Working with change
14 Oct 16
The spotlight is turning to making the court reforms work, but the profession will not be found wanting
Another legal year has opened, and along with the traditional ceremonies the practice has developed of marking the occasion with an address reflecting on the present state of the courts and what we might expect in the coming months.
In Scotland, the courts reform programme has featured heavily for some years now on these occasions, and this year’s address from Lord Carloway highlights the latest stages. By end November we will have the new simple procedure, replacing the present summary cause and small claims. As appears from this month’s lead feature, “simple” means not only layperson-friendly rules, but powers in the sheriff to do pretty well whatever is needed to bring a case to a proper conclusion.
November will be a significant month. Coming in on the same date we have the new mandatory protocol for personal injury actions (featured in last month’s Journal), and rules permitting legal entities to be represented by non-lawyers, ending the effect of previous rulings that managers could not speak for such bodies.
With the architecture of the system as envisaged by Lord Gill about to complete, it is not surprising that in his address, Lord Carloway spoke of the emphasis shifting from structure to function, going on to preview the coming digital process within which the simple procedure (and eventually other business) will operate, and court programming changes.
But by “function” the Lord President principally meant that the success of the reforms would depend on the commitment of the judiciary, court staff and the legal profession to make sure the intended goals were met.
I have little doubt that lawyers will soon get to grips with the new procedures. It is in their own interests, when faced with pressures on fees and control of business costs, to maximise efficiency, and it is to be hoped that the reforms will prove to be valuable in that connection. It was notable that in her address to the Society’s conference last month, Lady Dorrian spoke of the courts’ digital justice programme as providing just such an opportunity for smaller firms.
On one matter the court has been at odds with the solicitor profession: whether rules are needed for advice on the options for representation in High Court trials. They are now in place, and solicitors have to hand their clients (with a note of available counsel) a form that says, in effect, that advocates should be tip top but actually solicitor advocates aren’t bad either – and it all comes down to who you get. One wonders really whether it will make a difference at the end of the day.