Mandatory use of the Civil Online platform for simple procedure claims now permanent in Scotland

The system makes it mandatory for agents or party litigants to file their simple procedure claims directly via the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (“SCTS”) Civil Online platform, or by using the internet interface to the SCTS case management system. This process was brought in to mitigate the risk of face-to-face contact throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rules make provision for those who may not be able to access digital platforms and and permit  an application to be made on paper where necessary.

Read the full story here.

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee has released a report on reforming the criminal justice sector

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee report into the criminal justice sector has highlighted the severe issues within the sector and confirmed the need to urgent change to avoid any potential disasters.

The committee held a series of roundtables aimed at uncovering the short and long term steps that need to be taken to mitigate any sector issues and tackle any up-coming problems.

This report contains separate chapters on the following issues:

  • • The impact of COVID-19 on the justice sector;
  • • Prisons and prison policy;
  • • Misuse of drugs and the criminal justice system;
  • • Victims’ rights and victim support;
  • • Violence against women and girls;
  • • Reducing youth offending, offering community justice solutions and alternatives to custody, and
  • • Legal aid.
  • Read the full report here.

The Scottish Government is beginning a consultation aimed at reforming legal services regulation

The Consultation has been launched with the aim of ensuring that consumer interests are at the heart of Scottish legal services moving forward. The Scottish Government are seeking views on developing a system of legal services regulation that would promote a flourishing legal sector and place consumer interests at its heart. Ministers want to ensure the system of regulation in Scotland incorporates the competitive provision of legal services, the public and consumer interest..

A consultation will run until 24th December based on recommendations from an independent review of the regulation of legal services. It will seek views on potential changes that could be made, developed collaboratively with stakeholders, designed to improve the transparency and accountability in the way in which legal services are regulated, and the legal complaints system operates in Scotland.

Read the full story here

Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales Bar publish new diversity and admissions data

New reports on admissions and diversity in the legal profession have been released by the Australian Conference of Law Societies, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland (LSRA), the Law Society of Scotland and the Bar Standards Board of England and Wales.

Australia

The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, produced on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies, an organisation that represents the different law societies from across the Australian territories, show that there are now 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia, an increase of 26,066 solicitors since 2011, representing a 45% increase. The report also shows that women now make up 53% of solicitors across the country, up from 46% in 2011.

The report has also found that there has been a 59% increase in practice in those aged 65 or older, with the average age being 42 years old, and that in  2020, 632 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, representing 0.8% of all solicitors in Australia. Since 2014, this trend has remained relatively stable. The report also shows that the majority of solicitors operate in private practice, however corporate legal has been the most rapidly growing area.

Access the Australian report here. 

Ireland 

On the 30th of June, the LSRA published its second annual admissions report entitled ‘Pathways to the Professions 2020: Annual Report on Admission Policies of the Legal Professions’.

The key findings of the report include:

  • 906 solicitors were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 2020, a 62% decrease on 2019
  • The “Brexit-effect” whereby UK qualified lawyers qualify into Ireland has begun to subside. The number of England and Wales-qualified solicitors entering the Roll, has dropped to 443 compared to 1,838 in 2019 (this may partly be due to saturation and partly due to changes to the admission policy requiring England and Wales qualified solicitors to demonstrate an intention to practice in Ireland)
  • A total of 11,854 solicitors held Irish practising certificates on 31 December 2020, a decrease of 105 from 2019
  • A total of 167 barristers were called to the Bar of Ireland in 2020, this is down 14% from 190 in 2019.
  • Of the 167 barristers admitted to practise in the year, 116 were graduates of the King’s Inns Barrister-at-Law degree course. The total also includes 47 barristers admitted having obtained their professional qualifications in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

Access the LSRA’s report here. 

Scotland

Diversity data collected as part of the annual Practising Certificate (PC) renewal process has been published by the Law Society of Scotland. Diversity questions were included for the first time in the 2020/21 PC renewal process, with around 80% of respondents providing a response to diversity questions. Respondents were asked about their ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and social background, including the type of school they mainly attended and what their parents’ occupation was.

Key findings include:

  • The Scottish legal profession is getting more ethnically diverse, although more slowly than the wider population. Just over 88% of the profession is white, with at least 3.38% of the profession coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
  • Almost 7% of solicitors aged under 30 come from a BAME background.
  • Around two-thirds of newly admitted members were female.
  • 3.2% of the profession is LGBTQ+.
  • 4.8% of the profession has a disability, such as blindness, deafness or a mobility impairment.

Access the Law Society of  Scotland’s report here. 

Barristers in England and Wales

The BSB has published the seventh and final annual edition of its statistical information relating to student performance on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The report uses data from students from the 2019-2020 academic year, as well as the preceding two academic years. The report includes information on the demographics and results of those who enrolled on the BPTC, as well as the success rates of those seeking a pupillage after the course.

Key findings include:

  • 18% fewer of the students who enrolled in 2019-20 completed the course compared to the year before and the of the UK  and EU graduates in the same period 10% began a pupillage in 2020-21 compared to 23% in the 2018-19 cohort, reflecting a 35% fall in pupillage places. This drop may be partially related to COVID-19 as well as Brexit.
  • 1,685 students enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20, a decrease of 68 students compared to 2018-19.
  • 46% of students 46% who enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20 were overseas (non-UK/EU) domiciled,
  • Female BPTC students increased from 52.3% in 2011-12 to 57.8% in 2019-20
  • of the 95% who provided information on their ethnicity, the percentage of UK/EU domiciled students from a minority ethnic group was 35% in 2019-20. This was down by around five percentage points compared to 2018-19,  and was at the lowest level since 2015-16;

As well as this the report found that  39.5% of UK/EU students who enrolled on the course from 2015 to 2019 had started a pupillage by March 2021 of these 55% were female, and when controlling for academic and BPTC results found that those from a white background were more likely to commence a pupillage, with 41% of white students starting a pupillage compared with 23% of those from a minority background.

Read the BSB’s full report here. 

Law Society of Scotland to manage new legal aid trainee fund

On the 3rd of June the Scottish Government launched a new £1 million fund to support legal aid traineeships in Scotland, the fund and application will be managed by the Law Society of Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The fund will provide support for up to 40 new legal aid trainees, paying for 50% of their salaries, as well as their regulatory costs, National Insurance, Practising Certificate costs and Trainee CPD will all be half-funded by the grants.

To be eligible to apply for the funding, firms must have at least 20% of their business come from legal aid work and trainees hired as a result of grants must spend the majority of their time working on legal aid cases. Applications will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis.

Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We have pushed hard for support for the legal aid sector and are pleased that the legal aid traineeship fund is now in place. It provides a much-needed boost for this hard-pressed, yet vital, part of the profession and is a step forward in addressing concerns over future sustainability. There are still serious issues to be resolved on how to ensure that the legal aid sector remains viable with ongoing investment by government at an appropriate level, yet the traineeship fund is a positive move and a move in the right direction. It is hugely important that the legal aid sector is not left behind and that it is an area of the law in which law graduates not only want to work but one in which they can thrive in the longer term. That is why we will be evaluating the impact of the fund on an ongoing basis. In will be important to assess its effectiveness at attracting trainees to the sector and retaining them as newly qualified solicitors.”

Read more about the fund here, or read the Scottish government’s press release here. 

Law Society of Scotland survey finds support for increased use of remote civil hearings

A newly released survey of Scottish solicitors, by the Law Society of Scotland, has found that more than three-quarters of respondent think that aspects of remote civil court work should continue post-pandemic. The results found that the majority of civil court practitioners have indicated that they think remote hearings work well for procedural and uncontentious matters, however far fewer of the survey respondents thought that more complex hearings should be carried out remotely.

The survey found that:

  • 78.5% of respondents said they would like remote court hearings to continue after the pandemic. Of those, 91% said they thought procedural hearings worked particularly well, and almost all, at 99%, saying they would like to see them continue remotely.
  • However 5% thought proofs, a civil court hearing which is determined by a judge or sheriff, and 3% thought evidential hearings, such as a tribunal, worked well remotely. A quarter of respondents thought first instance debates worked well.
  • 32%, stated that they had no practical difficulties when participating in remote hearings, however 45% found it challenging to obtain clients’ instructions during remote proceedings. 41% of respondents thought that their clients struggled to either understand or participate and almost a quarter of solicitors, at 23%, found it more difficult to articulate their position.
  • The vast majority of respondents at 91% indicating that it saved travel time, 75% that it saved waiting time, 69% that it reduced costs and over half, at 55%, said it was more efficient than being personally present in court.
  • Concerns were raised in relation to the difficulties in assessing witness credibility and reliability remotely and respondents also said the lack of opportunity for proper face-to-face interaction with other agents, witnesses, and with sheriffs and judges, hindered effective participation. There were also issues with clients feeling disengaged from proceedings and problems with technology, including access to suitable devices and connectivity issues.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Covid-19 has instigated enormous change in the way we all work over the past year. The legal profession has adapted to this rapid change, however examining what has and has not worked well in relation to online proceedings will be essential as we begin to look at how civil courts should operate post-pandemic. We can draw useful insights from the survey findings and they will be helpful in considering what aspects, if any, of remote hearings could or should be incorporated into the civil court procedure longer term. While many of our members have indicated that remote hearings should continue in some form, there should be provision for in-person hearings, particularly in relation to more complex cases, but also for procedural hearings when required.”

Read more about the survey and the results. 

Law Society of Scotland publishes a new strategy to improve regulatory process and enhance competition in the legal sector

The Law Society of Scotland’s Regulatory Committee has revealed a new two-year strategy, which is focused on improving regulatory processes, enhancing competition in Scotland’s legal sector and ensuring robust consumer protections. The Regulatory Committee is independent from the Law Society’s Council (the governing body of the Society), and is responsible for overseeing a number of sub-committees, as well as setting its own strategy, with the remit of regulating practice. The committee is made up of an equal numbers of solicitor and non-solicitor members and is led by a non-solicitor convener.

The new strategy sets out five overarching objectives. The first,  ‘protect’, is focused on protecting consumer and public interest, and protecting the rule of law. The second, ‘scrutinise’, is focused on examining the work of the subcommittee and other delegates of the committee to ensure their value and productivity. The remaining three are ‘enhance’, ‘align’, and ‘develop’. ‘Enhance’ is focused on raising public awareness of the society’s work, as well as developing a proportionate and principals focused regulatory structure that will enhance the competitiveness of the Scottish legal sector. ‘Align’ is focused on making sure that the regulatory committee’s work aligns with other groups in the society, whilst ‘develop’ is a process of internal self-reflection and development.

Craig Cathcart, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland Regulatory Committee said: “The legal profession has a key role in our society. Solicitors help people at pivotal points in their lives whether they are buying a new home, planning for the future of their family, building a successful business or upholding their rights in court. Anyone who seeks the advice of a solicitor must feel confident that they are in good hands. Having a robust and fair regulatory system which sets high standards for entry to Scotland’s solicitor profession and throughout a solicitor’s years in practice, along with clear consumer protections, provides that assurance.”

Read the full strategy here. 

Event: Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference 2021

April; 26 – 30, 2021

Online

Running over the week of April 26-30, our online annual conference is our most ambitious yet with over 35 sessions ranging from black letter law, to in-house, recent legal developments and essential skills.

And if you can’t be there for all of it – that’s okay, you can dip in and out, safe in the knowledge that a ticket gives you access to all the sessions you missed after the conference closes. So, if you can’t choose between a session on Judicial Appointments and e-conveyancing, don’t worry –you can watch both a time that suits you.

Law Society of Scotland launches new Racial Inclusion Group

The Law Society of Scotland has launched a new group on Racial Inclusion, headed up by Tatora Mukushi, a solicitor with Shelter Scotland, who has been appointed as the first convener of the group.

The group has been formed by the Law Society, with the goal of forming a better understanding of the lived and professional experiences of its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members and to offer recommendations on how to improve racial inclusion across the profession.

The group plans to revisit the Profile of the Profession, and to undertake a literature review of other data sources that may provide insight into improving racial inclusion; undertaking research with BAME law students, trainees and solicitors; and speaking to other stakeholders within the profession, such as firms and universities, on best practice, challenges and how to overcome such challenges. With the goal of providing a report on their findings with recommendations late in 2021.

Tatora Mukushi, convener of the Racial Inclusion Group, said: “I am personally and professionally delighted that the Law Society is tackling this issue in a genuinely participatory manner. Our group will combine analysis of historical and contemporary data with relevant lived experience in order to honestly reflect the social dilemma of racial inclusion within the profession and we hope to be able to suggest pragmatic actions to advance this progressive agenda.”

As convener of the Group, Tatora will also be the Law Society’s representative on the Scottish Government’s Cross-Justice Working Group on Race and Workforce.

Find out more about the new group here. 

Updated UK national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing

The UK Treasury has published an updated UK National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. This follows the previous update from October 2017 and sets out the key money laundering and terrorist financing risks for the UK, and how these have developed since the first publication in 2015.

Specifically, chapter 10 documents the UK Government’s view of the key money laundering risks associated with legal services.

Key risks:

  • Legal services is at high risk of being abused by criminals seeking to launder money
  • These risks increase when legal professionals fail to carry out their obligations under the money laundering regulations (MLRs) or take a tick box approach to compliance
  • Specific services provided which may be most vulnerable to abuse remain conveyancing, Trust and Company Service Provision (TCSP) and the provision of client account facilities. Other areas of risk include sham litigation, notarial services, cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding
  • The risk of legal services being used for terrorist financing purposes remains low
  • The assessment notes that most legal firms comply with their AML obligations and there has been an improvement in technical compliance. However, it further states “there are a significant minority of Legal Service Providers which do not focus on AML compliance and some still lack an understanding of the risks they face”.

Graham MacKenzie, Head of AML at the Law Society of Scotland has said “The legal sector risks, findings and trends noted in the new UK National Risk Assessment are generally consistent with the findings of our AML supervisory assurance work, and we welcome the more nuanced tone taken by the government in recognising not all conveyancing or TCSP work warrants a higher money laundering risk rating. I’d advise firms to now review, and (where necessary) refresh their firm-level risk assessments under r.18 of the Money Laundering Regulations. There is a wealth of information available on our website to support firms in this process, and lookout for new, fully revised UK legal sector AML guidance which will also be released later this month. We ourselves are obliged to review and refresh our supervisory Scottish legal sectoral risk assessment, previously published in March 2018 following the publication of the UK national assessment. This process will start shortly, and the document will be made publicly available on our website.”

Read the full updates here.