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Sincere thanks are due

18 September 06

President's message: words of thanks for dedicated service, and of encouragement to readers to help promote positive change, are top of the agenda this month

by Ruthven Gemmell

In view of his 63rd birthday and the impending legislation before the Scottish Parliament, Leslie Cumming recently approached the Office Bearers and the Chief Executive of the Society to take stock of his future. It was agreed that it would be appropriate to appoint a Deputy Chief Executive, a role that Leslie held as well as his better known title of Chief Accountant, who would be able to work through the period of change and give continuity into the new regime. Leslie has been at the Society for 22 years and is only the second Chief Accountant in its 57-year history. His expertise and commitment throughout have been invaluable and he will be missed by the Society. Fortunately, he leaves behind an excellent team to carry on the challenging but rewarding work in the Guarantee Fund and Finance Departments.

All within and outwith the profession know of the considerable courage he showed when he returned to work after suffering an horrific assault earlier this year, which is a tribute to his considerable determination and professionalism. I am sure everyone joins me in wishing him well as he looks forward to his retirement from the Society, which will allow for a little work with more time for his family and himself.

Thanks are also due to Oliver Adair and the Vice-President, John MacKinnon who brought an interim conclusion to the discussions with the Scottish Executive over the rates of remuneration for solemn criminal legal aid. Oliver and the Legal Aid (Solicitors) Committee spend enormous amounts of time and effort in working to ensure that matters relating to legal aid are dealt with in accordance with the Society’s obligations as a professional body in terms of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act. Similarly, the Society is committed to improving access to justice. This includes ensuring the supply of solicitors which, in turn, requires an appropriate level of remuneration. The process is, however, not straightforward and it is clear that for the future there has to be a renewed and strengthened commitment to communication with the profession and an increase in resourcing to ensure that this happens in the most satisfactory way possible for all concerned. The suggestion of a Faculty and Bar Association Forum, if acceptable, may lead to a more streamlined system and the more feedback that the Society and, particularly, individual Council members obtain from solicitors about issues, and the quicker it is received, the better placed the Society will be to represent everyone’s interests.

At the time of writing, the Society is preparing for the “Balancing the Scales of Justice” debate, which will focus on the independence of the legal profession in Scotland, a subject given greater urgency with the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill passing through the Scottish Parliament. The timing is apt, coming as it does the day before the parliamentary debate on the bill, and the conference features a number of high profile speakers and a panel session which is expected to generate lively debate.

Engagement of the profession with the continuing process of political reform must, however, go beyond the debate. All senior partners of firms and others within the profession have been sent a pack about the bill and I urge them and their firms and organisations to be involved in the process.

We hope to ensure that MSPs can be persuaded that change is only justified if it leads to real improvement for both the profession and the public, and the Society aims to remain at the heart of the decision-making process at this critical time.

Unfortunately, the bill is not the only current issue of concern. HM Revenue & Customs have produced proposals to reduce the number of staff at the Edinburgh Stamp Office. This is, apparently, part of a reorganisation that involves concentrating resources on the Birmingham Stamp Office. As many of you will be aware, there are already a number of issues relating to the service provided by the Edinburgh office and our concern is that these will be compounded by any further cuts in their staff there or by transferring this work to the Birmingham office. I have written to HMRC’s London headquarters urging strongly that they reconsider this proposal, and the Professional Practice Department is continuing to communicate with them.

The Society’s continuing professional development initiative, CPD Online, continues to be a successful web-based distance learning service. This was established in response to the needs of members and is proving extremely popular. It is accessible, convenient and cost effective but, as ever, the Society is always seeking to improve the services we provide and welcomes any suggestions on how it could be developed and improved.

Lastly, the Society runs its “nothing.but.the.net” conference in Glasgow on 3 October. This provides an extremely useful IT update for practitioners and, once again, any suggestions on how this may be developed or improved would be welcome.