getting away with it.
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : ‘A Government Agency’. Earlier this week, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was even dragged into the fight against the Legal Services Bill by lawyers desperate to retain their monopoly over regulation of complaints and the public’s access to justice, when the Law Society’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack launched attacks at the hapless law complaints quango, branding it a “Government Agency”.
Attempt to deflect attention from Law Society’s woes ? Lorna Jack attacked Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Lorna Jack said earlier this week in comments issued to magazines & newspapers : “We also need to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. The easiest way to split the functions would be pass regulation to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. That would remove a huge amount of control from the profession and hand it to a government agency – and that could be a serious own-goal.”
The usual turn of events then ensued after Ms Jack’s comments appeared in the media, with other ‘personalities’ emerging from the legal profession’s blood stained woodwork to issue veiled threats if the Scottish Government handed over all the Law Society of Scotland’s present regulatory functions to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, there would be more trouble in store for the Legal Services Bill and anyone supporting it …
Replying to Ms Jack’s outbursts against the SLCC and pleas for solicitors unity, Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre said the Law Society should combine with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in a new, slimmed down regulator, with representation left to existing & new professional associations. Personally, I doubt that could work, as Mr Dailly is simply proposing a Law Society take-over of the SLCC, which already appears to have happened without anyone particularly noticing ….
Mr Dailly in his online blog at “The Firm” is also reported to have called for Ian Smart to step down as Law Society President, for, as Mr Dailly alleges, failing to promote the interests of solicitors - above everyone else by the sounds of it …
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is no fan of independently regulating fellow solicitors. Given the equally hapless Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has made it be known he has no intention of creating an independent regulator of legal services in Scotland – presumably because Mr MacAskill fears independent regulation as much as any of his more crooked colleagues in the profession itself, we can expect the Scottish Government to settle for ‘the quiet life’ and back down yet again, giving the Law Society total control over regulation once again, as if it already doesn't control the SLCC as things currently stand …
Today, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refused to comment on Ms Jack’s ‘Government Agency’ jibe, preferring to point out in a statement “The SLCC does not intend to comment on the article that appeared in the Scotsman. The status of the SLCC is defined in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, Schedule 1 Sections 1 (1) and (2) and there is a link to the Act on the SLCC website.” – sounds as if they have a lot of confidence in themselves …
Given the developments of this past week .. it may well be that Scots are not going to receive much of a fairer deal for access to justice or access to legal services, certainly if the legal profession & the Law Society of Scotland have their wicked way once again …