Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Scottish Parliament urged by Consumer bodies ‘to put public interest first’ in Legal Services Bill vote & reject Law Society 'anti-choice' amendments

Debating chamberHolyrood will debate & vote on the Legal Services Bill on Wednesday 6th October 2010. CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS in Scotland & across the UK have today urged the Scottish Parliament’s MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Legal Services Bill, and to reject amendments mostly demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & the legal profession’s current roll of vested interests that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market, the aims of which are to expand Scots consumers access to justice & quality legal services as is being implemented in England & Wales through equivalent UK legislation.

As I reported earlier today, the Legal Services Bill originates from proposals originally put forward by UK consumer organisation Which? and the Office of Fair Trading’s subsequent recommendations to break open the monopolistic Scottish legal services market which has long been dominated by solicitors & advocates. The Law Society of Scotland has continually demanded changes to the legislation which would hand control of the legal services market back to the Society as an ‘approved regulator’, which I reported on earlier, HERE

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland urges MSPs to pass the Legal Services Bill and reject amendments from ‘vested interests’. Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3, Marieke Dwarshuis, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: “Throughout the Parliament’s consideration of this Bill, the arguments in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice have often been overshadowed by the interests of the legal profession.

Mr Dwarshuis continued : “We are confident that the alternative business structures the Bill will permit legal firms to pursue will support the development of a more open, innovative and competitive legal services market in Scotland, which better meets the needs of those using legal services. The Bill will also increase access to justice, by allowing advice agencies to employ solicitors directly, and will protect consumers who use currently unregulated will writing services.

Mr Dwarshuis concluded urging MSPs to pass the bill, saying : “For these reasons we are urging MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Bill, and to reject amendments that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market.”

Which logoWhich? began the road to legal services reform in Scotland with their supercomplaint to the OFT over Law Society monopoly of the Scots closed shop legal services market. Consumer group Which? who were responsible for the supercomplaint to the Office of Fair Trading which began the long process to overhaul competition in the Scottish legal services marketplace also issued a plea to the Scottish Parliament ahead of its vote tomorrow, its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, commenting : “Since the launch of our supercomplaint in May 2007, Which? has campaigned for the opening up of legal services to provide more competition and better services for the public in Scotland. Too often the debate has been dominated by the interests of the legal profession when it should have been about the best interests of the public.

Mr Vicary-Smith urged MSPS to put the interests of the public first, saying : “The Legal Services Bill debate tomorrow must be about the public deserving and receiving the best and most effective provision of legal services for the future. That cannot happen without the legal profession being allowed to modernise. 'We urge MSPs to put the interest of the public first and vote through the Legal Services Bill.”

Consumer Focus Scotland also issued a statement on their view regarding 'approved regulators’ which are to be appointed by the Scottish Government to regulate current & new entrants to the expanded legal services market if the bill becomes law.

The unwelcome prospect of the Law Society of Scotland being made an ‘approved regulator’, has caused many (including myself) to suspect having the Law Society again regulate complaints involving legal services will bring the same infamous historical problems regarding regulation & consumer protection against poor legal services in Scotland as Scots consumers have always had to bear when attempting to gain a fair hearing of complaints against the legal profession.

A spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland gave its view on approved regulators :

“The key principle that must underpin the bill is that users of legal services must have the same level of protection whatever legal services provider they use. We believe it is crucial that all regulators of legal services apply high standards of regulation. For example, we are pleased that a policy of proactive regulation is to be adopted for licensed legal services providers. It is in the interests of consumers that regular checks are undertaken to ensure licensed providers are acting in a way which is compatible with the regulatory objectives, rather than waiting until a consumer has been adversely affected before taking action. We believe the principle of proactive regulation should also be applied to regulation of traditional forms of practice to ensure consumers can be confident of the consistency of approach to the regulation of legal services, whatever type of provider they access.”

“As regards any specific potential regulators, we did not support the inclusion of section 7(4)(a)(i) of the Bill, which allows authorisation to act as a regulator of licensed legal services providers to be awarded without limit of time. We believe it is necessary to have in place a robust procedure to review the authorisation of a regulator of licensed legal services, including reviewing how their regulatory scheme adheres to and applies the regulatory objectives and obligations.”

“We were disappointed that the Bill does not contain provision for establishing an advisory panel to advise Ministers on applications for authorisation to act as an approved regulator and to keep the regulatory framework under review. We stated in our response to the ‘Wider Choice and Better Protection’ consultation that establishing an advisory panel was a necessary safeguard, given the potential for a regulatory body to have the dual or multiple responsibilities for regulating a licensed legal services provider, regulating individual professionals and promoting the interests of the public and the profession. Such a panel could also play an important role in monitoring the regulator body’s performance against the regulatory objectives. We suggested that as with the Consumer Panel in England and Wales, this panel should be made up entirely of non-lawyers and should include representation of the consumer interest.”

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports listed below or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

Readers can view my report of the Law Society of Scotland’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament, here : Little mention of consumer protection for Scots as Law Society give evidence to Holyrood on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of the OFT & Which? testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : OFT & Which? call for independent regulation of lawyers as Justice Committee hears evidence on Legal Services Bill

Earlier coverage of the Faculty of Advocates, Society of Solicitor Advocates & Professor Alan Paterson’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Holyrood’s Justice Committee hears of doubts & criticisms from Law Professor & Faculty of Advocates on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of Consumer Focus Scotland & the UNITE union’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Legal Services Bill : Consumer Focus & UNITE union differ over access to justice proposals as ‘Tesco Law’ comes under the Holyrood microscope

You can read my full coverage of the progress of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - The story so far and decide for yourselves how much the Scottish Government's proposals for improving access to justice will really improve YOUR access to justice.

Consumers will benefit to a degree if the Legal Services Bill is passed and will benefit a whole lot more if many of the amendments demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & vested interests are rejected …. indeed .. MSPs should put the public interest first during tomorrow’s vote on the Legal Services Bill.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good to see the consumer crowd coming out in support although I wonder if it will make any difference to the msps?

Anonymous said...

Which said “The Legal Services Bill debate tomorrow must be about the public deserving and receiving the best and most effective provision of legal services for the future. That cannot happen without the legal profession being allowed to modernise. 'We urge MSPs to put the interest of the public first and vote through the Legal Services Bill.”

Very good although personally I'm in no doubt if it hadnt been for all the work you put in on this the Law Society would have had its way long time ago.

I also like how you fit the video clips into your postings.Fantastic really!

Anonymous said...

A couple of very thorough postings from you today Peter

I hope the vote goes the way of consumers tomorrow.Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

As you've been saying all along its time we are masters of our own access to justice instead of having to go through the Law Society or their members

Anonymous said...

You probably wont be surprised a team from the Law Society are going to the parliament's gallery to watch the debate tomorrow.
I'm sure hands will be shaken to remind some msps of their place prior to proceedings.

Anonymous said...

I think its well out of order the Law Society are going to the debate or are allowed anywhere near the Parliament when the vote is on!

Anonymous said...

Bill will go through and probably most of the amendments.

Expect a few richer msps in the next few months!

Anonymous said...

Let me guess - MSPs will say Yes to the Law Society & No to the consumer crowd!

Anonymous said...

It would have been useful to have heard from Which and Consumer Focus Scotland on these issues long before now.

Consider for example the disgraceful double standards applied by the so called 'Justice Committee' which repeatedly asked for evidence of public opinion from Consumer Organisations but were deafening silent on the subject when it came to the submissions of the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates.

And where is the OFT doing about all of this?

Anonymous said...

And so the Scottish Parliament descends effortlessly from travesity into farce, guided all the way by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for your comments & emails on today's reports regarding the Legal Services Bill vote tomorrow at Holyrood.

As it appears (confirmed tonight) the Law Society will be going along to remind MSPs who they should be voting for, I would encourage readers to attend and see for themselves exactly how things work in the Scottish Parliament when the professions want their way ...

It might not come as much of a surprise to many of my regular readers or those in the profession the Law Society regularly attend such debates & votes when issues they are pursuing in their own interests are up for discussion, however I think we need to get away from treating the Law Society of Scotland as some kind of 'organ of justice' when in reality it is little more than a very powerful lobby group for the legal profession ...

We may well be treated to another fawning episode where even Scottish Government Ministers stand up to praise & wave to Law Society spectators, as happened in the final minutes of Fergus Ewing's closing speech in the Legal Services Bill debate earlier in April of this year, which can be viewed at the following link : Fergus Ewing Closing Speech Legal Services Bill Scottish Parliament 28 April 2010

Nothing against Ian Smart of course, but really ... the Law Society has butchered the Legal Services Bill in its own interests so much it is almost the exact opposite of the consumer access to justice proposals made by Which? in their supercomplaint to the OFT several years ago ... I hardly think its therefore fitting the Law Society are treated with such honour on an issue it is directly seeking to deform away from the public interest to the interests of the legal profession ...

Anonymous said...

I just watched that You Tube clip.Sick!
If you go to 7:40 on the timeline Ewing starts praising the Law Society then the camera pans up to the guy watching the debate who waves back!
ahaha proof enough the Law Society own the parly!

Anonymous said...

You are well informed as ever Mr Cherbi.I might just go along and see this farce at Holyrood tomorrow.Hope I have some company other than the Law Soicety reprobates!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I think its well out of order the Law Society are going to the debate or are allowed anywhere near the Parliament when the vote is on!

5 October 2010 20:09

Yes I agree.Stinks to high heaven!

Anonymous said...

I think they only said it because you've been writing about it in such depth.
Compliments on your work Mr Cherbi.

Anonymous said...

So if I read this right the Law Society just show up at some vote and they get their way ?

Isnt this just a bit WRONG in a democracy ?

How would people feel if BP showed up after an oil spill to make sure the vote against making them pay for it went in favour of BP getting off the hook.

You have a pretty disgusting lawyer set up there in Scotland!

Anonymous said...

If msps manage to put the public's interest first on this occasion it will be a first time they've ever done it!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to go but Edinburgh is too far.Can I see the debate online ?

Peter Cherbi said...

The Legal Services Bill Stage 3 debate at the Scottish Parliament can be viewed live, online at the following link : http://www.holyrood.tv/index.asp

Viewers should take note how their own msps handle the access to justice issues raised in the bill ....

Anonymous said...

more like viewers will be able to watch the politicians they voted for being bought off by a bunch of greedy rat lawyers out to protect their own wallets

Anonymous said...

"So if I read this right the Law Society just show up at some vote and they get their way ?

Isnt this just a bit WRONG in a democracy ?

How would people feel if BP showed up after an oil spill to make sure the vote against making them pay for it went in favour of BP getting off the hook."

Good point!

Do we get to see Fergus Ewing blowing kisses again to the Law Society people ?

Anonymous said...

Your efforts are brilliant but please next time you put a link to a live debate at the Scottish Parliament also put a WARNING up we could be bored to death.

I had to stop half way and its still going on.Very unprofessional looks as bad as a local council bash!

Anonymous said...

I've read all your links and most of your postings on this but I cant see anything about consumers being allowed to speak at the Justice Committee.
Did it happen ?

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 6 October 2010 13:12

I take your point ... another example I could think of would be Sir Fred Goodwin pitching up at the Treasury Select Committee as if he'd done nothing wrong ... yet his actions have cost the country billions, hurt most of the population in one way or another yet he gets to keep his title. That's what kind of a system we have here ...

Too many similar examples to list ...

# Anonymous @ 6 October 2010 16:46

Witness Scottish political life ... how exciting ...

# Anonymous @ 6 October 2010 17:11

No members of the public were allowed to give testimony to the Justice Committee for the Legal Services Bill ...

I was told by a Holyrood contact the Law Society didn't want anyone appearing as happened with the 2006 J2 consideration of the LPLA Bill ...

Since the public were not allowed to speak maybe the Parliament should bill the profession for the cost of passing the legislation and all the waffle from MSPs we've had to sit through & write about ...