The gender equality now found in the Scottish Government is matched in the solicitors' profession, as shown in the latest membership statistics and the prospect of an all female team to lead the Society

The historic election of Scotland’s first woman First Minister, along with Nicola Sturgeon’s subsequent decision to appoint a cabinet with a 50-50 gender split, has led to much discussion about the success of efforts to shatter the glass ceiling. But the Society and the solicitors’ profession are certainly playing their part.

At the end of last month, the all-female nominations for the posts of President and Vice President ensured that women will hold the Society’s two senior positions in 2015-16 – for the first time in our 65-year history. I have no doubt the nominee for President, current Vice President Christine McLintock, will prove an outstanding choice, while Eilidh Wiseman, a former partner and head of UK Employment Law at Dundas & Wilson, and Jane MacEachran, head of Legal and Democratic Services at Aberdeen City Council, are both excellent candidates for Vice President.

Also last month, our latest membership statistics showed not only that the number of practising solicitors reached an all-time high of 11,000 – great news in itself – but women are increasingly pursuing a career in law and now make up 49% of the profession. For those below age 45, 61% are women and 39% men. In another healthy sign, the profession is increasingly youthful, with 56% of solicitors now under 45.

Approval of the Society’s latest three-year Equality and Diversity Strategy at the end of November signalled our intention to seek further improvements on issues such as equal pay between men and women, and providing legal services to disabled clients. A debate at Council stressed that promoting equality and diversity benefits solicitors and their clients – and is good for business too.

Needless to say, the Society congratulates the First Minister on taking up her position, while also welcoming the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, and Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse. Outgoing Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is due credit for his considerable contribution to the legal profession and justice system. Although challenges inevitably lie ahead and the pressure on public budgets continues, we look forward to working with the new cabinet to improve the justice system for all.

Full programme

The Scottish Government’s new legislative programme is broad-ranging and clearly intended to stimulate economic growth and boost business activity, which we hope will lead to progress on the introduction of alternative business structures. The Society is also keen to contribute our expertise on proposed legislative changes, including those aiming to widen access to education, reform rights of succession and protect the victims of human trafficking.

Continuation of the Criminal Justice Bill will result in major reforms to the justice system. The Society has provided a detailed response to Lord Bonomy’s consultation, warning that post-corroboration safeguards cannot simply be borrowed from other jurisdictions without proper heed to how the Scottish system has developed and currently operates.

The Scotland Bill will form a key part of the legislative programme for both the Scottish and UK Governments. The Society welcomed the proposals for further devolution from the Smith Commission. For instance, devolution of reserved tribunals would benefit those seeking recourse through the administrative justice system. Further devolution of a range of powers will raise complex political and legal issues – considerable thought and wide consultation will be needed to make it work.

The pace of change and modernisation in our political and legal systems, within the solicitors’ profession and beyond, shows no signs of slowing. The Society is committed to improving our system of publicly funded legal aid, to ensure it remains effective and sustainable in the 21st century. We are grateful to all those who have responded to our discussion paper, and continue to invite any and all views about how we could improve the way we work.

We are determined to provide a modern, efficient service to our members and the clients they serve in other areas too – reviewing our strategic direction, considering new ways to regulate our members and embracing new technology, for instance to improve conveyancing processes. My ongoing meetings around the country highlight the concerns and ambitions of members. As ever, the Society is determined to meet those needs.

 

The Author
Alistair morris is President of the Law Society of Scotland ~ president@lawscot.org.uk
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