THE big take-away from NHS24 chairman Esther Roberton’s 18-month review of the legal sector was that lawyers could do with an independent regulator. According to a YouGov poll carried out on behalf of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the public would tend to agree.

Having surveyed a representative sample of just over 1,000 people in a three-day period in July, YouGov found that just 19 per cent of the public feel it is acceptable for organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates to both represent and regulate their members while only 21% said they were confident that a body carrying out both functions would deal with complaints against lawyers fairly.

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The results are in keeping with the findings of Ms Roberton’s review, which when it reported last October said a new body should be created to both regulate the profession and deal with complaints against practitioners. Such an organisation would take over duties from the Law Society, the Faculty, the Association of Commercial Attorneys, the SLCC and the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal.

However, while the Competition and Markets Authority is looking into the effectiveness of the current regulatory environment and the Scottish Government has committed to consulting on the Roberton Review, SLCC chief executive Neil Stevenson said nobody had yet gauged the public's views.

“The fact research like this has not been done before perhaps emphasises the need for a move from the self-regulatory model where lawyers are regularly consulted and allowed to vote on many issues, but the public’s interest is often forgotten, with no major research in the last couple of decades,” he said.

“What we found was perhaps not surprising - public views preferred the types of model most other regulated sectors have moved to over the last quarter of century. This is consistent with the recommendations of the independent review.”

In making the recommendation that oversight of the profession should pass to a single, independent regulator, Ms Roberton said her view had been “framed by the fundamental consumer principle that a good regulatory system should be independent of those being regulated”.

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The YouGov poll found that 61% of respondents think it is unacceptable for a single body to both represent and regulate lawyers, while a further 28% said it is very unacceptable.

While the current system for dealing with complaints against solicitors and advocates sees the SLCC act as the first point of contact before matters are handed to individual bodies to deal with, the poll also found that 39% of respondents were not very confident and 19% were not at all confident that those bodies would be able to deal with those complaints fairly.

On top of that, 40% said they would be fairly worried about raising a complaint while 15% said they would be very worried.

Despite the findings of the poll, Law Society chief executive Lorna Jack defended the society’s role as regulator, noting that the input of lay members on a number of regulatory committees means the interests of the profession are balanced with those of the public.

“Using professional bodies like the Law Society to regulate certain sectors has been shown to be extremely effective and highly efficient,” she said.

“It is why the current system used here in Scotland is also replicated in places like Ireland, Canada, Australia and a number of states in America. It is also used in other professions such as accountancy, surveying and teaching.

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“We also benefit from more than a hundred non-solicitors who sit on our regulatory committees. They play a major part in all of our regulatory work and decision-making, and ensure the public interest sits at the very heart of our work.”

The Faculty of Advocates, which is responsible for both representing and regulating its members, declined to comment.

Although the Robert Review was published almost a year ago, the Scottish Government is not expected to begin its consultation on the findings until next year. If that consultation does result in changes to the regulatory regime being accepted, changes to legislation would have to be passed before they could take effect.