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Scottish courts and the law
Scottish courts and the law

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6 A time of change

The legal system is undergoing a period of significant reform and this will impact on those working within the system. Often a balancing act is underway. Legal systems try to maintain accessibility in an environment of ever burgeoning costs and increasing pressure to be more efficient.

Recent reforms on access to legal aid and the greater use of alternative dispute mechanisms and the move towards digital courtrooms, all have an impact on the traditional role of the legal profession and the way in which legal disputes are resolved. Questions are also being asked as to whether an adversarial system is relevant in modern society. In the adversarial system, a case is argued by two opposing sides who present their version of events based on the facts and evidence they have gathered. Each side argues for their own case, for example, the Procurator Fiscal that the defendant is guilty and the defendant's lawyer argues for the defendant's acquittal. The judge (and in certain trials the jury who decide on the facts) does not investigate the facts but acts as a form of umpire, making a decision by applying the law to facts and evidence presented by the parties in the case. This is a time consuming and costly process.

The increasing volume and complexity of legislation have been criticised as preventing access to the law. Disputes involving complex debates around law and evidence on legal issue of significant public importance, will continue. Whatever the future of the system, the need for qualified legal professionals whether in giving advice, gathering evidence, advising on points of law, presenting a case in court or arbitrating or adjudicating disputes, will remain although the skills those professionals draw upon may change.