News In Focus
Faculty and Society clash over solicitor advocates
A war of words broke out between the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland today over the regulation of solicitor advocates.
Dean of Faculty Richard Keen QC launched a strong attack on the Society over its response to the Woodside appeal decision last month, in which Lord Justice Clerk Gill criticised the conduct of solicitor advocates in a 1998 trial and called for a review of the solicitor advocate system.
Mr Keen accused the Society, by calling in turn for an independent review of rights of audience in the higher courts, of "an abdication of its statutory responsibility for regulating solicitor advocates".
There was no evidence, he said, of any systemic failure in the operation of the courts and rights of audience. "What there obviously has been is a failure of regulation in respect of solicitor advocates and the Faculty hopes that this will be dealt with sooner rather than later."
Alleging that the Society was attempting to kick the subject into the long grass, he added: “The Faculty had hoped for a constructive response from the Law Society of Scotland, which is the regulatory authority for solicitor advocates. It did not expect the Law Society to abdicate its responsibility as regulator in the face of the Lord Justice Clerk’s criticisms.
“This is not a matter that should be put off until 2010 or the next century. It is something that should be addressed now in the interests of justice and of the consumers of legal services."
The Society countered by invoking the support of Lord Hamilton, the Lord President, for its call for a government-appointed review. Chief Executive Lorna Jack said Lord Hamilton "had written to Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to add his support for a review and we are in favour of this".
"We believe that after almost 20 years it is time for an independent, comprehensive review of rights of audience in the higher courts."
Ms Jack pointed out that in addition to the Society's regulatory system, solicitor advocates had to comply with court rules approved by Lord President Hope in 1992 and Lord President Rodger in 2002. Any complaints had to be raised with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission which, if they related to professional conduct, would refer them to the Society.
“To date", she added, "the Society has never had to prosecute a member for professional misconduct arising from them acting as a solicitor advocate." A rigorous regulatory system was in place to ensure that the public interest was protected and high standards were maintained.
Affirming that the Society would welcome the opportunity for ongoing discussion of the various issues with the Scottish Government and the Faculty, she concluded: "We are currently in a time of significant change and this is an important issue for the future of the legal profession.”