Council reports 2012

Council Meeting, 14 December 2012

Court reform

Reform of Scotland’s courts must form part of an integrated strategy and protect access to justice, the Council heard.

Council members discussed proposals in the Scottish Court Service consultation paper, Shaping Scotland’s Court Services, which include possible court closures.

The Convener of the Access to Justice Committee, Stuart Naismith, explained that feedback on the consultation had been received from the profession.

One key issue, he said, was whether court closures would take place in urban or rural areas.

Other concerns raised during the Council debate included the level of savings that would be achieved and the impact on the effective operation of the court system.

Society President Austin Lafferty highlighted the connection with legal aid and access to justice issues, stressing that an integrated approach should be taken.

The Society’s formal response will be submitted by 21 December.

Legal aid and access to justice

The solicitors’ profession remains united over the issue of proposed cuts to the legal aid budget, the Council was told.

Council members were given an update on discussions with the Scottish Government, local faculties and others over proposals in the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, announced that he was prepared to change the threshold at which people would start to pay a contribution to their criminal legal aid, increasing it from £68 disposable income a week to £82.

However, solicitors would still be required to collect those contributions, which could cause difficulties and result in carrying out work for no payment.

The Society’s President, Austin Lafferty, said a meeting with Mr MacAskill, had failed to ease the concerns of the profession.

During a debate among Council members it was pointed out that the principal of fairness was at the heart of access to justice and the rule of law.

Mr Lafferty added that the Society would continue to argue for a fair system of legal aid.

President and vice president

The Society’s President and Vice President for 2013/14 were formally elected by the Council.

The current Vice President, Bruce Beveridge, will step up to the role of President. The current Guarantee Fund Sub-Committee Convener, Alistair Morris, will take up the position of next year’s Vice President.

Both were congratulated by the current President, Austin Lafferty. They begin their terms of office in May 2013.

The co-option of two new solicitor Council members was also agreed. Moira MacMillan, of Glasgow Caledonian University, will represent the academic sector and Sola Paterson-Marke, of DLA Piper, will represent newly qualified solicitors.

Council members agreed that Liam McCabe, Director of Finance at the University of Stirling, will take up the position of Convener of the Society’s Audit Committee from the beginning of next month, replacing Professor Stewart Hamilton.