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Holyrood’s Justice Committee calls on public to submit experiences on using & improving Scotland’s legal services market

22 Oct

Debating chamberScottish Parliament calls for evidence on public use of courts & legal services. If you have used a Scottish lawyer or the courts and felt the service you did not receive was tip top, or bordered on the woefully inadequate, now is the time to put those experiences in writing by 1st December 2009 to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, along with suggestions for improvement, and your thoughts on the proposals contained in the Scottish Government’s Legal Services Bill, which hopes to give Scots wider choice of legal representation and a more accessible, competent and trustworthy legal services market than the current broken model, monopolised by the Law Society of Scotland and so poorly regulated that consumer complaints statistics have previously reached staggering heights of up to 8000 cases a year against less than 10,000 solicitors in private practice.

You can view the current version of the Legal Services Bill here : Bill (as introduced) (469KB pdf posted 01.10.2009)

The Legal Services Bill concerns the provision and regulation of legal services in Scotland. It takes forward the proposals contained in the Scottish Government’s consultation paper Wider choice and better protection – a consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland published at the turn of the year. That consultation followed on from reform across the legal services market in the rest of the UK, driven initially by the 2004 report of the European Commission on Competition in professional services and also prompted by a “super-complaint” by consumer group Which? to the Office of Fair Trading.

The Bill’s Policy Memorandum advises that the profession is facing significant challenges, including competition from English firms entering the Scottish legal services market and the effects of the economic downturn. The Bill aims to provide the opportunity to offer new forms of service, improve efficiency and innovation within solicitors’ firms, and provide access to different methods of capitalisation.

In practical terms, the Bill aims to broaden access to high quality legal services, by allowing solicitors to operate using different business models, for example allowing them to enter into business relationships with non-solicitors, allowing investment by non-solicitors, allowing external ownership and more generally freeing up the market.

The Bill proposes a system of licensed legal service providers, overseen by regulators approved and licensed by the Scottish Government. The Bill also includes related measures, for example:

  • to support the modernisation of the governance of the Law Society of Scotland
  • to allow the Lord President and the Scottish Ministers to grant professional and other bodies rights to conduct litigation and rights of audience in the Scottish Courts
  • to provide a more direct route by which other professionals, not just solicitors, might be authorised to deal with executries
  • to give the Scottish Legal Aid Board the duty of monitoring the availability and accessibility of legal services.

Legal Services (Scotland) Bill – call for written evidence

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is seeking views on the general principles of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill (The Scottish Parliament: – Bills – Legal Services (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 30)). The Scottish Government has prepared a Policy Memorandum, Explanatory Notes and other accompanying documents (including a Financial Memorandum) which are published to accompany the Bill.

The Bill was introduced in the Parliament on 30 September 2009 and the Justice Committee has been designated lead committee for Stage 1 of the Bill. (The Finance and Subordinate Legislation Committees will also consider the Bill and report to the Justice Committee.) Stage 1 of the scrutiny process is concerned with the general principles of the Bill, although it is also an opportunity to flag up more specific concerns that could be addressed by amendment at later Stages.

The Justice Committee hopes to consider written submissions and to take oral evidence during December 2009 and January 2010 and to report on the Bill’s general principles by mid-February 2010.

In preparation for this, the Committee invites all interested parties to submit views on the Bill in writing. The Committee is interested to hear the views of all organisations, bodies and individuals on the proposals contained within the Bill and their likely impact. Comments do not have to cover all aspects of the Bill, only those proposals which are of interest or concern.

In making a submission, please indicate clearly whether or not you would wish to be invited to give oral evidence to the Committee (on 5 January 2010) to follow up on points made in your submission. If you do wish to give oral evidence, it is essential that your submission is received no later than Tuesday 1 December 2009 so that the Committee can decide, at its meeting on 8 December, whom to invite for the 5 January meeting. (Please note that the Committee may not invite all those who wish to give oral evidence.) If you do not wish to give oral evidence, your submission should be received by the 1 December deadline, if possible, and in any event no later than Friday 18 December.

How to submit written evidence

Before making a submission, please read the Parliament’s policy on treatment of written evidence by subject and mandatory committees. Written submissions should normally be limited to around 4 sides of A4 but, if they need to be much longer than this, they should be accompanied by a short summary of the main points. Submissions should be set out in numbered paragraphs. Where the submission refers to existing published material, it is preferable to provide hyperlinks or full citations (rather than extensive extracts). The Committee welcomes written evidence in English, Gaelic or any other language.

The Committee prefers to receive written submissions electronically (preferably in Microsoft Word format). These should be sent by e-mail to: lsbill@scottish.parliament.uk However you may also make hard copy written submissions to: Justice Committee, Room T3.60 ,The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. EH99 1SP Telephone : (0131) 348 5047.

My previous reports on the Legal Services Bill can be viewed HERE

I would encourage anyone who has used legal service in Scotland, to contribute to the Justice Committee’s deliberations on the Legal Services Bill to ensure that a much fairer system of legal services & wider choice of representation is put in place for all Scots. Your input into the debate will ensure the public’s voice is heard against the special vested interests of the legal profession and those who wish to retain market dominance over your right to choose who you want to handle your legal interests.

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