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Making the law work better

15 January 18

The convener of the Society's Public Policy Committee on the work of the committee in its first year (shorter version)

by Christine McLintock

Solicitors are ideally positioned, in seeing the practical effects of the law, to say what could work better. That is the reason behind a shift of focus in the Law Society of Scotland’s law reform work.

Our dual role means we have a statutory duty to work in the interest of Scottish solicitors, but also in the interests of the public in relation to the legal profession. To us that includes directing the expertise within the profession towards ensuring our laws are “good law” – clear, workable and without unintended consequences.

The Society will continue to scrutinise new legislation at Holyrood and Westminster, but with a more proactive approach we can make the most of the enormous diversity and depth of our committee members’ knowledge and expertise. Where individual solicitors may not be able to highlight difficulties in the law, we as their professional body can work to raise awareness and come up with solutions.

This change in approach led to the creation of the Public Policy Committee in 2017, succeeding the Law Reform Committee. In addition to overseeing the work of the 25 policy subcommittees covering different practice areas, we have set up a working group to examine the ramifications of Brexit and are collaborating with other Society committees including Access to Justice, Civil Justice and Legal Aid. We plan to provide more information on our subcommittees to our members and to encourage communities of interest, strengthening our links with specialist solicitors.

In our first year we also consulted the profession before agreeing three areas of focus for the next 12 months. These are:

Access to medical records – to provide a framework to integrate medical records across primary, secondary, and private health and social care providers. Currently many health and social care professionals do not have confidence in the legality of data sharing, and this would allow, within a patients’ rights framework, professionals throughout the sector to access health records, improving patient care.

Equalities & Human Rights Ombuds – to consider the case for the establishment of an Equalities & Human Rights Ombuds. There is a lack of resource and expertise within the existing courts and legal aid systems to deal with equalities cases appropriately. Our aim is a model that would enhance access to justice in relation to both equalities and human rights across Scotland and ultimately improve best practice and accountability.

Common property – to present a legislative solution in line with the project to complete the Land Register by 2024, to ensure certainty of ownership in relation to common parts, particularly in developments where plans were not settled prior to the building process so that when titles were sold off, registration did not perfect the conveyance as anticipated by both parties. 

We are making good progress. A timetable is in place for these projects; working groups will examine each area in detail and bring forward proposals offering practical solutions – in effect providing ways to make laws work better for society.

2018 will be another busy year as our first three projects come to fruition and we consider what next. I encourage solicitors interested in contributing to our work to get in touch and to look out for our next consultation on future projects. Contact us at policy@lawscot.org.uk

Christine McLintock is a past President of the Society and current convener of its Public Policy Committee.

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