Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kenny MacAskill – time to embrace change and do nothing - the MacAskill way ...

For someone who is trying to attract legal business to Scotland’s jurisdiction (people would be mad to bring their litigation to Scotland), Kenny MacAskill isn’t making much of an impression .. and no wonder !

The Scotsman, or rather, Kenny MacAskill, hashes out his ‘beliefs’ on the rest of us once more …

Kenny MacAskill: Time to embrace change and face the future boldly

Published Date: 13 October 2008

THE Scottish Government is committed to a strong and independent legal profession that can compete internationally, and a legal system which is part of the supportive environment for Scotland's businesses.

At a time of great challenges for the profession, it is even more important that it can grasp opportunities to develop new business and serve the public in new ways.

We have recently concluded our consultation on reforms to Scotland's arbitration legislation, which forms part of our drive to make Scotland a centre of excellence for arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution. I have also established a group of legal and business experts to look at how Scotland's legal system can be more attractive to businesses, and I look forward to their report in the next few weeks.

But the cornerstone of our strategy is the Legal Profession Bill, which was announced as part of this year's legislative programme.

The Bill will free up the profession to organise itself differently, to offer services to the public alongside other professionals, and to seek alternative sources of financial support to grow their business.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more flexible and modern regulatory framework for legal services – but one which protects the profession's core values. The profession's commitments to service, probity and excellence are centuries old, but as relevant as ever.

Our starting point for the Bill is to develop the proposals put forward by the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates earlier this year. Rather than ruling in or ruling out particular business models, I agree with the Law Society that the way forward is to concentrate on developing a robust system of regulation.

I have always been clear that the regulatory framework must be proportionate to the size and scope of the legal services market in Scotland. We must guard against having too many bodies and unnecessary tiers of regulation.

Regulation should also avoid any potential to confuse or disadvantage consumers where there are new structures which may bring together different professions.

That is a complex challenge, but one I am sure we can meet. I have been greatly encouraged by the willingness of the Law Society and the Faculty to embrace change, and I am determined to maintain the pace of reform in the coming months.

I intend to consult widely on the Government's proposals to allow new business structures to deliver legal services. But before putting these to the Scottish people I have asked some of the country's leading legal and consumer experts to join a new consultative group set up to explore these issues.

That group will help us shape a robust regulatory regime that will allow alternative business structures to operate in an open, transparent and accessible way in Scotland's legal services market.

As well as the president of the Law Society of Scotland, the dean of the Faculty of Advocates and the chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, leading officials from Consumer Focus Scotland and the Office of Fair Trading are taking part in this exercise, as is Professor Alan Paterson of Strathclyde University.

The group met for the first time on 8 October and made good initial progress. Issues being considered by it include how best to protect the core values of the legal profession and ensure a high quality of service; how to regulate firms that combine legal and other professional services; and how best to support access to justice in the new environment.

The group's deliberations will, together with views offered by other interested stakeholders, inform the public consultation which is expected to be held early next year, with the Bill expected to be introduced later in 2009.

The current economic situation is making life difficult for lawyers, just as it is for many businesses and families.

In that environment, the temptation is to resist change and seek safety in familiar ways of working. I believe we must do the opposite – be ready to embrace change and face the future boldly.

If we do, I have no doubt that the profession which has served Scotland so well over the last 300 and more years will continue to do so for decades to come.

• Kenny MacAskill is the Scottish justice secretary.

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