Challenge of the new
President's message: whatever 2011 has in store, the year will not be dull, as we can already foresee
In the tradition of columnists everywhere, may I start by offering all our readers best wishes for 2011. What does the year hold in store for the profession and the public we serve, whether as private practitioners or in-house lawyers in industry, commerce, central or local government or the fiscal service?
As I pen a second consecutive President’s column looking out at blizzard conditions, the first thing we can expect in 2011 is probably more disruption due to adverse weather. For a country and a profession still feeling the effects of the worst recession since the 1930s, this is probably the last thing needed, and yet it is in adversity that we show the greatest resilience. I hear the stories of solicitors making the effort to get to the courts to ensure the representation of their clients. I hear the stories of use being made of remote working by logging on from home to ensure that transactions and business can be progressed despite the difficulties. I hear the stories of staff making great efforts to get to solicitors’ offices to make sure that the clients are not let down.
We moan a lot about the weather in this country – no more so than when snow and ice render the roads, rail networks and air travel difficult if not impossible – but we knuckle down, get on with it and serve the clients to the best of our abilities.
The year ahead is going to bring a number of challenges for the profession. An early challenge will be the Government’s approach to reducing the justice budget, including legal aid. By the time of publication, our Legal Aid Negotiating Team, led by Ollie Adair, will have met with deans of faculties and presidents of bar associations to seek views on what economies can be offered by the profession to the justice budget, hopefully without reducing access to justice or the reasonable income expectations of those in the profession offering legal aid.
As a profession, I know that we will take a mature and pragmatic approach to the issue of the Government’s spending cuts – like every other essential service, justice cannot be immune from spending cuts in these economically challenging times – but we will be seeking to ensure that the delivery of the service is not unduly prejudiced.
During 2011, we will also see the implementation of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act and the introduction of licensed providers of legal services. There is much work to be done to ensure that the Society develops a robust licensing regime, as authorised to do by its members, and adopts a new constitution, which allows it to be a regulator but also matches the democratic needs and aspirations of its members.
The Carloway Review set up following the Cadder judgment could make far-reaching changes to evidence and procedure in criminal cases, and the Society is ready to contribute to the debate and to present the views of its members to Lord Carloway. It is the Society’s position that the best features of the law of Scotland must not be surrendered to the literal implementation and blind observance of the European Convention on Human Rights.
We will have an election in May 2011 to appoint the administration that will govern Scotland until 2015. The Society has been preparing its own manifesto and this will be launched in January, in advance of the various party manifestos, to inform politicians of the issues identified by the solicitors’ profession as worthy of their attention in government.
Nice to have
And the wish list for 2011? Well, further progress on implementation of the Gill Review would be a good start, followed by the Thomson Review being given a kick-start. Further hitch-free rollout of ARTL, lenders leaving their panels uncut, no claims on the Guarantee Fund, a reduction in the business of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, an increase in property and corporate work, any cuts in the justice budget not impacting on the incomes of legal aid practitioners and no redundancies in the in-house sector due to spending cuts would also be welcome. If I have missed anyone out, let me know. The wish list is perhaps not entirely achievable but let’s make as good a fist of it as possible.
Finally, my congratulations to Cammie Ritchie on his appointment as next year’s President and to Austin Lafferty on his election as Vice President for 2011-12. I look forward to facing the challenges ahead with Cammie and Austin, both of whom I know will serve the interests of our members well.