Council reports 2015

Council Meeting, 28 August 2015

Annual plan and budget

The first draft annual plan produced since publication of the Society’s ambitious five-year strategy was discussed by Council members.

The 2015/16 plan highlights the Society’s most important projects, which will help it deliver its purpose of leading legal excellence and its mission to be a world-class professional body. The goals were set out in Leading Legal Excellence earlier this month.

A report before the Council explained: “The Senior Management Team has reflected on the feedback received from previous annual plans and worked to create a list of fewer but more strategic actions.”

The report stressed that, while “business as usual” activity would continue, the draft plan contained only 27 actions compared with 39 in 2014/15.

A debate among Council members heard that the strategy had attracted praise for its ambition and international outlook in the strategy.

However, concerns were raised that opening membership of the Society to other legal professionals could divert its focus from providing services to current members and dilute the solicitor brand.

Chief Executive Lorna Jack said that expanding the membership base would increase income and allow the Society to build a more sustainable future.

The feedback of Council members will be taken on board and a redrafted annual plan is due to be published in October ahead of the new operating year in November.

The Society’s operating budget during a “transitional year” that includes relocating from Drumsheugh Gardens to new city centre offices was approved by the Council. An operating deficit of £359,000 is anticipated in 2015/16, with the Society expected to return to a small operating surplus in 2016/17 and beyond.


Access to justice and the profession

People may struggle to find a solicitor to take on summary criminal appeals in the new Sheriff Appeal Court, Council members heard.

Discussions on access to justice and legal aid heard that the Society is due to meet the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, to raise the issue.

The Society has already written to the minister about the impact of the Legal Aid and Advice and Assistance Regulations

The President, Christine McLintock, expressed concern that the proposed rates would make summary criminal appeal work financially unsustainable given the scale of the work and overheads incurred preparing and presenting appeals.

In her letter, she highlighted the example of a one-hour appeal against conviction hearing, which would result in a payment of just £54.80, down from the current figure of £292.20, despite involving the same amount of work.

Likewise, preparing a four-page written submission for an appeal against sentence would fall from £100 to £24.

During a debate among Council members, it was highlighted that the new arrangements would cause particular problems for solicitors from outside Edinburgh who would also face significant travel costs.

The Society hopes to submit evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee when it considers the regulations in September.

The Sheriff Appeal Court is due to be established in September, dealing initially with criminal cases and then civil cases from January 2016.

The Council held a separate discussion on access to the legal profession and how financial assistance could be provided to students from less advantaged backgrounds at the undergraduate and Diploma stages of their route to qualification as a solicitor.


In-House Lawyers’ Committee

A new committee for in-house solicitors has formally adopted a new name.

The Council agreed that the In-House Lawyers’ Group (ILG) should be renamed the In-House Lawyers’ Committee, which will function as a committee of the Council, with a Society role and remit as well as a project plan and budget.

It was also agreed that a co-opted seat on the Council should be allocated to the new committee. The convener of the committee would take the seat unless already an elected member of the Council, in which case the committee would nominate another representative.

The appointment of Lynda Towers as Convener and Sara Scott as Vice Convener to the new committee, along with its remit, were also approved by the Council. The new committee will sit for a transitional period to June 2016.