Wednesday 24 March 2010

Law Society rigs referendum question

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?"





  1. here's an alternative question: even though the governments north and south of the border have made this happen and there is no going back, do you wish to stick your head in the sand and say I am not playing? supplementary question: if so, do you think the governments will take a blind bit of notice? 2nd supplementary question: is it not better to make the best of things you can't change? ask St. Francis of Assisi for a step for a hint

  2. Austin,

    A question for you. The Law Society is a representative body which has suddenly got in touch with an inner need to consult its members on this issue. Why did it not feel the need to host roadshows round the country prior to the 2008 AGM? The non-vote today demonstrates just how out of touch the Council is with its members. A representative body for solicitors ought not to be presenting itself as a change agent for the government - where is the independence in that.

  3. Austin, that is a bit defeatist! The Government wanted deregulation of the financial sector and look where that got us! Of course, the banks loved it because they saw the opportunity to make pots of money and stuff the public interest - nothing can go wrong - the market will always work - NOT!!!!Okay, the profession have woken up and so they should have. Fraud in personal injury claims in England and Wales is at its highest level ever since "referral fees" were permitted to be paid by solicitors in that jurisdiction for referral of that type of work. But referral fees are in fact solicitors simply sharing fees with non solicitors. Giving non lawyers a financial interest in the delivery of legal services across the whole range of services might seem to be creating competition for the perceived "closed shop" lawyers. But what is happening down south in personal injury claims which is a relatively small area of the whole legal services market, really does not bode well for non lawyers sharing fees across the whole of the legal spectrum. Non lawyers should not be allowed to share fees for work period. To commoditise services which often involve helping people though times of misery is quite horrific. I can see names and addresses of a deceased's relatives being banded about so someone can get the executry work. I recently raised my concern about the issue of non lawyers owning firms with a partner of an English law firm - his response was "ah well, if someone wants to buy me out I can retire and not need to worry about it!" It is not too late to realise that we are on the edge of a precipice and if we are lucky someone (the profession as a whole) will pull us back and the government will have to sit up and smell what might have been potentially rancid coffee! Now, some lawyers want it because they're going to make pots of money... is history going to repeat itself as we have had with the banks? Can the Government bail out a broken legal system? We must decide!