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President's column

12 December 11

From a month that has taken in a trip to the northern faculties, and the latest Admission Ceremony, Lord Carloway's proposals will require the most ongoing work

by Cameron Ritchie

Publication of the Carloway review last month will have passed few members by, such was the extent of the media coverage it generated – much of which included input from the Society – and the far-reaching nature of its recommendations. As Lord Carloway himself put it, the opportunity was taken to explore the possibility of introducing radical changes to some of the fundamental precepts and principles of the criminal justice system. The proposal to remove the requirement for corroboration in Scots law attracted most attention, though many other recommendations in the 400-plus page report would also have significant consequences and require more in-depth consideration.

Generally, the Society supports in principle the report’s recommendations, though we have already expressed serious concerns about the proposed abolition of the requirement for corroboration, believing that an overwhelming case has not been made for such a radical step. Corroboration is an integral part of Scots law and a significant safeguard against miscarriages of justice.

We accept that there are grounds for critically examining the law relating to corroboration, but it has not been demonstrated that it would be in anyone’s interest to abolish it completely without looking at other parts of the law of criminal procedure and evidence to ensure that the system stays in balance. Therefore, a wider review of this law should be carried out before any such changes are introduced.

Ahead of this year’s Scottish Parliament elections, the Society prepared a manifesto containing a range of policy suggestions, which included carrying out an audit of Scots law to ensure its compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. In also examining corroboration, such an audit would be the best way forward. We will respond to the review in detail in due course, also highlighting the many excellent recommendations, such as protection for vulnerable suspects, the introduction of police bail and limiting detention in custody before charge.

Views from the north

November was again a month of travel and meeting new friends. I completed the 2011 part of my faculty tour with visits to Kirkwall, Lerwick, Inverness, Dingwall, Elgin, Banff and Peterhead. I intend to visit as many more as I can in 2012. Austin Lafferty, who will succeed me as President in 2012, visited Wick and Oban (not on the same day). Lorna Jack and I, with the help of senior staff, also hosted tables at a number of high-profile events, both to thank those who work for us and to meet others, such as MSPs.

Needless to say, Lord Carloway’s review was the subject of some discussion at the faculty meetings. But the solicitors who attended also raised a number of other important issues, including the gloomy economic outlook, cuts to legal aid, maintaining access to justice and the many changes facing the profession.

I was struck by the fact that, while the problems facing solicitors across Scotland are generally the same, the severity and focus of the issues differ markedly from location to location and, of course, there are issues particular to non-urban communities. I have come away with a list of things to do and to have the Council look at. My tours of first the south, and then the north, have been enjoyable and productive – thanks to all who attended and organised these opportunities for me to meet and chat.

Winning through

One of the most enjoyable and uplifting duties of a President is the admission of newly qualified members of the profession. Thirty-seven years on from my own admission, I remain proud and enthusiastic about being a member. Being involved in the start of so many new careers is also a privilege.

Like their more experienced colleagues, newly qualified solicitors need no reminder of the difficulties caused by the economic downturn. The qualification process is as competitive as ever, and new solicitors face the challenge of securing a traineeship at a time when many firms are scaling back their recruitment. Yet the commitment and enthusiasm of those entering the profession was once again in evidence at last month’s Admissions Ceremony.

In embracing the need to be innovative and proactive, I am confident that the latest generation of solicitors will succeed in today’s rapidly changing legal services marketplace. As with solicitors practising in rural areas, the Society is here to help.

In our thoughts

In a month that has involved a number of high-profile issues affecting solicitors and the work of the Society, it is worth highlighting the trial of the man accused of attacking our former colleague Les Cumming, latterly our deputy chief executive. He was a popular member of staff who worked tirelessly to improve the regulation of Scottish solicitors. The end of the trial, along with a guilty verdict, will hopefully provide some comfort to Les and his family.

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