Angela Grahame: This year promises much for the legal profession

With the last echoes of the bells drifting into the distance, 2020 is firmly with us and it is time to get down to work. That might sound as though it is just another change of the calendar, but, for Scotland’s legal profession, this has the promise to be very much a year to remember.
Angela Grahame, QC, is Vice-Dean of the Faculty of AdvocatesAngela Grahame, QC, is Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Advocates
Angela Grahame, QC, is Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Advocates

I know that I am looking forward in particular to two major and exciting events: the Scottish Year of Mediation and the Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA).

The Scottish Year of Mediation is designed to engage the whole of the mediation community in Scotland, and fits in with work in this area which has been done already and will continue.

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We have had the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee report, I won’t see you in court: alternative dispute resolution in Scotland, followed by a proposal by Margaret Mitchell, MSP, Chair of the Committee, for a Mediation (Scotland) Bill. Also, there has been the Scottish Mediation report, Bringing Mediation into the Mainstream in Civil Justice in Scotland.

As the Scottish Year of Mediation will help show, there is real drive and genuine enthusiasm in government and the profession to use this tool more widely and to resolve disputes more effectively.

The ICCA congress is the arbitration Olympics. What a coup it will be to bring this once-in-a-lifetime event to Edinburgh. It’s been ten years since the congress was last held in Europe, and to have it on our doorstep is wonderful. It will draw many international visitors and put a spotlight on what we are doing in relation to arbitration in our jurisdiction. This is a fantastic opportunity for our profession to showcase our talents in this area.

The Faculty of Advocates is keen to be part of the celebrations and will be staging its own events related to ICCA 2020, including a dinner in the Reading Room, a reception in Parliament Hall and arbitration seminars.

It was great to hear Ash Denham, MSP, Minister for Community Safety (which includes legal affairs) say recently: “In the months ahead, we will also continue to develop our policy on a collaborative basis with key stakeholders both within a Collaborative Partnership on Dispute Resolution, as well as a new Scottish Dispute Resolution Delivery Group, which will meet for the first time early in 2020.”

The Faculty has taken a key role in this Partnership and will continue to play an active part, because it is clear to me that it is important for us to be involved in these exciting developments in 2020.

We cannot sit on the side-lines, fail to contribute, then complain when change takes place. The Faculty can contribute significantly to civic society and improvements in the legal profession. We do so willingly and voluntarily to share our knowledge and experience, and hopefully bring a useful and interesting perspective to developments in the legal profession.

It is vital, in my opinion, that we continue to engage in this way with others. We are very much part of the real world, and 2020 will continue to prove we have a valuable role to play.

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Reading that the UK had fallen six places in the gender equality rankings, and watching a Fawcett Society talk about the difference in status and pay of women in the workforce, reminded me of the mountain we have yet to climb in the legal profession.

After the wonderful events in 2019 to celebrate the Centenary of Women in the Law, we face 2020 with the determination that the Faculty will not take its foot off the gas when it comes to equality and diversity.

We have made such progress in my time as Vice-Dean and I know that our Equality and Diversity Committee has a long ‘To Do’ list for the coming year (mainly because I gave it to them). We intend to up-date and re-draft our Equality and Diversity Policy; with the introduction of Lex, a new diary and case management system, we can now monitor our Fair Instruction Policy; and the issue of the gender pay imbalance cannot be ignored.

We are looking into providing practical training on issues such as unconscious bias, and our CEO, Iain Reid, is investigating the options for me as I write.

All of this activity helps to keep me positive about where we, in the Faculty, are going.

Angela Grahame QC, is Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Advocates