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This is the full text of the statement issued by the President of the Law Society, Jamie Millar, in which he addresses the calls for his resignation and the contents of the Senior Counsel's report into the need for a new constitution to comply with the Legal Services Act.
As you may know, the Law Society of Scotland has been looking at changing its constitution. This work culminated two weeks ago when a new constitution was put to members at our AGM in Glasgow. I wanted to write to you about the outcome of the AGM and correct some of the information previously provided to members in light of an opinion received from David Johnson QC, who has been advising the Society on the changes to the constitution.
Between those members in attendance on the day and those voting by proxy, some 1,500 of our 10,500 members took part in the AGM vote on our constitution. Although a majority of those voting did vote in favour of the first motion to rescind the current constitution, support did not reach the required two thirds majority. As a result, the second motion on adopting the new constitution was withdrawn.
Firstly, I would want to thank those members who either came along to the AGM or chose to cast their vote by proxy. This was an important document and I wanted as many members as possible to have their say.
I was particularly heartened by those who, whilst expressing concerns during the debate, also expressed a desire to work constructively with the Society and help to address those concerns.
One such concern raised both during and since the AGM has been on the specific issue of the Society’s regulatory committee and the vires of the Council to create the Regulatory Committee required and defined by the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (the "Act").
The Act required the Society to establish a new regulatory committee, one with 50% non-solicitor members and a non-solicitor convenor. The Act also makes clear how the new regulatory committee would need to have a greater level of autonomy than any of our current committees and that Council should not unduly interfere with its work.
During the period 14-16 March, a note was emailed to many members, which outlined reasons why we wanted or indeed needed to change the constitution. This message stated how we needed to change our constitution to create the new regulatory committee as set out in the 2010 Act. We said this because we believed the level of autonomy as required in the Act could not be achieved within the existing provisions of our current constitution.
Some members openly challenged this assertion and argued the message sent to members ahead of the AGM had been misleading.
Given these differences of view, I thought it important to get greater clarity. I therefore asked for an opinion from Senior Counsel on this specific point – namely whether the Law Society of Scotland had to change its constitution in order to create the regulatory committee as required in the 2010 Act.
I have now received this opinion which I have made available via our website.
As you will see, David Johnson QC has concluded that we do have the necessary powers in our current constitution for Council to create this regulatory committee.
Given this judgement, I wanted to write to you at the earliest practicable opportunity to make you aware of this opinion and correct the information which had been previously provided. I want to emphasise that our original view was given in good faith and with absolutely no intention to mislead. Nevertheless, I regret that information which we provided to you contained a line which I now recognise to be inaccurate. I hope that you will appreciate our efforts to correct this.
Your Council still believes that changes are required to our constitution to make sure that the Law Society of Scotland is an effective organisation which best serves our members and the modern solicitor profession in which we all work. We do want to change the way Council is elected. We do want to change the way we organise our general meetings to make it easier for our members to take part. We also need to allow non-solicitor voting members of Council as provided for in the Act, a change that would deliver on our long standing undertaking to Scottish Ministers to prevent government influence and interference in the make up of our Council. That is why we still want to proceed with changes to our constitution.
I recognise that concerns were expressed about the proposals presented in Glasgow two weeks ago. I want to listen to those concerns and understand what we can do to improve the proposed constitution so it commands greater support amongst members. To that end, meetings will be taking place between the Law Society of Scotland and representatives of the Scottish Law Agents Society to seek solutions to those areas of concern and with a view to presenting a new constitution which can command the necessary majority support, both for the rescission of the present constitution and the adoption of the new constitution.
I have every intention of seeing this process through as your President over my remaining two months in office.
The Law Society of Scotland