On 20 April 2023 the Scottish Government introduced the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament.
This Bill was expected in this Parliamentary Term as part of the Programme for Government 2022 to 2023 announced by the then First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on 6 September 2022.
In their press release today the Scottish Government states that it is a Bill to improve transparency and accountability of the legal sector. They go on to state:
Legal sector reforms, including proposals to simplify the complaints process for consumers and legal professionals, have been published in a Scottish Government Bill introduced to Parliament.
The Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill would for the first time, make it possible for complaints to be made against those who provide legal services to the public but who are not regulated. The appeal process for complaints about poor service will be simplified in line with an ombudsman approach helping to make the system more accessible and affordable.
If passed by Parliament, the Bill would also place legal duties on the profession’s current regulators – the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Association of Commercial Attorneys – to be more transparent and accountable in their regulatory work. They will be required to protect the principle that consumers should be treated fairly at all times and have access to a range of legal services which are affordable and suited to their needs.
Government Ministers will also be able to launch a review of the regulators and require them to make improvements or impose financial sanctions if they fail to regulate in the public interest.
Subject to Parliament’s approval, the Bill would also remove restrictions preventing charities, law centres and citizen’s advice bodies from directly employing solicitors to provide certain legal services to some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Growth and competition within the legal services sector will also be supported by making it easier for legal firms to go into partnership with other types of professionals such as accountants to provide shared services.
Minister for Victims and Community Safety Siobhian Brown said: “As a service which is often accessed by people during times of great stress or trauma, improvements to the regulatory structure are needed to further support people’s access to justice.
“By ensuring Scotland has a forward-looking legal regulatory framework, we will promote competition and innovation while ensuring that consumer interests are safeguarded.
“Measures such as preventing unqualified people from calling themselves lawyers will instil greater consumer confidence by providing more protections and choice.
“The Scottish Government is committed to reform, and will continue to engage stakeholders representing both consumer and legal perspectives as this legislation proceeds through Parliament.”
As an overview of the Bill the Scottish Parliament website states:
This Bill updates the regulation of legal services in Scotland and provides for a modernised regulatory framework.
Part 1 deals with the overarching regulatory framework. It has three Chapters which:
- set out what regulated legal services are to achieve and the standards that those providing services should follow,
- make rules for all regulators of legal services. It divides regulators into two categories and places different rules on each,
- set out how an organisation can become a regulator and its members can gain permission to provide legal services.
Part 2 sets out rules about how businesses that provide legal services should be regulated.
Part 3 is about complaints about legal services and how they are dealt with.
Part 4 makes a variety of other changes, including:
- changing ownership limits for a type of legal business,
- making it simpler for charities and third sector organisations to provide legal services,
- creating new offences in connection with people who pretend to be able to provide legal services.
You can read more about what the Bill does in the Explanatory Notes [PDF, 454KB]
They go onto state why the Bill was created:
Since December 2015, there have been several reports proposing changes to the regulation of legal services.
In response to calls for reform from the legal sector and others, the Scottish Government commissioned an independent review to look at reforming the regulation of legal services in Scotland. The Bill will implement a number of recommendations from the Report of the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland by Esther Roberton.
Esther Roberton’s report viewed that primary legislation was required to update the regulation of legal services in Scotland.
You can read more about why the Bill was created in the Policy Memorandum [PDF, 560KB]
You can read the Bill itself:
Other relevant documents are:
The Financial Memorandum [PDF, 527KB]
The Delegated Powers Memorandum [PDF, 339KB]
The Statements on Legislative Competence [PDF, 168KB]
Keeling Schedule – Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 [PDF, 612KB]
I will be reading through the Bill and will provide my comments thereon in due course!
For all blog posts on this topic see: Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland