Code of conduct for Council and committee members
1. Introduction to the code of conduct
The Law Society of Scotland is the professional body for Scottish solicitors. The Council of the Law Society of Scotland (‘the Council’) has responsibility to conduct the business of the Society in line with relevant legislation.
Similarly, the Council has the power to delegate powers to committees and for those committees to take decisions within their defined remit. The Regulatory Committee has particular significance as a committee required by law to exercise the regulatory functions of the Society.
The Scottish solicitor profession and wider public are entitled to expect that those who serve as members of the Council, its committees and working parties (subsequently described here as “members”) act with integrity and conduct themselves appropriately at all times.
For the Society to command confidence, it is important that members comply with appropriate standards of conduct. Upon appointment, all members are required to confirm their commitment to this code of conduct.
It is the responsibility of members to ensure they are familiar with this code of conduct and ensure they comply with the relevant provisions. No code can provide for all circumstances and any member who is uncertain about the rules is encouraged to seek advice from the executive team.
For the avoidance of doubt, for the purposes of this Code, any provision relating to a committee shall also apply to members of Council working parties, working groups, review groups and steering groups.
Any policies referred to within the code will be provided as part of that members induction. They are also available from the Society’s executive team on request.
This code of conduct is separate to the Law Society of Scotland’s Standards for Scottish Solicitors with which all Scottish solicitors are expected to comply.
2. Key principles
Members are important ambassadors for the Society and are therefore expected to demonstrate the Society’s values of:
- Respect - Treating everyone with consideration, dignity and professionalism, being mindful of their wellbeing
- Openness - Being approachable, responsive and transparent in the way we work and operate
- Progress - Continually learning, innovating and improving
- Integrity - Being fair, ethical and accountable
- Inclusion - Listening to individuals and developing cultural awareness to enable everyone to be their true selves
The Law Society of Scotland is not a public body and therefore the conduct of members is not governed by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. However, members are expected to comply with the spirit of the seven Nolan principles on standards in public life:
- Selflessness: holders of office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest [and in the case of the Society, the interests of the solicitor profession]. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
- Integrity: holders of office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
- Objectivity: in carrying out business, including making appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for awards or benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
- Accountability: holders of office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
- Openness: holders of office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
- Honesty: holders of office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
- Leadership: holders of office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
The code of conduct
All new members are expected to undertake appropriate induction which will be arranged by the Society’s executive.
The work of members and their access to certain information may be restricted if they do not undertake the necessary induction and training. Members are expected to meet the Society’s health and safety, smoking and other relevant policies when attending meetings at the Society’s offices or other locations.
Members should endeavour to attend all relevant meetings.
Where a member wishes to attend a meeting by video or teleconference (where such facilities are available), they should inform the relevant committee secretary in good time so the appropriate arrangements can be made. Attendance by video or teleconference will be considered the same as attending in person at a meeting.
Where a member is unable to attend a scheduled meeting, they should submit their apologies to the relevant committee secretary in advance.
Where a member expects to miss a number of meetings because of illness or other good reason, they should seek a leave of absence from the chair and set out the reasons for the request. Such a request can be made to the chair directly or through the relevant secretary.
Where a Council member has been absent from three or more consecutive Council meetings and has not been granted a leave of absence from the president, their seat on Council may be deemed vacant in line with the Society’s constitution. Steps will then be taken to fill that seat using the most appropriate method of election, co-option or appointment in line with the Society’s constitution and standing orders.
Where a committee member has been absent from three or more consecutive committee meetings and has not been granted a leave of absence from the committee convener, their place on the committee may be deemed vacant. Steps will be taken to fill the vacancy.
Council members have a general duty to make themselves available for service on committees, reference groups and working parties and to regularly attend meetings of those groups.
Council members and members of the Regulatory Committee are expected to attend general meetings of the Society unless there is good reason for absence. Solicitor council members are also expected to participate in votes associated with general meetings, whether in advance online or at the time of the meeting in person.
Council members are generally expected to support other Society events where due notice has been given and to assist where they have been invited to take on a particular role or duty.
All Council members are expected to participate in the annual vote for the election of a new vice-president.
Members are expected to respect the chair of the meeting, their fellow members, Society employees and any other attendees during meetings. Members are expected to comply with rulings from the chair in the conduct of the business of these meetings in line with the standing orders.
Members should follow the principles of mutual respect in all their dealings and be prepared to accept in good faith that others may have equally strong views that differ from their own. Members should treat colleagues with respect and not engage in any behaviour towards others which might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, bullying or harassment.
Members should take decisions solely in terms of the Society’s statutory responsibilities and strategic objectives. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
In their role at the Society, a member will be required to discuss and vote on a variety of matters. It is the responsibility of members to ensure decisions are properly taken and that any parties involved in the process are dealt with fairly and without bias. They have a responsibility to act fairly and take reasonable steps to be seen to act fairly. In making any decision, members should only take into account relevant and material considerations. Members must not only avoid impropriety but must avoid any occasion for reasonable suspicion of improper conduct.
Members will often receive sensitive information which is not yet public, or which perhaps would not be intended to be public. Members must always respect and comply with the requirement to keep such information private and confidential. There should be a general presumption that all papers are confidential unless advised otherwise by the executive.
Members must ensure that confidential information is kept safely, securely disposed of or effectively protected against loss and/or unauthorised disclosure. This requirement remains in force after their term of office comes to an end.
Members must ensure that they are aware of their duties under existing legislation on data protection. Members should also abide by the Society’s policies on data handling and security.
Members must not record for any purpose, in either video or audio format, meeting proceedings of Council or any committee or sub-committee of the Society either in whole or in part.
Members should accept collective responsibility for decisions taken in the proper way and which enable the Society to meet its strategic objectives. Members are expected to contribute to discussion and debate freely to enable robust decisions to be made.
Members should recognise that decisions with which they disagree may be made by a majority of the Council/committee. Members may dissent and may make that dissent known publicly.
Subject to their responsibility to represent the views of and give advice to their constituents, Council members should not seek to actively oppose the implementation of decisions that have completed the Society’s due process.
The Society maintains a register of interests and all Council members are expected to comply with the policy on the declaration of interests (note that the register of interests does not currently apply to committee members).
Members are expected to declare relevant interests at meetings they attend and, wherever possible in advance with the relevant secretary. It is the responsibility of members to make decisions about whether they have to declare an interest or make a judgment as to whether a declared interest should prevent them from receiving detailed information, taking part in any discussions or voting on a particular issue.
Members can seek advice from the executive or from other sources available to them.
Members should respect the employees and contractors of the Society and treat them with courtesy at all times. It is expected that employees and contractors will show the same consideration to members in return. Where a member has concerns about the conduct of a member of staff, they should either contact the relevant executive director or the chief executive in the first instance.
Formal complaints on the basis of a breach of the Society’s service standards or HR policies will be considered in line with the Society’s complaint handling process for staff.
Elected Council members are representatives from their local constituencies rather than delegates. Co-opted members may have been chosen to represent a particular sector within the profession. In both cases, members should strive to represent their constituents’ interests, keep them informed and be reasonably accessible to them.
Council members should take steps to pursue issues that have been raised by constituents, either through Council meetings or through direct meetings or correspondence with the executive.
Members may be appointed or nominated to act as a member of another body or organisation. If so, that member is bound by the rules of conduct of those organisations and the member’s responsibility for any actions taken as a member of such an organisation will be to the organisation in question.
Members should be aware that any public statement made by them may be construed as the opinion of the Society. To this end, members must abide by the Society’s media protocol.
Members must abide by the requirements set down for the Law Society as an active registrant under existing legislation on lobbying. In particular, members must inform the executive, in good time, of any meetings which would need to be declared in line with legislation.
Members must not seek any preferential treatment when using services provided by the Society for solicitors or others.
In claiming travel and other reasonable expenses resulting from their Society role, members are expected to comply with the Society’s Travel and Expenses Policy.
Members should not accept any offer of a gift or hospitality arising from their Society role which could give rise to real or substantive personal gain or a reasonable suspicion of influence to show favour or disadvantage to any individual or organisation. Similarly, members should never use their Society role to canvass for or seek gifts or hospitality.
Members are personally responsible for all decisions connected with the acceptance of gifts or hospitality offered to them arising from their Society role and for avoiding the risk of damage to confidence in the Society. To this end, members must comply with the Society’s Gifts & Hospitality Policy.
Members must abide by all equalities legislation and avoid any action which could be reasonably considered to be discriminatory. They should help to deliver the Society’s equality and diversity programme.
The process for automatically considering the suspension of a member shall commence if they are subject to any investigation or proceedings in the United Kingdom relating to a criminal offence, or elsewhere than in the United Kingdom relating to an offence which, if committed in any part of the United Kingdom, would constitute a criminal offence, and:
(a) the investigation or proceedings relate to an offence involving dishonesty or deception; or
(b) the final outcome of the investigation or proceedings may be that the member is sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
The process for automatically considering the suspension of a member shall commence if that member is convicted of an offence which is subject to a level 4 fine or more on the standard scale.
Members have a general duty to inform the executive if this part of the code becomes relevant to them.
Members must abide by the standards which are set down by any professional body of which they are a member.
The process for automatically considering the suspension of a solicitor member shall commence if that member has;
(a) had their practising certificate suspended and/or,
(b) been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.
The process for automatically considering the suspension of a lay Council or committee member shall commence if that member has;
(a) been suspended from any professional body of which they are a member as a result of disciplinary or regulatory proceedings and/or,
(b) been found guilty of professional misconduct or an equivalent by any professional body of which they are a member.
The process for automatically considering the interim suspension of a solicitor member of the Regulatory Committee or regulatory subcommittee shall commence if the Society commences an investigation into an eligible conduct complaint against that member.
Additionally any lay Council member who is suspended from their professional body as a result of disciplinary or regulatory reasons or found guilty of professional misconduct is required to advise the executive of such suspension or findings within 21 calendar days of their suspension or being found guilty of professional misconduct.
The process for automatically considering the suspension of a member shall commence if that member is subject to a sequestration or similar process, or is disqualified as a director under the Companies Act 2006.
4. Enforcement of the code of conduct
Enforcement of this code of conduct is separate to any conduct complaint that may be made to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission against an individual solicitor Council or committee member.
Any alleged breach of this code of conduct should be referred to the chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland in the first instance by way of a written complaint, either by letter or email. Find out more about the process for dealing with an alleged breach of the code.