We read today of 165 signatories to a public letter objecting to the Law Society of Scotland’s continued role vis à vis Scottish solicitors. Purely observing developments as an ordinary member of the Society, I am saddened thus to read of a potential “split” in the professional body of solicitors.
One cannot help feeling that the losing side in the ABS debate last year has never really accepted the democratic decision of the majority. In what some saw as a generous concession to that side, an Access to Justice Committee was set up and peopled with some of the leading lights in the anti-ABS argument. Some of us were unhappy with the seemingly narrow selection of members of the committee and never felt that we had received an adequate explanation for this, a number of its members being on the Labour movement side of Scottish politics and predominantly west of Scotland in base. And some among us may even have been tempted to question whether a Law Society which already had a Legal Aid Committee, a Civil Litigation Committee and a Law Reform Committee really needed yet another committee. However, we kept our counsel and waited to see what would ensue.
It was indeed not long ere the Access to Justice Committee was back in the headlines, involved in a spat, including a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, with a Tory spokesman on legal affairs following a press headline on the committee’s proposals to merge some of the functions of the Scottish Legal Aid Board and of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. This idea at the time seemed to me anyway ill thought-out and prematurely circulated to the press.
More generally, some of us who had hoped to see minutes of the Access to Justice Committee posted on the Society’s website have been disappointed to see no such posting, so that members of the Society have been unable to read of the Committee’s deliberations during its existence so far.
We then read of another well publicised row where the convener of the committee felt that he was being “gagged” in some way by the Society in relation to criticism of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, and had resigned from the post, to be followed by other members of his committee in their entirety.
We now learn that there may be a breakaway move by largely west of Scotland based legal aid solicitors to set up a rival body to the Society, and that some of the impetus for this move mirrors concerns expressed by the more prominent members of the Access to Justice Committee, as well as a minority of members of the Society’s Council, in their grounds of resignation.
Any split in our profession is likely to weaken solicitors in Scotland, and I for one do not want to see a rival body set up, whereby all solicitors would be the losers. I would certainly have grave misgivings if any rival organisation were to go on to have the rather controversial and, to me, unsatisfactory history of the Access to Justice Committee, for whom there seemed to be no pleasing it. Scotland needs a united solicitors’ body to represent its members professionally, and thereby its members’ clients. We will not achieve that by disunity or by losing our professional dignity.
Most solicitors in most parts of Scotland do still want to be represented by the national Law Society of Scotland and do not wish to be members of a highly politicised pressure group of some kind, narrow and sectional in its geography and composition and more resembling a trade union-like body, if that option is being proffered as an alternative to the Society. Is the Glasgow Bar Association or similar new creature likely to be able to represent solicitors in all areas of work, far less all areas of Scotland? I very much doubt it.
There may also be a lesson for the Society in the history since last year’s vote on ABS – that you can only go so far in placating a minority group that is determined to do and have things its own way.Angus Logan,