TIMELESS RITUAL in the modern world at Parliament House this week, with the opening of the legal year marked in the Court of Session on Tuesday. Writers to the Signet were well represented in court alongside other members of the College of Justice to hear the Lord President Lord Carloway announce a major change to the Court of Session timetable. The traditional three court terms of the legal year will be effectively abolished from the start of the legal year 2017-18, the summer recess eliminated and two vacation periods of two weeks being observed at Christmas and Easter. The move will "allow greater flexibility in programming the works of the courts over the legal year”. Reflecting on the change, the Lord President remarked how change is often unseen, incremental, and only measured in retrospect. Sudden, wholesale change, he said, often doesn’t last. Twelve new silks were presented before the court adjourned to be followed by the customary procession of the judiciary and legal profession to St Giles’ Cathedral for the traditional service. Following the court administration reforms a few years back, the order of precedence for the procession was a source of some controversy, even a boycott on one occasion. At issue was the delicate question of who should and shouldn’t take precedence over the Faculty of Advocates. Happily the protocol appears settled again, at least to outward appearances, save, that is, for one thwarted manoeuvre spotted by the sharper eyed observer as the congregation left the service in order of precedence.
THE LEGAL CALENDAR was a great influence on fashionable Edinburgh society in Georgian times, as the BBC’s documentary New Town revealed. Socialites followed the great and the good in returning to the city for the resumption of legal business in the autumn. Marking the 250th anniversary of the competition launched by the city of Edinburgh to solve the overcrowding and squalor of the Old Town, the programme explained how Edinburgh became “the most perfect Georgian city on earth”. Edinburgh at the time was the intellectual capital of Europe thanks to the collection of scientists, philosophers, economists, academics and artists responsible for the Enlightenment. Ironically, many academics believe it was the nature of the overcrowded Old Town that did much to foster this explosion of ideas and creativity. The Signet Library and Courts complex are of course an anomaly in this project, being masterpieces of Georgian architecture within the Old Towns’ towering closes.
THURSDAY’S EMPLOYMENT LAW conference at the Signet Library was well attended. Chaired by Innes Clark WS of Morton Fraser, the event provided a round-up of what’s new in the sector. Shona Simon, President of the Employment Tribunals Scotland, explained the controversial reforms of the employment tribunal structure. Sean Jones QC tweeted his impression of the conference: “If I ever set up Talkadvisor.com I'll be giving the WS Society top marks”.
#REIMAGINEREGULATION is the down-with-the kids branding of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's consultation calling for urgent reform of the system for regulating and handling complaints against solicitors. SLCC's chief executive Neil Stevenson, formerly a lieutenant at the Law Society of Scotland, gave the campaign another push at the weekend, telling The Sunday Times that the existing system is “costly, complex and slow”. Arrangements are certainly labyrinthine, a product of inelegant compromise over the years, most notably the problematic distinction between service and conduct complaints. Insisting upon this distinction could be seen as inconsistent with enlightened thinking that in order to satisfy clients solicitors need to synthesise material and take an holistic approach. The best CPD develops the skills required to do this. An excessively legalistic attitude is likely to alienate a lay consumer, whether it comes from a lawyer, regulator or complaint assessor. No wonder that a study for Strathclyde University’s Centre for Professional Legal Studies in 2013 concluded that legalistic complaints handling would not serve the interests of consumers or command #CONSUMERCONFIDENCE
TO THE WORLD OF insolvency and corporate turnarounds and more bad press this week as a criminal trial at Southwark Crown Court revealed a world of dodgy bank transfers, dishonesty and fraud involving employees of Halifax Bank of Scotland (now part of Lloyds) and a turnaround consultancy. A “director of impaired assets” (and of impaired ethics, it appears) allegedly received kick-backs in the form of lavish hospitality, foreign travel and even sexual encounters with “high class escorts” in exchange for giving business to a consultancy who then fleeced customers for fees. The court heard Brian O’Neil QC describe how the employee “embarked on a deliberate, systematic and sustained campaign of unauthorised lending of bank money to those business customers within his portfolio which were effectively forced through his influence to engage in the services of [X]”. HBOS is reported to have written off £240 million as consequence.
WHAT PRICE the England national team’s football manager Sam Allardyce? The answer is £400,000 for four trips to the Far East to give 15 minute “keynotes” and a bit of chat in the bar afterwards. Once again the English Football Association finds itself signing a compromise agreement to dispose of another failed, and this time disgraced, manager. A sting by The Daily Telegraph recorded Allardyce telling undercover reporters masquerading as Far East investors how to circumvent rules forbidding third party ownership of football players, and making a number of ill-advised, off the cuff remarks for good measure. "Big Sam" left the FA with no choice other than to terminate his tenure after just one game. Still, he left for his Spanish villa this week with his 100% win record intact.
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