OPENING OF LEGAL YEAR 2013

Speech by the Lord President the Right Hon Lord Gill

“I welcome you all to this court for this short ceremony in which we mark the opening of the legal year and welcome those who have been raised to the rank and dignity of Her Majesty’s Counsel.

First, I have some thanks to express.

I begin with those who matter most – our wonderful staff who in difficult times have continued to provide us with a superb service and made us such an efficient court.

I thank my colleagues for their continued and unfailing support.  I thank particularly the administrative judges; and my valued colleague the Lord Justice Clerk for his advice and his unfailing support.

Thanks to the efforts of my colleagues and our staff the persistent problem of backlogs and delays is now part of history.  These courts operate effectively and well.  I am grateful to the profession for their co-operation in bringing about this result.

This has been a significant year in which the great project of civil courts reform – so long discussed, so long debated – has become a reality. 

The Scottish Government’s Making Justice Work programme has brought to this jurisdiction, for the first time in its history, an approach to the justice system in which reform is systematic and not sporadic.  This is an approach in which reform is not a process of reaction to problems, but is instead a means by which problems are foreseen and avoided.  By this method, reforms are formulated against the wider background of the whole justice system, in an integrated and coherent way.

In June the Scottish Civil Justice Council met for the first time.  That meeting was a watershed in civil justice.  The new Council replaces the Court of Session and Sheriff Court Rules Councils and replaces the previous ad hoc approach to reform with a system which is constantly monitored and reviewed.

Already the Council has made its presence felt.  Next month it will publish its first report.  In due course its programme of action will be submitted for the approval of the Ministers.

The coming year will also raise for the Scottish Court Service the question whether it is feasible to incorporate into the courts system the existing tribunal system for the devolved tribunals.  This is a major question of policy and practice.  If integration is feasible, it will change our whole approach to tribunal justice.  Legislation will then recognise that the work of tribunals is no longer to be thought of as an arm of the administration, but is instead an essential element of the judicial system.

These are troubled times for the profession.  Change inevitably creates uncertainty, especially in the course of an economic recession.  I appreciate and understand the profession’s concerns, but it may be opportune if we recall that the legal profession is a profession of learned men and women whose ideal is that of service; service to the rule of law; to the courts and to the client.  For judges, our ideal is to give impartial and fearless justice to all who come before us.  The opening of a new legal year is our opportunity to commit ourselves afresh to these ideals.

It is now my pleasure to welcome the new silks”.