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Law Agents take on OFT over Tesco law

11 June 2010

The Scottish Law Agents Society has sent an open letter to Scottish ministers in response to the Office of Fair Trading. 

A letter from the OFT, published this week, reaffirmed its support for full "Tesco law" - allowing legal services to be provided by brand names - which, the OFT argued, would make them available to many, especially those on lower incomes, who currently are put off from consultng a lawyer.

SLAS however alleges that the letter "contains mere assertion and once more has no evidence base whatsoever, a fact which MSPs have already spotted and have unfavourably commented upon". The OFT , it adds, has "treated MSPs' concerns with contempt" by repeating the error. "There is no evidence this will help the poor."

SLAS also accuses the OFT of

  • failing to attempt to balance competition with the requirement for independence in the provision of legal services, as recognised by the EU Commission;
  • having no evidence base regarding a suitably “robust” regulatory regime working effectively;
  • "unprofessional and outrageous" behaviour by naming particular high street brands and then being forced to clarify its position;
  • and bias against small businesses.

It adds: "The Law Society [of England & Wales] and Bar Council have apparently expressed concern about the perceived haste with which the Legal Services Board (LSB) appears to be racing towards implementation. Both sides hope that new faces at the Ministry of Justice will, if not completely scupper ABSs and external investment, at least significantly amend the way in which they will operate. So if we do look down south the OFT have failed to convince.

"It would be unfortunate indeed if Scotland brought in ABS and England abandons it. Many supporters of ABS in Scotland were prepared to sacrifice independence only on the basis of a level playing field being necessary if England had it.

"Unfortunately the OFT appears to be obsessed with competition theory and seems divorced from reality. It is time they were taken to task and MSPs have a golden opportunity to do so."

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