It is encouraging that the new Lord President in Scotland, Lord Carloway, has taken an enlightened and forward-looking approach to the Scottish court system (in a recent speech to the Law Society of Scotland). This is the latest signal that leaders in the legal profession in Scotland appreciate the need to change the way services are provided in the twenty first century. Recently, a business consultant observed that one of the professions most under threat from the knowledge and automation revolution is that of lawyer. That serves as a wake up call.

There will be resistance of course. Paradigm shifts are not easy for many to accept. There are those in whose interests it is to seek to preserve the present system. But Lord Carloway’s initiative deserves support. New models are essential to meet the needs of clients and court users in the twenty first century.

In addition to enhancing the services of the courts and those who work in them, it is useful to note that, in many countries, much is being done to reduce the pressure on, and use of, the courts overall. Imaginative ways to ensure that courts really are a last resort are being found in both criminal and civil matters around the world. This is really a subset of a general recognition of the value of "preventative spend", a way of redirecting limited resources to where they can be used most effectively. 

In Scotland, this could be combined, for example, with new approaches to dealing with drugs and other offences, alongside moves to reduce short term prison sentences. In civil cases, the greater use of Ombuds services, family relationship guidance and, of course, mediation can make a big difference – and provide more meaningful outcomes for many people. The new Apologies legislation in Scotland (read David Morgan’s excellent Herald article here) is another example of this culture change.

Ultimately, we face choices about the allocation and use of resources. We may well also be on the cusp of learning that there is real value in less adversarial and retributive approaches to society’s problems and that the benefits of a different approach socially, economically and culturally will be important for Scotland’s future. Let’s get on with promoting and encouraging these new ideas.

(This is an extended version of a letter published in The Scotsman newspaper on 15 February 2016)

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