Douglas Mill: Scottish ministers threaten independence of legal profession

Douglas Mill: Scottish ministers threaten independence of legal profession

Douglas Mill

Who remembers the Roberton Report? Who could have guessed the pandemic reasons for it ending up in the long grass for so long?

Covered well by SLN, the announcement has, after a couple of contributions proved that the solicitor branch of the profession at least is as comfortable with its apathy as ever.

Short of possibly resulting in the usual mutual mud slinging between Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the issue, although touching on matters central to the rule of law and checks and balances, will probably excite few.

So why do I (name off the Roll nearly 10 years ago) care? You may ask. Sometimes I wish I didn’t any longer. But I do. Hardwired.

For the avoidance of doubt, (as real lawyers used to say) I do not take sides between them, though in passing I have to say that dealings I have had with two SLCC case managers over the last 2/3 years have proved them exemplary. LSS? Not so much – as I will detail in a forthcoming article.

And I hold no brief for the Faculty of Advocates, who at the time of the Roberton investigations must have been looking to put clear blue water between themselves and an LSS whose complaints record was, shall we put it charitably, not as shiny as their soundbites. Now with the two high profile disasters the excellent Roddy Dunlop has had to deal with, their moral high ground shows signs of erosion.

So what is the beef? Well the suggestion that powers will be granted to Scottish ministers (and there are simply dozens of them now) to intervene and direct regulators are, to quote the LSS president, “deeply alarming”. Having fixed the NHS, the economy, education, transport, perhaps they are now in need of fresh green pastures to exercise their manifold skill.

Let me be clear: politicians and civil servants in Scotland do not like lawyers. I will put it no higher, but I have yet to hear anyone disagree with me. Worrying.

Let me be even clearer, what is even more worrying is the fact that neither truly understand the constitutional need of an independent legal profession – well, not until they need their services, as increasingly seems to be the case.

So what could the bill do to improve things?

Well, removing the lord advocate from the cabinet is essential, but is simply just not going to happen. And that despite a number of events in the last 4/5 years which proved that we few, we happy few, who spoke out against it, and sounded warnings about the potential conflicts were not as it turned out barking mad after all.

What it could do is alter the act to establish an independent framework for dealing with professional misconduct complaints against solicitors employed by LSS. Now even I do not blame civil servants in 1948 for failing to deal with such situations. Unforeseeable and for nearly 70 years unnecessary. Now?

Well wait till you hear from my client, Chris Forrest.

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