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MacAskill struggles to hold back ‘Tesco Law’ as Law Society dithers on access to justice reforms

13 Jun

The game is on … as they say, with the announcement yesterday in the Scottish Parliament from Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill that legislation to open up the Scottish legal services market will be brought in ‘as soon as possible’.

While the announcement is welcome .. the problem for the general public who require access to legal services is that Mr MacAskill, and the Law Society of Scotland, don’t really want the current legal services monopoly opened up in any way at all, so the process of giving ordinary Scots their freedom of choice of legal representatives, rather than forcing everyone to use a ‘member of the Law Society of Scotland’ is guaranteed to be more like pulling hen’s teeth than the smooth process of breaking up the insidious monopoly which Scots legal services most certainly is.

Here you can read a couple of earlier articles on Mr MacAskill’s widely varying attitude towards opening the monopolistic Scottish legal services market :

Leaked letter shows conflicting view of Justice Secretary over legal services market reform

It’s time for Injustice to end, but will the SNP end Injustice in Scotland ?

It turned out, the Justice Secretary was only against “Tesco Law” because it would of course dent the huge profits made by his colleagues in the legal profession, who are apparently holding Mr MacAskill ‘to a great debt’ he openly confessed to in the Scots Parliament.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill amazingly admits SNP owe lawyers a great debt ? What debt ?

Not to be outdone by the Justice Secretary, the Law Society of Scotland have pulled every string in the book, twisted every arm it could find, and called in every politician it heard asking questions on access to justice reforms, for a quick round of bullying to prevent too much free thought gaining momentum on the proposals to give everyone in Scotland the right to choose who represents their legal affairs.

Here you can read an earlier article on exactly what the Law Society of Scotland thinks about “Tesco Law” :

Scots Law Chiefs turn hostile on consumer organisation in propaganda war against deregulation of legal services markets.

Law Society’s proposals on legal services market overhaul spin wide of the mark on public interest

The Law Society even taking control of paralegals too, just to keep the monopoly going in the face of reforms … : Scots public get raw deal in legal services as paralegals fall under Law Society of Scotland’s dishonest regulatory regime

The Law Society of Scotland, which itself suffered a recent vote against its own policy to maintain market control of Scots legal services definitely want to keep the multi billion pound Scots justice market for themselves and so came up with a policy strategy I reported on earlier, which can only be described as a policy for prevarication and delay … hanging the whole idea of accepting an opened legal services market on what is the most prized power in legal circles – self regulation.

My earlier report on the Law Society’s caveat of ‘lawyers must continue to regulate lawyers’ : Law Society policy blunders on legal market reforms leave public in the cold, favouring control of regulation & access to justice

Kenny MacAskill himself appears to be sympathetic to the Law Society’s quest to retain regulation of the legal profession – even after the legal services market has been opened up, and has, suspiciously, ruled out for now, a fully independent legal services regulator : Justice Secretary rejects independent regulation of lawyers and public right of choice in legal services market

Quoting the Herald article : “There have been worries about regulation of legal services however, with politicians raising fears during an earlier discussion last year.

Speaking in parliament yesterday Mr MacAskill told MSPs: “I am fully aware that members expressed concerns during the November debate that effective regulation was key to safeguarding consumers and the profession alike.

“This is not about Tesco law’, as some have defined it. It is about allowing the profession to grow and compete, while maintaining quality of service to the public and the core values of the profession.”

Surely after the Law Society’s decades of failure as self regulator of Scotland’s legal profession, Mr MacAskill, the Scottish Government, and the Parliament itself cannot support an instruction such as the Law Society of Scotland, widely viewed as being the most corrupt regulator the UK has ever seen, in it’s desire to be the master of control in all aspects of access to justice …

The problem is, however, that attempts even to reform regulation of the legal profession have been thwarted by the Justice Secretary himself, and the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been allowed to be hijacked by the Law Society, with it seems the cooperation of Mr MacAskill : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry

If the above article is indicative of the Justice Secretary’s attempts to regulate the legal profession, opening the Scots legal services market will no doubt suffer the same caveats, intervention, and interference by Mr MacAskill to ensure that lawyers still continue to get the best deal against the public. Not very good to say the least … and an indicator on its own surely, that a more impartial person is needed in the Justice portfolio, rather than a lawyer with a vested professional interest …

Sadly, the whole issue has had to be forced on the Scottish Government, who via Mr MacAskill as Justice Secretary, have dragged their feet significantly on the issue of access to justice & freeing up the legal services monopoly.

Perhaps Mr MacAskill, himself a member of the Law Society of Scotland which is openly opposed to market reform, is not the best choice to proceed this issue impartially enough to ensure the public will have full rights of choice, and that the legal services market will have full unrestricted competition, backed up by powerful independent regulation and an ‘unrivalled consumer protection policy’ which is not managed by the Law Society of Scotland or any well known corrupt insurance cartel.

We can’t have any more of this, for instance : Lawyers negligence insurance branded corrupt, anti-consumer as evidence reveals only one per cent of clients get chance of payout

It is a sad fact that, had the Westminster based Office of Fair Trading not intervened by way of the Which? “supercomplaint”, along with campaigns by individuals such as myself, law reform groups, consumer organisations, and even solicitors who are for opening up access to justice .. it seems there would have been no action at all from the Justice Secretary to reform Scotland’s antiquated way of allowing it’s citizens to conduct their legal business.

Ordinary Scots are surely due the right and freedom to choose who represents their legal affairs, at what cost, at what quality, and at what level of honesty ?

For now, freedom of choice in access to justice is definitely not the case under the system of legal representation controlled by the Law Society of Scotland, but with an opened legal services market, the client’s rights should be significantly enhanced, and protections put in place to see that if things go wrong, members of the public don’t keep getting ripped off by lawyers and sidelined into oblivion when trying to raise either a complaint or damages claim against poor legal service.

Just don’t expect it to be an easy rock free road in the process of getting there … but let’s hope its not as crooked a road as the way in which the ‘not-so-independent-any-more’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has went down …

Read on for the story from the Herald :

MacAskill paves the way in parliament for ‘Tesco law’

JULIA HORTON

A shakeup of the legal system which could lead to supermarkets and banks offering legal services moved forward yesterday with the start of a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that legislation, dubbed Tesco Law, will be introduced in parliament to establish alternative business structures in the legal profession as soon as possible.

The move follows pressure from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) amid concerns that restrictions on working practices, including barring partnerships with non-legal firms, did not benefit customers.

Scottish lawyers last month backed the changes which have long been called for by the Scottish Consumer Council.

There have been worries about regulation of legal services however, with politicians raising fears during an earlier discussion last year.

Speaking in parliament yesterday Mr MacAskill told MSPs: “I am fully aware that members expressed concerns during the November debate that effective regulation was key to safeguarding consumers and the profession alike.

“This is not about Tesco law’, as some have defined it. It is about allowing the profession to grow and compete, while maintaining quality of service to the public and the core values of the profession.”

Both the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates have consulted their members and produced policy papers outlining their vision for the future.

Mr MacAskill stressed that there was still work required to “iron out the detail” of many of the issues to devise solutions for the Scottish market place. “Although there are differences of approach between the law society and the faculty, I am delighted that we have taken the first steps towards reform,” he added.

He said that Scottish firms will continue to serve local communities, but he added: “Some firms can compete internationally and, I think, globally. The success of our accounting and financial services sector demonstrates this is possible. There is no reason why law cannot do likewise.”

The OFT called for a review following a so-called super-complaint by consumer group Which? that the current set-up hinders market innovation.

At present, lawyers cannot go into partnership with non-lawyers or be employed by non-legal firms to give advice direct to the public. The changes could lead to external ownership or capital for law firms, and partnerships between solicitors and non solicitors.

Welcoming the move, Sarah O’Neill, legal officer of the Scottish Consumer Council, said: “We have been arguing for this for a long time. We think it is in the interests of the consumer in terms of increasing choice and reducing prices.”

Richard Henderson, president of the Law Society of Scotland, was more cautious. He said: “It’s a very complex issue and there has been a great deal of thought and discussion surrounding alternative business structures. It’s clear from the profession’s response that there is appetite for change.”

Similar legislation is being introduced in England and Wales.

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