Council reports 2013

Council Meeting, 25 October 2013

Review of judicial factories

A series of measures aimed at adapting and improving the arrangements for the appointment of Judicial Factors are to be taken forward, the Council agreed.

The decision followed a review of judicial factory appointments, which made a number of recommendations. Some of the recommendations are already being developed by the Society’s Board, with others to be considered further by a working party.

Council member David Preston, who conducted the review, said it had not identified any major concerns but added that some changes would help to “get ahead of the game”.

A report added: “In general terms, I found that there were no fundamental difficulties with the current procedures. However, much of what is done is on an ad hoc basis without any formal policy or set procedure.

“Such procedures may be more susceptible to challenge than established processes and generally it would be advisable to formalise procedures where possible.”

The review was carried out following the Ross Harper Judicial Factor appointment last year. Given the scale and high-profile nature of the appointment, it was considered good practice to examine any lessons that could be learned from the process.

Society President Bruce Beveridge described the review and report as “extremely thorough and detailed”.


Legal aid

A wide-ranging discussion on legal aid issues heard concerns about a ruling permitting counsel to appear without a solicitor agent, as well as the latest timetable for reforms to the criminal legal aid system.

Council members heard that the ruling of the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates on counsel appearing without an agent in civil litigation had prompted the Scottish Legal Aid Board to produce new guidance. As a result, it will be necessary for solicitors to justify attendance at a hearing.

Concerns were raised at the lack of consultation before the ruling was made. The Society has asked members for their views on the issue and is considering what further work is required.

On criminal legal aid, the Council heard that the Scottish Government is expected to launch a consultation on contracting by the end of the year. In the absence of specific proposals, the Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Negotiating Team is taking a neutral position on the issue.

Also, the introduction contributions in criminal legal aid has been delayed further, with the expected implementation date now January next year.


Committee member recruitment

Council members backed moves towards open advertisement and recruitment for committee members.

A debate on the issue heard that the aim was to increase transparency and consistency.

A report before Council members said: “There has been no set process in place to provide a consistent approach and, as such, processes for filling committee places can vary.”

It was stressed that flexibility should be retained for conveners to make appointments in special circumstances, such as an urgent need to fill a vacancy or where a committee member is required to come from a specific organisation.

The Nominations Committee will take the plans forward and review their effectiveness after six months. The annual cost of the revised system is estimated to be £500.

Recruitment of committee members is currently managed by individual teams or committee secretaries.


E-elections

Proposals for electronic voting in Council elections are currently being developed, the Council was told.

Sheekha Saha, Convener of the Constitution Working Party, said the aim was to bring a recommendation to the Council prior to the Society’s annual general meeting next March.