Vote 'No; No' in the Referendum on Alternative Business Structures

All of us hold dear the principles essential to the administration of justice in Scotland: independence, confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest. All of us regard justice not as a product at the sole mercy of profit but as a crucial service that must be available for all our communities in Scotland. All of us now have a chance to re-affirm these ideals. Vote NO; NO to the Law Society Referendum.

To not do so would be to open up control of our legal services to purely commercial organisations. No amount of regulations or regulators stopped the banks undermining our whole banking system. ABS will allow them to now ruin our legal services.

Non-profitable areas will be abandoned - supermarkets and other so called entities are geared solely by profit. No amount of regulation will stop legal services being used as a portal for money laundering and other similar activities - our legal services will be open to criminal control.

There should be no role for the Law Society of Scotland in regulating such people. No Guarantee Fund or Master Policy could cope with this. A NO; NO vote will stop all of this in its tracks.

We need to refocus our legal services on Scotland’s communities and citizens. They deserve better. We need to send a message to the Scottish Government to think again. We must reform our Law Society as it has shown itself incapable of representing all of those trying to render a legal service in Scotland now and in the future.

We must seek to re-affirm, through any such reform, the principles crucial to the administration of justice. We must also ensure that the legal service is preserved and improved across the whole range of needs of the Scottish people and their communities. Join us to begin to make this happen and ensure you vote NO; NO by noon, 7 April 2010.

FRANK MAGUIRE, Senior Partner and Solicitor Advocate, Thompsons Solicitors
JOHN McGOVERN, Solicitor Advocate, President of the Glasgow Bar Association
WALTER SEMPLE, Solicitor, Member of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland
MIKE DAILLY, Principal Solicitor, Govan Law Centre
PATRICK McGUIRE, Solicitor Advocate and Partner, Thompsons Solicitors

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing MSP, has claimed that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill ('the bill') would not jeopardise a strong, independent, Scottish legal system (Letters, The Herald, 3 April 2010). However, that claim must be wrong as a matter of logic.

The bill would open up ownership of Scottish legal services to a worldwide market of investors and corporations, with consumer protection consisting of a risk-based licensing approach. Accordingly, notwithstanding how good the bill's proposed regulatory scheme claims to be, the fact it extends ownership and control of Scotland's legal services to a global market (of both legitimate and illegitimate interests) must mean the bill presents a real threat to Scottish consumer protection.

That risk is compounded by two incontrovertible facts. Firstly, any risk based regulatory system - no matter how good - accepts an element of harm and failure, and invariably detects serious consumer detriment after damage has been done. Just think of the current payment protection insurance scandal, or the various misselling of products scandals. Do we really want this approach for legal redress and justice within Scotland?

Second, businesses and investors are seriously high risk compared to legal firms. It's a cultural thing. Risk taking is associated with higher financial returns, and even if you go bust, insolvency law encourages you to rise from the ashes as a pheonix: whereas if solicitors take risks, they end up struck off, with no re-birth. And rightly so. So conceptionally, this approach to legal services is wrong in principle - and we're not even talking about how weak and unworkable the bill's regulatory scheme is.

Tellingly, neither European countries, nor the USA, are embracing the Scottish Government's deregulation of legal services model. Around the world, governments are tightening up their regulatory systems, so why are we acting so regressively in Scotland? Critics say solicitors have a 'monopoly' in Scotland, but it's a monopoly in the same way DVLA controls who can drive a car. And it's not true, as anyone can set up a body to provide representation in the courts under the Law Reform (Miscellenous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990.

The truth is the Scottish Government's bill is based upon a deregulation or 'free for all' model from 2004. This was three years before the financial services meltdown from deregulation; an approach which has since been discredited and abandoned around the world. Yet Fergus Ewing and his colleagues clutch onto this flawed model because England did so in 2007?




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