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Law: it's the business

15 December 08

Government and all those involved in the legal system need to work together to attract more business to Scotland

by Fergus Ewing

The Scottish Government is committed to doing all we can to make Scotland a supportive environment for business – including legal business. Scotland’s private legal firms already contribute £1.2 billion to the Scottish economy, and they are a crucial part of the wider business infrastructure.

They are a success story – but we believe there is more that can be done. That is why the Justice Secretary established the Business Experts and Law Forum – to look at how to encourage business to choose Scots law and Scottish courts for their operation and dispute resolution. The Forum included business and legal interests, and its report was published on 3 November. I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Forum, and all those who participated in Forum discussions, for their contribution to this important work.

With the effects of the global economic crisis being felt across Scotland, the Forum’s proposals to attract more business are all the more relevant. Everyone involved in the legal system – Government, the judiciary, advocates, solicitors and professional bodies, now needs to work together to tackle the three key areas identified by the Forum for further work:

making the courts more efficient and accessible to commercial clients;

developing Scotland’s potential as a global centre for dispute resolution; and

better global marketing for the Scottish legal system and profession, as part of the integrated drive to sell Scots business overseas.

Immediately following the publication of the report, I and Jim Mather (Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism) met with representatives of the legal profession at an event hosted by the Law Society of Scotland. This was a great opportunity to discuss how all parts of the profession can flourish, the difficulties it faces, and how it can contribute further to Scotland’s place in the global market. We aim to have more such events in the new year to continue this important dialogue.

This will form part of our wider approach to helping the profession to play its part in the development of Scotland’s economy, which also includes:

Legislation to reform arbitration in Scotland – a vital aspect of the range of dispute resolution processes we need to offer. We are currently considering the responses to our recent consultation on the draft bill.

Reforming regulation of the profession to allow new business structures. We will shortly consult on our proposals, which will build on the ideas put forward by the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates earlier this year.

The Right Hon Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review, which will report in the first half of 2009. The recommendations from this wide-ranging review, informed by the Forum’s ideas, will provide a unique opportunity to improve the structure and operation of the Scottish courts.

This is a huge agenda, at a time when the profession faces many difficult challenges. It may call on us to reconsider some of the traditions we hold most dear. For example, the Forum’s report suggests we may need to abandon some of the arcane language employed in the courts, if we are to persuade people that the system is truly accessible. It welcomes many of the developments to make our commercial courts more business-friendly, but suggests there is much further that we could go.

Perhaps the strongest message from the report is that we should know our strengths, build on them, and tell others about them. Our commercial firms and advocates can offer high levels of expertise combined with flexibility, value for money and experience of working in multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional environments. We must not sit back and assume that business will come our way as of right, but we have huge assets which we can capitalise on.

The report is not the end of the story but the beginning – I hope that in the months to come many of you will participate in the dialogue about taking its work forward.

The Forum’s report can be found at: www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/243135/ 0067662.pdf7

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