Thursday, June 12, 2008

Scottish Justice Secretary reluctantly, hesitantly starts the 'Tesco Law' ball rolling

Oh the pain of it all .. as Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill finally announces he will bring forth legislation to establish a more opened legal services market in Scotland.

Its not all smiles & roses though, as campaigners point to the reluctance and dithering of Mr MacAskill, who himself has expressed varying views on the 'Tesco Law' issue.

Peter Cherbi on his blod “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland” reports on the story in the following manner : MacAskill struggles to hold back 'Tesco Law' as Law Society dithers on access to justice reforms

Hardly a vote of confidence in the Justice Secretary’s wavering intentions ?

More consistency and less dithering might win the day ?

The Herald reports :

MacAskill paves the way in parliament for ‘Tesco law’


A shakeup of the legal system which could lead to supermarkets and banks offering legal services moved forward yesterday with the start of a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that legislation, dubbed Tesco Law, will be introduced in parliament to establish alternative business structures in the legal profession as soon as possible.

The move follows pressure from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) amid concerns that restrictions on working practices, including barring partnerships with non-legal firms, did not benefit customers.

Scottish lawyers last month backed the changes which have long been called for by the Scottish Consumer Council.

There have been worries about regulation of legal services however, with politicians raising fears during an earlier discussion last year.

Speaking in parliament yesterday Mr MacAskill told MSPs: "I am fully aware that members expressed concerns during the November debate that effective regulation was key to safeguarding consumers and the profession alike.

"This is not about Tesco law', as some have defined it. It is about allowing the profession to grow and compete, while maintaining quality of service to the public and the core values of the profession."

Both the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates have consulted their members and produced policy papers outlining their vision for the future.

Mr MacAskill stressed that there was still work required to "iron out the detail" of many of the issues to devise solutions for the Scottish market place. "Although there are differences of approach between the law society and the faculty, I am delighted that we have taken the first steps towards reform," he added.

He said that Scottish firms will continue to serve local communities, but he added: "Some firms can compete internationally and, I think, globally. The success of our accounting and financial services sector demonstrates this is possible. There is no reason why law cannot do likewise."

The OFT called for a review following a so-called super-complaint by consumer group Which? that the current set-up hinders market innovation.

At present, lawyers cannot go into partnership with non-lawyers or be employed by non-legal firms to give advice direct to the public. The changes could lead to external ownership or capital for law firms, and partnerships between solicitors and non solicitors.

Welcoming the move, Sarah O'Neill, legal officer of the Scottish Consumer Council, said: "We have been arguing for this for a long time. We think it is in the interests of the consumer in terms of increasing choice and reducing prices."

Richard Henderson, president of the Law Society of Scotland, was more cautious. He said: "It's a very complex issue and there has been a great deal of thought and discussion surrounding alternative business structures. It's clear from the profession's response that there is appetite for change."

Similar legislation is being introduced in England and Wales.

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