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Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill v Vested Interests: Law Society warns against taking £150K claims away from ‘Victorian’ Court of Session’s stranglehold on Scots access to justice

21 Mar

Can a Sheriff tell the difference between £5K & £150K? Law Society thinks not. REFORMING Scotland’s Courts is never going to be an easy task when the judiciary, the legal profession and some of the people who actually run the courts system have vested significant financial interests in maintaining the current way of how things are done in our expensive, mostly out of reach and much derided justice system.

When a business is highly profitable, closed shop and draws in billions for lawyers, law firms, judges, their relatives, and anyone else who earns their keep from Scotland’s justice system, then why change it? – the Law Society of Scotland told msps earlier this week in their submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who are considering the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill

After all, the poor little Scots client and their family, matters little to lawyers with pound signs in their eyes and the wealthy, secretive judges clinging desperately to their hidden interests and fat Fred Goodwin style pension books.

Unless by chance, that same poor little Scots client and their hard working family has a legal case, a family tragedy, or a damages claim which can be milked for fees right up to the last minute before the lawyer walks off into the sunset, leaving the client unrepresented on the steps of Scotland’s ‘highest court’ – the Court of Session – also known as the worst, most abrasive, most intimidating and most expensive highest court in the entire European Union.

And then, lets not forget those hard working Scots clients who happen to have a property or land which a solicitor works out could be his at the end of the case, leading to a not too lengthy repossession to pay extortionate legal fees, handed over to the solicitor in a wink by some smiling happy judge who fails to disclose his own wife runs the very same law firm who are also known to fiddle their fee notes on a regular basis.

Then of course, there are the criminal cases where, if there is a prospect of extorting a few more million from Scotland’s publicly funded annual £150 Million legal aid budget, it’s full steam ahead for lawyers and the legal aid board have to fork out or else.

So you just know when the idea of reforming Scotland’s courts comes along to the Scottish Parliament, the vested interests crowd will be there protesting about tweaks, turns and a lot of what is effectively window dressing, because fiddling about with the current stitch up may impinge on lawyers profits. Easy to spot, about as easy to spot as a judge lifting his tax dodging offshore trust from one island and making off with it to another.

This week, a number of vested interests published their submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. Unsurprisingly, the Law Society, Faculty of Advocates and the Solicitor Advocates all came out against many of the key proposals in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill 18 March evidence session at Justice Committee, Scottish Parliament

The Law Society of Scotland said in it’s own submission that the proposals contained in the bill could adversely affect access to justice due to the insufficient resources being allocated to implement the major reforms.

The Law Society went on to express concern at the dramatic increase in the threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session (up to £150,000 from £5,000) and warned that this will result in a large transfer of cases from the Court of Session (where no one without a deep pocket and a bent brief obtains justice) to the sheriff courts – without a matching increasing in the number of sheriffs.

The Law Society also expressed concern about the proposed changes to judicial review in Scotland, which will introduce a three month time limit on judicial review cases. The Law Society has already warned that this will restrict access to justice, although anyone who actually bothers to read some of the Judicial Reviews handed down by the Court of Session may well wonder why anyone bothers asking help from what is effectively a wave through for injustice and the vested interests of big business.

Adding to the profession’s mission to keep the money rolling in, the Faculty of Advocates claimed the reforms will put the best legal representation out of reach for ordinary men and women and favour those with deep pockets – as if it doesn’t already. Ever heard the one about the QC, the bung and the ruined client? It’s a common joke around Parliament Square …

The Faculty went on to claim that one reason litigants pursue their cases in the Court of Session is because of the right to instruct counsel, who often act for pursuers on a no win no fee basis in personal injury cases. However, the Faculty forgot to explain to msps some of the other less professional ways in which Advocates end up very much in pocket even after allegedly representing someone on a no win no fee case.

In the Sheriff court, the Faculty said, use of counsel has to be sanctioned. Raising the threshold to £150,000 would therefore make it more difficult to instruct counsel, which the Faculty of Advocates claimed would reduce choice.

The Society of Solicitor Advocates also queried the impact of the Bill on access to justice, especially in relation to the lack of automatic sanction for counsel. It also warned that any financial savings that may be brought in by the changes will be “small and disproportionate to the detriment the changes will bring about,” and that the proposals will not make the justice system any more efficient, faster or less costly.

As usual, party litigants, those with out legal representation and anyone with a case which does not draw in big numbers, fails to get any mention.

All submissions of evidence for the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill can be read here: Submissions received on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill

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