Proposals published on improvements for buyer and seller protection in Scotland

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The Law Society of Scotland has published a report following an independent review of consumer protections for people buying and selling property in Scotland. The review, by former Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen, examined the current consumer protections in place as well as conveyancing practice and the existing legal framework. It followed high profile and complex cases in Aberdeenshire and West Lothian where clients were left without proper title to land bought through residential property transactions. The Law Society provides a number of consumer protections for people using Scottish solicitors. This includes its Guarantee Fund, a fund of last resort which seeks to compensate clients who are the victims of a solicitor’s dishonesty. The Society also arranges for the Master Policy, a single policy of professional indemnity insurance, to ensure firms are covered for cases involving negligence. Bowen concluded that the cases in Aberdeen and West Lothian arose for very different reasons and were highly complex and unusual, and did not suggest a fundamental problem with conveyancing practice. His report makes a number of recommendations, including consideration of the widening of the scope of the Guarantee Fund, and a possible change to the name of the fund to avoid confusion. Some changes would be likely to require changes to the legislation governing the fund. It also recommends amending the guidelines for discretionary powers for the Guarantee Fund to provide discretionary assistance in restricting continuing losses in certain circumstances and the possible introduction of a new system of protection for purchasers of newly constructed houses to protect from insolvency. This would have to be brought forward by Scottish Ministers. ‘We have an important duty to protect the interests of the consumers of legal services, a responsibility which we take extremely seriously. The vast majority of Scottish solicitors provide an excellent service for their clients, but we need to ensure that we have a robust set of consumer protections to help clients in those very few occasions when things go wrong,’ said president of the Law Society of Scotland, Alistair Morris. ‘These difficult and very complicated conveyancing cases in West Lothian and Aberdeenshire left some questioning if the existing protections are sufficient. That is why we commissioned an independent review to look at the issues arising from these cases, current conveyancing practice and existing Scots law, to see what lessons can be learned for the future,’ he explained. ‘Overall, the report provides reassurance that there are no fundamental or underlying problems with Scots property law and solicitors’ conveyancing practice. It is notable that Sheriff Principal Bowen has concluded that the cases in Aberdeen and West Lothian arose for very different reasons and were highly complex and unusual,’ he added. He also pointed out that these findings are reassuring for both the legal profession and members of the public who rely on the knowledge and expertise of their solicitor when buying a new home. ‘We fully appreciate however, that it does not provide much comfort for the people… Taylor Scott International

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