SLN stories of 2015

SLN assistant editor Kapil Summan looks back at some of the biggest stories in Scots law this year.

The past year has been one of reform and change in the Scottish legal profession. In January, the then Lord President, Lord Gill, announced the timetable for the commencement of provisions of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. He described the legislation as “the single most important piece of legislation in the field of justice for over a century”. On 22 September, major changes came into effect, including the creation of the Sheriff Appeal Court. In lockstep with these changes in the administration of justice, the composition of the profession also changed in 2015 as female solicitors outnumbered men for the first time. Meanwhile, extra judicial controversial commentary abounded, with the Supreme Court justices making contrasting statements on how best to achieve a judiciary reflective of the society it serves.

The Supreme Court gave its judgment in the landmark case of Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board 2015 in early March. The justices found unanimously in favour of Nadine Montgomery, whose son was born with serious disabilities and who claimed she had not been fully informed of the risks of giving birth as a woman of small stature.

Ampersand Stable’s Lauren Sutherland, who was Junior Counsel in Montgomery, provided SLN with an expert analysis of the case.

Hot on the heels of Montgomery, which completed a hat-trick of decisions overturning those of the Inner House, journalist John Forsyth posed the question “Is there still a thing we can call Scots law?”.

In March, 4,000 female council workers settled with North Lanarkshire Council over a long running equal pay dispute. The scale of the payouts was revealed in April – about £8 million was claimed in total.

The women were represented by Carol Fox, of Fox and Partners who said: “It has not been easy but I am pleased to have made our contribution to advancing equality in North Lanarkshire.”

April saw a former UK government drug adviser call for the legalisation of cannabis and ecstasy in Scotland.

Professor David Nutt, Edmond J Safra chairman in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, was sacked by the last Labour government for saying some drugs were less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Along with other campaigners Professor Nutt said at the time he would like to see the SNP use its power at Westminster to vote in favour of reform in Scotland on cannabis and MDMA. However, this is unlikely any time soon, the Scottish government made it clear only this week it would not legalise drugs if the relevant powers were devolved from Westminster.

One of our most viewed blogs looked at the legal action against Alistair Carmichael MP over the Frenchgate affair. Writing in May, James Chalmers, regius professor of law at the University of Glasgow, examined the issues in a case that ultimately saw the Orkney and Shetland MP’s election saved, though it is doubtful the same can be said for his political reputation.

In July a man appeared in Kilmarnock Sheriff Court charged under the ancient law of hamesucken. John Cairns, professor of civil law at the University of Edinburgh, explained the offence as “… that of pursuing someone into their home to assault them. It was once a capital offence (the medieval law-book Regiam majestatem said it was to be punished as was the ravishing of women, that is as a capital offence); by the eighteenth century, the Crown usually, but not always, only sought a non-capital punishment, though individuals were still sometimes hanged for it. There were similar offences with similar names in other northern European countries.”

In June, SLN editor Graham Ogilvy took former First Minister Alex Salmond to task over his column criticising rugger playing “toff” sheriffs and “clever Dick” lawyers.

Later in the summer, the Crown defended its decision not to prosecute the driver in the Glasgow bin lorry crash. However, Brian McConnachie QC said the decision was made with “unseemly haste” because of the high profile of the incident.

Mr McConnachie said at the time: “It seems rather odd that if the position is that the driver didn’t tell the truth, there hasn’t been at least some consideration of the fact that if you’re driving in the knowledge that you may have a medical condition that puts people lives at risk, it amounts to dangerous driving.”

However, the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, has robustly defended the Crown’s decision throughout the year and after the fatal accident inquiry came to an end earlier this month. One of the families of the victims intends to bring a private prosecution against the driver – though legal commentators think this unlikely to succeed.

With the opening of the Sheriff Appeal Court looming in August, SLN found there was widespread anger at the legal aid arrangements for solicitors. After we published a highly critical article of the new regime, the Falkirk & District Faculty of Solicitors declared they would be boycotting the new court. They were soon followed by practitioners across Scotland. This culminated in Holyrood’s Justice Committee rejecting the proposed rates in September.

November saw the official launch of the Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC) a new independent body responsible for preparing guidelines to help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing throughout Scotland to raise public awareness and understanding of sentencing practice.

Earlier this month it was announced that Lord Carloway would be Scotland’s next Lord President, succeeding Lord Gill, who retired this year.

SLN’s ever popular “And finally…” section continued to bring a cheer to Scots lawyers everywhere. One story, And finally… G-string wearing homeless ex-lawyer high on crystal meth and crack cocaine mistakes woman and kids for giant panda, proved particularly popular. However, there were many highlights, including a group of girls defrauding ISIS and a toddler whose hero appeared to be a local lawyer.

This week also saw a development for women in the profession as the Law Society of Scotland announced that the majority of solicitors in Scotland are now female. The news comes on the back of the formation of Women in Law Scotland and the Leadership Foundation for Women Lawyers network last month.

Professor Lesley McAra, a former head of Edinburgh Law School and founder of the network said in November: “It is vital that the legal profession reflects the society which it serves.”

“For more than 30 years there has been gender parity among graduating students but this has not translated into gender parity in the top echelons of the profession.”

Scottish Legal News wishes all its readers, advertisers and contributors a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The offices of SLN will close this afternoon and reopen on Tuesday 5th January 2016.

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