Council reports 2013

Council Meeting, 30 August 2013

Society’s fees and budget

Solicitors will vote on a further freeze in the practising certificate subscription at next month’s special general meeting, while small increases in non-practising fees were agreed today by the Council.

The fee levels were considered by Council members alongside a discussion on the Society’s budget for 2013/14.

To provide financial stability and in recognition of ongoing economic difficulties, a motion proposing a PC fee of £550 – the fourth successive year at that level – will now be put to members at the SGM.

A report before the Council said that the intention was also to retain the same PC subscription level for the next three financial years “barring a significant change, eg a drop in member numbers or entity charging”.

It added: “This would be financed with phased increases in the retention and non-practising member fees – addressing concerns that the Society is under-selling the Scottish solicitor badge, and that the gulf between the PC fee and non-practising member fee is too wide.”

The Council agreed that next year’s retention fee for remaining on the roll of solicitors should rise by £5 to £80, with the non-practising member fee going up by £10 to £160.

The accounts fee will increase by £20 but the Guarantee Fund contribution will decrease by the same amount, resulting in the combined fee remaining £580.

The Society’s budget for 2013/14 shows a small deficit of £4,000, which will be funded from reserves.

The Society’s corporate plan for 2013/14, which sets out how a range of strategic objectives will be met, was also approved by the Council.

Special general meeting

Council members agreed the agenda of the Society’s SGM, which will include a motion on the issue of separate representation for borrowers and lenders in heritable property transactions.

A report before the Council outlined the results of a comprehensive consultation on separate representation, which was carried out by the Society. The consultation, which closed towards the end of July, received 279 responses.

The report found that, without any weighting for organisations or individuals and other factors, the split was 48.9% in favour of changing the rules to make separate representation mandatory, with 51.1% against.

It said the issue was “finely balanced”, adding: “The evidence which has been analysed discloses that this is very much a live issue with strong opinions for and against separate representation.”

During a lengthy discussion, it was explained that the Society had given a commitment at the annual general meeting in March to bring forward a proposed rule change.

The Council agreed that a motion on the conflict of interest rules should be put to the SGM, with a full debate taking place and members voting on the proposals.

The Society’s Regulatory Committee will consider the draft rule this week, with this determining the exact form of what will come to the SGM.

A further motion amending the incidental financial business rules will also be put to the SGM.

In addition, members will vote on two constitutional amendments. One would allow open proxies for general meetings to be submitted electronically, rather than only by post. The other takes into account the effect of the planned court closures on the link between Council constituencies and sheriff court districts.

The SGM will be held on 23 September at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow.

Criminal legal aid e-surveying

A new system of electronic surveying of criminal legal aid solicitors is to be introduced by the Society.

It will build on existing communications channels, which include social media.

Andrew Alexander, Head of Access to Justice, told Council members a secure system of e-surveying would help the Society understand what members are thinking as issues develop and make better decisions on the legal aid strategy.

He said it would be particularly useful when a consultation paper on the issue of contracting is published by the Scottish Government later this year.

He added: “We will be able to make decisions with an understanding of the centre of gravity within the profession.”

The Society’s President, Bruce Beveridge, who attended most of the summer dialogue events organised by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said that SLAB had not yet provided a compelling case for the introduction of contracting.

He recognised that, while views were still mixed, many within the criminal Bar had deep reservations about contracting.

There is still great uncertainty as to what particular contracting model or options will be presented to Scottish ministers for approval.

The President added: “It is extremely important that we do everything we possibly can to capture all the views we can across this sector of the profession.”