Douglas J. Cusine: Think rationally about regulation of lawyers

Douglas J. Cusine: Think rationally about regulation of lawyers

It is difficult to disagree with the sentiments expressed in the editorial about the actions of Messrs Jackson and McConnachie who have damaged the reputation of the legal profession in Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates in particular. There will be those who would wish these two to be removed as practising lawyers and there will be those who will take the view that their activities support the introduction of the proposed regulatory body which will oversee entry to the profession and discipline of those who are already members.

Several points occur. The first is that, however reprehensible the conduct of these two may be, there is no doubt about their abilities and their willingness to defend without fear of repercussion, the interests of their clients. Striking people like that off deprives members of the public of their qualities. We need lawyers of quality. Secondly, whatever their indiscretions, two swallows do not make a summer and it is absurd to assume that all lawyers are alike in the way they conduct themselves. Accordingly, there is no case, based only on these two, for taking entry to the legal profession and discipline away form the existing bodies.

An “independent” regulatory body would result in control by the government of the day of the legal profession. The Justice Secretary, Keith Brown, says that he believes in an independent legal profession. If one accepts that statement at face value, it is inconsistent with a so-called independent regulatory body which can be, shall I say, influenced by the government of the day. And if the government of the day does not subscribe to the benefits of an independent legal profession, where are we?

Well, the legal profession would be in exactly the same position as currently pertains in Russia. There the legal profession and the judges are not independent of the state, nor are the police. It would take a very brave, or perhaps, very stupid lawyer to argue that the client’s human rights were breached. The client’s human rights do not exist. Likewise, it would be foolish to argue that the client’s arrest was improper. “You say that your relative/friend has been wrongly accused.” “Not possible.”

The response might be that I am exaggerating. Maybe, but the proposed regulatory body might be advised by a government that certain types should not become lawyers, or that certain types should. Or, it may be that the law student activist who was critical of the government of the day would be unsuccessful in applying to be a lawyer.

Coming back to Messrs Jackson and McConnachie, their actions should – and I am sure will – make it clear to all lawyers, even even if it not clear at present, that all of us, practising and retired, need to be very vigilant about the way we conduct ourselves. We are constantly in the public eye. In my time as a lawyer, which now spans more than 50 years, I have not been other than impressed by the vast majority of my fellow travellers.

No profession, or organisation is without those who do not subscribe to its values, or depart from them on occasion, but there is no system which can identify who are likely to transgress. That is not a reason to remove the current system which is and will continuity be looked at carefully to see how it can be improved. We do not want to have the Russian “system”, nor do we want anything which moves us any closer to it, like regulation by a body which is effectively state-controlled.

Douglas J. Cusine is a retired sheriff and a respected author of articles and books on legal and medico-legal topics.

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