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Scots Legal Aid ‘a £161Million public subsidy for legal profession’ as EU report reveals judges salaries & lawyers legal aid claims come before public’s access to justice

02 Oct

Scottish justice in the Dock - Sunday Mail 30 September 2012EU report reveals Scots justice is more about lawyers & judges making money than delivering justice. A REPORT published by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice and featured in an article in Scotland’s Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed Scottish lawyers take tens of millions of pounds more in publicly funded legal aid representing the Scots population of just over five million people than lawyers working Italy, which has a population of sixty million, twelve times greater than that of Scotland.

The figures show that Scots lawyers ‘earned’ around ONE HUNDRED & SIXTY MILLION POUNDS of legal aid in 2010 while their Italian counterparts working for a much larger client base only took £100million, making the Scots legal aid bill, running at a cost of £31 a head, the most expensive in Europe in terms of population. The grim figures show that Scots legal aid is working out at a cost of £31 a head, with little in the way of access to justice to show for it.

The report, available on the EU website HERE (pdf) or online here : The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice Report on Evaluation of European Judicial Systems also reveals Scots judges are paid the highest in Europe with Scottish Sheriffs taking home an average taxpayer funded salary of a staggering £120,000, while others on Scotland’s judicial benches take up to £200,000 a year plus expenses.

The eye watering figures show Scottish judges are earning up to 5.2 times the average salary of workers in Scotland, even though our justice system, both criminal & civil is now internationally famed as little more than a complete mess, branded a justice system akin to a Banana Republic by Hans Kochler, the UN Observer to the Lockerbie Trial.

Scotland’s civil justice system has also come in for repeated criticism in the 2009 Civil Courts Review, being described by the current Lord President, Lord Gill, in a speech reproduced in full here  as unfit for purpose, “Victorian”, out of date and that it is “failing society” yet despite Lord Gill’s attack on the credibility of Scots justice, little real reform has taken place in the past four years since he made his scathing remarks.

Among other issues covered, the EU report confirms there is a significant failure of self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession, where the report showed that Scotland disciplined only a handful of lawyers compared to countries of similar size, reporting that only three solicitors were struck off and thirteen reprimanded in 2010 while Denmark, a country with a similar population to Scotland took action against 309 lawyers, striking off six while another 145 were fined. Even Finland, with a similar sized population to Scotland manage to sanction 99 lawyers, leaving no doubt Scotland’s lawyers get away with looking after their own too much.

Here is the Sunday Mail’s feature on how the Scots legal system is failing society, milking hundreds of millions of pounds of publicly funded legal aid while our judges take home huge salaries for presiding over our crumbling courts system … inescapable facts which show Scots justice does not translate into increased access to justice for ordinary Scots.

Scottish justice in the Dock - Sunday Mail 30 September 2012SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland’s lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 30 September 2012

THE European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – more than in Italy, which has a population of 61million.

SCOTS lawyers collected more taxpayers’ cash for Legal Aid than their counterparts in Italy – a country 12 times the size.

A European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – around 39 euros, or £31, for every one of our 5.2million people.

Lawyers in Italy, which has a population of 61million, got just £100million of public cash – £1.50 per person.

The 450-page Brussels report also found that Denmark, with 5.6million people, paid its lawyers only 88million euros (£70million).

And in Belgium – population 10.9million – legal aid cost 75million euros (£59million).

The revelations, in a 450-page report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice – came as the Scottish Legal Aid Board banned three lawyers from claiming cash for criminal cases.

We can reveal that Gerard Tierney, Massimo D’Alvito and Andrew Brophy, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, breached the board’s code of practice. Tierney and D’Alvito have been reported to the Crown Office, who will decide whether to prosecute.

The ban also extends to Tierney’s firm G Tierney & Co, of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, who have raked in £610,500 in Legal Aid over three years, and Edinburgh firm Massimo D’Alvito Defence Lawyers.

The European report looked at 47 criminal justice systems across the continent.

It found the cost per person of Legal Aid in Scotland was third-highest – behind only Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The cost per person was 53.5 euros in Northern Ireland and 45.7 euros in England and Wales.

The findings led to calls for a radical overhaul of Legal Aid.

Central Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe said: “It seems major organised criminals and terror suspects qualify for unlimited Legal Aid, yet I have constituents who don’t get a penny simply because they have a few thousand pounds of savings.

“The system in Scotland and the rest of the UK is out of control.”

Legal blogger Peter Cherbi added: “Legal Aid is no longer about access to justice for the poor, but a state subsidy for the legal profession – and one they don’t seem keen on talking about.”

The Sunday Mail has exposed a series of rogue lawyers banned from claiming Legal Aid. But none of the 14 reported to prosecutors was put in the dock, prompting claims that Scotland’s legal self-regulation system protects lawyers.

Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, who took £600,000 in Legal Aid in just two years, was found to have made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. The Legal Aid board withdrew their complaint to the Law Society after he agreed to stop claiming.

Reacting to the Brussels report, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Across Europe, there are substantial differences between judicial systems and very different approaches to the provision of legal aid and its cost.

“The Scottish system is highly regarded internationally for the efforts made to ensure access to justice.

“The Scottish Government’s budget allocation for the Legal Aid Fund has reduced significantly in 2011-12 and is planned to reduce further in future years.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hopes to cut the Legal Aid bill by making criminals pay some of their costs. The planned move, outlined in a Holyrood Bill, could save taxpayers around £3.9million.

• The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size.

Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010.

Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned.

Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

• A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock.

Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences.

Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

• The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Researchers compared the wages of lower court judges across Europe.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss.

Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000).

Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

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