Wednesday 10 March 2010

Referendum on whether Law Society should represent solicitors

This afternoon, solicitors from a wide range of legal firms across Scotland required the Law Society of Scotland to poll its 10,500 members on whether it can continue to represent and promote the interests of solicitors, in addition to its statutory regulatory function.

Sixty-four solicitors from firms in Glasgow and Edinburgh have signed a formal 'requisition' which compels the holding of a referendum under the Law Society of Scotland's constitution. The Glasgow Bar Association, MacRoberts, and Govan Law Centre are concerned that the Law Society cannot continue in its 'dual function' as both regulator and representative of solicitors in light of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.

Section 92 of the Bill gives the Scottish Government unfettered power to set the number of non-solicitors on the Law Society's ruling 'Council', as well as setting the criteria for such appointments. Solicitors believe this ends the independence of the Law Society, and requires a split in representative and regulatory functions, as has already taken place in England and Wales.

In an attempt to address a Special General Meeting later this month over the proposed 'Tesco Law' provisions of the Bill, the Law Society agreed last week to hold a referendum on Alternative Business Structures ('Tesco Law'). However, this referendum would be restricted to 'Tesco Law', and today's move will ensure that the profession are also polled on the more fundamental question of whether the Law Society of Scotland can continue to represent solicitors. The President of the Law Society has been asked to convene an urgent meeting in order to include this question on their own referendum ballot, due to take place later this month.

The President of the Glasgow Bar Association, John McGovern, Solicitor-Advocate said:
"Law Society reform is a major feature of the Legal Services Bill. It is vital there is a referendum to allow the profession to decide whether, given the threat to our independence from government that the Bill poses, it still thinks the Law Society should continue to represent, as well as regulate the profession".

David Flint, Partner, MacRoberts LLP said:
"We believe that the views of individual solicitors must be ascertained on this critical issue as recent debates and polls suggest that the Law Society Council and Executive may be out of touch with members and an early referendum will allow members to have their say in a democratic fashion."

Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor, Govan Law Centre said:
"The Law Society's role as both regulator and representative of the legal profession is rendered untenable by the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill. Solicitors should be free to choose their own independent body to represent them in the same way that workers are entitled to choose a trade union to promote their interests. A referendum will enable that choice".


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