Submission from Innes Barton for the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill
I am writing in respect of the above Bill. My main areas of concern with the proposed Bill are as follows:Increased Cost A lot of the work currently undertaken by the Law Society of Scotland’s Client Relation Office is done by volunteer reporters and committee members. If an independent body was set up salaried employees would replace these volunteers. This will clearly have an impact on the cost to the profession. It is of concern that the ultimate cost of the body will be borne by the profession and some businesses will be put at risk as a result of this. Furthermore, it is of concern that the Bill proposes a £300 levy to be paid by the solicitor in the event of a complaint being made, irrespective of the complaint being upheld or rejected. Therefore, even if a solicitor is totally exonerated there will be a cost to the solicitor or his/her firm. Compensation The Bill proposes an increase in compensation for inadequate professional service to a maximum of £20,000. This is a significant increase and to a figure which is arbitrary. There is a possibility that the public will consider this to be a risk free, cost free alternative to pursuing a matter of professional negligence through the courts. Compensation at this level may encourage spurious or vexatious claims. Clearly, the significant increase in compensation could put businesses at risk. Advice Deserts As a result of the increase in costs and compensation, solicitors may have to consider carefully the areas of work and clients they represent. It is typically in areas of work where the public rather than businesses are represented that complaints arise. It would not be beneficial to the public for firms to restrict the areas of work that they do for fear of the cost implications should a complaint arise. Furthermore, it would not be of benefit to the public if clients who were identified as “difficult” were not represented because of the potential cost implications. Independence The Bill suggests that appointments to the Commission Board should be made by Scottish Ministers. This means that the new Commission would not be independent from Government. Further, the Bill does not allow for the right of appeal to a body independent of the new Commission. The proposed reforms, in my opinion, do not strike a fair balance between the needs of the public and the legal profession. I should be obliged if you could consider these comments.