At the evidence gathering session on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on 15th May the following exchange took place concerning 20 lawyers in a room together.
Richard Lyle MSP introduced the concept:-
I am not a lawyer or a crofter. However, I know that in 1993, 2007 and 2010, and now in 2013, we have had to try to deal with this problem. I am sure that it is a very important issue for many crofters. With the greatest respect to Sir Crispin Agnew, however, I am sure we can agree that if we put 20 lawyers in a room, they will come up with 20 different answers. In relation to the interpretation of the law, the point was made earlier that between an “owner-occupier” and an “owner-occupier crofter” there can be a world of difference as to whether those people fit into the bill. As was mentioned earlier, Brian Inkster suggests that we can deal with the problem elsewhere, and Sir Crispin Agnew said earlier that he has other items to present to the committee. Can you really tell me that the proposals in the bill will solve the problem? Do you agree with me that there will be other problems that need to be addressed but which may have to be addressed at a later date because people have not even thought of them yet?
Sir Crispin Agnew’s view on this was:-
Yes. Where there are two lawyers, they can give different opinions. If something is well drafted, generally speaking— although not always—lawyers will give the same advice.
Derek Flyn gave his thoughts:-
On getting 20 lawyers in a room, I do not think that you would find 20 crofting lawyers who were prepared to sit and talk knowledgeably about crofting—although, as we know, there might well be more than 20 lawyers wanting to listen.
Well, on 31 May the Crofting Law Group held its AGM in Edinburgh and almost managed to get 20 lawyers in a room together to discuss the Bill. There were in fact 17 plus two non-lawyer members who probably know more about crofting law as most lawyers do.
Many, as Derek Flyn identified, were happy to listen but others talked knowledgeably about the Bill and the problems associated with it. One thing that was striking was that there was no disagreement amongst the 19 members of the Crofting Law Group in attendance as to the problems raised. There was not the 19 different answers that Richard Lyle might have suspected there to have been.
There could have been as many as 19 issues raised about the Bill. These were all of the issues already raised by myself, Sir Crispin Agnew QC, Derek Flyn (all three of us being in attendance at the AGM) and others in evidence given to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. There was general agreement that these issues were all problems that required to be addressed in the necessary re-drafting of the Bill. Let’s hope that the Scottish Government pay attention to the ’20 lawyers in a room’ who all held the same opinion.
[Picture Credit: Ally McBeal © 20th Century Fox Television]