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Wanted: debaters, and reporters

1 January 04

President's message: The Society needs members to contribute to the debate on the Clementi review; and if they can, to volunteer as reporters to help the new complaints system

by Joe Platt

A very happy and peaceful new year to all of you.

I am sure most of us are quite happy to be back to normality after the celebration season. Over-indulgence is great fun but eventually demands a level of stamina I no longer have. One of our friends, whose hospitality was legendary, used to hand out Zantac tablets to his guests when they were leaving! Some who had not enjoyed his generosity before would comment that they did not suffer from an ulcer. He stated that neither did he but he had always regarded Zantac as the best method of ameliorating the effects of too much food and too much wine. I wish I had kept one of the tablets!

What’s ahead this year? By the end of the year will building Holyrood have cost £500 million? How much will the inquiry into the cost of Holyrood have cost? If it is less than £1 million I will eat my hat together with a copy of the Competition Act and take a Zantac!

The concentration on the building and its cost unfortunately diverts attention from the real business of the Parliament and the brave step that it represents within the UK. Interest in our Scottish Parliament and devolved power has meant it has had over 1,000 delegations visiting since its inception, with over 500 in the first parliamentary session – far more than originally anticipated. We should never underestimate the interests of other states and jurisdictions in what goes on in the UK, and by the same token we should never underestimate what we can learn from other jurisdictions. Ignoring, for the moment, the USA and Canada, devolved power in European jurisdictions such as Germany, Spain and Switzerland shows that there are numerous ways in which to meet the genuine democratic aspirations of voters.

The early part of this year is sure to bring debate on David Clementi’s consultation paper on the deregulation in the legal profession in England and Wales. The Society is planning a number of events to inform members of the review, its options and the possible knock-on effects for Scotland and to canvass their views. It is envisaged that a Clementi debate will form a large part of the Society’s AGM, which will be held on 13 May 2004 in Edinburgh at 11 am. I would urge every member who is interested in these reforms to attend the AGM, give their views to someone who will or talk to their local Dean (the Society hopes to hold a meeting of the Deans of Faculty the night prior to the AGM to take soundings on members’ views on this debate). It is important that the Society can represent its members on this debate so please make sure your views are canvassed and heard.

I recently mentioned the Society’s improved complaints system which is now operating. As expected, it is shortening the timescale for complaints with the result that there is now a logjam of cases going to reporters. Reporters are an essential part of the complaints process – they consider the grounds of complaint and the evidence presented before preparing a report for consideration by a client relations committee as to whether or not there has been an inadequate professional service or professional misconduct. The Society is always on the lookout for more reporters but because of the current number of cases at report stage we need more reporters, and soon, if the great progress we have made for all concerned in the process is to be maintained. If any reader is interested in applying, please contact Philip Yelland at the Client Relations Office at the Society. Reporter training is given and there is now a modest fee paid for the preparation of each report. The work is interesting and challenging and I can assure readers from personal experience that you learn a great deal from acting as a reporter.

Finally, on a cheering note, the Society’s Cost of Time survey has disclosed an improvement in the performance of sole practitioner practices and those with two or three partners. This is particularly welcome news as some practice units of this size have experienced difficulty over the past few years. The turnaround in fortunes is very welcome and is a healthy sign for the general public as it is the viability of practice units of this size which offers access to justice for most citizens throughout Scotland. A word of congratulations therefore to sole practitioners and small firms. Well done and I hope that for you and everyone else in the profession 2004 proves to be a happy, fulfilling and prosperous year.