For the greater good
9 Oct 17
The profession should support those who attempt to improve the lot of the most vulnerable
Last month’s annual conference of the Society, titled “For the greater good”, expressly set out to rekindle the desire to do justice that has inspired many to embark on a legal career.
While it embraced a wide range of topics, it could be said that a common theme linking the keynote presentations was the pursuit of excellence and the need to be constantly innovating to achieve success in today’s world.
Lord Carloway’s determined pursuit of reform, of the courts themselves and of the rules of evidence and procedure by which they operate; Philip Rodney’s vision of a bold and dynamic profession; the Lord Advocate’s insistence on high standards for the prosecution service; Katherine Grainger’s tribute that solicitors “deserve a gold medal every day for what you do”: each i their own way contained encouragement for those who heard them through those times when, as happens, the pace and the pressures all feel a bit too much to cope with.
If these seem daunting, how would you feel if confronted with real injustice and no apparent way to overcome it? Yet such issues are part of daily life for some of our colleagues. The panel session “Access to Justice: Helping the vulnerable and those most in need” perhaps deserved plenary status, as it went to the heart of the conference theme. Aamer Anwar and the Legal Services Agency’s Paul Brown, two of the contributors, left their audience in no doubt that unless the disadvantaged in society have someone behind them to help them defend their rights, they will probably be ignored or, worse, treated callously by the system.
It is not just the headline cases we are talking about. Think, for example, of the growing volume of concern at the risks of ordinary people suffering if the large-scale rollout of universal credit is pushed through before the system is ready to cope. Standard Government assurances that everything is under control are being questioned even by some within the governing party. Who will take up the cause if the fears are realised?
Of course the cutbacks on legal aid do not help, even if we in Scotland have been spared the worst of those imposed south of the border. Our own legal aid sector is hardly thriving, and this is one issue on which repeated protests to Government have had little impact. Which only adds to the challenge.
“Freedom and justice aren’t handed to you on a plate,” said Anwar. “Legal aid is an issue for everyone, not just those who need it,” Brown added.
“For the greater good” is something to which we can all contribute. A profession speaking as one, speaks louder.