The Law Society of Scotland has released the following response to the issues identified by the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) today in relation to the proposed new constitution, which will be debated and voted on by members at the Society’s AGM on Friday 25 March.

SLAS published a paper highlighting five specific issues as reasons for members to reject the constitution.

1. Disenfranchisement of members

(The use of qualified majority voting at general meetings.)

SLAS take issue with the proposal for qualified majority voting at general meetings. The Society conducted an online survey on the constitution last year, in which over 1,200 members took part. We asked members whether they believed the Society should keep the current practice of requiring a motion to be passed at two successive general meetings or whether we should move to qualified majority voting.

Two thirds of members who responded to the survey were in favour of moving away from the current outdated practice and towards a new system of qualified majority voting. Sixty per cent of members responding said the qualified majority should be two thirds. The change provided for in the constitution simply delivers what members said they wanted. It should also help prevent the kind of situation seen last year when two conflicting motions were approved at the same meeting, something which caused real damage to the reputation of the profession.

2. Standing orders – giving powers to Council

SLAS talk about the new constitution taking powers away from members and giving them to Council via standing orders. However, section 16 of the new constitution covering standing orders uses the same terminology as section 25 of the current constitution. The new sub-subsections in section 16 simply allow for the new framework covering licensed providers (LPs), something not provided for in the current constitution. It is difficult to see how the wording of the new constitution allows Council to take any extensive new powers as suggested.

3. “Regulatory error”

SLAS complain that members will have no oversight of the regulatory framework for new licensed legal service providers (LPs). It was never envisaged that members would vote on the new regulatory framework covering LPs at a general meeting. It is right that Council, as the ruling decision making body of the Society, approve such regulations. The new constitution makes clear that the regulatory committee for the regulation of LPs is a committee of Council, which is itself elected by the members of the Society.

Fundamentally, members elect Council. If members are not happy with the decisions of Council, they can call Council members to account through the Council elections. Council members will always do what is in the best interests of the profession and the public as a whole.

4. Guarantee Fund and Master Policy

The new constitution makes absolutely no mention of either the Guarantee Fund or Master Policy. The Legal Services (Scotland) Act opens up the Guarantee Fund to LLSPs and it is not within the power of the Society to overturn this decision of the Scottish Parliament.

5. Drafting

SLAS have complained about the drafting of the constitution but do not identify any particular issues. The Society has received opinion from senior counsel who believes the constitution is competent and adequately addresses issues identified in previous versions.

Vice President of the Law Society of Scotland, Cameron Ritchie, who will propose the motion to approve the new constitution said: “The current constitution is essentially the same as when the Society was formed back in 1949. The profession has changed beyond all recognition in the last 60 years. Just as the profession has modernised, so too must its professional body. We have conducted three consultations and a full online survey, in which over 1,200 members took part. The changes being proposed are changes that members said they wanted to see.

“In his recent article for the Journal, the secretary of SLAS argued that, with all the issues facing the profession, this was the wrong time to be focusing on the constitution. However, in his most recent comments, he now argues we should be thinking and reviewing this constitution beyond the AGM. The reality is that the Society has considered the new constitution for some three years now. It has been consulted on and debated at great length. It is now time for our members to have their say.”