Strong public backing for independent regulation of lawyers

Stevenson: Absence of research like this emphasises need for reform

The Scottish public strongly backs regulation of lawyers that is separate from representative bodies, according to a survey.

The poll of 940 people was commissioned by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) as part of the ongoing reform debate in the country, which last year saw a Scottish government-commissioned review recommend a single regulator for all lawyers.

YouGov found that only 19% of the public felt it was acceptable for an organisation to both represent lawyers and regulate them, with just 21% confident that such a body could deal with complaints about lawyers fairly.

Most (83%) also felt the regulator should be subject to freedom of information legislation, which was used as a proxy to assess the public’s view of accountability and transparency.

The SLCC said it commissioned the survey in the wake of the Roberton review noting the lack of consumer input and evidence within the current regulatory model, which works like the pre-Clementi regime in England and Wales.

Chief executive Neil Stevenson said: “The fact research like this has not been done before perhaps emphasises the need for a move from the self-regulatory model where lawyers are regularly consulted and allowed to vote on many issues, but the public’s interest is often forgotten, with no major research in the last couple of decades.

“What we found was perhaps not surprising, public views preferred the types of model most other regulated sectors have moved to over the last quarter of century. This is consistent with the recommendations of the independent review.”

A further consultation on the review outcomes is scheduled for next year and Mr Stevenson said this must ensure “meaningful, substantive and properly resourced engagement with the “public as part of the process.

He added: “There is, of course, huge expertise and experience the profession can share on new approaches, and we encourage that input. However, there must also be an evidence base as to what the ‘public interest’ in regulation is.

“It is often said justice must be done, and be seen to be done. In the same way we must ensure not just that we say the public interest has been considered, but can show how the public’s views are both gathered and used to inform the system.”

In June, the Scottish government said that, whilst there was widespread support for reforms such as allowing external investment in law firms, the primary recommendation of the Roberton report – for a single regulator – “must be addressed” and would be the subject of the consultation.

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