Another eventful year draws to a close. Is it just me, or has the pace of national and world events been more frenetic than ever this past 12 months? War and terrorism are overlaid with political headlines at both UK and Scottish level; controversy rages over personalities as well as issues; for months the migrant crisis has tested our humanity; any gaps are quickly filled by brinkmanship in the Eurozone, our prospects within the EU, and much more.
Lawyers have had several more balls to watch. To take one example, after eight years of consultation, legislation and preparation, we are finally experiencing the fundamental court reforms called for over many years. Yet the Scottish Government had to be dragged against its will to concede, so far temporarily, that solicitors entrusted with making the new summary criminal appeal system work deserve more than a token payment for their efforts.
At UK level, the Government’s consultation on replacing the Human Rights Act has now been delayed to the new year. It has surely realised by now that it is not an easy matter to come up with a coherent alternative, but we fear it has yet to draw the obvious conclusion to leave well alone.
Maybe we should not be surprised at the level of public controversy on so many issues. Social media now enable pretty well anyone to have their say in public, in acceptable terms or otherwise; and whether or not there is a connection, fewer people are now prepared to stay silent over any perceived unfairness or inequality.
On this last point the continuing profile now given to the persistent gender pay gap is illustrative. Our Opinion contributor this month believes that women are for the first time networking and collaborating effectively to counteract this; our employment survey, on which we report, throws up some interesting indicators of where action might be targeted.
On the bigger picture, it is not a new phenomenon for public debate to centre round narrow political or financial considerations, but with ever tighter controls being imposed on our public finances this tendency appears to be increasing. Schooled as we are in principles and professional values, I suggest that lawyers should not be afraid to make their voices heard when such narrow arguments are used to restrict important rights. We should not be shy of being political in this sense; it is when we are seen to be (collectively) partisan that we risk losing influence.
Whatever sort of year you have had, I hope that the season brings your share of peace and goodwill.