Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to hear more details over Law Society resignations. IN an update to this article, today's session of the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee will not be discussing Petition PE1388, a petition lodged by Mr William Burns calling for the Law Society of Scotland to be scrapped, after the Scottish Parliament surprisingly confirmed this morning the petition will not be heard during today's committee meeting.
MSPs were due to be told of further, well publicised disagreements between some of Scotland’s top lawyers & the Law Society over legal aid fees & media censorship, 'disagreements' which have now led to at least eight resignations from the Law Society and produced a surprising, if welcome claim from a high profile solicitor, the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, that "the people of Scotland deserve an independent statutory regulator of legal services".
The Law Society’s current difficulties, come amidst an ongoing confrontation between the Society & members of the Glasgow Bar Association which has now escalated into the threat of a legal challenge by the GBA to the Law Society’s authority to regulate & represent the legal profession. The powers which allow the Law Society to regulate & represent the profession were granted to the Society in the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, the same legislation which Petition PE1388 is now asking Holyrood to scrap.
Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly resigns from Law Society. Over the weekend, campaigners sensed a significant boost to their demands to reform regulation of Scotland’s legal profession and bring about the demise of the Law Society of Scotland in its current format after the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, who resigned late last week from the Law Society’s Council and as Convener of the Society’s Access to Justice Committee, made an astonishing statement in his resignation letter claiming : “My experience on Council of the LSS [Law Society of Scotland] has taught me two things : the people of Scotland deserve an independent statutory regulator of legal services and ; the Scottish legal profession deserve the right to choose who represents them.”
Mr Dailly’s resignation letter which accuses the Law Society President & the Scottish Legal Aid Board of collusion in attempting to silence solicitors criticism of the way SLAB operates, can be read in full at “The Firm’s” website HERE.
The Herald newspaper reported on a possible legal challenge to the Law Society’s authority. The series of resignations at the Law Society of Scotland began nearly two weeks ago with the resignation of former Glasgow Bar Association President John McGovern from the Law Society’s Council. Mr McGovern, who is known to have been critical of the Law Society over a number of policies including its stance on alternative business structures, and the Society’s dual role of representation & regulation, resigned claiming the Society has "a fundamental dishonesty at its core". Several days later, the Herald newspaper featured references to Mr McGovern’s resignation and a possible legal challenge to the Law Society’s authority by the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) in a report, available HERE although it should be noted while the GBA was apparently happy to pursue the Law Society in the courts over requirements of membership, a spokesman for the GBA was quoted in the Herald report, stating : “We have no problem with the Law Society’s regulatory role”.
The issues surrounding the resignation of John McGovern from the Law Society were mentioned, although in no significant detail, by John Wilson MSP at the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee last week, as I reported here : Scottish Parliament raise questions over senior lawyer’s resignation, legal threats & claims Law Society has “a fundamental dishonesty at its core”
Since last week’s meeting of the Petitions Committee, events have somewhat overtaken the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Government’s desire to shut down debate on , Petition PE1388, with the resignation of two additional Law Society Council members, Mike Dailly & David O’Hagan, and the entire membership of the Access to Justice Committee, all reported in Saturday’s edition of the Herald newspaper.
Campaigners and solicitors alike are now calling for a no holds barred debate at Holyrood on the future of the Law Society of Scotland and its dual roles of representing & regulating solicitors, as well as its duties of representing the public interest in legal issues as enshrined in the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.
A solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice yesterday, supported calls for a fuller debate on the Law Society’s future and more input into the petition currently under consideration at the Scottish Parliament which calls for the Law Society to be axed.
He said : “MSPs should now take the opportunity to support this petition by calling for further evidence from all parties with an interest on how best to proceed with changes to the legislation which has given the Law Society almost limitless power & conflicting roles of representing the rights of solicitors and the public.”
An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations supported Mr Dailly’s call for Scots consumers to have an independent regulator of legal services.
She said : “Regulation of legal services in Scotland is currently provided by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as the first point of contact for consumers who complain about their solicitors, and the Law Society of Scotland."
"In the case of the SLCC, there is evidence to suggest the SLCC is not viewed by solicitors or consumers as independent. In the case of the Law Society of Scotland, there is long standing evidence to suggest the Law Society is not viewed as independent.”
She continued : “The SLCC was created as an independent body to regulate complaints against solicitors after the Scottish Parliament looked at regulation of the legal profession in 2006. However the SLCC appears to have frequently failed public expectations on key issues such as its monitoring role over the Master Policy. It is my view the SLCC as it currently stands has failed to deliver as an independent regulator of legal services in Scotland.”
She concluded : “Mr Dailly in his position as a solicitor is correct to have raised the issue of separating the Law Society’s functions of regulation & representation with a call for independent regulation of legal services in Scotland. This is an issue our organisation has campaigned on for many years and therefore I continue to support calls for an independent regulator of legal services in Scotland.”
The Scottish Government were asked to comment on claims contained in Mr Dailly’s resignation letter that the people of Scotland deserve an independent statutory regulator of legal services. A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said : “Scotland already has a robust system of regulation in place for the legal profession”.
On the matter of Mr Dailly’s allegations the Scottish Legal Aid Board put pressure on the Law Society of Scotland to silence his committee’s criticisms of SLAB and proposals to merge the Legal Aid Board with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which were reported by Scottish Law Reporter last year HERE & HERE, the Scottish Government’s spokesperson said : “Both the Law Society of Scotland and the Board have refuted these allegations and we have full confidence in the Scottish Legal Aid Board”
Lets not kid ourselves here, the spate of resignations over at the Law Society of Scotland and the legal threats from the Glasgow Bar Association are more about legal aid payments to solicitors & law firms in Glasgow’s stipendiary magistrate courts than they are about defending the public’s right to expect an independently regulated legal profession.
However, if those who are now calling for independent regulation of the legal profession wish to make their mark and show the public a level of selfless community service which has never before come from the legal profession, they should make haste and go to the Scottish Parliament, presenting their arguments for :
(i) A fully independent regulator of the legal profession to replace the three shams, being the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.
(ii) The creation of a new democratic FOI compliant body to replace the Law Society of Scotland to represent the rights of solicitors, and
(iii) The creation of a powerful independent body to represent the public interest in legal affairs & legislation, as well as the rights of clients & consumers who use legal services in Scotland.
Its not rocket science, people, its justice, and providing access to justice through a well regulated, capable, trustworthy legal services market for Scotland in the 21st Century is surely something we can all achieve for the greater good of the community, instead of the greater wealth of a few in the legal profession.
In the light of the extra window of debate of the petition, I would hope those who have expressed issue with the Law Society will come forward and offer their opinions either in writing or in person to the Petitions Committee to aid the progress of Petition PE1388.