Q. How did the changed meeting date come about?
On Monday afternoon (12 April), the Society was contacted by four separate members to complain that wrong information had been given in the notice calling the reconvened SGM in relation to the inability to submit fresh proxies. They included one very prominent member of the Scottish Law Agents Society. We then reviewed the terms of the Constitution and concluded that the criticism made was a valid one. The constitution provides for proxies to be lodged no less than 48 hours before any meeting or adjourned meeting. One of our correspondents in particular suggested that to proceed to a vote on Friday without allowing proxies would leave the result of any putative meeting open to challenge (by implication) in the courts. However it was on the basis that no new proxies could be submitted for an adjourned meeting that both we and SLAS had proceeded on (and since) 25 March.
I am mortified that this error was made in the first place. Nonetheless it was clear that it had and that it needed rectified in some way. The problem was that this could not be done by the date of the originally scheduled meeting, as a corrective notice issued even early on Tuesday would have given a maximum period of 24 hours for additional proxies to be collected and, in accordance with our archaic constitution, physically lodged at Drumsheugh Gardens. That, in turn, would inevitably have left us open to challenge that insufficient notice of correction had been given.
Accordingly, with great reluctance, Lorna Jack, Jamie Millar and I decided on Monday evening that we had no alternative but to postpone the reconvened meeting.
We also felt the reconvened meeting should take place at the earliest possible date. In pursuit of that it was arranged for 21 April.
Might this postponement be seen as another attempt to influence the outcome?
We were aware that conspiracy theorists would suggest we were trying to renege on our undertaking that the original purpose of the adjournment was specifically not to gather extra proxies for the pro-ABS camp. However Jamie Millar, Cammie Ritchie (the Vice President-elect) and I have given an undertaking to the profession that we would not accept, personally, any additional proxies.
It might also be suggested that there is an intention on our part to postpone the vote until after the Scottish Parliament stage 1 debate. I have personally contacted the Minister to request he use his influence to ensure the debate does not take place next week. Whether as a result of my efforts or otherwise, the debate will not now take place until 28 April at the earliest.
What was the SLAS response?
In the course of Wednesday, SLAS suggested that it was incompetent to postpone the reconvened SGM and that we were somehow instead obliged to proceed with a meeting that had been, by common consent, called incompetently. Michael Sheridan, their secretary wrote threatening to go ahead with a "Special General Meeting" of the Law Society at the Sheraton on Friday, even if none of the officers or staff of the Society were in attendance. Whether they intended or intend to proceed to a vote at this event is unclear. We were in no doubt that rescheduling the meeting was competent, but we were conscious that as the difficulties had arisen from our own error, we were in an awkward position to simply assert that. We accordingly took counsel's opinion in the course of the day and that has, indeed, confirmed our view.
We have therefore replied to SLAS indicating that whatever might or might not take place at the Sheraton on Friday it will not be regarded by us as a General Meeting of the Law Society. I understand that the Law Agents are now reassured that the meeting on the 21st is validly constituted and hopefully everyone can proceed on the basis that that is when this will be resolved. For the avoidance of doubt there doesn’t seem to be a mood on anyone’s part for a further adjournment!
What has happened at the talks with SLAS?
It is now, I think, an open secret that the deal/compromise or whatever one wishes to call it proposed between SLAS and the pro-ABS forces was essentially as outlined in the Richard Masters amendment circulated with the papers for the reconvened SGM.
I had high hopes that I might have been announcing on Tuesday that we had a done deal. I regret to say that despite earlier indications to the potential contrary, the SLAS council decided on Monday that they could not agree to this and wished to press their outright opposition to ABS to a vote. I think I am entitled to say that there was not unanimity internally within SLAS as to the wisdom of this course and I regret that in the aftermath of that meeting Michael Scanlan has resigned as President of SLAS. I am at a loss to know precisely how now to interpret the position of SLAS, as it has been suggested to me that they are still prepared to compromise but only after they have passed their motion! Quite how and when any compromise is then to be reached and endorsed in any sort of timescale that might influence the Government is a matter we would like to discuss with them.
What is the Scottish Government’s position in all this?
Nobody in Government has ever repudiated the "no change is not an option" statement. In all of this that is simply being ignored, and this debate is being conducted as if we were the only players. That to my mind is the most depressing thing of all. The real danger is that if we continue to speak with a divided voice then the Government will, at some point, simply ignore us altogether and get on with doing what they want. I'm not sure how that serves anybody's agenda.
So is everybody just lining up for a showdown on the 21st?
No. There continues to be informal dialogue between all of the main players. I spoke this morning to representatives both of the small firms and the big firms and we continue to work towards seeing if a compromise can be reached. It would be particularly unfortunate if process issues got in the way of that.Like to comment on this article? Please use the box below. Comments will be checked and then put live.