Scotland’s legal system should be reformed to give consumers greater choice, the competition watchdog has said.
The move by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) comes after Which? submitted a super-complaint which stated that the existing set-up was failing consumers.
Current regulations place strict controls on how legal professionals in Scotland are allowed to practice and how consumers can access legal representation.
Which? believes that this structure hinders market innovation, restricts consumer choice and may lead to higher prices.
We called for deregulation of the market in order to improve the services available to consumers and the OFT has now agreed that the current restrictions are unnecessary.
It says that there would be ‘benefits to consumers if they were lifted’.
The OFT has asked the Scottish Executive to outline its approach to removing these restrictions, and the Scottish Executive has agreed to respond formally to these recommendations within 90 days.
Sean Williams, OFT Executive Director of Markets and Projects, said: ‘There should be real benefits to Scottish consumers in allowing solicitors and advocates to adopt the most efficient businesses structures.
‘I hope the Scottish Executive can work with the profession to remove restrictions that, in our view, are unnecessary and prevent solicitors and advocates from innovating to meet the needs of consumers.’
Victory for consumers
Which? principal public affairs officer Julia Clarke said: ‘This is a victory for Scottish consumers who should benefit from better legal services. The OFT has confirmed Which?’s evidence of restrictive practices and we strongly support their findings.
‘This is the first stage on the road to reforming the way legal services are provided in Scotland. This will benefit not only consumers but also those lawyers who are prepared to offer the high levels of service that people have come to expect from other professions
‘Which? calls on the Scottish Executive to act quickly and decisively in the interests of consumers so that Scotland can benefit from a more customer-focussed legal profession.
‘We will keep a close eye on whether the new Executive really does represent the interests of consumers, the people who elected them, or the lawyers who are resistant to change but often shout the loudest.’
Which? has legal powers enabling it to file super-complaints with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
A super-complaint allows designated consumer bodies to complain to the OFT and specific sectoral regulators about market features that may be significantly harming consumers’ interests.