As Scottish solicitors cast their votes in the 'Tesco Law' referendum (whether to embrace or reject the external ownership of law firms by non-solicitors) the Law Society has chosen to use a ‘loaded’ question, heavily weighted in its favour.
The referendum question chosen by the Society predetermines the answer by making a value judgement that there will be ‘appropriate safeguards’ to protect the independence of solicitors' legal services to the public. But that is the very issue which is hotly contested in the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill. Also, the question as framed is tautological (‘a statement that is true of necessity or by its logical form’). The question asked is:
"Do you support in principle the introduction of Alternative Business Structures ("ABSs") to Scotland as long as there are appropriate safeguards to protect the core values of the legal profession and there is an equivalence of regulation between ABSs and traditional firms?"
Govan Law Centre’s Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, said:
"At the heart of the Tesco Law debate is the concern there would be inappropriate safeguards to prevent solicitors being influenced by a vested corporate agenda to the detriment of the public. For the Law Society to phrase its question to assume there would be safeguards is nothing more than a shameless attempt to procure a yes vote."
"The international and UK established practice in referenda is for questions to be framed as neutral, simple and unconditional, and for both sides of the argument to have a fair and level playing field when it comes to campaigning. That hasn’t happened as the Society has deployed all its staff and resources to campaign for a Tesco Law 'yes' vote. But now the referendum itself has been rigged by a loaded question".
"The Law Society’s President Ian Smart should hang his head in shame. The question should be reset in neutral terms, and Mr Smart should resign forthwith for presiding over the most unfair and undemocratic process in the history of the Law Society of Scotland".
GLC suggests the question should be framed in simple, neutral and unbiased terms:
Question: Do you support the introduction of Alternative Business Structures to Scotland?"