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Time to push for Gill

19 April 10

President's message: writing ahead of the ABS results, another important question is, what is happening to the Gill review?

by Ian Smart

All of us are familiar with the experience of reading the early editions of a newspaper on the day after a major evening football match. The lead on the sports pages inevitably makes no mention of this event, which concluded after the print deadline, but the outcome of which, even by the time the same newspaper is read, will be ubiquitously known through more instant means of communication. Instead, in the space where in later editions the match report will appear, the editor will have inserted some worthy but easily disposable piece, sufficiently anodyne to be omitted from later editions altogether.

So, for example, instead of the lead headline “Italy: Campione del Mondo!” readers are informed with similar prominence: “Stoke City opens new training ground.”

That’s the position I find myself in this month. The deadline for my column is 6 April. On the 7th we will have the result of the ABS referendum, and beyond that, but almost certainly before you read this, we will have the reconvened Special General Meeting to try and finally resolve the ABS conundrum.

In these circumstances it is always tempting to try and predict the outcome in the manner of the New York Times headline immediately after the 1948 US Presidential Election. “Dewey Wins!” it famously announced. Now, even those with little interest in the history of the United States need not reproach themselves for failing to recollect the achievements of President Dewey. In fact, Harry S Truman was comfortably re-elected for a further four years.

That’s not a mistake I intend to repeat here so, as an alternative, I am only really left with the Stoke City training ground approach.

I’ve toyed with a number of options. I did think to try and explain how in the one week my football team could fail to create a single decent chance against opponents reduced to nine men while, three days later, put four past a squad assembled at a cost of millions. In the end however, I concluded that was beyond rational explanation.

I then speculated that I might discourse on the merits of the new Doctor Who, or the new Ian McEwan novel, or indeed my presentation to the fourth High Street Conference, all of which occupied my time during the period immediately past. I even considered a “State of the Nation” piece on the eve of the forthcoming General Election. All in the end were rejected as too boring, insubstantial, depressing or controversial. I leave you to match the topics to the adjectives.

In the process of deciding the topic however, I’ve already managed to cover half my column, so if I can only now find the words for an altogether more substantial subject which has been occupying my thoughts then all will be hunky-dory.

So, here we go.

Whatever happened to the Gill Review? To general acclamation, Lord Gill reported more than six months ago. Why has nobody done, it would appear, anything since? Some of what he proposed needs primary legislation, but much needs no more than action by the Sheriff Court Rules Council, the Scottish Court Service or, through secondary legislation or even simply administrative steps, the Justice Department. While no one should ever underestimate the sheer immovability of our justice system or the vested interest inevitably opposed to any change, these factors have already been overcome in relation to criminal justice. Why is it proving so difficult in relation to its civil equivalent, particularly now that a blueprint has been produced?

There used to be an old joke that the difference between evolution and devolution was that devolution took longer. But with devolution, at the end, once we had a consensus, in a period of just two years we went from UK election to white paper, from white paper to referendum, from referendum to bill, from bill to Act, from Act to Scottish election, and from Scottish election to a first devolved Government. In two years!

A similar consensus surrounds much of the Gill reforms where, with respect, the issues are not remotely as complex. Let’s get to it.

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