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Society unveils Holyrood manifesto

17 January 2011

A justice-based manifesto for the Holyrood elections in May has been launched by the Law Society of Scotland, with the aim of getting Scotland's political parties to adopt its themes in their programmes for government.

Centred round five key themes, the manifesto was developed through a series of seminars last autumn when the Society brought together people representing businesses, charities, universities and voluntary groups, as well as solicitors, to discuss how they all interacted with the justice system and how the system might work better.

The five themes of the manifesto are:

  • Public knowledge and understanding of the legal system
  • Access to legal services, advice and representation
  • A civil justice system that meets the needs of society
  • Good legislation
  • A sustainable economy.

At a briefing on the document today, the Society's President Jamie Millar and Director of Law Reform Michael Clancy explained the main proposals supporting each theme.

Rights and responsibilities

Asked why now was the time to be pressing for more structured legal education in schools, Mr Clancy said the law, and with it people's rights and responsibilities, had become very much more complex in recent years. People needed a sense of where their rights and responsibilities lay, as well as of the institutions that dealt with them. It was a continuing subject for adults and the Government should do much more to educate people when new laws came in, as it had with the smoking ban.

Better access to justice continues to be a key principle for the Society, and here it calls for a review into civil litigation costs and funding similar to the Jackson review in England & Wales, with the introduction of pro bono costs orders, as well as a full audit of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights.

For the civil justice system the Society also wants to see action to implement Lord Gill's reforms, as well as compulsory pre-action protocols in civil cases to help resolve disputes before they reach court, and measures to incentivise pro bono work, perhaps through the tax system, though this would probably have to be on a UK-wide basis.

It also wants to stem the flow of new legislation – more is not necessarily better, said Mr Clancy, and with the Scottish Parliament having passed 166 Acts since devolution, it was time to evaluate how effective they had been and review which areas were ready for consolidation and amendment.

Finally the Society believes that the Scottish legal profession, which has annual revenues of £1.2bn and employs about 20,000 people, can play an integral role in Scotland's future economic success. This would happen through the business opportunities created if the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 is brought into force, the development of Scotland as a centre for international arbitration, and by joining in overseas promotion by the Government of Scotland as a place to do business.

Centre stage

Introducing the document, Mr Millar said: “We want justice issues to be centre stage in this election campaign and to initiate a public debate on how Scotland’s justice system can be improved.

“Elections are always important. However, the next Holyrood elections will present a particular challenge. Whatever the makeup of the next Scottish Parliament or political persuasion of the Scottish Government, MSPs are faced with making significant reductions across all areas of public spending.

“We can all understand why headlines generated by public sector budget cuts focus on schools, on hospitals and on the police. However, such a period of austerity inevitably brings our legal system and the public’s access to that system under pressure. This is why we have called for a constructive debate on how we best protect the principles of our legal system against such a challenging financial backdrop. We hope this manifesto will be able to play a part in that public debate.”

Click here for a summary of the proposals.

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