THE NORTH SOUTH DIVIDE
Although there are plenty of areas where the law in Scotland is very similar to the law in England (for example driving laws and consumer laws), there are also some subtantial differences between the law north and south of the border.
In England it is Solicitors who undertake the widest range of legal work, while Legal Executives work in their own specialist areas such as litigation, property or probate alongside Solicitors. Finally, Barristers (also known as counsel) are specialist advocates with unlimited access to the courts. In Scotland the system is somewhat different.
- Solicitors are the most numerous of the legal professionals with around 10,000 in Scotland and they must be members of the Law Society of Scotland and hold a current Practising Certificate issued by the Society. They can give advice on all legal matters and deal directly with their clients. In the majority of cases they present their client’s case to the court. Since 1992 they have been able to apply for extended rights, becoming Solicitor Advocates (see below). Solicitors can also become Notaries Public who record certain transactions and sign specific legal documents.
- Advocates are members of the Scottish Bar and so are equivalent to English Barristers. Advocates must be members of the Faculty of Advocates, which in turn is part of the College of Justice. They have a right to appear in all Scottish courts, though most of their work involves appearing in the higher courts and giving specialist opinions on legal matters. They are either junior counsel or senior counsel (also known as Queen’s counsel). They usually receive instructions indirectly from clients through Solicitors, although they can be instructed directly by members of certain professional associations.
- Solicitor Advocates are Solicitors with extended rights and this new position was created due to Scotland’s Law Reform (Micellaneous Provisions) Act, 1990. If a Solicitor can prove to the Law Society of Scotland they have sufficient knowledge they can be granted the right of audience before the higher courts. Proof is usually provided through the means of exams, experience of practise, and further training. It is only Solicitor Advocates and Advocates who are qualified to appear in Scotland’s higher courts.
PRACTISING LAW IN SCOTLAND
Most people who wish to become solicitors in Scotland study a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree in Scots law. The LLB degree can be studied as an Ordinary degree over three years, or as an Honours degree over four years. Once you have a Graduate Diploma In Law (GDL), the next stage is to apply for a postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practise available at Aberdeen, Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh, Napier, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Robert Gordon and Strathclyde. This is the next stage in the process of qualifying as a solicitor in Scotland.
However, there is an alternative route which involves a three year pre-diploma training contract with a Scottish solicitor and studying for the Law Society’s professional exams. Students must then undertake a two-year post-Diploma traineeship.
Non-law graduates from Scottish universities need to complete the GDL (one year full-time or two years part-time) and then proceed to the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for Solicitors, or the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) for Barristers. The BVC requires at least a lower second class honours degree.
Because of the differences in the law, a law degree from an English university does not form part of the qualification process in Scotland, and a Scottish law degree is not recognised by the Law Society of England and Wales. If you have an English law degree and wish to practise in Scotland (or vice versa) you have to acquire dual qualification by sitting the Intra-UK Transfer Test. In the case of graduates with English law degrees this normally covers Conveyancing, Scottish Criminal Law, and EC Law.
From this September Dundee (already the only Law school in the UK offering degree programmes in both Scots and English Law) is offering all its law students the chance to become qualified to practise in all of the UK’s jurisdictions. The course of study will allow them to take all the professional subjects required by the Law Societies of
Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland as pre-requisites for qualifying in each country.
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