Thursday 4 March 2010

Solicitors call for split in Law Society roles

The Herald reports that the regulatory body for Scotland’s 10,500 solicitors faces a damaging schism following news that three major law firms want to break away. The Govan Law Centre, MacRoberts and Thomsons claim the Law Society of Scotland’s independence has been compromised.

They have now allied themselves with the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA), and have warned that the society’s backing of so-called “Tesco law” threatens to undermine ­centuries of independent legal representation in Scotland. The GBA has called for a ­referendum of the country’s solicitors, questioning whether the Law Society should continue to represent them.

The row is about two different parts of the Legal Services Bill which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament. In addition to the ability of banks and large vested corporate interests to control solicitors, concern is focused on section 92 of the Legal Services Bill which provides for direct Government control over Scotland's legal profession. In relation to membership of the legal profession's governing body, section 92 provides that:

"The Scottish Ministers may by regulations— (a) specify—
(i) such additional criteria as they consider appropriate for
appointability as non-solicitor members,
(ii) the number of non-solicitor members, or proportion of the nonsolicitor
part of the membership, in relation to whom the criteria are to apply,
(b) prescribe a minimum—
(i) number of non-solicitor members, or
(ii) proportion of the membership that is to comprise non-solicitor
members, if they believe that such prescription is necessary for ensuring that the
number or proportion of non-solicitor members is adequate".

John McGovern, the president of the Glasgow Bar Association, said: “The public and profession expect solicitors to be ­independent – and that should be non-negotiable. Unfortunately the Law Society seems to have negotiated a bill which gives the government certain control over the profession.”

There will be a “special ­general meeting” of the society later this month at which the GBA and others want to overturn the ­decision to support “Tesco law”. Mike Dailly, head of Govan Law Centre, said: “People are starting to realise the bill will be a disaster because it will end the independence of legal firms.

“The key problem is that ­ministers will be able to affect the membership of the council and could have direct control of the number of non-lawyers. It is peculiar for a progressive nation to be introducing ­measures you are more likely to find in a developing country where you have complete ­government interference and political bias in all walks of life".

“It is completely regressive and strikes at the heart of what the profession stands for. The cases we take are often ­unpopular and may also be against the government.”

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