Thursday 25 March 2010

Democracy shamed and silenced

More than 3,200 Scottish solicitors were disenfranchised and silenced today when the President of the Law Society of Scotland, Ian Smart, used a technicality to deny them a vote on whether to embrace or reject ‘Tesco Law’ (Alternative Business Structures or ‘ABS’).

Despite Mr Smart having previously challenged opponents of Tesco Law to ‘bring it on’, he faced a humiliating defeat today which he, Council members, and a small number of multi-millionaire big firm partners refused to face for fear of certain defeat.

Approximately, 2,300 solicitors had granted proxy votes against Tesco Law, with only around 921 in favour of the Law Society’s position. As the prospect of defeat presented itself to the Law Society’s minority elite they tried desperately to nobble the democratic will of the majority opposition.

They called for a comfort break, and asked opponents if they would agree to a restriction on external ownership whereby ABS providers would be required to have a majority of solicitors. The opposition agreed to enter into dialogue after the SGM but refused to compromise their motion, and pressed for a vote.

Facing certain defeat, Scotland’s Law Society President called for the meeting to be adjourned and seized upon a technical rule whereby only those present in the room could vote, resulting in over 3,000 proxy member votes being discounted. The net result was that 70 members of the profession – including around 50 Council members and a handful of multi-millionaires – voted to disenfranchise the democratic will of over 3,200 members.

GLC’s Principal Solicitor raised two points of order at the meeting. The first noted that given over 3,200 members had cast their vote by proxy, it would be undemocratic to deny them a voice in the future of our profession, and that the spirit of the debate required their voice to be heard and respected. This concern was rejected by Vice President, Jamie Millar of Brodies Solicitors, who chaired the SGM.

Secondly, Mike called for a vote of 'no confidence' in the Society’s President, Ian Smart, who had presided over the most undemocratic period in the Law Society of Scotland’s history, and by denying 3,200 members a voice in this debate had brought the legal profession into disrepute. This call was rejected by Mr Millar as incompetent.

GLC’s Principal Solicitor said:
“This is a dark day for Scotland’s legal profession. Democracy has been shamed, denied and abused by a small elite of 70 members, against the clear will and voice of of 2,300 members who had voted against Tesco Law. The Council of our Society has lost all credibility today. You can deny a democratic vote by filibuster or technicality, but the only loser is the reputation of our profession which now lies in tatters after this affront to democracy”.

A report on proceedings at the SGM is in The Times (Friday, 26 March 2010) here, and in The Scotsman here.


  1. Thank you for speaking out against this disgraceful situation today Mike.

    We need to react to this and swiftly. I am going to write personally to Ian Smart about this and no doubt the GBA will raise the issue also. I am angered that my proxy vote was ignored and I am sure that solicitors across the country will be just as outraged.

    We need to raise this issue in the press and hold Mr Smart to account for his actions.

  2. Tina, your vote was not "ignored". As you will be aware, the SGM was only adjourned so your vote along with all the others remain on the table for that continued meeting. Meanwhile, hopefully some sensible solution can be found based upon the common ground between the opposing sides as identified during the course of not just the SGM but also the preceding open debates at various venues around the country. Let's just hope that common sense will prevail at the end result and not just because one side want to win for the sake of winning or because of some personal vendetta - that could have disastrous unintended consequences. Clear and level headed negotiations will be the key here.