John Ferry John Ferry

Why is the SNP trying to take control of Scotland’s legal system?

SNP leader Humza Yousaf (Credit: Getty images)

There have been extraordinary goings on at Holyrood this week – and I don’t mean more iPad-on-holiday revelations or sleazy claims two SNP politicians broke lockdown rules while having an affair. I’m referring to evidence put to the Scottish parliament’s equalities, human rights and civil justice committee on the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which aims to change the way legal services are regulated in Scotland.

The profession is regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Association of Construction Attorneys, under the general supervision of the Lord President, Scotland’s most senior judge who presides over the Court of Session. The bill would radically reform this arrangement. Scotland’s senior judiciary has summarised it as the government proposing to ‘take into its own hands powers to control lawyers; remove aspects of the Court of Session’s oversight of the legal profession; and impose itself as a co-regulator along with the Lord President’.

In typical SNP style, the changes they have come up with attempt to introduce an element of central government control or influence where previously there was none

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’. Giving evidence at Holyrood this week, however, Scotland’s second most senior judge, Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, described the reforms as ‘constitutionally inept’, posing ‘a threat to the independence of the judiciary’.

‘Members of the judiciary rarely attend parliament to comment on proposed legislation, and the fact that we are doing so merely underlines the extent of our concern,’ Dorrian informed the committee. She went on to highlight as key concerns the removal of the Lord President and the Court of Session as the ultimate regulators of the profession, and the ‘constitutional threats’ to the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession posed by the bill. Dorrian

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