Law Society sets out its priorities for next government including simplification of legal aid
Effective legislation, access to justice – including simplification of the legal aid system – access to education opportunities and ensuring the legal sector continues to support a successful Scottish economy are among the Law Society of Scotland’s priorities for the next Scottish Parliament.
The Law Society has published its priorities document today which sets out five key policy areas it believes MSPs should act on following the Scottish elections.
- Access to justice
- Modern legislation for a modern profession
- The legal profession at the heart of a thriving economy
- Access to education
- Law reform and quality of legislation
Christine McLintock, president of the Law Society said: “This year’s election follows the historic referendum on independence in 2014, which attracted record levels of political engagement and turnout, and last year’s UK general election. It’s vital that the political parties continue to engage the electorate and harness the ongoing interest there is in how Scotland is governed.
“Good law is essential to good governance, but there has been little time for extensive scrutiny of law which has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. That’s why we have called for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the laws passed since the Parliament was established.
“Access to justice sits high among our priorities too. It’s essential that people can get the legal advice and services they need to enforce their rights and meet their responsibilities – regardless of their financial situation. We published a series of recommendations in 2015 and believe that they will help generate savings and ensure a properly funded legal aid system that will be sustainable over the long term.
“We also believe it is time for a new legislative framework for the legal sector to ensure it remains competitive in an increasingly global market and provides essential public protections.
“Whatever the election outcome, there are important issues to tackle and decisions to take. We hope our priorities paper will contribute to the debate on what is important to people living and working in Scotland.”
Access to Justice
Access to justice helps tackle inequalities that affect many in our society. It gives people a voice often at challenging times in their lives, whether unfairly dismissed, unlawfully evicted, resolving custody issues or defending themselves from criminal charges.
Ms McLintock added: “The system of publicly funded legal aid in Scotland is a mainstay of access to justice, providing help in around 270,000 cases each year. It is essential therefore that we have a legal aid system that is sustainable in the long term.
“We are urging political parties to look at simplifying the legal aid system to make it more efficient, generate savings, and to commit to reinvesting wider justice system savings into legal assistance expenditure.
“We are keen to see wider use of new technology in our justice system which will build on the progress made through the Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland and the introduction of online dispute resolution for less complex disputes.
“We also want our politicians to consider carrying out a full review of access to justice for young people. Legal systems are often complex and we think more can be done to support children, from providing better access to information to changes in the way legal aid operates for children and how children are treated in the justice system.”
Modern legislation for a modern profession
The Law Society is urging political parties to commit to bringing forward legislation in the next parliament to provide a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland.
McLintock said: “The underpinning and central piece of legislation for the legal profession is now more than 30 years old. While many of the provisions in the Solicitors Act 1980 continue to work well, the legal services market has undergone huge change since it was introduced. There are more cross-border firms, an increasing internationalism of legal services, changing demands of clients and advances in technology and we believe the law should be modernised to better support the sector, the evolution of new business structures and advances in technology and better protect the public interest
“The current legal services market requires a more modern, transparent and responsive regulatory framework to ensure that the Scottish solicitor profession can continue to deliver excellent legal services to clients and ensure there can be proper public protections for people using the currently unregulated legal services.”
The legal profession at the heart of a thriving economy
The Law Society has also highlighted the key role of the legal sector in supporting Scotland’s most successful industries including energy, financial services, life sciences, food and drink, to Scotland’s economy. The legal sector itself is a major contributor to the Scottish economy and is responsible for over 20,000 highly skilled jobs.
McLintock said: “A successful Scotland needs a successful Scottish legal profession and we would urge parties to continue supporting the international promotion of the Scottish legal sector and the expertise and services it offers.
“The Scottish Parliament already has important powers to encourage entrepreneurialism and innovation and support businesses growth. Subject to approval by the UK and Scottish Parliaments, Holyrood will gain additional powers to allow it to further support a growing economy. We are urging politicians to provide as much clarity as possible to businesses and tax payers on how these expected powers and the new powers devolved through the Scotland Act 2012 will be used.”
The Law Society is also urging political parties to remove barriers which prevent people from fulfilling their potential and consider what measures will help tackle the gender pay gap across Scottish society and particularly work and family provisions or those with young children.
Access to education
The Law Society is urging parties to use the full extent of the powers devolved in the Scotland Acts relating to equal opportunities; to consider measures that can reduce the attainment gap in schools; to make access to university fairer and to carry out a review postgraduate funding.
Ms McLintock said: “There is much to be proud of in Scottish education. Curriculum for Excellence is bold and the fees regime means that young people should be able to access world-class education with less fear of being burdened by large debts.
“However there are issues which we think need to be addressed. Currently our poorest students are less likely to go to university, less likely to get graduate level jobs and less likely to gain professional status.
“It is important that the legal profession reflects the society it represents and that talented young people from all walk of life can become lawyers. These aspirations are impossible to achieve while the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children continues.”
Law reform and quality of legislation
The Law Society is calling for legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament since 1999 to be evaluated to establish how effective it is in practice.
The Law Society president said: “Put simply, good policies need good law to work. A large body of legislation has been passed since the Scottish Parliament was set up, but the workload of the parliament has only allowed little time for limited systematic post-legislative scrutiny. We welcome the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s call for greater post-legislative scrutiny and believe the time is also right for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the laws passed since devolution.
“It’s important that new bills are clear and operable. We also believe that all new legislation should be compatible with human rights.
“We think a culture change to the way legislation is developed is required. We need to move away from ‘something must be done’ approach leading to the creation of a new bill and avoid multiple, disparate issues being included in a single bill. This is becoming increasingly common but is creating law that is difficult to work with and which doesn’t lend itself to proper scrutiny.
“The Scottish Law Commission has an important role in revising and promoting codification of reforming the law and we are urging our politicians to commit to the implementation of at least two Scottish Law Commission Bills in each session.”
The Law Society has also urged political parties to commit to updating or reviewing specific areas of legislation as a matter of priority. This includes adults with Incapacity law – world leading when it was passed in 2000 but which now needs updated, charity law, family law, particularly the Family Law Act 2006 as it relates to cohabitees, and succession law, which can potentially affect the life of every citizen.