Seven in 10 Scots want independent regulation for lawyers, a survey by Which? has found.
The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill – introducing similar reforms to the Legal Services Act 2007 south of the border – is in the early stages of its passage through the Scottish Parliament.
Some 71% of the 1,012 people surveyed by Which? said legal services should be regulated independently, while 59% think it is important that lay people should make up the majority of a profession’s regulator or disciplinary board.
And 85% of Scots thought it would be useful if a scheme was introduced in Scotland whereby people that couldn’t find or afford a lawyer to represent them in court could have the help and support of a knowledgeable non-lawyer or friend in court (known as a McKenzie Friend) if the judge allows it.
Which? principal public affairs officer, Julia Clarke, said: ‘We think it’s vitally important that legal services in Scotland are regulated by a fully independent body as we feel this is the only way consumers can have complete trust in the system.
‘However, the Legal Services Bill will deliver great improvements for people using legal services in Scotland, and we also look forward to party litigants having the right to the support of a McKenzie Friend in court.’
Back in 2007, Which? lodged a super-complaint with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about legal services in Scotland, arguing that existing regulation of the industry was harming consumers’ interests. The OFT agreed that reforms would benefit consumers.
Though calling some changes to the Bill, the Law Society of Scotland is broadly backing the reforms. Speaking after giving evidence to the parliament’s justice committee in December, the society’s president, Ian Smart, said: ‘We want to see the Scottish legal market open up as we believe that a liberalised legal services market in England and Wales and a restricted market in Scotland would lead to encroachment from south of the border.
‘Likewise, the big English firms could be capitalised to such an extent that they took over the marketplace of our firms. Alternatively, cross-border firms with a smaller presence south of the border could choose to be regulated from England if they believed they were at a competitive disadvantage.’