Controversial justice reforms which would give Scottish ministers more power over the courts have been dismissed as “constitutionally inept” by the country’s second most senior judge.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian told Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, that the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill was a “threat to the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession”.

She blasted the Scottish Government, saying the legislation showed "a lack of understanding of fundamental democratic principles."

Scottish ministers have already indicated they will back down on some of the key measures in the proposed legislation, which aims to change how legal services are regulated in Scotland.

READ MORE: Scottish Government set to back down in legal regulation fight

Currently, this is done by the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Association of Construction Attorneys under the general supervision of the Lord President, the country’s most senior judge.

However, the Bill in its current form seeks to give ministers the power to review the regulatory performance of these bodies and allow new bodies to become regulators.

Ministers say the aim is “to provide a modern, forward-looking regulatory framework for Scotland that will best promote competition, innovation, and the public and consumer interest in an efficient, effective, and efficient legal sector”.

However, legal bodies have been unanimous in their opposition.

Lady Dorrian told the committee: “Members of the judiciary rarely attend Parliament to comment on proposed legislation.

“The fact we are doing so merely underlines the extent of our concerns.”

She added: “Our principle concerns relate to the removal of the Lord President and the Court of Session as the ultimate regulators of the profession, and the constitutional threat to the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession contained in some of the provisions.”

Highlighting the role the Lord President plays in regulating the profession, Lady Dorrian insisted this must be “independent from government”, citing this as being “central to our democracy”.

But she said the Bill could give Scottish ministers the ability to “directly exercise power to regulate the profession and even set up an entirely new regulator”.

Lady Dorrian stressed that the “legal profession must be independent from government and from Parliament”.

READ MORE: Scottish judges warn SNP reforms could see 'political abuse' of courts

The Lord Justice Clerk told the committee: “There's just a lack of understanding of fundamental democratic principles.”

She added: “It's particularly important to recognise that independence is not something that's created for the benefit of lawyers. 

“It's not there to shield them or to make them unaccountable, it's designed to benefit the individual consumer, to make sure that someone who may end up having to sue the government may be sure of obtaining a lawyer who'll be absolutely fearless in the presentation of their case, and entirely independent of any government influence. 

“And it's of particular importance if you think that in between April 2016 and November 2023, there have been 4,946 civil cases before the courts involving the government. Nearly 5000 cases. 

“And, of course, some of those are high-level litigations. There have been two litigations about the representation of public boards, one in relation to the census, a section 35 challenge, which is still undergoing at the moment, a reference to the Supreme Court in the independence referendum, litigation about the UNCRC, the named persons, loads of others.

“These are really high-level important matters. And it's essential that individuals who want to challenge the government can do so through an independent lawyer of their own choosing who is not going to be subjected to any kind of government influence or risk of discipline.”

Lady Dorrian said it was “good that Scottish ministers have recognised it is important to amend the Bill to address some of our concerns,” but that judiciary did “not have any idea” about what any changes might look like. 

"As ever with these things, the devil is in the detail," she said.