Wednesday 24 February 2010

Solicitors poised to derail ‘Tesco law’

The Times reports that the Scottish government’s flagship reform of the legal profession was in jeopardy last night after a powerful association of solicitors announced that it was seeking to reverse a decision of the Law Society of Scotland (LSS) to support key aspects of the legislation.

The Scottish Law Agents Society – representing 1,500 solicitors — will this morning “requisition” a meeting of the LSS, and call for a vote on the issue of “external ownership” of law practices by companies such as banks or supermarkets. A controversial LSS vote in 2008 in favour of external ownership – often known as “Tesco law” — has become a key part of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, and is set to become law later this year.

However, galvanised by the introduction of the Bill in October, which introduced external ownership along with other unpopular reforms known as ABS (Alternative Business Structures) opponents are now confident they have the numbers to overturn the proposed changes.

“After taking soundings among our membership, we are certain there is an appetite for a challenge,” said Ian Ferguson, a board member of the Scottish Law Agents Society. “The vote in 2008 in favour of ABS, came after consistent opposition. We have a substantial number of votes, and think we will reverse the decision within a month.”

Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at the Govan Law Centre said a U-turn by the LSS would torpedo the government’s legislation. “The Bill is only progressing on the understanding that it is supported by the legal profession,” said Mr Dailly. “If that position is completely turned round, MSPs would have to reconsider their position.”

Last night, Ian Smart, the president of the LSS, indicated the society would abide by the decision of the general meeting, which must be held within 28 days of the requisition. “The debate will set the profession and so the society’s policy on external ownership of ABS,” he said.

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