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Letter: what the review needs to cover

12 Jun 17

Legal services review should extend to delays in prosecuting rogue lawyers

by Ron Hastings

Following the recent announcement of the review of legal services, it is worth considering whether the current arrangements are fit for purpose.

The Law Society of Scotland is right to seek regulation of those providing legal services and not covered by any regulatory regime worth the name. “Lawyer” is a generic term, and while the public perception may be that “lawyer”, “legal executive” or “ABCon Legal Service” is synonymous with “solicitor” or a firm of solicitors, clearly many are not, and the reserved areas are not as extensive as many think. As the public become increasingly exposed to non-regulated providers, it is all the more important that we are able to point to the benefits of using a solicitor. Perhaps we should be required to display a logo with branding to be carried on all communications, making it clear that we are solicitors and regulated so the public is protected. Of course the public would have to be assured that the claimed protection is credible and is seen to be worth the paper it is written on.

Let us hope that the review process is positive and doesn't descend into yet another round of lawyer bashing and defending on the back foot. The Society could help by taking a long hard look at where we are, how we are perceived in the eye of the public, and be prepared to be honest and recognise that there are worrying headline cases where things have gone wrong.

Does the review extend to improving the delays and ineffectiveness of the Crown Office prosecuting rogue lawyers? It should! We all know only too well the effect of the rogues on innocent clients who are still waiting years later, partners and their families who are left devastated or worse and the public perception that lawyers cover up for each other and that there is no justice. The reality is the lack of effective prosecution and institutional infighting have let the public down.

Procedural delays, lame excuses and lack of urgency have left in limbo clients who have suffered at the hands of professional offenders, and the rest of the profession gets it in the neck as we all suffer the consequential damage to reputation. Perhaps like other scandals it is considered that shining a light on the problem causes more damage. We need to be seen to be proactive, providing effective protection for both the public and the vast majority of hardworking and honest lawyers. As solicitors proud of the name, we surely want to maintain the confidence of the public and avoid creating the impression that as a profession we sweep problems under the carpet. This requires a new resolve to weed out the offenders and where criminal conduct is suspected, report and work alongside the prosecutors.

We have read of high profile cases where there has clearly been offending, with cases of fraud and plain theft that have slipped through the net. Cold cases leave victims feeling abandoned and prevent healing. As we are all too aware, time is the common enemy and it is surely time to grasp the nettle. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Ronald A Hastings
, partner, Hastings Legal, Selkirk

 


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