President's message: as he leaves office, he pays tribute to the Socity's staff and his fellow office-bearers

I can hardly believe this is my twelfth presidential column. The Chief Executive told me that this year would be the quickest year of my life – he was right. However he also told me that the average weight gain for a President was a stone and a half. I am at two pounds with only weeks to go so I am confounding him so far! As I dictate this column I have returned from Brussels where I gave a speech to guests of the UK Law Societies and the German, Austrian and Liechtenstein Bars. The customary topics of money laundering and liberalisation of the profession were touched upon but what I brought back was the information – and it just shows that politicians can be as down-to-earth as lawyers – that more people vote in the Eurovision Song Contest than vote in the European elections. That’s the sort of information which keeps politicians’ feet firmly on the ground and sets me up for the pub quiz!

I think I have made fewer speeches than I have eaten dinners but I was astounded at the subjects on which the Society’s President is an overnight expert – I have even addressed the Edinburgh International Science Festival on the subject of competence; no comment. The volume of work would have been impossible to manage without the support of the Society’s Executive – a tremendously competent and professional team with Douglas Mill leading them on. They are a credit to the Society and the profession and work tirelessly to ensure everything is done properly and well.

I have also had great support from my fellow office-bearers; my predecessor David Preston was always available for information and some friendly advice. Similarly, I received tremendous support from the Vice-President Duncan Murray and I wish him all the best for a successful and happy year in office.  I would also like to pay tribute to the Council in which you have willing and dedicated people who put in an inordinate amount of work from which the profession and the public derive an enormous benefit. This year has – like all others – been turbulent at points but the Council’s willingness to robustly debate and thereafter defend the position agreed has been remarkable. Don’t think for a moment that your Council members suddenly become “Society luvvies” when they join Council. No office-bearer, committee or Council member is spared its rigour. What I think is admirable is that this does not detract from Council’s collegiality. The ability to disagree vehemently on an issue but remain friends is something I will always value from my Council membership.

It’s at this point that one usually becomes cheesy and thanks one’s family – well I will – for their support and patience. Perhaps it wasn’t as difficult for my wife as I thought. I overheard the host of an event ask her how she had coped with me being away so much and had that created any “difficulties”. Her reply was too speedy: “Absolutely not. It’s been a great year. We got on fine.” I suspect after a month or two she’ll be phoning Duncan Murray or Douglas Mill asking them to fix up some particularly heavy convenership for me. Either that or she’ll have sorted out the extra hours I’ve to make up with my very tolerant partners and clients – so I’ll be kept occupied whatever happens.

Often when office-bearers are asked what they hope to achieve from their year in office they answer, “survival”. Do I think we have achieved more than survival? I certainly do. Internally the introduction of a new Board proved more problematic than I had hoped. There were tensions between the Board and the Council but these are resolving and I still see the Board (now the President’s Committee) as the way to speed up the Society’s policy-making process.

I believe that the profile of the Society has never been higher. Its contribution to public life in Scotland is tremendous and I am immensely proud of the effort that goes into making the justice system work – because it does. There is always room for improvement and Bonomy and McInnes are leading us there. To those who denigrate our justice system I ask the question: “Compared to where?” I’ve never had a sensible answer. It’s in our nature to knock ourselves even when we do things well or better than others.

Any rational person looking at the level of criticism of the profession – as opposed to the justice system – quickly sees that it is, at best, superficial and, at worst, dishonest and ill-motivated. Those who heed that criticism and repeat it without honestly looking at how the profession works, deservedly command no respect. Those who, during the Justice 1 inquiry, looked at it properly and responsibly, endorsed the degree of self-regulation which remains. That is the fundamental point that we should hold onto as we move forward.

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