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BILLION DOLLAR DRAIN: FMQ’s & the £1.068bn Legal Aid of YOUR money paid to ‘struggling’ lawyers since 2008 financial crash is “unfit for purpose” says Law Society of Scotland

17 Nov

Over a billion of YOURS since 2008, now struggling lawyers want more. IF ANY public service in Scotland, the NHS, local hospitals, local government, schools, transport, local policing, care services, wildlife protection, otters, or even just ordinary Scots themselves had received over one billion pounds extra since the Financial market crash of 2008, they would rightly be grateful.

Everyone would be appreciative at receiving such an amount during the toughest of times, everyone … except, perhaps, lawyers.

Even though ‘struggling’ lawyers have received over £150million a year (some years, more) of YOUR money from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), their self regulating & combined lobby group – the Law Society of Scotland have now described the massive annual public subsidy as “unfit for purpose.”

It just won’t do. It is just not enough. Lawyers cannot live on an extra £150million a year … especially when there are the likes of sole practitioners – a single lawyer, who walks off with £700K of it in three years, and despite feelings of fiddle, nothing is reclaimed.

The staggering amount of Scottish Legal Aid paid to legal profession since 2008 (figures provided by SLAB): 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, making £1.06Billion (£1,068.6m)

BIG SPENDERS: Spot your solicitors & law firms who take home the legal aid pounds. From total figures of £150.5 million, spend on civil legal assistance was £47.8 while criminal legal assistance was a mere £94 million. Children’s legal assistance stands at £4.9 million. Payments to solicitors increased by 1.7% from £115.1 million to £117.1 million while payments to advocates fell by 21% from £18.3 million to £14.5 million. Payments to solicitor advocates fell by 4.2% from £4.5 million to £4.3 million and expert witnesses along with ‘court reports’ raked in £19.5 million of public money.

And what is legal aid anyway? It goes to lawyers. It does not go to someone who is trying to fight a case in court or secure justice for a case which could have been resolved if some lying toad in a public body up to their eyes in fiddled expenses claims had not covered up for someone else. It goes to lawyers for all sorts of people … even for those of some fraud rap business baron who jaunts off to Dubai on a luxury holiday after his lawyers took nearly £200K in legal aid.

Hands up any of you who flew off to Qatar for a holiday after pocketing nearly a quarter of a million in legal aid from taxpayers. Hello there, Mr Mafia gang boss. Ah, another .. this time, a drug dealer. Another one, a lawyer. And there at the back, is a QC, with a fresh tan after coming back from the Cayman Islands.

No ordinary people then. Not the builder’s labourer next door who has been fighting for legal aid funding after his young child was overdosed with the wrong medication 22 times in hospital and the hospital’s lawyers spent 3 years lying about it.

Strange, that. Isn’t it. Legal Aid for all, Legal Aid for justice. Legal Aid for ordinary Scots. Not really.

Then, there are the judges who sit there hearing criminal cases funded by legal aid, not letting on they have financial, or ‘other’ links to the same firms in front of them, on either side of the court.

Almost laughably, the ‘good lord’ dressed in an 18th Century wig and flashy robe, complete with power bling, sits there in silence wondering if anyone will rumble the fact he received a fat cheque for giving a speech at a function hosted by one of the law firms taking tens of thousands in legal aid.

Never fear m’lud, your secret fat cheque is safe as long as you do not need to declare it. After all, what is a bung between friends, especially when it is at the expense of taxpayers, and justice.

Sure, there are lawyers and law firms who do their clients proud on civil or criminal legal aid … and there are solicitors who defend their clients against reams of somewhat dodgy charges just so the Crown Office can occasionally have a press release to claim a success which crumbles into falsehoods after further analysis. But this is not typical .. it is more the exception to the rule.

During Alex Salmond’s last First Minister’s Questions last Thursday, the thorny, almost un-debatable subject of the legal profession’s massive taxpayer bung was raised for discussion. Witness what happened next:

Graeme Pearson MSP LEGAL AID First Minister’s Questions Scottish Parliament 13 Nov 2014

5. Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Law Society of Scotland’s discussion paper, “Legal Assistance in Scotland”, which says that the current system is not fit for purpose. (S4F-02386)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The Scottish Legal Aid Board makes hundreds of thousands of grants of legal assistance each year, whether to help people to deal with welfare benefit problems or to help those who are accused of criminal offences to defend themselves. Expenditure on legal assistance last year was £150.5 million. The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report shows that, since 2011, changes to the legal system have saved the public purse £52 million. However, there is still more to do.

The Law Society’s paper is intended to open up discussion. We have a shared perspective on some points, such as the need for simplification, and we will of course take a detailed look at the Law Society’s proposals over the coming weeks, with a view to assessing their potential impact on public funds and on those who rely on legal aid.

Graeme Pearson: The First Minister may remember that I raised concerns last year about proposed changes to legal aid. The president of the Law Society of Scotland said this week that legal aid cuts are likely to curb rights to justice for people on low and modest incomes who rely on legal aid. Does the First Minister agree that the prospect of citizens of modest means being denied access, as the Law Society suggests, while career criminals repeatedly access legal aid unfettered is indefensible and a foreseeable consequence arising from Mr MacAskill’s changes? Will the First Minister use whatever influence he has to ensure that the situation is addressed by his successor urgently?

The First Minister: As Graeme Pearson knows, expenditure on legal assistance in Scotland has been held at £150 million since 2007. Of course, that is not what has happened south of the border, where there have been substantial cuts. [Interruption.] Labour members should understand that, under the Barnett formula, the consequentials that come to Scotland are directed by expenditure in England. Unless they put forward a position where the great resources of Scotland are available for the Scottish people to direct our own spending, I am afraid that such matters are relevant.

Graeme Pearson should also understand that, although we were extremely interested in some aspects of the Law Society’s paper, such as the need for simplification, the paper has proved deeply controversial. He can see that from the debate that is opening up, in which people are pointing out that many areas of civil law are vital as part of legal aid assistance and criminal lawyers are pointing out that the fundamental right of people to defend themselves against a criminal charge is the essence of a free society.

There are no easy answers to the questions at present, but Graeme Pearson can rest assured that this Government and the Government of the immediate future will protect the right of the people of Scotland to legal assistance so that they can pursue their claims for justice.

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