John Forsyth’s report (17 September) alludes to the concerns deriving from the appointment of Scotland’s law officers (the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General) from within the ranks of the Crown Office, thereby raising questions as to the quality of such appointments in the context of the legal responsibilities of the law officers.
A former Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay, opined: “I don’t see how you can have the breadth of experience you need to be a law officer if your career has been exclusively in prosecution.
“To have the independence of mind that is required, I believe you have to have a broad experience of challenge to your judgment.”
Mr Forsyth concluded from that statement that Lord Mackay “clearly believes that private practice is the anvil on which independence of mind is tempered”. Many clients would hesitate to agree with that conclusion.
A casual perusal of the proceedings in Scotland’s courts would introduce the observer to sights (not as rare as you think) normally only witnessed by the clients, officials of the court and the judges on the bench, that is an assortment of lawyers (QCs, advocates and solicitors) fumbling in a bundle, in harmony with expressions of pained panic as they try (usually in vain) to construct a coherent narrative that would enable the court to assess the facts, the law and the merits of the case.
Quality of representation, of course, is not always available, but it is available often enough to support the view that “private practice” and the “anvil on which the independence of mind is tempered” do not necessarily guarantee the emergence of a competent lawyer with enough intellectual equipment to assess the merits of a case, prepare the case for court and advocate (coherently and succinctly) the merits of the case.
And if they can’t do that, then can they be appointed as law officers on merit?
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Friday 24 May 2013
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