The Society’s annual Legal Aid Conference today (Friday, 9 October) provided an excellent opportunity to get valuable feedback from frontline practitioners, exchange views with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice – and attend what seems to be the latest in a series of weekly meetings with Lord Gill. First, there was the opening of the legal year and Red Mass. Then, the Lord Justice Clerk announced the findings of his review of the Scottish civil court system. And today he gave one of the key presentations at the conference, which is held in conjunction with the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Before too long, I am likely to bump into him again at a Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow seminar on the implications of the review.
All of which allows me a fantastic insight into the thinking behind his 616-page report. That is not to say the report itself is not a good read – it is, despite containing some uncomfortable truths for civil practitioners. But if anyone doubted that he would lay out a comprehensive programme of reform, which puts litigants at the heart of the system, they should be reassured by his various presentations and discussions.
Lord Gill recognised today that some items will need to be addressed further. But legal aid practitioners and the Scottish Government seem to share the Society’s view that we should be generally positive about the review’s findings and recommendations. Of course, more work is needed on some of the detail, but no one anticipated otherwise.
And so, given that mood of consensus, I would hope that we can now move forward quickly with implementation. The review has taken a broad range of views into consideration and so there seems little benefit in any further consultation. A good part of the report could be implemented directly by the Scottish Court Service along with the rules councils of the sheriff courts and Court of Session – if they are given the green light by the Government.
After a lengthy period of debate and discussion, everyone knows where everyone else stands. The time now is for action.Ian Smart is President of the Law Society of Scotland