The Society’s committees have been working on a number of consultations relating to Scotland’s place in Europe following the result of the referendum. We have also provided comment on the Scottish Government’s legislative programme.
The Society has established a new Public Policy Committee which will replace the Law Reform Committee from the beginning of the new operating year on 1 November.
The aim of the committee is to take a leadership role in the delivery of the Law Society’s strategy through the development of positions relating to public policy. Particular focus will be given to influencing the creation of a fairer and more just society and being an international centre of excellence in thought leadership.
The committee will have oversight over all the specialist policy sub-committees and the policy work of a number of committees of the Law Society Council, including; Access to Justice, Civil Justice, Criminal Law and the Legal Aid Committee. The committee will also ensure close collaboration on policy work where required with the Law Society Board, its office bearers and various regulatory committees.
We have responded to the Scottish Government’s legislative programme announced by the First Minister on Tuesday 6 September.
We are pleased that access to justice features prominently within the programme including bills on third party rights, tackling child poverty, and the domestic abuse bill along with the intention to abolish employment tribunal fees. We also support the principles behind the bills aimed at ensuring an accessible and affordable justice system for people living in Scotland. Once introduced, we will scrutinise the proposals and engage with the government, opposition parties and other key groups to ensure that the resulting legislation is practical and effective.
The Scottish Government programme also confirmed the intention to engage with the legal profession on legal aid. We have pressed for reform to our legal aid system and last year we published a series of recommendations for both civil and criminal legal aid to ensure its long term sustainability and we are pleased that the government has confirmed it will engage with the profession on how this can best be done. It is essential that people can access the legal advice and services they need regardless of where they live or their financial circumstances and that those who provide that advice can continue to afford to do so.
The Constitutional Law Committee has responded to two separate inquiries issued by the UK government’s European and External Relations Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee into the implications for Scotland’s relationship with the European Union following the referendum result.
At the moment it is difficult to be certain as to how the referendum result will affect Scotland’s relationship with Europe. Much depends on the terms of the withdrawal agreement which follows under the Article 50 procedure and the terms of any future relationship between the UK and the EU. We have analysed what we perceive to be the most significant public interest issues arising from the UK’s exit from the EU and also the most significant issues confronting Scotland’s solicitors.
The options for a future relationship between Scotland and the EU include: remaining within the UK and participating in a World Trade Organization (WTO) membership relationship; remaining within the UK which joins the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) agreements; remaining within the UK and participating in a Free Trade Agreement or an Association Agreement with the EU; remaining within the UK and participating in a bespoke relationship with the EU, and seeking to be admitted as a member state of the EU following an independence referendum. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages as well as political and legal ramifications.
The legal impact of the UK’s exit from the EU will affect the primacy of EU law which will in turn affect the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. There are also aspects of EU law which will have a particular impact on clients, the general public and the legal profession as a whole. Solicitors routinely advise their clients, whether they are individuals or businesses, on the impact of EU law and policies and we believe that arrangements must be made to preserve legal professional privilege for the clients of Scottish Lawyers acting in EU law matters in the EU on their behalf.