Monday, April 27, 2009

Solicitor advocates dismiss Lord Gill’s criticisms over poor conduct

Lord Gill’s recent criticism over the way in which solicitor advocates are regulated, has unsurprisingly been dismissed by solicitor advocates and the Law Society at an extraordinary general meeting held at the Law Society of Scotland last week. (We in the real world, of course know otherwise – Ed)

The Scotsman reports :

Solicitor advocates dismiss criticism

Published Date: 27 April 2009
By Christopher Mackie

RECENT criticism of the way that solicitor advocates conduct themselves was firmly rejected by their representative organisation at an extraordinary general meeting held in Edinburgh last week.

Lord Gill's comments, made in the wake of the Woodside case, questioned the ability of solicitor advocates to act independently for clients by receiving instructions from within their own firm.

He also criticised the practice of self-certification that allows solicitor advocates to determine whether they were qualified to act in a particular case.

During a lively meeting, the Society of Solicitor Advocates dismissed Lord Gill's criticisms and reaffirmed its members' commitment to act in the best interests of clients.

And responding to concerns over self-certification, the society confirmed that ongoing efforts to establish a committee to determine a solicitor advocate's suitability to act at a senior level for legal aid purposes had been completed.

That committee will be chaired by Sheriff Principal Bowen and is expected to issue its first list of accredited solicitor advocates approved to act at the senior level by September.

Following the meeting, Alayne Swanson, the president of the society said: "Solicitor advocates have every incentive to do an excellent job for their clients and I believe that our commitment to independence, trust, personal integrity and confidentiality is exactly the same as members of Faculty."

A resolution restating the society's position will now be debated at the forthcoming Law Society conference.

The actual release from the Society of Solicitor Advocates :

Society of Solicitor Advocates reaffirms commitment to independence and client choice

At an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Society of Solicitor Advocates held on 22 April 2009 recent criticism of solicitor advocates was roundly rejected. There was a large turnout of solicitor advocates at the Extraordinary General Meeting, which was called to discuss the issues arising from the recent Woodside case. Those attending included some of the first solicitor advocates and some of the most recently qualified, as well as coming from many different parts of the country. A lively discussion ensued which centred on the three main points of contention.

The first is instructions to solicitor advocates. It centres on Rule 3 of the Solicitors (Scotland) (Supreme Courts) Practice Rules 2003, which requires clients to be given the choice of advocate or solicitor advocate. Criticism was made in Woodside of the practice of solicitor advocates accepting instructions from within their own firms.

The consensus was that objective advice directed to the client’s best interests must be given at all times to assist the client to make an informed choice of representative. Every solicitor must ensure that the representation of their clients in Court is appropriate. That means that even junior solicitors instructing senior colleagues have a duty to exercise independence and take appropriate action if concerned about the representation being provided.

The meeting was clear that the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 are designed to ensure that the instructing solicitor instructs a solicitor advocate or advocate of appropriate skill, specialisation and experience to the task and who, whether solicitor advocate or advocate, will charge an appropriate and reasonable fee. The Rule 3 provisions are duplicative and unnecessary. The duty to ensure competent representation provides clients with the same protection. This is why the Society passed a resolution at the Law Society AGM last year for the revocation of Rule 3.

The second topic of discussion was the criticism levelled at solicitor advocates who self-certify themselves to act as seniors. It was explained to the meeting that, following consultation with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Law Society and the Scottish Government, the Council of the Law Society has set up a committee to recommend solicitor advocates for remuneration as seniors for legal aid purposes. This committee will be chaired by Sheriff Principal Bowen and will include a Council member, two members of the Society of Solicitor Advocates committee and a lay member. A list of accredited seniors should be available by 1 September 2009.

John Scott, Vice-President (Criminal) of the Society, said: “The judiciary were consulted on the new accreditation proposals. This is an issue which is already being addressed and it is therefore disappointing to read the comments in the Woodside judgment about self-certification.”

The third issue raised in the Woodside Judgments was the different roles of members of the Faculty of Advocates and Solicitor Advocates. The meeting rejected any suggestion that the difference in business structures between the two had any bearing on the central question of independence. Indeed, given that both the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates subscribe to the principles espoused by the Code of Conduct of the Conseil des Barreaux de la Communaute Europeenne, (Council of European Bar Associations or CCBE), it is no surprise that the same fundamental principles of independence, trust, personal integrity and confidentiality apply to both organisations.

Alayne Swanson, President of the Society said:

“The Society welcomed the opportunity to discuss with so many solicitor advocates the issues arising from Woodside, which are of significance for all solicitor advocates. In the end of the day, solicitor advocates have every incentive to do an excellent job for their clients and I believe that our commitment to independence, trust, personal integrity and confidentiality is exactly the same as members of Faculty. Clients deserve the best representation they can get and it is our duty to ensure representation to the highest standard in every case .”

The meeting passed the following resolution, which stresses the existing duties of solicitors and solicitor advocates and the right of solicitor advocates to accept instructions from solicitors with whom they are in a business relationship. This resolution will also be proposed at the Law Society AGM on 28 May 2009.

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