This year sees the 70th anniversary of The Law Society of Scotland. Given that the legal systems in Scotland and England have been famously different for centuries, it seems perverse that the country’s lawyers only acquired their own representative body less than one of those centuries ago. In fact the principal was established in 1933, but the little matter of World War Two got in the way of its implementation.
Nevertheless, a platinum anniversary is something to be celebrated and Scotland’s advocates are determined to do just that: especially as it coincides with the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which paved the way for women to become solicitors for the first time.
One of the traditional differences between English and Scottish law has been that of the age of criminal responsibility. In fact the discrepancy only dates from 1963, when the age was raised in England and Wales but left at age eight in Scotland.
In a landmark decision, the Scottish Parliament has voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility there to 12. There are debates on-going in England to do the same.
Another area of law in which there are differences between England and Scotland is that of the role of the expert witness. Whichever jurisdiction an expert works in, these days training is needed to be able to fulfil the necessary criteria and abide by the relevant procedures.
There are many sources of training – some leading to formal qualification – but what they all have in common is that they make it easier for instructing solicitors to know what they are getting.
One of the organisations that provides expert witness training is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors – the professional organisation representing property specialists. And the property industry has been undergoing a series of changes to tighten up practice and improve what has not always been the best of images.
The changes include moves to promote greater transparency in the buying and selling process, announced by the government in May. The measures, which include guides for consumers explaining the process, have been endorsed by the Law Society of England and Wales.
A further proposal is for new mandatory standards for home surveys, which would be enforced by the RICS itself. The institution is currently consulting with both its members and – commendably – the public.
Experts of a different kind will be looking into the protection offered to children and families by the family courts in cases involving alleged abuse. The expert panel has been assembled by the Ministry of Justice and includes senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities.
The move is in response to concerns raised during the government’s domestic abuse consultation. There are even claims that abusers have been abusing the court process itself – using it to inflict a kind of secondary abuse and re-traumatise their victims.
Technology is a way of mitigating the trauma experienced by abuse victims, such as the use of so-called fully-video to process applications for injunctions against abusers. A scheme that was trialled in Manchester met with approval from many corners and is set to be extended. The fully-video system allows two-way communication between the applicant and the court and has led to a reduction in stress felt by victims.
General approval was also given to another step forward in the treatment of vulnerable people: the re-centralising of the probation service. Justice Minister David Gaulke announced that all probation activities will now be carried on under the aegis of the National Probation Service.
This being the government, they couldn’t go the whole hog and bring all provision in-house, but having a central authority overseeing provision can only lead to improvement.