Law Society of Scotland members ‘in state of civil war’ over access to justice reforms. As the debate heats up over the Scottish Government’s plans for legal services reform, the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, who is seen by many solicitors as ‘leading the fight’ by some law firms to persuade the Law Society of Scotland to block the passage of the Scottish Government’s Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which aims to promote & widen consumer access to justice & legal services, also holds a position on a ‘consumer lobby quango’ known as the Financial Services Consumer Panel, which 'advises & ‘challenges the Financial Services Authority on policy matters, to ensure the FSA takes into account the consumer interest.
The Financial Services Consumer Panel profile page for Mr Dailly lists the following details : “Mike is Principal Solicitor and Director of Govan Law Centre, Glasgow, one of the largest community based law centres in the UK. He is a Member of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s Poverty Advisory Group, Legal Advisor to the UK Sustainable Home Ownership Partnership, and a Member of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland’s Advisory Panel. He has over 15 years post-qualified experience as a practising civil court solicitor in Scotland with experience in using the law to protect consumers’ rights and tackle social disadvantage. Mike has European and international law experience, and has several academic publications to his credit. He also acted, from 2005-2008, as the solicitor to the UK unfair bank charges campaign.”
“Mike joined the Panel to bring to it a fresh consumer law perspective. He wants to ensure that the existing regulatory frameworks works as well as possible, while identifying areas of legal or operational practice that could be improved or strengthened for UK consumers. Mike sees membership of the Consumer Panel as providing an exciting opportunity to support the regulatory work of the FSA by constructing careful and persuasive legal arguments. He is particularly interested in preventative and self-help solutions, and a rights-based approach to ensure that consumers get a fair deal when it comes to money matters.”
The Financial Services Consumer Panel were asked for comment on whether they felt Mr Dailly’s stance against the pro-consumer reforms of the Legal Services Bill, was a potential conflict of interest in terms of the aims of the FSCP.
A spokeswoman for the Financial Services Consumer Panel said : "Mike sits on the Panel as an individual consumer advising the FSA on the regulation of financial services. Like all members of the Panel he has specific expertise - in this case being a lawyer - and he also has personal opinions. We are aware of his stance in relation to the Scottish Legal Services Bill and see no conflict of interest."
While the Financial Services Consumer Panel apparently support Mr Dailly’s stance against the Scottish Government’s plans to widen public access to justice & legal services in Scotland, through the Legal Services Bill, known to some as ‘Tesco Law’, the aims of the lobby group and its members seem to be at odds with other quarters of the UK consumer lobby, where, for example, the highly influential Which? consumer group, and Consumer Focus Scotland have expressed full support for the Legal Services Bill, which itself came about after Which? launched a “supercomplaint” to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on the state of Scotland’s closed shop legal services market, chiefly dominated by solicitors & the Law Society of Scotland.
Upon investigation of the Which? “supercomplaint”, the OFT concluded there were failings in Scottish consumers being able to access legal services at their own choice, going onto recommend the Scottish Government address the issue without delay. The OFT’s response to the Which? super complaint can be viewed here : OFT response to super-complaint.
The Scottish Consumer Council, now renamed Consumer Focus Scotland, issued its response to the OFT’s consideration of the Which? super complaint, broadly supporting the moves to open up Scotland’s legal services market. The SCC’s reply to the OFT can be viewed HERE and you can read more about all this in an earlier article, here : Holyrood's Justice Committee offers ‘cautious support’ for Legal Services Bill reforms, as lawyers fight to hold back Scots wider access to justice
One might be left wondering why a lawyer who sits on a consumer lobby panel which didn’t say too much about the much similar Legal Services Act 2007 coming into force in England & Wales, now thinks we Scots should not have the same wide choice & access to legal services as our English cousins will soon enjoy, since the Legal Services Act 2007 has already come into force south of the border.
Mr Dailly, keen to ensure the Law Society of Scotland will drop its support for the Legal Services Bill, has set up a weblog called “Justice for Scotland” to organise his campaign for a “NO NO” vote to the planned Law Society referendum on the Legal Services Bill, to be held on 16 April 2010 at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh, a referendum which was originally called by the Scottish Law Agents Society, and which no consumers are invited to watch take place. The hostility by some quarters of the legal profession against the Legal Services Bill, has apparently caught the Scottish Government off guard, resulting in yet another defence of the planned legal services reforming legislation by Fergus Ewing.
Click to view Mike Dailly & Ian Smart debate solicitors best interests in a consumer world :
Some of the arguments being presented by the legal profession against the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill range from Ministerial interference in the Law Society’s Council appointments, to the possibility that crooks may end up owning legal firms.
Well, since we already have reached & passed the stage where crooks & criminals own and work in law firms (The Law Society’s own Chief Accountant Leslie Cumming found that out to his cost in 2006), that only leaves the Ministerial interference excuse, which was swiftly dealt with by an even swifter climb-down from Fergus Ewing on that very issue as I reported in an earlier article here : Scottish Government back down on lay appointments to Law Society Council as lawyers interests threaten to break pro-consumer legal services bill
If Scotland were to get the same entitlements as consumers in England & Wales, we as consumers could end up being able to buy cheaper legal services from non-lawyer owned companies such as Banks, supermarkets or financial specialists, instead of having to use the same old law firms who invariably end up making a mess of their client’s cases while ensuring they charge huge fee demands for negligent, poor, or even non existent legal work, with many of these same Scottish law firms generating up to 5000 consumer complaints a year, many left unresolved, or even whitewashed by the Law Society of Scotland.
If the current legal services market in Scotland can only offer lack of choice, poor quality yet expensive legal services, wholesale regulatory failure, and little respect of the fee paying client, why should we as consumers be forced to use it ?
Its time for change. I would encourage all consumers to support the Legal Services Bill by contacting your MSP at the Scottish Parliament, expressing your opinions on whether you feel Scots should be given wider access to justice & wider choice of legal services as surely everyone is entitled.
You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - The story so far