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Making the system work

1 August 04

President's message: the profession needs to examine what it can do to maintain the Scottish house purchase system and reinforce its benefits

by Duncan Murray

It is true that “Health is not valued until sickness comes”.  Becoming President unfortunately coincided with the return of severe sciatica. Pain certainly helps to keep matters in proportion and encourages focused, short meetings. My Presidential year is in full flow and it is most interesting and inspiring to be involved at the heart of the issues affecting the profession, as well as excellent diversion therapy.

We hear much about diversity and recognise that Scotland is a diverse nation full of regional variations. I recall the cultural change of moving from Aberdeen to Edinburgh 20-odd years ago. The fried Mars Bar hadn’t arrived in the North East but salt and sauce was an unknown cosmos. The differences between Edinburgh and Glasgow were brought home to me recently while visiting the excellent “Million years in China” exhibition at the Burrell Collection. While standing in the café queue with my three children, a charming mother in front of me turned, looked at the children and me and in true, uninhibited Glaswegian style, asked me how I coped with three children and my views on the pros and cons of three as opposed to two as she was contemplating having a third child. We shared an entertaining few minutes (till the service counter – fast food not featuring at the Burrell) discussing the problems with children that don’t sleep and the relevant benefits of proximate ages as opposed to gaps – hardly the sort of discourse I experience standing in a queue in Edinburgh!

Last month I was assumed by a correspondent to the Journal to be “a fine fellow”. I am delighted Mr Robertson thinks so and thank him for providing my partners with so much amusement. I can assure him that I am striving to do all I can for the Society, its members and its constitution. The Constitution Committee is considering the size and composition of Council and recently sought feedback from local faculties. We would be delighted to hear members’ views and comments on these issues so that Council is as representative and effective as possible.

Comment has certainly been widespread in the media on gazumping and gazundering recently. We have long prided ourselves on the benefits of the Scottish system for purchase and sale. We have all known and warned of the potential pitfalls, but those pitfalls are now becoming practices as I know all too well after the sale of my last house fell through when a purchaser withdrew their offer before missives were concluded.

It is clear that we are far from the system which used to apply. As an apprentice I listened to the senior partner talk fondly of an offer being submitted at 12 o’clock and an unqualified acceptance being delivered by 2 pm. I was horrified to hear from a conveyancing colleague that missives are not concluded with the preferred bidder in as many as one in 30 transactions.

The overall benefits of our system are evident in the certainty it offers purchasers and sellers – the absence of protracted periods of being subject to contract and the risk of chains developing. If we are to demonstrate the added value the Scottish legal profession brings, we need to examine closely what we as a profession can do for the overall good by maintaining the Scottish system and reinforcing its benefits. There has been much publicity about the single survey pilot launched in Glasgow last month and we await with interest analysis of its effectiveness, but expeditious conclusion of missives whether facilitated by standard missives or professional protocols is key to demonstrable benefit for purchasers and sellers.

Property matters is to be the topic for the next Annual Conference, to be held in Edinburgh on 22 April 2005, so please make a note in your diaries now. Last year’s conference was oversubscribed and indications are that this will be too. I hope the debates and seminars on domestic conveyancing will assist practitioners as well as the Conveyancing and Professional Practice Committees to make progress for the profession and their clients.

Aside from pain, progeny, partners and property, the holiday season is upon us and whether it involves planes or plains, I hope that you can take time off and have an enjoyable break.