Sharing experiences and ideas is vital to help achieve positive outcomes to present problems, find support when needed – and collectively defend professional independence and the rule of law

So… autumn is with us. Greater personal restrictions are with us. Since I last wrote here, I have attended my first in-person event as your President. I was very pleased to remember to leave the house and make it to Edinburgh in time, with the necessary regalia and mask, to take my socially distanced seat in court 1 of Parliament House to attend the opening of the legal year. Congratulations to those recognised for achieving silk this year, in particular to our member Christine O’Neill QC.

Rule of law remains an ongoing topic of public discussion in a way that many of us would never have imagined. Independence of the rule of law is a fundamental pillar of the civil and democratic society we live in. We are told by elected members that this independence is valued and that they seek and expect that approach to be followed by other jurisdictions. We continue to stand up for this and to give an appropriate challenge where that principle is placed at risk.

Every external engagement I have had in recent weeks, national and international, has included a concerned discussion about the risk to the independence of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and preservation of the separation of powers. We must maintain continued vigilance at these challenging times to ensure that the current health crisis does not lead to a different kind of crisis with a long-term impact on our society – as I talked about in the Scotsman article published on 2 October 2020.

Benefits from sharing

Thanks to all the members who have taken part in the constituency visits, sharing your experiences positive and negative with us. Since last writing here, I have written to various sheriffs principal with local concerns and positive experiences. I encourage members to continue to share their experiences, either through a constituency visit or by emailing comms@lawscot.org.uk.

Every sector of the justice system is under strain. Encouraging collaboration and sharing of experiences and knowledge will hopefully help us achieve positive outcomes which will benefit all. A new approach to jury trials is being trialled thanks to an idea that we shared, a perfect example of the benefits of collaboration. Robust discussions have also been had with SLAB and the Scottish Government re the specific challenges for legal aid practitioners, on which we’ve shared updates with these practitioners.

Members will have received the practising certificate renewal info in recent weeks. Thanks to all those who have completed this, including the diversity survey which is at the end of the renewal process. Don’t follow my mistake of expecting it to be before the “payment page” and using the “back” button, as that will upset the tech and prevent you seeing the relevant page! Simply follow the process through to the end. This information is important as it allows us to collect pseudonymised data to assess the current diversity of the profession, helping inform future work to achieve our aim of ensuring the profession reflects the society that it serves.

Words of praise, and advice

You will read more of this elsewhere in this month’s issue, but I repeat here my congratulations to the winner, highly commended and all those shortlisted in the In-house Rising Star Award competition. The standard of applicants was phenomenal and I am grateful to the panel of judges for their work in what would have been a very challenging task picking the winner. Congratulations and thanks to all.

As part of our mental wellbeing work, we launched our participation in SeeMe’s Pass the Badge campaign on World Mental Health Day. I encourage you to read the blogs by members and colleagues on the Society’s website. I also encourage you in these ever-changing times, when things may start to feel too much, to be kind to yourselves and your loved ones; take a minute; take an extra breath and see what you have achieved for your clients and society.

Take care of yourselves, be kind to yourselves and stay safe. 

The Author

Amanda Millar is President of the Law Society of Scotland – President@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @amanda_millar

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