Tuesday 16 March 2010

Prickly Paw

GLC's Principal Solicitor's note on the Law Society's CEO's position of separating the regulatory and representative functions of the Law Society of Scotland.

Lorna Jack’s reference to the Monkey’s Paw tale is apt. It’s a short horror story where each wish results in an unexpected gruesome outcome. In truth, our Law Society has been wishing on that Monkey’s Paw for the last couple of years: the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is the consequence.

If the Law Society had truly represented the interests of our profession, and the interests of the Scottish public, it would not have embraced an unrepresentative, flawed, consumer lobby supposition, which proceeded upon the notion that access to justice was a consumer service. Consumerism is based upon choice, and choice is driven by wealth. Justice is based upon constitutional right. Fairness, not wealth.

All people are equal before the law regardless of wealth; in a consumerist world, equality and justice are commodities to be purchased. The moment you see legal services as any other commodity, you end up in the consumer lobby’s Casino, where the house always wins and cash gets you a better service. What then flows is Tesco law, the erosion of what makes a profession a profession, and the commodification of justice itself.

Organisations like Consumer Focus Scotland do not represent the majority of people in Scotland who lack the wealth to purchase ‘consumer choices’. CFS see life through the spectacles of a small, affluent, well educated, cohort. They have a disproportionately large influence on policy in this nation, and its time for Scotland’s communities to be represented by the people who live and work in those communities, and not an unelected consumer elite.

Sadly, we are where we are. Unlike, Lorna Jack, I would suggest the most logical and cost efficient way forward would be to incorporate the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission into a new slimmed down Law Society of Scotland which was purely a statutory regulator, comprised of a mixture of solicitors and members of the public: ‘the Scottish Solicitors Regulator’. That would streamline cost. There is no need for a committee of 60 to regulate 10,500 solicitors. The representative side of the Law Society’s function could be left to existing professional associations and the new networks which would arise.

The Law Society of Scotland has opened Pandora’s box. It’s time for Scotland’s solicitors to close it in the forthcoming referenda.

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