Parliament to consider competition in legal services market as Scottish Government fails on access to justice reforms

29 Sep

The Scottish Government’s promised access to justice reforms, long stalled by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and members of the Judiciary such as the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, have been brought into question by new moves to get the Scottish Parliament to consider the issue of opening up the lawyers monopoly over the Scots legal services market.

Petition PE 1197, raised by Bill Alexander, a member of the Association of Commercial Attorneys, comes on the back of a series of gaffes, excuses, and outright prejudice by the Justice Minister against applications from individuals outside the powerful but corrupt lobby of the Law Society of Scotland to apply for rights of audience & representation which would allow the public to choose their legal representatives, bringing more badly needed competition into Scotland’s woefully poor quality legal services market.

Petition PE1197 Bill Alexander - Reform Legal Services MarketPetition PE1197 – Allowing non-lawyers to enter the legal services market : A Petition by Bill Alexander calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform the legal system to adopt the Scandinavian system of allowing unrestricted access to legal representation before the court for example by allowing non-lawyers to appear in court on behalf of other parties.

Mr Alexander, who has been campaigning since 1995 for reform of legal services in Scotland goes onto describe his efforts to open the Scottish legal services market, efforts which have been obstructed by several political administrations, and always by the legal profession.

Mr Alexander : “I have been actively involved in the application by the Association of Commercial Attorneys under Sections 25 to 29 of the Law reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 and it is now clear that in the unlikely event of the application being approved, the restrictions on the areas of practice are such that there will still be a fundamental lack of choice for parties who cannot afford a solicitor or who may not want to instruct a solicitor in matters pertaining to Contract and Delict.

The Access to Justice Department and the Lord President’s office have interpretated the Law Reform Act in such a manner that they do not consider that access to justice should be a determining factor in considering any application.”

In a recent story on this issue, I reported on the exposure of Mr MacAskill’s duplicity in stalling moves to open competition in the legal services market. You can read more about that story here :

Justice Secretary MacAskill blames Lord President for delays in ‘access to justice’ applications row

You can also watch Mr MacAskills very weak parliamentary performance on the issue, blaming everyone else including the Lord President, Lord Hamilton for the delays to legal services reform :

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill blames Chief Judge Lord Hamilton on delays over legal services market reform

Mr Alexander’s petition to seek the opening of the legal services market, which is supported by David Whitton MSP, has been raised because to-date, all access to justice applications made under Scotland’s existing legislation contained in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 have been refused by the Scottish Government, after taps on the shoulder from the legal establishment, who view legal services as their fiefdom, to the exclusion of all others.

Mr Alexander goes on in his parliamentary petition to explain a bit more on how unfair the Scottish closed shop lawyer monopolised legal services market is to the Scots public, obstructing access to justice at almost every level, where in effect, it is the legal profession currently, who determine the public’s access to justice, rather than a person’s own choice.

“At the moment the cost restrictions on access to justice means that there are people in Scotland who are being denied access to their Article 6 Human Right to a fair hearing in an impartial tribunal with a reasonable time. With the decision to only consider new complaints from the 1st October 2008 by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) the prospects for the many people who responded to the consultation on legal services who felt that they had a complaint are also effectively being denied access to justice.”

While Scotland seems to be left out of legal services reform, which was recommended by the OFT at Westminster, Scandinavian countries enjoy a more open view of their legal services markets.

You can read more about the OFT recommendations to open the legal services market, and how the Scottish Government have stalled legal services reform for over a year since the OFT acted, here :OFT recommends lifting of lawyers monopoly on access to justice & legal services in Scotland

… and you can read more of my previous reports on access to legal services reforms, and the legal profession’s struggle to hold them back here : Access to Justice reforms in Scotland delayed by legal interests

Mr Alexander details in his petition, the more opened legal services markets in other countries, which work well, presumably because their legal profession’s don’t have such a grip on power and politics …

Mr Alexander continues : “In the Scandinavian countries they have a very liberal legal system where non-lawyers are allowed to appear in court on behalf of other parties.

It is my belief that the people of Scotland, if a system similar to Sweden and Finland was adopted, were to be given a degree of encouragement and support, that they would acquire a greater knowledge and respect for the law of Scotland which would be a benefit to society as a whole, with the potential further benefits of greater access to justice, a reduction in legal costs to individuals and the public purse, a potential reduction in violence if people are encouraged to reach for a law book as opposed to a weapon to resolve a dispute, more self confidence and self belief and an end to a monopoly which has caused actual physical harm to people over the decades.

I am confident, having been involved in this subject matter for many years, that there are, in fact, no justifiable reasons why there should be an automatic presumption that the people of Scotland would not willingly embrace and be proud of this new legal system. It would also ensure that no-one in Scotland had to face the prospect of having to appear in court without representation unless they wished to.”

Opening the legal services market up to competition is a must, but as we can see, there seems little appetite from the Scottish Government on this issue, where even the Justice Secretary himself appears unable to slip the Law Society’s puppet strings controlling policy moves to block wider public choice of legal representation and increased consumer safeguards against rogue lawyers.

Perhaps it will take more than the Scottish Government to make the moves and open up Scots lawyers private monopoly over legal services, and if the Parliament itself fails, the OFT might have to step in north of the border to protect the public’s right of access to justice where the Scottish Government itself is failing to protect.


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