Reform to regulation of legal services backed by committee
Proposals to reform how legal services are regulated in Scotland have been backed by a majority of MSPs on Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.
The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill sets out a modernised regulatory framework, which any firm that provides legal services in Scotland would be subject to. The Bill also reforms how complaints about legal firms are handled.
Evidence presented to the committee showed that consumer groups, including Consumer Scotland, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s Consumer Panel, broadly welcomed the proposals to modernise the regulatory framework. The groups told the committee that the changes could address some of the difficulties consumers face in accessing and affording legal services.
However, the committee also heard criticism of these proposals from judges, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland, who told the committee that the current model of regulation was effective and independent.
The committee’s report concludes, by majority, that the need to not further delay the reforms, alongside promised amendments to the proposals from the Scottish government, outweighs the concerns that were raised.
The report calls on the Scottish government to carry out further work on the Bill, including ensuring that the existence of two categories of regulator does not add to complexity for consumers and requests that the complaints process be further simplified. The committee would also like the Scottish government to support the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in developing a process so that complaints without merit can be quickly addressed.
Commenting on the findings, Kaukab Stewart, Convener of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice committee, said: “During our scrutiny, we heard many strong views, particularly around the proposals to establish an independent regulator of the profession. Everyone on the committee accepts that reform of the regulatory framework is long overdue and accepts that the current complaints process must be simplified.
“However, we are also aware of several significant issues with the Bill which must be resolved to ensure that the independence and efficacy of Scotland’s legal system is not undermined. The Scottish government has sought to reassure us that it will introduce amendments to resolve these concerns.
“On balance, a majority of the committee accept these reassurances and recommend that the Parliament should agree to the general principles of the Bill in order that we can review the amendments and not further delay these important reforms.”