Deborah Lovell is a partner at Anderson Strathern. Following her recent appointment to The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal Deborah has stepped down as convener to the Property Law Committee, having served on Law Society committees for 12 years.
My recent appointment to the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) has, unfortunately, meant that I have had to step down as convener of the Society’s Property Law Committee (PLC), a position I have held for the past two years, having been a member of the committee for 10 years before that. During my time on the PLC I have also been actively involved with the Law Society’s Tax Committee in their sub-group on property tax.
While I am looking forward to the challenge of my new role, I will very much miss my fellow committee members as well as having the opportunity to contribute to the committee’s work supporting the development of the law and practice relevant to property lawyers in their day to day business.
Property practitioners know that conveyancing is one of the areas that has moved towards digitisation and commoditisation yet is highly regulated and subject to legislation. The standardisation of aspects of property transactions comes at a time where the regulation and legal complexity of transactions has increased. The Scottish Government’s targets (following on from the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ survey) in relation to land registration coverage and initiatives such as Scotlis means we are on a fast moving journey and focus and leadership is required if we are to ensure that we ‘future-proof’ this area of business for the profession and continue to deliver our services to clients.
The PLC strives to ensure that we are at the forefront of proposed changes in order to improve things for the benefit of fellow practitioners, our clients and the public. We regularly engage with relevant stakeholders on behalf of the profession to ensure that the important role practitioners play in delivery of legal services to consumers and businesses is reflected and taken account of in policy development and implementation.
"The main benefit of the Property Law Committee work is the breadth and strength of experience and views on issues of mutual interest and/or concern. I can honestly say that I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most experienced, friendly and helpful colleagues over the years and the work of the PLC has contributed enormously to my own professional development and network. I know that we are in safe hands, going forward!"
The aim behind our involvement in the very early stages on the new land tax was to ensure that we put forward the case for a system designed around Scots property law and conveyancing practice, particularly around problem areas such as leasing. I can safely say that we made our case as strongly as we could at the time. Since the introduction of the tax, the Tax Committee sub-group has continued to work tirelessly on changes including the introduction of the Additional Dwelling Supplement and First Time Buyers Relief and changes to group relief. The group also liaises regularly with Revenue Scotland and the Scottish Government policy team, on behalf of practitioners identifying where issues arise in practice and where guidance and legislative change is needed. The committee has assisted in providing feedback and engagement with the appropriate stakeholders – including training and systems testing – to ensure as far as possible that we can improve user experience.
Similarly a lot of work went into preparing for the changes to the Land Registration rules some time prior to their introduction. Not only did the PLC feed into the initial consultation and draft bill with written and oral submissions and evidence, I and a small working group of PLC members and representatives from the Registers met regularly in the run up to the introduction of the new legislation to work on guidance and registration forms and how things would work in practice.
Those meetings still go on and we have a number of touchpoints with Registers of Scotland ranging from my bimonthly meetings with the Keeper on strategy and high level issues, regular meetings of the Digital Services Registration Group reviewing the introduction of digital deeds, through to regular and ongoing liaison with representatives from the Registers on registration policy reviews and updates on matters such as common parts, the arrear, forms and guidance.
As well as our good working relationships with Registers of Scotland and Revenue Scotland we have regular active engagement with a range of stakeholders including UK Finance, Legal Marketing Services, HMRC, the Law Society of England & Wales, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Homes for Scotland, National House Building Council and the professional insurers. We also ensure that we engage with other jurisdictions – not only thinking internationally, but learning from other jurisdictions where appropriate and understanding how we are viewed by them.
During my time as convener of the property law committee, the PLC has made a meaningful contribution to matters as diverse as the Registers of Scotland Digital Transformation project, the Title Conditions (Scotland) Bill, a Scottish Law Commission project on termination of leases, improving transparency in land ownership in Scotland and redress for purchasers of new build homes and the impact of recent cases including Dreamvar v Mishcon de Reya and Brabners LLP v HMRC. We also regularly deliver professional training and respond to general member enquiries (which is my favourite part of the job – I really welcome the queries we get from members about anything and everything!).
The main benefit of PLC work is the breadth and strength of experience and views on issues of mutual interest and/or concern. I can honestly say that I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most experienced, friendly and helpful colleagues over the years and the work of the PLC has contributed enormously to my own professional development and network. I know that we are in safe hands, going forward!
It’s also important to highlight the vital role that non-solicitor members play in committee work; people that are expert in their field, bringing a wealth of practical insight and experience to the table. This is particularly important on the Society’s regulatory committees, where lay members play a vital role in ensuring the interests of the public are represented and professional standards are upheld.
It is for all these reasons that I would have no hesitation in recommending Law Society committee work to anyone, be they a member of the profession or otherwise, and indeed, at any stage of their career.