Immediately after yesterday morning’s swearing-in ceremony – with oaths and affirmations apparently taken in Gaelic, Scots, Italian, Urdu, Arabic and Doric as well as English – many MSPs no doubt popped into their offices to make a start on the constituency and parliamentary work of the fourth session of the Scottish Parliament. Before they returned to the chamber in the afternoon to elect the Presiding Officer – congratulations to Tricia Marwick, the first female to hold the post – they would already have found an offer of help from the Law Society of Scotland in their mailbags.
And the guidance we sent to all 129 MSPs about the work of the Society was only the start of our engagement with our Holyrood representatives. The process of arranging meetings with MSPs also began yesterday and will pick up pace once the agenda of the new term has been set and the full list of post holders is known.
Given that the SNP won an overall majority during a dramatic election night (and morning), the business of the next Parliament is likely to be based largely on their manifesto commitments. In terms of the legal profession and justice system, this involves, for instance, implementation of the Gill review of civil courts, consideration of a single national police force, ongoing attempts to tackle domestic violence and knife crime, and a push to bring organised crime under control. Key legislative proposals to attract attention include the Scotland Bill passing through Westminster and, potentially, a revival of plans to set a minimum price for alcohol. Maximising access to justice at a time of financial constraint is likely to prove a major issue throughout the forthcoming term.
But as SNP leader Alex Salmond made clear in his victory speech, while the party won a majority of seats, his administration does not have a monopoly on wisdom. And he is right. Not only do the other political parties have much to offer, so too does civic Scotland as a whole, the Society and its members included.
At the start of the election campaign, the Society published a manifesto outlining justice proposals that we hoped the parties would adopt. The benefits of providing legal education in secondary schools attracted much of the media attention, but other recommendations that received a positive response included carrying out an audit of Scots criminal law for compatibility with ECHR, and following the principle that less law invariably leads to better law.
The Society enjoyed a constructive relationship with the previous government and opposition parties and we hope to do so again. As the new intake of MSPs who yesterday read our guidance booklet will know, when it comes to legal issues (if not legal advice): “We will be delighted to help.”Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland