Council reports 2012

Council Meeting, 29 June 2012

Court structure

Access to justice must be protected under proposals to reform Scotland’s court structures, potentially including some closures, Council members heard.

A lengthy debate considered key aspects of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) dialogue paper, Shaping Scotland’s Court Services.

The main reform proposals 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

Council members raised concerns that the changes were cost driven and could impact on access to justice, particularly in rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands.

They could cause difficulties for victims of crime, witnesses and others involved in court cases, it was argued.

However, there was also a recognition that modernisation of the court system, some of which has been in place for hundreds of years, was inevitable.

The Society is preparing a response to the proposals. SCS is expected to issue a formal consultation in September.

Code of conduct for Council and committee members

A draft code of conduct for Council and committee members and a process for dealing with alleged breaches, were considered at today’s meeting.

A paper before Council members highlighted the current lack of a consistent process for handling complaints about members in relation to their work with the Society.

It added: "As part of the project to change the Society’s constitution and improve our governance arrangements, there has been a longstanding intention to establish a new code of conduct for Council members."

Final drafts of the documents will be brought back to the Council in August.

Electronic voting for office bearers

Proposals to allow electronic voting for the posts of Society president and vice president will be put to members, it was agreed.

The change requires a minor amendment to the Society’s constitution, which will be considered at the special general meeting in September. Additional changes would also be made to the standing orders.

Lorna Jack, the Chief Executive, said the limited amendment was a "positive step" in a process of incremental change.

A report before the Council said it would test the benefits of modernising voting procedures.

It was also agreed that Sheekha Saha would take over convenership of the Constitution Working Party from Vice President Bruce Beveridge.

Co-opted Council seats

Following the recent decision to reduce the number of co-opted seats on the Council to six, a debate took place on how best to use those places.

Registrar David Cullen explained that the "custom and practice" of co-opting members had developed to ensure those with special experience sat the Council.

No groups are specified for co-option. However, the importance of representing sectors such as new lawyers, in-house lawyers, banking and finance, academia and the Scottish Government was highlighted.

It was agreed that the Constitution Working Party would consider the issue in more detail.

Oliver Adair

Outgoing Council member Oliver Adair was described as a champion of legal aid and access to justice.

Paying tribute to his achievements, President Austin Lafferty said the third-longest standing Council member "brought his considerable skills to bear" particularly in the fields of criminal law and legal aid during his 16-year term.

He added: "Oliver is deeply committed to the principle of legal aid given his fundamental belief in the principle of access to justice for all.

"This is a principle which he believes should be based on fairness as well as the Society’s responsibility to look after those individuals who, for whatever reason, need the help and advice of a solicitor to protect their basic human rights.

"Throughout Oliver’s service as a Council and committee member he has always led with a good head and a good heart."

Oliver served on a number of committees and was Convener of both the Criminal Law Committee and Legal Aid Solicitors’ Committee, also chairing the Criminal Legal Aid Negotiating Team Committee.