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Law Society knew of lawyers policy to undermine legal aid reforms as meeting condemned dwindling fees as ‘unacceptable’

02 Sep

While the Glasgow Bar Association was reported in the media for using a public relations firm to ‘criticise’ legal aid reforms, it seems the Law Society of Scotland held a ‘special general meeting’ to add to the weight of the GBA’s efforts, a meeting which was called by the Glasgow Bar Association itself, resulting in the Law Society conveniently condemning the recent summary criminal legal aid reforms.

According to one of two, very rushed Law Society Press Releases : “The SGM was called by the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) to debate the reforms and future of legal aid. The GBA supported the continuing involvement of the Society’s representatives in the review, though declined to re-join the process.”

Late last night, an insider at the Law Society alleged the GBA’s efforts using MMM, a public relations firm, were known about and discussed among many attending the Law Society’s ‘special meeting’ on the 22nd August 2008 .. despite a reference in one of the Law Society’s Press Releases of the meeting feigning ignorance over the arrangement of the ‘special general meeting’ quoting Oliver Adair, the convener of the Society’s Legal Aid Solicitors Committee : “Oliver Adair added that it was puzzling why the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) had called the SGM at this time.” If anyone believes that, raise a hand … or a glass !

Did Mr Adair know of the GBA’s media manipulation work on legal aid reforms ? … that remains to be seen, but it is now confirmed from sources the Law Society of Scotland, which, as the lawyers Governing body should have known of such an operation carried out by its members to ‘influence’ media coverage against legal aid reforms, did know of the GBA’s spin attempt against the legal aid reforms.

You can read my earlier reports on this continuing story here :

Did the Law Society of Scotland know of lawyers media fixing operation over legal aid reforms ?

Scots legal profession used PR firms to manipulate media & public opinion on legal aid reforms

Among other motions passed at the ‘special general meeting’ of the Law Society, conveniently arranged at the same time of the GBA’s spin doctor session to influence public opinion on the summary criminal legal aid reforms were :

* “The Special General Meeting of 22nd August 2008 believes that any cut in the summary criminal legal aid budget, after nine years with no increase in the fixed fee, is unacceptable and urges the Law Society of Scotland to continue pressing the government to reinvest savings in the overall criminal justice budget in legal aid.”

“The SGM of 22nd August 2008 condemns the increased bureaucracy involved in the administration of the summary criminal legal aid reforms.”

“The SGM of 22nd August 2008 supports the Law Society of Scotland representatives on the Summary Criminal Legal Assistance Monitoring and Evaluation Group in their negotiations with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.”

Since it now transpires the Law Society of Scotland itself were ‘in the know’ of the spin effort by the GBA to criticise criminal legal aid reforms, thoughts must now turn to who else knew the story .. such as perhaps, the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill himself ?

It certainly can’t be the case that such a big operation which was undertaken, at “significant cost” according to one legal insider from the GBA, went unnoticed or without challenge from the profession’s regulator itself, and others in the Government who themselves are solicitors and members of the Law Society of Scotland, even giving the occasional ‘pledge’ in Parliament to defend their legal colleagues at any cost whatsoever …

The effort of ‘negotiation’ by the Law Society of Scotland to raise the legal aid payments for summary criminal legal aid work certainly now looks duplicitous to say the least, but isn’t that the case with just about everything involving the Scots legal profession as a whole these days ?

If only the Scots legal profession would make the effort to clear up its sins of the past, rather than put its power into underhanded, devious and costly policies of twisting or thwarting legislation which threatened its way of earning money or maintaining market monopoly over legal services, then wouldn’t solicitors in general gain a little more respect … or does respect for the legal profession come second to profits ? .. something which one may conclude after the recent events reported in this legal aid scandal …

Evidence enough if any is needed, the Law Society of Scotland has failed yet again as the legal profession’s self regulator .. allowing elements of its members to run riot with justice reforms which involve taxpayer’s money, attempting the same twists and turns to legal aid reforms, legislation and public opinion which the Society itself has been so well practiced over the years …

Here follows the Law Society’s two Press Releases, issued the same weekend as the Sunday Herald’s first expose of the Glasgow Bar Association’s spin effort which are reprinted here to give readers an idea of the Law Society’s ‘matching effort’ on legal aid to that of the GBA.

Evidently, the Society felt it important to make two releases …given there was to be critical press coverage over the weekend of the Scot’s legal profession’s stance on summary criminal legal aid reforms.

Special General Meeting Debates Legal Aid

Solicitors should remain at the heart of the process to monitor the effect of the reforms to summary justice and recent changes to the legal aid payment structure, the Law Society of Scotland will tell a debate this week.

The debate at a Special General Meeting (SGM) at the Society’s Edinburgh headquarters today (Friday, 22 August) will consider the impact of the reforms introduced earlier this year.

Oliver Adair, the convener of the Society’s Legal Aid Solicitors Committee, will stress to delegates the value of remaining part of a process for reviewing the reforms with the Cabinet Secretary at the end of the year.

He said: “The Society shares the concerns of many of our members about the reforms to legal aid, particularly the overall drop in the budget.

“However, we have already held positive negotiations with the Scottish Government and won a number of important concessions on behalf of the solicitors’ profession. We believe those reforms are the best deal currently attainable in extremely difficult circumstances.

“We are committed to continuing discussions with the government and Scottish Legal Aid Board to ensure the reforms are reviewed and any anomalies are rectified. That way, the system of criminal legal aid will be improved for solicitors and their clients.”

Oliver Adair added that it was puzzling why the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) had called the SGM at this time.

He said: “The Society has set up a Monitoring and Evaluation Group to take soundings from the profession so it is puzzling why they have called this meeting.

“The profession’s representatives in the review process are all legal aid practitioners themselves and are well aware of the concerns with some aspects of the reforms. We would urge colleagues to continue to provide us with valuable feedback, particularly examples of where the reforms are not working. We will then put those concerns to Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice.”

A motion supporting the Society’s representatives on the Monitoring and Evaluation Group will be put to the SGM.

Notes to editors:

• The summary justice reforms had the unanimous support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament. Where the reforms required legislative change, provisions were included in the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) Scotland Act 2007. The reforms were introduced in March 2008.

• Changes to the system of criminal legal assistance were introduced to complement the summary justice reforms, in particular, to encourage the early resolution of cases. The new legal aid system was introduced on 30 June 2008.

• Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, agreed to an “open and transparent” review of the reforms. A meeting with representatives of the legal profession and others involved in the review process is due to take place in December 2008.

ENDS FRIDAY, AUGUST 22

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115 / 07712 488875 or at suzypowell@lawscot.org.uk

OVERWHELMING BACKING FOR CONTINUING REVIEW OF LEGAL AID REFORMS

Solicitors from across Scotland today, Friday, 22 August, gave overwhelming backing to the Law Society’s policy of reviewing reforms to the system of criminal legal aid.

Around 60 solicitors, mostly involved in criminal legal aid work, attended a Special General Meeting (SGM) at the Society’s Edinburgh headquarters. Pledges of support had also been given to the Society by more 350 solicitors from throughout the country.

A motion supporting the Society’s representatives who are monitoring and reviewing reforms to summary criminal legal assistance, which were introduced earlier this year, was passed unopposed.

A further motion, also passed unopposed, described cuts to summary criminal legal aid as “unacceptable” and urged the Society to press the Scottish Government to ensure savings in the overall criminal justice budget were reinvested in legal aid.

A third motion condemned the increase in bureaucracy caused by the reforms. It was also passed unopposed.

The SGM was called by the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) to debate the reforms and future of legal aid. The GBA supported the continuing involvement of the Society’s representatives in the review, though declined to re-join the process.

Oliver Adair, the convener of the Society’s Legal Aid Solicitors Committee, stressed to the meeting the value of remaining part of a process for reviewing the reforms.

He urged members of the profession to continue to feed back any concerns over the reforms. They will be put to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, at a meeting due to take place in December. The minister has said he will consider rectifying any anomalies identified during the review process.

Further consultation will then be staged with the profession and a meeting held early next year to gather further feedback.

Notes to editors:

* The motions passed at the SGM were: “The Special General Meeting of 22nd August 2008 believes that any cut in the summary criminal legal aid budget, after nine years with no increase in the fixed fee, is unacceptable and urges the Law Society of Scotland to continue pressing the government to reinvest savings in the overall criminal justice budget in legal aid.”

“The SGM of 22nd August 2008 condemns the increased bureaucracy involved in the administration of the summary criminal legal aid reforms.”

“The SGM of 22nd August 2008 supports the Law Society of Scotland representatives on the Summary Criminal Legal Assistance Monitoring and Evaluation Group in their negotiations with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.”

* The summary justice reforms had the unanimous support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament. Where the reforms required legislative change, provisions were included in the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) Scotland Act 2007. The reforms were introduced in March 2008.

* Changes to the system of criminal legal assistance were introduced to complement the summary justice reforms, in particular, to encourage the early resolution of cases. The new legal aid system was introduced on 30 June 2008.

* Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, agreed to an “open and transparent” review of the reforms. A meeting with representatives of the legal profession and others involved in the review process is due to take place in December 2008.

ENDS

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115 / 07712 488875 or at suzypowell@lawscot.org.uk

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