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President's column

15 April 19

The Presidents Conference of European law societies revealed issues some still face without the rule of law; the four jurisdictions meeting from our islands also shows Scotland’s situation favourably

by Alison Atack

For years, while making family lunch, I have waltzed around the kitchen on New Year’s Day to the wonderful sounds of the Strauss family performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Vienna New Year’s Concert. I know it’s all televised now but somehow it’s not the same to actually see it rather than simply imagine what’s going on – and in any event, TV would get in the way of my perfecting my polka or quadrille.

So it was with great excitement that I journeyed to Vienna to attend the 47th European Presidents Conference, the highlight of which must be the Juristenball at the magnificent Hofburg Palace. We were treated to an amazing demonstration by Debutantes and their partners on just how a waltz should be done, accompanied by a “mini” Philharmonic.

Of course, the conference is an opportunity for the presidents of the law societies and bar associations of Europe to meet and exchange information on developments in their own jurisdictions. It is a very well attended event with around 80 participants. The conference is held in the Palais Ferstel.

There were representatives from Azerbaijan to Bosnia, from Belgium to Russia, from Serbia to Germany. Ahead of the event, each body produces a country report which gives them the opportunity to discuss at the conference some of the key issues and work their law society has undertaken in the past year. Each year there is an update on the work of the Council of Bars & Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) as they hold a standing committee to coincide with the conference. It feels particularly important to keep these contacts going.

As well as the opportunity to report on developments in your own jurisdiction, there is discussion on one item of current importance which has the potential to affect all jurisdictions. This year the topic was “rule of law”, which of course is a very important topic for our law society at present with the Roberton review of the regulation of legal services being discussed. There were presentations from eminent speakers, but the delegate from the floor who stood out as someone who very eloquently portrayed what can happen (and indeed is happening in his country) when the rule of law is blatantly ignored by government, was the Georgian participant. Indeed, it was said that it was possible that the Georgian bar will fall apart. At all times we have to remember what an important role lawyers have to stand between the client and the state and to remain independent of state influence. 

Four jurisdictions update

The Presidents of the Law Societies of England & Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland were also attending and this creates another opportunity to strengthen our ties.

Added to this we had our quarterly four jurisdictions meeting with them in Belfast last month. In a very full agenda we discussed Brexit (inevitably), CPD, regulation of the legal profession, professional indemnity, access to justice, addressing mental health issues for solicitors, and diversity and inclusion. I focused particularly on our recent Profile of the Profession survey, where it could be seen that we were ahead of the field in obtaining information never looked for by others. In the legal aid sphere we reported the uplift in fees in Scotland, although lower than hoped for, maintenance of the scope and the plans for a new mechanism for regular review: the other three countries had absolutely nothing positive at all to say for their jurisdiction on this score.

There was as ever a great camaraderie and support, with many similar strands running through the report from each of the four jurisdictions, but also caveats about what does and what does not work.

If the Juristenball was a standout social event, the regular quarterly meetings with our colleagues from England & Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland must rank as a highlight of the Law Society of Scotland’s business and networking programme. 

If you want to get involved with the Society’s work, please consider joining one of our committees or nominating yourself for our Council. Details of the vacancies available are on our website.

Meanwhile… back to the steps for that waltz – now where’s that music? 

Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland, e: president@lawscot.org.uk, Twitter: @AtackAlison

 

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