Monday 8 March 2010

Referendum: time to protect the independence of Scotland's solicitors

The President of the Law Society of Scotland, Ian Smart, confirmed to BBC 1's Politics Show yesterday that an urgent secret ballot of every solicitor would take place, to determine whether the Society should continue to support the 'Tesco Law' provisions of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill. The Bill would enable non-solicitors to own and control firms of solicitors, and give the Scottish Government the ability to set the number of non-solicitors, and criteria for appointment, on the Society's ruling Council.

GLC's Principal Solicitor challenged the case for Tesco law with Mr Smart on the Politics Show, and argued that the Bill would effectively end over 500 years of solicitor and legal profession independence. Mr Smart's dismissed fears upon the basis that 27% of all solicitors were already employed by banks, companies, and local authorities, and insisted that 'no one would suggest these solicitors were not independent'.

However, GLC's position is that the 27% of solicitors who are already employed by businesses or councils, do not provide advice to the public. They are in-house lawyers providing a specialist service to one client only, the entity that employs them, and therefore, this defence misses the point. The concern is that if the Bill is passed vested corporate interests would be able to provide solicitor services direcly to the public, and those services would not be independent. You cannot have 99% independence, and allowing businesses with track records in unethical and immoral practices to control access to justice is a receipe for moral hazard and disaster.

The debate on the BBC Politics Show can be watched here (105 mins in)

Today's The Scotsman article on this issue is available online here.

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