Council reports 2013

Council Meeting, 31 May 2013

President and vice president

The 50th President of the Society took up office with a promise to do his utmost for the profession and the public during a period of challenges and profound change.

Bruce Beveridge, who has held several senior roles in the public sector and also worked in private practice, said it was “enormously exciting” to take up the post when a number of major issues lay ahead.

He said later that he was determined to ensure the Society remained at the heart of the debate over issues such as legal aid, court reforms, access to justice, alternative business structures and the independence referendum.

He added that he would strive to maintain the momentum built up by his predecessor, Austin Lafferty, who had done a “tremendous job” as President.

He said Austin had “taken us places we haven’t been before” by using his “bottomless media skills” to communicate with others and effectively represent both the profession and the Society.

He said that if his predecessor has been a “song and dance man” then “we have had a damn good cabaret – and there’s time for one or two more encores in the year ahead”.

Alistair Morris, Chief Executive of Pagan Osborne and a Council member for 21 years, took up the post of Vice President.

Tribute was also paid to outgoing Past President Cameron Ritchie, who was leaving Council after eight years. He was praised for his “leadership skills and straight talking” during his presidential year.

John Flanagan, who also left the Council, was described as a hard-working constituency member.

New members Simon Brown – representing Greenock, Kilmarnock and Paisley – and Nick Taylor, recently elected in Glasgow and Strathkelvin, were welcomed to the Council.

Legal aid review

A series of measures to improve the Society’s work on criminal legal aid issues was agreed by the Council.

The changes were put forward following a five-month review and consultation exercise into new ways of working and the governance of the criminal legal aid team.

The new measures are designed to improve the way criminal defence lawyers are represented and supported and create new channels of communication.

The Council agreed to:

  • establish a network of criminal legal aid contacts or ‘champions’ across Scotland
  • create an online forum for members to discuss and share views on criminal legal aid
  • pilot electronic surveying of practitioner views on critical issues

A debate among Council members focused on the issue of electronic surveying, with some raising concerns that it could undermine the position of the Council and legal aid negotiating team. It may also lead to calls for similar systems to be put in place for other areas of representation work.

Others said it would give members and faculties a better voice and ensure the Society was fully aware of their views on important issues. A structured system for quickly gathering members’ opinions could help the decision-making process and assist in negotiations, it was argued.

A paper detailing how a system of electronic surveying could work in practice will be brought to the June Council meeting.

Trainee pay rates

The recommended pay for trainee solicitors is to be frozen at the 2012/13 rate.

Council members took the decision to hold the rates for the year from 1 June at £16,200 for first-year trainees and £19,400 for second-year trainees.

The rate was previously frozen in 2011, though it increased by 1.5% last year.

A number of Council members argued that the rate should not increase at a time when many other members of staff in firms and organisations had experienced year-on-year pay freezes due to the economic downturn.

Concerns were raised that the headline figure could discourage some from taking on trainees.

Others stressed the rise of 2.8% put forward by the Education and Training Committee – which was based on the consumer price inflation rate – was simply a benchmark and firms could choose to pay more or less.

They stressed that trainees also faced financial difficulties, while providing good value for training firms.

Fair access to the profession

A review of potential barriers to entering the solicitors’ profession will be wide-ranging, the Council agreed.

A report before Council members set out the scope of a study to look at the current route to qualification and any barriers that exist for those hoping to qualify as solicitors.

The study will involve gathering data and other evidence to help define fair access barriers. It will focus on access to the LLB, Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, traineeship and newly qualified positions.

The value of the Diploma was questioned during a debate, with suggestions that the cost of the course prevented students from less privileged backgrounds entering the profession.

Liz Campbell, the Director of Education and Training Policy, said “nothing has been ruled in and nothing has been ruled out” of the review, including the role of the Diploma.

An interim report will be brought to the Council in three months, with a final report out in November.

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

Residential conveyancing

A new group is to be set up to review residential conveyancing law and practice.

The Council agreed that the Coneyancing Working Party should examine the sale and purchase of homes and bring forward proposals for improvement and modernisation.

The group will be led by Ross MacKay, Convener of the Society’s Property Law Committee.

He said later that the debate on separate representation provided an opportunity to carry out a wider review of residential conveyancing.

A six-month interim report and final report are expected to be brought to the Council.