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Legal Profession bill has little potential for change as Justice Secretary indicates no will to reform legal services

14 Oct

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill believes that lawyers should be trusted to regulate themselves and continue to run the ever important legal services market as a monopoly, despite the promise of the Legal Profession Bill, which aims to open up the public’s access to justice after intervention from the OFT last year.

Mr MacAskill’s all too easy dismissal of any further regulation or consumer protection against scandals in the legal world similar to those which have recently rocked the banking world, is echoed in the Scottish Government’s questionable willingness to adopt the Law Society’s edicts on the proposed legislation, which has now been almost completely hijacked by lawyers and vested interests from the legal establishment.

Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill – little independence from the Law Society of Scotland : “Our starting point for the Bill is to develop the proposals put forward by the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates earlier this year. Rather than ruling in or ruling out particular business models, I agree with the Law Society that the way forward is to concentrate on developing a robust system of regulation.”

So, from that early start, one can conclude fairly easily there will be not too much hope of anyone else getting much of a say in how to open the legal services market in Scotland if the Law Society has its way … which certainly seems to be the case.

Mr MacAskill himself a solicitor, has spoken before of his muddled views, which have clearly indicated he and the SNP have no wish or desire to open the legal services market, preferring rather to keep it a closed shop for lawyers.

You can read more about Mr MacAskill’s varying protectionist policy for legal services here : Justice Secretary rejects independent regulation of lawyers and public right of choice in legal services market

Mr MacAskill also lets slip his attitude against any increased regulation of the legal services sector, something the Law Society of Scotland is campaigning to retain sole regulatory power over by itself

Kenny MacAskill : “I have always been clear that the regulatory framework must be proportionate to the size and scope of the legal services market in Scotland. We must guard against having too many bodies and unnecessary tiers of regulation.”

The Justice Secretary’s view on regulation is certainly outdated in view of the recent financial crisis which crushed most of the UK’s banks into nationalisation, effectively coming about due to poor regulatory structures which allowed banks and lenders to operate almost as they pleased, risking the publics money and now having to be bailed out by the taxpayer.

Mr Macaskill went on “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more flexible and modern regulatory framework for legal services – but one which protects the profession’s core values. The profession’s commitments to service, probity and excellence are centuries old, but as relevant as ever.”

Yes, quite right Mr MacAskill, a once in a generation opportunity, which you are not going to allow the rest of Scotland to enjoy, simply because the needs of the Law Society and the business of litigation must take preference over the public interest.

A suitable example of Mr MacAskill’s idea of a ‘flexible and modern regulatory framework’ can be found here : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry

Kenny MacAskill – A debt too far from the SNP for lawyers ?

The remainder of Mr MacAskill’s speech doesn’t deviate much from the protectionist line for his colleagues in the legal profession, and indicates a Justice Secretary who only serves the needs of lawyers and their pockets, rather than putting the public’s right of access to justice first.

In Kenny MacAskill’s world, it will still be the legal profession who decide if you have a right of access to legal services, rather than you having a choice of legal services … and that is most definitely not in the public interest .. is it …

The Scotsman reports (Kenny MacAskill)

Kenny MacAskill: Time to embrace change and face the future boldly

THE Scottish Government is committed to a strong and independent legal profession that can compete internationally, and a legal system which is part of the supportive environment for Scotland’s businesses.

At a time of great challenges for the profession, it is even more important that it can grasp opportunities to develop new business and serve the public in new ways.

We have recently concluded our consultation on reforms to Scotland’s arbitration legislation, which forms part of our drive to make Scotland a centre of excellence for arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution. I have also established a group of legal and business experts to look at how Scotland’s legal system can be more attractive to businesses, and I look forward to their report in the next few weeks.

But the cornerstone of our strategy is the Legal Profession Bill, which was announced as part of this year’s legislative programme.

The Bill will free up the profession to organise itself differently, to offer services to the public alongside other professionals, and to seek alternative sources of financial support to grow their business.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more flexible and modern regulatory framework for legal services – but one which protects the profession’s core values. The profession’s commitments to service, probity and excellence are centuries old, but as relevant as ever.

Our starting point for the Bill is to develop the proposals put forward by the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates earlier this year. Rather than ruling in or ruling out particular business models, I agree with the Law Society that the way forward is to concentrate on developing a robust system of regulation.

I have always been clear that the regulatory framework must be proportionate to the size and scope of the legal services market in Scotland. We must guard against having too many bodies and unnecessary tiers of regulation.

Regulation should also avoid any potential to confuse or disadvantage consumers where there are new structures which may bring together different professions.

That is a complex challenge, but one I am sure we can meet. I have been greatly encouraged by the willingness of the Law Society and the Faculty to embrace change, and I am determined to maintain the pace of reform in the coming months.

I intend to consult widely on the Government’s proposals to allow new business structures to deliver legal services. But before putting these to the Scottish people I have asked some of the country’s leading legal and consumer experts to join a new consultative group set up to explore these issues.

That group will help us shape a robust regulatory regime that will allow alternative business structures to operate in an open, transparent and accessible way in Scotland’s legal services market.

As well as the president of the Law Society of Scotland, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates and the chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, leading officials from Consumer Focus Scotland and the Office of Fair Trading are taking part in this exercise, as is Professor Alan Paterson of Strathclyde University.

The group met for the first time on 8 October and made good initial progress. Issues being considered by it include how best to protect the core values of the legal profession and ensure a high quality of service; how to regulate firms that combine legal and other professional services; and how best to support access to justice in the new environment.

The group’s deliberations will, together with views offered by other interested stakeholders, inform the public consultation which is expected to be held early next year, with the Bill expected to be introduced later in 2009.

The current economic situation is making life difficult for lawyers, just as it is for many businesses and families.

In that environment, the temptation is to resist change and seek safety in familiar ways of working. I believe we must do the opposite – be ready to embrace change and face the future boldly.

If we do, I have no doubt that the profession which has served Scotland so well over the last 300 and more years will continue to do so for decades to come.

• Kenny MacAskill is the Scottish justice secretary.

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