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A hotter than average July

15 August 05

President's message: thoughts of a quiet month with most people on holiday proved to be well wide of the mark

by Caroline Flanagan


The broad outline of the presidential year is usually fairly clear. There are certain months when the President can expect to be away attending conferences, and other months when a lot of business can be carried out in Edinburgh. Typically, July is a comparatively quiet month as the holidays have started. Sadly, for this President, it was not so! July has been a packed month, both for me and unfortunately for others also.

First of all there was the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. I think we were all relieved that the expected riots and crowds did not materialise in the way predicted. I know that some of you were inconvenienced as a result of the Summit and hope this has been resolved. At the same time as this of course was the abomination of the bombings in London. I have expressed my sympathies and concerns to our Scottish colleagues in London but, again, I do hope that none of you were caught up in the atrocities either personally or through family and friends.

For the Society, the most time consuming piece of business in July has been the preparation of the response to the consultation document on Complaints Handling. The Council held a special meeting to finalise its response and those involved in the drafting have concentrated on little else to make the very tight 3 August deadline. We are told that the Scottish Executive may accept late responses but I am pleased that Council met the deadline. We must now make sure that we communicate that response to the public and the profession. There is an article later in this edition on the Council’s response.

One of the issues highlighted in the article is the cost of any new regime. Council believes that the estimates given in the consultation paper are very low. Keep an eye on the Society’s website and the Journal Online for updates on progress.

There were two major publications in July as far as I was concerned. As an avid J K Rowling fan I spent the middle weekend of the month reading the latest Harry Potter book. The Ombudsman’s report was also published in mid-month – later than initially anticipated and avoiding any clash of publicity with G8. In view of the timing it could perhaps be known as “Linda Costelloe Baker and the Prisoners of Perception”. Thankfully neither has a “howler” in them.

For the first time, the Ombudsman made no recommendations to the Society. The report – the most positive in many years – recognises the substantial improvements made by the Society to the complaints system. There are still areas where the Ombudsman and the Society disagree, but that is a healthy position. In particular, the Ombudsman believes that too many solicitors do not view themselves as providing a consumer service and are affronted when clients complain. As someone operating in the very real world of private practice in Dunfermline I disagree. Solicitors only retain their clients if a consumer-orientated service is provided. It is up to the profession to prove the Ombudsman and those perceptions wrong. I am confident this can be done.

I attended a useful meeting in mid-July with representatives of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about the ongoing difficulties experienced by practitioners with stamp duty land tax. There is a report in some more detail in this edition, but the officials seemed to accept the need for improvement and indeed say that substantial improvements have been made since the end of June. The Society continues to welcome and pass on feedback on SDLT so please let us know if the system is improving as promised. My thanks go to Alan Barr and Isobel D’Inverno for their continuing tireless efforts in this area.

On the same day, I attended a meeting of the Pritchard Educational Trust to consider applications for a grant. As ever, I am struck by the amount of debt now accrued by the average student. With the “new” universities providing LLBs, and more diploma providers, there is likely to be a substantial increase in the number of diploma students looking for traineeships. I hope that the profession can manage to absorb all graduates hoping for a career in practice but I fear this may not be the case.

July has been a quiet month for entertaining – saving the presidential waistband! August brings trips to both America and Canada for the bar conferences there (alcohol units/calories unlimited!). Whilst this is in fact quite hard work I am also looking forward to it and I will report on any interesting developments from those conferences in the next Journal.