§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In asking the House to grant a Second Reading to this Bill, I feel that I am making a very reasonable request, for its, main object is to grant to the solicitors' profession in Scotland the rights and privileges which are at present enjoyed by solicitors both in England and in Ireland. It seeks to give to the profession the right to control its own affairs, and I am sure the House, and certainly all Scottish Members, will agree with me that Scottish solicitors are quite as capable of looking after their own affairs as solicitors in England or Ireland. The Bill sets up two bodies, a General Council and a Discipline Committee. The General Council is to be composed entirely of solicitors who are to be elected by certain constituencies or units. The various legal societies are grouped into units of either single societies or groups of two or more. There are 16 of these units, and there must be at least 16 members on the General Council. There may be more, for this reason. The First Schedule, which makes provision for the election of the council, provides that, if any society or group of societies—that is, any unit—contains under 80 members capable of voting, they are to be entitled to have one representative on the General Council, if there are more than 80 members in any unit but under 200 they are to be entitled to two members, between 200 and 400 they are to be entitled to three, and, if there are more than 400, they are to be entitled to four members. These members are to be elected by the solicitors themselves.
The other body that is to be set up, the Discipline Committee, is to consist of not less than five or more than seven persons who are to be chosen by the Lord President from a panel of names to be submitted by the General Council. The Discipline Committee will have certain definite powers. The provisions with regard to the election of the General Council are in Clause 2 and the First and 630 Second Schedules and the method in which the Discipline Committee is to be set up will he found in Clause 24. The General Council is to regulate the admission and. enrolment of solicitors. It is to make provision for the necessary examination, and Part II shows what is necessary before a man can become a solicitor. He has to have certain qualifications. He must be over 21 years of age, and he must have had an apprenticeship of five years with a practising solicitor. In certain cases the five years may be reduced to three; for instance, in the case of an advocate who desires to become a solicitor, in the case of a barrister at the English Bar and also in the case of an English solicitor and in two other cases where certain degrees have been taken.
The General Council has to make provision for the examination of solicitors in accordance with regulations copies of which are to be transmitted to the Lord President and which come into force 21 days thereafter, so that it rests with the Lord President to see that these rules and regulations are in order. The General Council have to recommend and give a certificate to applicants before they become solicitors. The registration and enrolment of solicitors is at present in the hands of the Registrar of Law Agents. The present Registrar will continue until there is a vacancy. After the first vacancy, the registration will pass into the hands of the General Council.
The Discipline Committee is to have power to deal with cases of any unfortunate action on the part of a solicitor which calls for inquiry. At present anyone can apply to the Court in the case of alleged professional misconduct by a solicitor. The Bill gives the Discipline Committee the right to make the first inquiry into the facts of the case and to say whether there is a case to go to the Court. That seems to me a very reasonable provision which is certainly to the advantage of solicitors, because they will, first of all, be dealt with and judged by their own brethren. No one need fear that the rights of the general public are taken away, because the complainer has a right of appeal from the decision of the Discipline Committee to the Court, and any decision can be appealed against by the solicitor if he considers that he has been unfairly treated. The Discipline Committee is given power to censure and also to impose a fine.
631 I hope the House will give the Measure a Second Reading. We are seeking to adopt a system which has worked well in England and in Ireland, and it is only reasonable to expect that it will work well in Scotland. I would appeal to my Scottish colleagues to support the Bill, because it is a purely Scottish Measure. We Scottish people always rather like to conduct our own affairs ourselves if possible. Therefore, I say to the House that if you give us a Second Reading the Bill will naturally then go upstairs to the Scottish Standing Committee which, of course, is purely Scottish. There it will receive careful and detailed examination, and, when it has received that detailed examination, it will be clear to all that the Bill is certainly for the benefit, not only of the solicitor profession in Scotland, but also of the general public, because their interests are being safeguarded. There is no doubt that we all want to see the profession conducted in the best manner possible. The profession only want to be able to behave properly. Therefore, I suggest that we ought to give them the power to regulate the affairs of the profession in every detail, not because I think that it has not been the case in the past. The whole outlook of the solicitors has been to keep their profession absolutely clean and pure, and to that extent we are giving a further safeguard to the solicitors in Scotland in dealing with their work, so much of which is of great importance. I appeal to the House, therefore, to give me a Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mr. JAMIESON
I beg to second the Motion.
The Bill deals with what has long been one of the most important and indispensable professions in Scotland. It is only right that the solicitors' branch of the legal profession in Scotland should have the same rights and privileges as are enjoyed by the profession in England and in Ireland. The Bill has been very fully explained by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith), and I need not take up the time of the House unduly, but I would like to refer to one point embracing both important branches of the Bill. Although powers are being handed over to the solicitors themselves, those powers are to be subject to control 632 by the court. The General Council is to have the power of conducting the examinations of entrants to the profession. At present a board appointed by the courts conducts these examinations, but the regulations for the conduct of the examinations which may be made by the General Council have to receive the approval of the Lord President of the Court of Session. So that there is no reason to doubt that any material change will be made in the standard of qualification necessary to qualify for the carrying on of the profession of solicitor in Scotland.
The setting up of a Discipline Committee is not entirely new. Other professions have this power, and there is no reason why the solicitor profession in Scotland, as in England, should not have a committee to examine into such cases of misconduct as may occur. Luckily in Scotland these are not many, but where misconduct has occurred great expense has been involved upon legal societies in prosecuting before the court and getting the defaulting solicitor struck off the rolls. The object of setting up a Discipline Committee is that a great deal of that expense may be avoided. But again the court has a controlling and overriding power, because if the misconduct, after being investigated, is such that the Discipline Committee think it is so grave as to warrant the solicitor being suspended or struck off the rolls, then the Discipline Committee has to report to the court, and it is the court and not the Discipline Committee which has to make the decision.
The rights of the solicitor brought before the Discipline Committee are fully safeguarded, because if the Discipline Committee consider that the offence is not so grave as to warrant their reporting to the court and they inflict a fine or a censure the right of appeal is given to the solicitor. Similarly, if any member of the public or any other person makes a complaint to the Discipline Committee, and they think that there is not a primâ facie case and do not go on with the full investigation, the complainer has the right of going to the court just as he has at present. So that the rights, not only of the so-called defaulting solicitor, but of any persons who think they have a grievance in respect of any misconduct on the part of the solicitor, are fully safeguarded, just as they are at present. I 633 do not think that it is necessary for me to take up the time of the House further, but I hope that the Government will give the Bill their blessing, and, what is more important, that they will find time for its passage into law.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.