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Plight of Happy Valley families prompts independent judicial review

THE Scottish families who still have no legal title to homes they bought more than a decade ago have welcomed a judicial inquiry by the Law Society of Scotland in direct response to The Herald's campaign on the issue.

Announcing the appointment of former Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen QC to conduct an independent review of the consumer protections in place for clients buying and selling property in Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland said: "The review follows high profile and complex cases in Aberdeenshire and West Lothian where clients were left without proper title to land bought through residential property transactions."

The Herald first reported last October on the 14-year legal nightmare of four families in Happy Valley Road, Blackburn, West Lothian, the latest developments in which we reported a week ago, and earlier this year we revealed the 12-year saga of Aberdeen-based TV designer Sinclair Brebner.

Last month Labour MSP Jenny Marra tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament on the issues.

Yesterday she said: "I'm delighted that the Law Society is going to review some of these terrible cases where people have been left in legal limbo-land without ownership of their properties. Hopefully the review will be able to shed some light on complex cases.

"I am also awaiting news of whether I can hold a debate in Parliament to see if there are any legislative solutions that might be explored to make sure that people get the title to the property that they pay for."

Bruce Beveridge, Law Society president, said the cases "have understandably left some questioning whether the protections in place are as robust as they could be".

He said former Sheriff Principal Bowen's remit would be to review the circumstances surrounding the development at Happy Valley Road and the case in Aberdeen and then: consider what consumer protections have been in place for these " and other similar individuals" who have been left without valid title; evaluate whether the protections offered by the Law Society and/or others are sufficient and what if any changes the Law Society should now make to its own policies, rules and procedures in order to maintain public confidence; assess how the relevant legislative environment has changed since these cases occurred; examine, in discussion with the society's executive team and 'future of conveyancing working party', what further changes may be required, either through reform of the law or conveyancing practice.

The review is expected to last several months and will then report to the Law Society Council.

Mr Beveridge said: "Whilst the vast majority of Scottish solicitors provide an excellent service for their clients, we also need a robust set of consumer protections to help clients in those very few occasions when things go wrong."

West Lothian victim Ian Reid commented: "We trust that this will be a fair review and hope that for the first time in 14 years, the householders will be asked for their input into a situation which through no fault of their own, has turned these stressful and worrying years into a living nightmare, simply by buying a house."

John Morrison, Mr Brebner's brother-in-law, said: "We welcome the review into the 'consumer protections' in place.

"From the cases highlighted in the Herald it is all too easy for the conveyancing process to go wrong and then for innocent 'buyers' to become embroiled for in the arcane machinery of the legal system."

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