Civil Courts Review TWO YEARS ON : “Victorian” flaws in Scots legal system ‘may last for decades’ as lawyers vested interests stifle access to justice reforms

21 Sep

Lord GillLord Gill’s Civil Courts Review published in 2009 recommended significant reforms to Scots justice system yet little has changed in two years. TWO YEARS ON from the CIVIL COURTS REVIEW undertaken by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill in February 2007 which culminated in his report published in September 2009 recommending significant wide ranging reforms to Scotland’s antiquated civil justice system, Scots are finding access to civil justice & access to courts has, in reality, changed little despite much talk at the Scottish Parliament on the report’s reforms and several amateur attempts by the Scottish Government to legislate wider access to justice, all of which have been watered down in the face of almost warlike hostility from lawyers worried their profit margins would sink as people chose other forms of getting to court.

Sadly, the stinging criticisms of Lord Gill, who himself branded Scotland’s civil justice system as “Victorian”, failing to deliver efficiency of justice or Scots accessibility of justice appear to have been lost in the mists of time with little progress on the Lord Justice Clerk’s proposals to rectify the justice system’s ills, yet those consumers in Scotland who face the torture of using Scotland’s expensive, seemingly endemically dishonest legal profession to get to court, would rather the proposed reforms be speeded up than having review after review, and then as is now the case, reviews of the reviews.

Last year, on the first anniversary of the Civil Courts Review, and the blaze of publicity which surrounded its publication, we saw little change, almost a few steps backwards as I reported last August 2010, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests

Another year has now passed, yet the only movement on Lord Gill’s proposals by the Scottish Government, was to launch another review, as I reported earlier in March, here : Scottish Government delay reforms on costs of litigation & access to justice as Minister announces 18 month ‘time wasting’ review by retired sheriff, announced after I reported in January Civil Justice Advisory Group calls for radical reform of Scotland’s civil justice system, says people should be at the heart of Scottish civil justice

I reported on the ‘progress’ of the Sheriff Taylor review (the review of the review), earlier in July, here : Lawyers can talk, yet fee paying clients & court users remain shut out of Scottish Government review of the costs & funding of litigation in Scotland. A consultation was to be published on the Taylor Review website HERE although none has yet appeared.

Clearly, Civil Justice Reform and giving Scots control over their own access to justice & legal services, instead of the present arrangement where the legal establishment and lawyers control & decide which Scots have access to justice, is not a priority for the Scottish Government.

Indeed, it could well be argued the Scottish Government are delaying for as long as possible, most of the access to justice reforms because they will put power into the hands of Scots to resolve their legal issues & court issues much faster, at less cost, and with less potential for failure, than the present “Victorian” system offers us. The reason for the delays ? Well, its not too difficult to see if Scots are able to resolve their legal issues faster and cheaper, the legal profession are going to make a lot less money out of their clients.

Reminding readers once again of those words, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.”

He continued : “It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost.”

“Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice.”

“Unless there is major reform and soon, individual litigants will be prevented from securing their rights, commercial litigants will continue to look elsewhere for a forum for their claims, public confidence in the judicial system will be further eroded, Scotland’s economic development will be hindered, and Scots law will atrophy as an independent legal system.”

“Major reform and soon”, as Lord Gill said himself, has not happened. One may rightly being to wonder if Lord Gill’s reforms are ever expected to occur while the vested interests of money makers in the legal profession have their way. September 2010 has come and nearly ended, yet, again, little has changed for those in Scotland who need a justice system fit for the 21st Century, rather than what we currently have, the “Victorian” version controlled by vested interests from the legal establishment.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations admitted today he was ‘despondent’ about any major reforms to Scotland’s civil justice system over the next ten years. He said : “There is a general feeling the civil courts review is dead & buried along with any chance to launch major reforms to civil justice in the next decade.I don’t believe this is a priority for the current Scottish Government and I don’t think it will be one for the next”

He continued : “It’s just not in the interests of those earning money out of the justice system to see a different playing field where consumers can get easier, cheaper & faster access to justice in Scotland. Lawyers keep claiming if such reforms came in, they would go out of business, however lawyers dont own the justice system, they just use it to make money. Until we get away from the idea the legal profession owns & operates the justice system and the courts as their own business, there will be little chance of constructive reform of civil justice in Scotland.”

Readers can download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

Volume 1 Chapter 1 – 9 (Covers McKenzie Friends, procedures, advice etc, 2.99Mb)

Volume 2 Chapter 10 – 15 (Covers mainly the issue of Class (multi party) actions etc, 2.16Mb)

Synopsis (215Kb)

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 however the story so far is that Scots do not have control over their own access to justice, and Scotland still has a justice system which is Victorian, prejudiced, politicised, controlled by vested interests & definitely a little crooked.


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