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Scots lawyers would take independence in stride: law chief

Scotland's legal profession has all the skills necessary to handle any of the complex questions that might arise following a Yes vote in September's independence referendum, the head of the Law Society of Scotland has insisted.

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the body that represents Scotland's solicitors, said the breadth and depth of Scottish legal expertise meant no work needed to go outside Scotland.

The underlining of Scottish expertise in the fields of international, UK, and constitutional law as well as domestic Scots law is an apparent refutation of suggestions that specialist advice would need to be procured from London and elsewhere in the UK to tackle the complex issues surrounding the creation of an independent Scottish state.

Jack was speaking in advance of the publication next month by the Law Society of Scotland of an 80-page document, Scotland's Constitutional Question - Views And Counterviews, an analysis of the technical questions thrown up by the Scottish Government's November 2013 White Paper. Jack said the document was created by "pulling on all our range of committees on everything from family law to contract law to commercial law".

The document, which follows a previous Law Society paper on independence last August and a "very successful" conference in April, also poses further questions of the Scottish Government prompted by the White Paper.

Jack said: "Any assumption that [legal expertise] would have to come from outside Scotland would be quite wrong. We have constitutional law capability, we've got negotiating capability, we've got compliance skills. The Scottish solicitor [skill] base is very well placed for anything that might come up.

"I think that there is enough competency, but whether there is enough capacity depends on how quickly the government and the Scottish Parliament moves and shapes priorities.

"There are some critical priorities that will need to be delivered so there will be shifting; I'm not able to answer the point about whether we have enough capacity because we don't have much depth on the Scottish Government's plans [to transition to a new state].

"I definitely know we have competency in the Scottish solicitor base, but whether or not that needs to be backed up by resource from elsewhere depends on how quickly it needs doing. But I would be incredibly disappointed if there was work that realistically can be done by Scottish law firms ended up leaking outside. It certainly shouldn't, as we have a highly competent legal profession."

Jack said that the Law Society was "coy" about the suggestion, made during the referendum campaign, that independence would produce "a bonanza for lawyers". She said that "without trying to dodge the question", the amount of legal work that would be required to be done would depend on how the Scottish Government ordered its priorities.

"There are certain things you have to work on very quickly - association with the UK Government, with European Union membership, the Constitution - and there are other pieces of law that you would just adopt across from the rest of the UK until you could get priority time to do law reform or start to move things forward."

Philip Mackay of commercial law firm Burness Paull - which, like the Law Society of Scotland, is neutral on the issue of independence - said that the "best available analogy" for the technical legal process that would follow a Yes vote would be the privatisations of state-owned industries such as British Rail and BritOil.

He said: "Effectively you are taking something within the UK state and externalising it. All the inter-dependencies would need to be re-arranged."

Separately, last week saw the establishment of a pro-­independence group of law practitioners and legal academics called Lawyers for Yes, containing more than 100 Scottish lawyers and academics who have signed up to a pro-independence declaration,

In its Yes Declaration, the group, whose members include veteran independence campaigner Ian Hamilton QC, states that a Yes vote will give Scotland an "enviable opportunity to draft a constitution which articulates the shared aspirations and values of the people who live in Scotland and protects fundamental rights, the separation of powers and the rule of law".

Blair Jenkins, chief executive of pro-independence campaign group Yes Scotland, said: "The group has enlisted some of the country's most eminent legal brains and its authoritative statements on subjects such as citizens' rights and EU membership are a vital and welcome contribution to the debate about Scotland's future."

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