THE CHAIR of NHS 24 has been appointed to lead a much-anticipated review into how the Scottish legal profession is regulated, the minister for community safety and legal affairs, Annabelle Ewing, announced yesterday.

Esther Roberton, who is also a board member of the Scottish Ambulance Service and formerly served as an independent member of the Press Complaints Commission and as a non-executive director of the Scottish Government, with chair a 13-strong panel that will come up with recommendations for legislative change.

In particular, the review is expected to finally pave the way for the introduction of alternative business structures, an ownership model that allows non-lawyers to own stakes in law firms.

While they have been a feature of the legal market in England and Wales for the past five years, the business models have yet to be introduced north of the Border, even though the profession agreed in 2010 that they should be.

The Law Society of Scotland has been agitating for the Government to alter the legislation governing the profession for some time, arguing not only that alternative business structures should be an option open to all law firms across the UK but that regulation in general is no longer fit for purpose.

In the run up to the Holyrood elections last year the professional body lobbied all the major political parties to commit to implementing change.

This was acknowledged by the Government, which said the review would fulfil the SNP’s manifesto commitment to “take forward a consultation to review the regulation of the legal profession in Scotland and to support a modern and effective legal sector, including new forms of business model”.

In welcoming the announcement that the review will now go ahead Law Society president Eilidh Wiseman said: “There have been huge changes in the legal market over recent years. Changing consumer demands and new business structures are transforming the way legal services are being provided.

“This is why we have argued so strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation which covers the regulation of legal services in Scotland.

“The main Act of Parliament governing solicitors is more than 35 years old and simply no longer fit for purpose.

“We know the processes for legal complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients. There are gaps in consumer protection, contradictions and loop holes in the law. This is why change is so desperately needed to allow the legal sector to thrive and ensure robust protections are in place for consumers.”

The review will also look at how unregulated legal services, such as employment advice from non-lawyers, impact on the public in addition to considering how best the profession should be regulated to both promote competition and maintain public confidence.

At the moment the profession is self-regulating, with the Law Society having oversight of Scotland’s 11,000 solicitors while the Faculty of Advocates is responsible for the country’s court-going lawyers. Complaints against both solicitors and advocates are dealt with by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which channels anything related to a lawyer’s conduct to the appropriate professional body to deal with.

While there have been some suggestions that the Government review could look at installing an overarching independent regulator, such a move would likely be resisted by the profession.

Indeed, Gordon Jackson QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said he expected the review to “demonstrate that an independent referral bar has been, and will continue to be, vital in maintaining an effective and fair justice system”.

Any changes would take some time to take effect in the profession with the Government saying that the review, which is not expected to be published until next summer, will be “expected to inform future reforms of the regulatory system for legal services”.

Ms Roberton will be assisted in the review by a panel including Scottish Legal Complaints Commission chief executive Neil Stevenson, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal chair Nicholas Whyte, Scottish Legal Aid Board chair Ray Macfarlane and outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Jim Martin.

Pagan Osborne chief executive Alistair Morris and Harper Macleod chairman Lorne Crerar as well as advocates Laura Dunlop QC of Hastie Stables and Derek Ogg QC of MacKinnon Advocates are also taking part.