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Law Society‘s ‘Manifesto for vested interests’ : Holyrood should give public a little legal knowledge while lawyers keep control of access to justice & courts

22 Apr

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society’s manifesto for lawyers says public should know more about the law, less about those sitting behind a lawyer’s desk. THE current, embattled President of the Law Society of Scotland, Jamie Millar who has been caught up in various arguments with leading west coast lawyers over the manipulative control freak nature of Scotland’s governing body for lawyers yesterday claimed Scots consumers should be given a wider knowledge of the law and how it works, although perhaps not enough knowledge so that consumers might end up choosing not to waste a few thousand pounds with a solicitor, and instead go it alone in courts on small scale legal disputes, thus depriving the legal profession of millions of pounds of lost business.

While making the usual appropriate pre-election noises to catch the attention of msps & political parties hoping to form the next Scottish Government, the Law Society is apparently, keen to keep its “Manifesto for 2011(pdf) in the news, given the upcoming Holyrood elections in a couple of weeks time. The ‘manifesto’, or rather a ‘wish-list’ for the legal profession which covers issues such as :

1. Public knowledge and understanding of the legal system
2. Access to legal services, advice and representation
3. A civil justice system that meets the need of society
4. Good legislation
5. A sustainable economy

On the theme of Public knowledge and understanding of the legal system, the Law Society’s manifesto states it believes it is essential for the Scottish Government to ensure a greater public knowledge and understanding of the legal system. To this end, we propose that :

1. Changes should be made to the curriculum in secondary schools to include a course on law and the legal system and consideration given to the creation of a new secondary school law qualification
2. Each new act of the Scottish Parliament should be accompanied by an information leaflet as well as online information that properly explains the new law and its impact on the citizen

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Law Society’s plans for making changes to the curriculum in Scotland’s secondary schools will ensure it and various business models attached to the Scottish legal profession will control how law and the legal system is taught in Scotland’s schools.

On the issue of Access to legal services, advice and representation, the Law Society claims in its manifesto that it believes that access to justice remains a key element of a free and fair society, yet in reality, the Law Society of Scotland holds world records for opposing many reforms to Scotland’s legal system, from the raising of small claims ceilings to class actions, and opposing the introduction of independent regulation of legal services even at the point of legal threats to the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament itself.

The Law Society also notably opposed the introduction of McKenzie Friends (lay assistants or courtroom helpers for unrepresented party litigants), which had been kept out of Scotland for some FORTY YEARS by the legal profession, who feared McKenzie Friends would chip away at lawyers dominance of access to the courts.

The Law Society’s proposals on Access to Justice as contained in their manifesto are a jumble of calls for additional reviews of reviews already carried out of Scotland’s antiquated civil justice system. The Society’s proposals, which can be described at best as a delaying game for introducing to Scotland many reforms already in place in England & Wales, state :

1. A review be undertaken into civil litigation costs and funding, similar to the work done by Lord Jackson in England and Wales
2. Any move to withdraw the right to have devolution minutes in criminal cases heard by the United Kingdom Supreme Court be rejected
3. A full audit is made of the compatibility of Scots criminal law with the European Convention on Human Rights, to ensure the mistakes that lead to the Cadder case cannot easily recur
4. Pro bono costs orders, similar to those allowed in England and Wales under s194 of the Legal Services Act 2007, should be introduced in Scotland
5. A review be undertaken into the current arrangements for public interest actions under the legal aid system

On the issue of a civil justice system that meets the need of society, or perhaps the Law Society means, “meets the needs of the Law Society rather than the public”, the Law Society says it believes that urgent changes are required to the civil justice system to make it more efficient and ensure it better meets the needs of a changing society. Yet the many urgent changes proposed by the Law Society have for years, been stifled from introduction by its own members and by Law Society lobbying against reforms.

1. The recommendations made by the review of civil courts by Lord Gill be taken forward, including the separation of civil and criminal cases and the appointment of District Judges to deal with summary crime
2. Specialised sheriffs are introduced and an increase in the threshold for Court of Session cases
3. Compulsory pre action protocols in civil cases be introduced
4. Consideration to be given for ways of incentivising pro bono schemes- perhaps through the tax system
5. A review of the administration of criminal cases and the impact it has generally on the administration of justice

The topic of “Good Legislation” again meets with similar calls for reviews, evaluations & calls for more consultation with the public & of course the legal profession over the passing of legislation. Obviously the Law Society might be worried some new legislation may slip through putting consumer rights ahead of the perceived priority rights of members of the Law Society of Scotland, something the Society could never allow to happen of course …

The Law Society’s proposals on “Good Legislation” are :

1. Parliament legislate only when it is necessary to modernise the law, to comply with decisions of the court or to conform to international obligations
2. A review be undertaken into the Scottish Parliament’s consultation processes, to ensure they match the aspirations of the Consultative Steering Group
3. An evaluation be made of the Scottish statutes and subordinate legislation passed since 1999 and the effectiveness of the legislation
4. A wide ranging review be undertaken of the areas of the law which are appropriate for consolidation and amendment
5. A programme of consolidation and codification be commenced (in those areas of the law identified as appropriate) and for this programme to begin in the first year of the new Parliament

And finally, to cap it all, the topic of “Sustainable Economy” puts the Law Society of Scotland and its members at the heart of (don’t laugh) playing “an integral role in Scotland’s future economic success”, presumably by ripping off taxpayer funded legal aid and clients whenever possible.

The Law Society’s ‘Great Scottish rip-off’ proposals on a Sustainable Economy guided forward by the legal profession, state :

1. The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 continues to be viewed as a business opportunity for Scottish firms and for the Scottish Government to press ahead with the necessary implementing regulations
2. Scotland be promoted as a place for international arbitration and for proposals for an international arbitration centre to be a priority
3. Existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and any new powers devolved through the Scotland Bill be used to maximise Scotland’s international competitiveness and economic growth
4. The legal profession be included by the Scottish Government and its agencies in its international economic and business promotion and prioritisation

Speaking in a Press Release to support the Law Society’s Manifesto for 2011, President of the Society, Jamie Millar said: “We heard about some of the practical difficulties this lack of understanding has caused, with the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 highlighted as one example of where there appeared to be a poor understanding of the impact of the law on co-habitants. A number of important Bills have been passed during last parliament, such as the including the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill and the Patients Rights (Scotland) Bill. Both of these will have significant impact on citizens and it’s important they are aware of the legislation, their rights and most importantly the help available to them.”

He continued : “From those we spoke to, there was a strong feeling that for the legal system to be effective there had to be a better understanding and awareness amongst the general public of how the law and justice system operates not least to try and grow a greater sense of citizenship in our society and our democracy. That is why we have called for this in our manifesto. Public education is not simply a job for government and our parliamentarians however. The Society, as well as the wider legal profession, has an important role to play in partnership with others to increase awareness. The Schools Law Web is one example of where stakeholders have recently come together to successfully provide legal education for schools.”

Interestingly, the Law Society had earlier this year, interdicted attempts at the Scottish Parliament to open up the issue of legal education in Scotland’s schools, preventing open debate on suggestions that teachers would be better placed to teach law to kids in schools, rather than costly business models connected to the legal profession itself.

The Law Society’s Press Release went onto claim “A number of political parties have already talked about the importance of providing better information for the public and praised the Society’s proposals for the introduction of legal education in secondary schools to build awareness of the justice system and installing citizenship from an early age.”

On this point, Mr Millar said: “Increasing the public’s knowledge and understanding of the law would have significant benefits not just for the legal system, but for society as a whole. It is something that we will continue to push for during the election campaign and indeed once a new government is in place.”

Sure thing Mr Millar. You could draft in crooked Scottish Borders solicitor Andrew Penman to teach pupils of the importance of falsifying file notes, how to deliberately deceive banks, and the Inland Revenue & mishandle wills, while also sending in John G O’Donnell & Catriona Macfarlane to teach honesty, along with the Legal Defence Union to teach to get out of being held to account for alleged misuse of taxpayer funded legal aid.

So, now readers know what Scotland would look like if it was run by the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society’s proposals have been rounded on by consumer groups as little more than an attempt to control the extent of, or even delay many of the reforms already suggested by the Scottish Civil Courts Review, undertaken by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, who branded Scotland’s civil justice system a Victorian model unfit for purpose.

Readers can compare the Law Society of Scotland’s Manifesto for 2011with the more detailed & less vested-interest-dominated Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links : Volume 1 Chapter 1 – 9 , Volume 2 Chapter 10 – 15 & Synopsis

My coverage of the Civil Courts Review from its publication to the present, and the pace of reforms to civil justice in Scotland can be found here : Civil Courts Review – The story so far.

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