ARCH rivals the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) have offered widely divergent responses to a proposal that a new body should be created to both regulate the profession and deal with complaints against practitioners.

Following an 18-month review conducted at the request of former legal affairs minister Annabelle Ewing, Esther Roberton, who is also chair of NHS 24, has recommended creating a single regulator for all providers of legal services in Scotland.

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That would mean that the Law Society would no longer be responsible for overseeing the country’s 11,000-plus solicitors, the Faculty of Advocates would not have regulatory oversight for its 500 members and the Association of Commercial Attorneys would also lose its regulator status.

Their responsibilities, as well as those of the SLCC and the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal, would all come under the remit of the new regulator.

In her report to government Ms Roberton conceded that even some members of her review panel “expressed significant disagreement” with the proposal, but added that her recommendation “is framed by the fundamental consumer principle that a good regulatory system should be independent of those being regulated”.

While the SLCC welcomed what it called Ms Roberton’s “radical recommendations for reform”, the Law Society said it "strongly opposed" the idea of a single regulator, claiming the move would “risk reducing public protection in Scotland”.

Law Society president Alison Atack said: “We strongly oppose the primary recommendation of a new single regulatory body because of the unnecessary risk it places on protecting consumers and higher costs.

“The Law Society has almost 70 years’ experience of successfully setting and enforcing standards in the solicitor profession.

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“I find it surprising that, following such a long review, Ms Roberton would conclude without any consultation with the profession, that a new regulatory body be set up and that the Law Society be removed from the regulatory process.”

SLCC chief Executive Neil Stevenson, meanwhile, said that if the Scottish Government chooses to implement the proposals it would put the country at “the vanguard of reform internationally”.

“Two and half years ago the SLCC published a vision for reform based on the better regulation agenda and the internationally recognised consumer principles,” he said.

“At the time we were a lone voice saying the current regulatory and complaints system was broken and that an entirely new approach was required both in the public interest and to support a vibrant and sustainable legal services sector.

“A single and simplified regulatory scheme, established as an independent body, is a logical starting point for future discussions.

“For too long the barrier to change has been a failure to tackle the issue of whether five separate statutory bodies are really needed to regulate lawyers in Scotland.”

The Law Society and SLCC have publicly disagreed in the past about how the profession should be regulated, with the former also accusing the latter of mishandling the process for dealing with complaints.

Currently all complaints against legal professionals are lodged with the SLCC, which is responsible for determining whether they relate to service or conduct issues. Those that fall into the service bracket are dealt with by the SLCC while any complaints relating to conduct are passed to the Law Society or Faculty of Advocates for determination.

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However, the Law Society has long maintained that the SLCC is inefficient and overly expensive and in 2017 launched a series of court cases against it. The ultimately unsuccessful cases accused the commission of overstepping its remit in taking it upon itself to reclassify hybrid complaints after they were ruled unlawful by the Court of Session in 2016.

It is now for the Scottish Government to decide whether it prefers the stance of the Law Society or the SLCC on regulation, with Ms Roberton urging ministers to “give my proposals careful consideration”.