Council reports 2014

Council Meeting, 31 January 2014

Fair access to the profession

A comprehensive action plan for improving access to the solicitors’ profession was approved by the Council.

The programme for removing potential barriers to entering the profession is based on the 21 recommendations contained in the Fair Access to the Legal Profession report, which was considered by Council members in November.

The Society’s Director of Education and Training, Liz Campbell, said a detailed project plan, along with the costs and a timescale for implementation, had since been drawn up. Additional staff will be needed to deliver the project, she added.

Measures in the action plan include:

  • the launch of a Street Law project in schools to help raise pupils’ aspirations
  • a focus on making access to legal internships fairer
  • a re-evaluation of the alternative route to qualification to ensure it meets the needs of legal employers and those wishing to access the profession

The Society’s President, Bruce Beveridge, said the project had already attracted considerable interest and would continue to do so as it now moved towards implementation.

He added later that the Society was committed to challenging any barriers to entering the profession.

He said: “It is vital that the profession is open to as wide a variety of people as possible and that we maintain excellent standards in education and training.”

The initial review of the issue was prompted by recommendations from the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession.


E-voting

Constitutional changes that will allow e-voting in Council elections are to be put to the profession.

Council members agreed the changes, which will now be considered by solicitors at the Society’s annual general meeting in April.

A report before the Council said the Constitution Working Party was set up to look at constitutional changes that would “improve participation, effectiveness and efficiency”.

The move to e-voting had received the backing of those who expressed an interest in the issue, Council members heard.

The President, Bruce Beveridge, stressed the importance of moving to a more modern system of voting in Council elections.

 

Annual accounts and AGM

The Society’s annual accounts for 2012/13 were approved by the Council and will now be put to members at the AGM.

The accounts showed a surplus of £182,000, after pension adjustments, against an original budgeted deficit of £18,000. Membership and investment income were higher than expected and Judicial Factor commission along with financial compliance inspection fees produced income of £240,000.

Expenditure on the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and final salary pension scheme fees were higher than budgeted.

Treasurer David Newton said: “All in all, the finances are in good order and we have a reasonable reserve.”

The Guarantee Fund accounts, which recorded a deficit of £55,000 for last year, were also approved and will now go to the AGM.

The agenda for the AGM was agreed by Council members. The meeting will be held on 4 April at the Queen Mother Conference Centre, The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.

The Lord President, Lord Gill, will address the meeting on the future of the justice system in Scotland.

Survey of members and MSPs

The Society’s priorities should include key aspects of our regulatory role, law reform, legal aid and conveyancing issues, according to a survey of members.

The polling organisation Ipsos MORI presented the main findings of the Society’s annual research to Council members.

The Society work considered to be a high priority included:

  • intervening in firms where a critical failure has been identified (87%)
  • inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules (76%)
  • investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases to the discipline tribunal (71%)
  • suggesting improvements to legislation in the UK and Scottish parliaments (60%)
  • protecting the legal aid budget and representing those solicitors working in legal aid (54%)
  • tackling conveyancing issues with banks and other lending institutions (53%)

The survey concluded that perceptions of the Society remained very positive, with a continued improvement in how effective the Society is seen as a regulator.

Also, members believed the Society should continue to be responsible for both representation and regulation.

The survey found that more than half of members and MSPs were either very or fairly favourable towards the Society, while around a third held a neutral view. Only a small minority were unfavourable.

In terms of economic outlook, MSPs were the most optimistic (73%). However, solicitors were significantly more hopeful about the prospect of recovery (46%) than the general public (32%).

Regulatory Committee

Further issues around membership of the Regulatory Committee are to be explored, the Council agreed.

A report before the Council set out a number of recommendations on terms of office, the timing of appointments and whether members of the committee should also sit on the Council.

Some concerns were raised about the suggestion that solicitor and non-solicitor committee members should not be eligible to sit on the Council, a measure intended to ensure the committee’s independence is “clearly visible”.

The committee will now look in more detail at the links between Council and the Regulatory Committee, the membership of regulatory sub-committees and the role of the Nominations Committee in making appointments.