Scotland’s most senior judges have accused Holyrood ministers of trying to “bring the legal profession under political control” with their plans to reform the justice system.
They said the Scottish Government’s proposed changes would lead to the country being viewed around the world as a place where the legal system was “open to political abuse”.
The attack is contained in a submission to a Holyrood committee by the Senators of the College of Justice, which represents judges sitting in the highest criminal and civil courts.
The committee is examining the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which would hand ministers greater power to regulate the legal profession.
In their submission, the judges said they had “grave concerns” that the legislation would allow the Scottish Government to “take into its own hands powers to control lawyers”.
They argued the Bill would also remove aspects of the Court of Session’s oversight of the legal profession, with ministers being given a key role as a “co-regulator”.
“These proposals are a threat to the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary,” the judges wrote.
“It is of critical constitutional importance that there is a legal profession which is willing and able to stand up for the citizen against the government of the day.
“The judiciary is fundamentally opposed to this attempt to bring the legal profession under political control. If the Bill is passed in its current form, Scotland will be viewed internationally as a country whose legal system is open to political abuse.”
Their submission also highlighted that Scottish ministers have been directly involved in 4,121 cases in the Scottish courts between 2018-19 and 2022-23.
It said some of these cases were “particularly politically sensitive” and that it was “essential” that lawyers taking part did not feel they were under the control of the Government or that there would reprisals if they won or lost.
“If the Bill is enacted in its current form there will be a clear conflict of interest for the Scottish Government. Scottish ministers will have the power to control the activities of lawyers acting for and against them,” it added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it had “no intention of changing the vital importance of having an independent legal sector”.
She added: “The promotion of an independent, strong and diverse legal profession is enshrined in the Bill while providing for a modern regulatory framework to promote competition, innovation and improve the transparency and accountability of legal services regulation, taking into account public and consumer interests.
“We will continue to engage both consumer and legal stakeholders as this legislation proceeds through Parliament.”