Government reforms on legal regulation ‘good news for consumers and Scottish legal sector’

Government reforms on legal regulation 'good news for consumers and Scottish legal sector'

Murray Etherington

Scottish government plans to bring forward new legislation to reform and modernise the regulation of legal services are good news for consumers and the Scottish legal sector, the Law Society has said.

Scottish ministers today published their formal response to last year’s consultation on updating the framework for regulating the legal sector. They confirmed the Law Society will continue as the regulator of Scottish solicitors, with additional powers and new flexibility to act to protect the public interest when needed. Changes are also proposed to the complaints system to make it simpler and quicker.

Commenting, president of the Law Society, Murray Etherington, said: “Today’s announcement is good news, both for consumers and for the Scottish legal sector.

“The Scottish government’s own independent review found that Scotland is home to a well-respected legal profession with a high degree of public trust. However, much of the legislation covering legal regulation is now over 40 years old. It is simply unfit for Scotland’s modern legal sector and the international market in which it competes. The system for handling legal complaints in particular is too slow, frustratingly complex for all involved, and needs urgent overhaul.

“This is why we first went to the Scottish government to ask for reform and new legislation which would be more flexible and fit for purpose. After years of reviews and consultation, next year’s bill offers the chance to deliver many of the changes we need and have pushed for.”

David Gordon, the non-solicitor convener of the Law Society Regulatory Committee, said: “We are proud of our track record in maintaining professional standards and protecting the public. This is why we are so pleased to get confirmation from Ministers that the Law Society will continue as the regulator of Scottish solicitors and do so independently from the state. This is a big and important vote of confidence in the work we do.

“It is also good to see the government commit to restricting who can and cannot call themselves a lawyer. We have raised concerns for years at the risks from unqualified, unregulated individuals who call themselves lawyers and sell legal services. Worse still, there is little to no recourse for consumers if and when things go wrong. Ministers will have our full support in closing this loophole in the upcoming bill.

“We know there is more to be done to improve both transparency and the public accountability of the Regulatory Committee’s public interest work. We are already looking at what can be changed in advance of the new legislation and look forward to working with government in thinking through wider changes which can maintain and grow public confidence.”

Neil Stevenson, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, said: “We had hoped to see more fundamental reform to better reflect the legal services sector of today and of the future. We also saw opportunities to drive efficiency by reducing existing duplication of processes, functions and back-office systems across multiple bodies which have not been delivered.

“However, we do believe these proposals could help to create a more efficient and proportionate complaints system, one that resolves complaints swiftly and draws learning from them to drive improvement. Proposals to improve transparency and accountability across the regulatory system are also very welcome.

“We all have a stake in a regulatory system that regulates in the public interest, promotes public confidence and protects us if something goes wrong. We will work with Parliament to ensure the forthcoming bill helps to achieve that.”

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