Scottish solicitors have voted firmly against what would have been a landmark proposal to end the practice of allowing one professional to act for two parties in a conveyancing transaction.
Mandatory separate representation was rejected at a special general meeting of the Law Society of Scotland last night, as members opted to maintain the status quo, which allows solicitors to represent buyers and their mortgage lenders.
In total, 847 members voted against a change to the conflict of interest rules, with 671 in favour.
The vote followed a decision at the society’s annual general meeting in March when members voted for the principle of moving towards mandatory separate representation. But, following a consultation over the summer, sentiment appears to have changed.
Bruce Beveridge, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: ‘There has been a mood change within the profession since the vote at the annual general meeting in March this year.
‘The majority of solicitors at today’s meeting clearly believe that the current practice works for their clients, although there remains a significant number of solicitors who have concerns.’
He said issues around separate representation were originally raised by solicitors who had concerns about requirements placed on them by banks and building societies which could compromise their relationship with the buyer client.
But responses to the consultation revealed the strength of feeling within the profession and the sensitivities of the proposed change.
Beveridge added: ‘It remains the case that homebuyers are generally unaware that their solicitor also has to provide specific legal advice to the lender and we will have to consider what we should do to ensure that all clients are clear about the duties and responsibilities of solicitors to both the housebuyer and the lender.’
Yesterday’s vote and the views highlighted during the consultation will now be considered by the society’s regulatory committee which will consider what further work there should be on the issue.
In March, the Law Society of England and Wales determined after consultation that joint representation provides the best value for money for clients. The chair of Chancery Lane’s conveyancing and land law committee, Jonathan Smithers, said: ‘Having separate representation wholesale increases costs for consumers and slows down transactions, and that is not in the best interest of people buying houses.’