Now is the time for solicitors to make their voices heard in getting election candidates to commit to access to justice, and in particular to protecting the legal aid budget
Be loud and proud
I am writing this month’s column just as the official “pre-election period” has commenced. Political parties and candidates for the May 2016 Scottish Parliament election are now campaigning in earnest. So now is the time to get your views heard.
In our recent Ipsos MORI survey of members, 78% of respondents said they believe that the Scottish Government’s policy on legal aid risks undermining access to justice for the poorest in society. Access to justice is the Society’s number one priority in the document we published in January, setting out five major areas where we believe the Scottish Government should take action (see www.lawscot.org.uk/priorities2016). There is also strong public support for legal aid – further research carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Society showed that 81% of the public agree legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure a fair society, regardless of cost. For more on our campaign, click here.
Our communications team has been busy promoting a campaign on access to justice. All MSPs and more than 400 candidates have received a personalised message from the Society with a copy of our priorities document. We have also linked up with each party manifesto team to try to get traction for their own manifesto documents. We have now hosted debates at the SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative conferences, where we have engaged with over 160 politically active stakeholders. We sponsored the Holyrood magazine justice hustings and will run at least two of our own events for members – so I hope to see some of you there.
I also recently had the privilege of delivering the Aberdeen Law Project Annual Lecture, “Access to Justice in the 21st Century”, at my alma mater, Aberdeen University Law School, and took part in an interview with Alan Robertson of Holyrood, which was published on Monday 28 March.
We are encouraging members to contact their local parliamentary candidates. You will have received an email that provides ideas on how you can become involved in the campaign, including details of a social media campaign. We have a new video, Facebook ads, case studies and lots more. Please do get involved! Access to justice is an essential element of a fair and democratic society.
Stand and deliver
And while we are at it, do you want the opportunity to lead and support the solicitor profession through times of change, contribute to the work of the Law Society of Scotland and influence key decisions? In April, the Society will be looking to elect members of Council to represent solicitors in the following constituencies: Cupar, Dunfermline & Kirkcaldy – two Council seats; Glasgow & Strathkelvin – five Council seats; Greenock, Kilmarnock & Paisley – two Council seats; Perth – one Council seat. Being a member of Council is both worthwhile and rewarding. Think about it. Your profession needs you.
A tribute to the Hon Lord Jones
I’m sure, like me, you will have been shocked and saddened to hear about the unexpected and tragic death of the Hon Lord Jones. I had the honour of paying tribute to Mike on behalf of the Scottish solicitor profession at a sitting of the full court last week. He enjoyed a distinguished career as an advocate before joining the solicitors’ profession in 2008 as a solicitor advocate. Following admission he held the position of senior partner at Simpson & Marwick until he attained high judicial office in 2012.
As counsel, and as a solicitor advocate, he was the advocate of first choice for many solicitors and their clients. He devoted himself in an untiring way to the client’s interests, being supportive and understanding of both their emotions and their objectives. And somehow he knew how to bring out the very best in those he worked with. His advocacy was quiet, almost understated, but compelling.
Lord Jones has given a lasting legacy to the judiciary, to the Faculty of Advocates and to the solicitor profession. Friends and colleagues will remember him for his knowledge and expertise, for the huge contribution he made during his long career in law, and they will also remember his wisdom, his compassion and his generosity. He will be sorely missed.
Christine McLintock is President of the Law Society of Scotland – firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Christinemclint