The stakes are high in the issues to be debated at the Society special general meeting this month, there is no doubt. When the whole basis on which the solicitors' profession has until now operated could be about to change, with potential consequences for the core professional values of independence, integrity, access to justice and the rest, feelings are bound to run high.
All the more important, however, that when the profession decides on its future it does so with a clear idea of what is proposed. Some of the rhetoric currently being deployed against the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is in danger of becoming detached from reality.
This arises particularly with the issue of "Government control". Some of the latest comments could have you thinking that all Council members will in future be directly appointed by Government. In fact section 92 of the bill, the key provision here, at present provides that as regards the non-lawyer members of Council – who will be appointed by Council and must be people who appear to Council to be qualified and suitable having regard to the Society's objects – ministers can prescribe additional criteria that some or all of these members must meet.
As regards their percentage on Council, the Society is standing by a limit of 20% in the face of the consumer lobby which is agitating for at least 50%. Ministers have the power to prescribe the proportion and are understood to favour 20%; equally the Society has accepted that it could no longer carry on representing the profession if the consumer bodies were to get their way.
So where does that leave the debate? Clearly section 92 gives the Government some influence on the composition of Council, and you may say that the power as I have described it is unacceptable and incompatible with independence – though there are few if any regulators these days who do not have members from outwith the profession concerned on their governing body.
But that is the basis on which the debate should be conducted, and to suggest that the Society has abandoned the principle of independence, or is about to fall under Government control because of section 92, is completely over the top and an argument that would surely be laughed out of court if it were ever presented.
I suggest that all solicitors owe it to the profession to conduct the debate on a sound basis if they truly have its best interests at heart.