Council reports 2012

Council Meeting, 17 August 2012

Budget and PC

Careful budgeting and good management of the Society’s finances will allow a freeze in the practising certificate fee for the third successive year, the Council heard.

Solicitors will vote at next month’s special general meeting on the proposed PC subscription of £550, which is intended to limit financial pressure on the profession in a challenging economic environment.

During a discussion on the Society’s 2012/13 budget, the Council fixed other solicitors’ fees, including a £5 increase in the cost of remaining on the roll of solicitors to £75, the first rise in the retention fee since 2007.

The accounts fee, which is levied on principals to fund the financial compliance and interventions teams, will increase by £39 to £380. The Guarantee Fund subscription was set at £200, a decrease of £39. The combined cost of the accounts and Guarantee Fund subscription therefore remains unchanged.

The increase in the accounts fee will boost funding for the financial compliance team and allow a shorter inspection cycle.

The fees for non-practising membership and the incidental financial business regime will remain unchanged.

Professor Stewart Hamilton, Convener of the Audit Committee, said significant improvements had been made to the budget process in the past year.

The agenda for the SGM on 18 September and the Society’s corporate plan for 2012/13 were also agreed by the Council.

The SGM agenda includes a proposal for a minor constitutional amendment that would end the current requirement to conduct the annual elections of president and vice president by postal ballot, allowing new technology to save time and money.

Code of conduct for Council and committee members

A new code of conduct for Council and committee members and an associated complaints handling process were agreed at today’s meeting.

A number of provisions in the code were discussed, including some of the wording in the section on fairness and impartiality and also in the complaints process.

Minor changes were made and the code and complaints process were approved. They will apply to current and new members of the Council, committees and working parties.

Director of Communications Kevin Lang thanked Council members for their feedback during development of the documents.

Court structures

The Society’s response to a discussion on reforming Scotland’s court structures, which includes the possibility of closures, was approved by Council members.

A debate heard of the need to balance the issue of public finances with access to justice and the deteriorating condition of some courts.

Sheriff courts that remained open would have to absorb capacity both from any that closed and also from the higher courts, it was pointed out.

The main reform proposals in the Scottish Court Service dialogue paper, Shaping Scotland’s Court Services, include:

• reducing the High Court circuit, possibly to three or six locations

• the introduction of summary sheriffs to hear summary crime and some civil cases

• the closure of court buildings where more than one exists in a town or city

• the closure of courts with insufficient business or another court within reasonable travel distance

The Society will also respond to a full consultation paper, which is due to be issued in the autumn.

The Society’s Board

The Society’s Board is to reduce in size to increase its effectiveness, the Council agreed.

The decision to reduce the number of members from 11 to nine is in line with a previous agreement that the Council itself should be smaller.

A report before members explained that the Board, which was established three years ago as a committee of the Council, had reviewed its own performance.

The report added: "Board members discussed and then agreed that the Board would be more effective if it was smaller. They also felt that a Board of 11 might have been right when the Council was larger but that a smaller Board is more appropriate as we head towards a smaller Council."

Council members supported the principle of a smaller Board but debated whether the past president should be a full member or an observer.

It was agreed that membership of the three supra-conveners – of regulation, representation and registration – would be discontinued as the roles have not developed as expected. However, the past president, who provides valuable experience, will continue to sit on the Board.

It will now consist of the president, vice president, past president and treasurer along with five elected Council members. Nomination forms for the elected positions will be sent out next week, to be returned by 31 August.

The role and remit of the new Constitution Working Party was also considered. The Convener, Sheekha Saha, will choose the membership of the group.

Jackie McRae

The President, Austin Lafferty, paid tribute to the commitment of outgoing Council member Jackie McRae, who represented new lawyers.

He said she brought considerable experience as a solicitor and from her previous career in social work to the Society’s education and training work.

She said it had been a privilege to serve on the Council and thanked the Society staff for their hard work on behalf of the profession during her three-year term.