Scottish Law Society answers critics with new code of conduct

The Law Society of Scotland has published a new code of conduct for criminal practitioners in a defensive move designed to stop “unmerited criticism” from the Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The code, which has left some Scottish criminal solicitors “astonished” and “insulted”, is understood to be a pre-emptive move, designed to end threats that the Scottish LAB would publish its own code for criminal work.

The short guide, which will be sent to all practitioners in Scotland this month, gives advice on professional conduct and ethics, including that solicitors should remain independent, should not accept inducements from the client, should not abuse the legal aid system to make money; and should not give clients in custody gifts or money.

Peter Watson, vice-president of the Society of Solicitor-Advocates, said the code stated the obvious and was insulting.

“It is difficult to understand why people who have read the general code of conduct and understand the duties of a solicitor require an additional code,” he said. “All of these matters are part of everyday honest good practice. One wonders what the advantage in publishing it is.”

But Law Society president Grant McCulloch justified the code by saying “there's always a need for professional bodies to set the standards”. He added that the code came in response to criticism from the Government and the Scottish LAB. “I would hope that solicitors did not do these things but if they did it is now clear that it is not acceptable,” said McCulloch. “We want the profession to be able to say that it is an honest, qualitative profession and does not indulge in any dodgy practices. We want to be absolutely sure that our members do not get it wrong, even innocently.”

The criminal law committee of the Law Society of England and Wales published similar guidelines in 1994, following complaints from practitioners that fellow solicitors were acting improperly. Committee secretary Roger Ede said: “I have not heard as many complaints about it now as there used to be. I hope that the fact we have given guidance has had the desired effect.”