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NO MONEY NO JUSTICE: Slow, costly courts, £220K a year judges on junkets & justice staff on the take prompt Scottish Government proposal for 25% hike in court fees

Scotland’s courts to become 25% more rip-off than before. EVERYONE knows the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) and our powerhouse Sheriff Courts & the fabled Court of Session teeter on the brink of consternation, calamity, comedy and collapse at the end of each working legal week.

Every time a member of the judiciary takes time off their busy schedule of frequently flying £5K international holidays on the taxpayer – to perform the actual £200,000 a year job of being a judge and sit and listen to the daily farce and often dodgy evidence presented by Crown Office prosecutors before the Criminal Courts – you would honestly think from their faces – the end of the world had arrived.

Judges are so rich poorly paid these days, they have to conceal their vast wealth with the threat of constitutional calamity if it were revealed – or flog their multi million pound Victorian villas, properties in the country, undeclared holiday homes in Dubai or wherever – to members of their own family – for millions of pounds and avoiding those awful taxes which apply to the rest of us.

Let’s not even talk about the others … week long holidays in Qatar, North America, the far east, or jetting off to New Zealand for a week, then retiring a few days later, the gold Rolexes, collections of valuable items, taxpayer funded security fit for Royalty, extra ermine gowns & hanging around the works of Leonardo Da Vinci in the hope of life eternal.

How about the well paid poorly paid overworked court staff you say? Well, not really.

‘Hospitality’, undeclared deals on the side with law firms and other less talked about financial arrangements for increasing numbers of court staff compensate for the daily struggle of putting pen to paper and reminding the elderly sheriff the one before him ‘is a bad yin’.

So, where does all the money come from to pay for your access to justice and the privilege of appearing before someone festooned in 18th Century fancy dress and surrounded by wood panelling and enormously expensive digital recording equipment – conveniently unplugged so as not to record the daily courtroom farce or your expert witness disagreeing with Lord know-it-all.

The Scottish Government gave the Scottish Court Service a whopping £88.9million of your cash in the 2016-2017 budget. Plenty there to go around.

The judiciary on it’s own receive a staggering £40million of public cash, to groan, grizzle, gloat & giggle as they listen to counsel after counsel, litigant after litigant – while dreaming of appearances & junkets to warmer, wealthier climes.

The Legal Aid budget – once standing at over £160million a year and now allegedly a very very very dodgy £136.9million in the 2016-2017 budget – your cash going on lawyers, criminals and some of the most laughable, inept court hearings in existence.

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – widely regarded by all sides as the pre-eminently most corrupt institution in the entire Scottish justice system – received a staggering £112.5million of your cash. To do what? to cover up it’s own staff and prosecutors leaking case files and evidence to criminals, or snorting cocaine and beating up Police Officers.

And, let’s not forget the £58 million of public cash spent by the Scottish Court & Tribunal Service on new doorknobs, a lick of paint and new scones for the Court of Session ‘powerhouse’ – which must rank as Europe’s slowest, most distorted, most expensive & interest ridden seat of justice, ever.

All this must be paid for, somehow. Loads-a-money. Your money. Certainly not theirs, for they are all public servants paid for by you.

So we come to the Scottish Government’s proposal to go for ‘full cost recovery’, buried in the now familiar loaded consultation papers issued by the Justice Directorate of the Scottish Government.

And, instead of blaming the fee rises on our slow, difficult and inaccessible courts, the Scottish Government instead has chosen to blame budgetary cuts imposed by Westminster.

The Scottish Government Consultation on Court Fees 2016 sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

Fee hikes across the board of almost 25% for civil actions in Scotland and alternative targeted rises are being proposed by Scottish ministers – as part of a consultation on Scottish court fees which runs until October.

Court fees have generally been reviewed every three years, with the last round being implemented in 2015, however this time around “the Scottish Government has decided to accelerate the move towards full cost recovery“.

The Consultation on Court Fees – open until 12 October 2016 – sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

The Scottish Government states “It is necessary to raise fees so that the Scottish Court and Tribunals Service is able to achieve full cost recovery from its courts. We are consulting on two options seeking the views of stakeholders on the best way to achieve this. Stakeholders will be able to provide their opinions on which option is better from the point of view of their own court actions and, if they are an organisation, of their clients. This will help the Scottish Government’s decision on which option should be incorporated into the necessary Scottish Statutory Instruments.”

“A review is justified both by the need to end the cost to the public purse of subsidising the civil justice system, and by the introduction of the new simple procedure which replaces the current small claims and summary cause procedures.”

Simple procedure will be phased in from 28 November for actions worth not more than £5,000. It is planned to retain existing fee levels for summary cause and small claims actions, so that at present levels lodging a claim for up to £200 under simple procedure would mean a fee of £18, and £78 for a claim above that level and up to £5,000.

If a flat rise is the option chosen, all Court of Session and sheriff court fees will rise by 24%, the amount needed to fund a deficit of £5.4m on gross fee income of £22.2m in 2014-15. That would mean lodging fees of £22 or £97 for simple procedure cases, £119 (from £96) for summary applications and ordinary sheriff court actions, £187 (from £150) for non-simple divorces, and £266 (from £214) for Court of Session or Sheriff Personal Injury Court actions. Hearing fees would jump from £227 to £282 in the sheriff court, and from £96 to £119 per half hour (single judge), or from £239 to £297 per half hour (bench of three) in the Court of Session.

Suggested targeted fee rises, the other option, would raise more money overall. The £18 simple procedure lodging fee would remain unchanged, as would the £150 divorce lodging fee and the £227 sheriff court hearing fees, as well as fees in the recently introduced Sheriff Appeal Court. However there would be a £100 lodging fee for a simple procedure claim for more than £200, £120 for summary applications and ordinary causes, and £300 for a Court of Session action. In that court the cost of lodging a record would almost double from £107 to £200, and hearing fees more than double to £200 for every half hour before a single judge, and £500 per half hour before a bench of three.

The alternative scheme would also see the introduction of graded fees in commissary court proceedings for authorising executors to handle a deceased person’s estate. Whereas at present for all estates worth more than £10,000 there is a flat fee of £225, it is proposed to exempt estates worth less than £50,000 but to charge £250 for estates between £50,000 and £250,000, and £500 for larger estates.

The consultation paper states on Page 8: “We are aware that there will be a tipping point where fee increases may deter people from raising actions”, the paper observes. “We do not believe that the level of rises in either option 1 or 2 as proposed will have a deterrent effect as individual fees will still be relatively low, particularly when viewed against the total costs of taking legal action including the cost of legal advice.”

Be sure to enter your thoughts in the Scottish Government’s consultation. Go here to do so: Consultation on Court Fees You have until 12 October 2016.

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PURGE LAW: ‘Reform minded’ Legal complaints chief ousted for Law Society insider as solicitors regulatory body retakes control of ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Law Society’s Neil Stevenson retakes complaints quango for lawyers.THE LEGAL profession’s definition of ‘independence’ took a full turn yesterday as the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and the Law Society of Scotland announced long time Law Society insider Neil Stevenson is to be the SLCC’s latest Chief Executive, replacing former Foreign Office careerist Matthew Vickers who took on the role in June 2012.

Stevenson’s appointment to the tarnished position as head of the pro-lawyer anti-client SLCC – created in 2008 and at a staggering cost since to Scots clients of over £20 million in complaints levies paid by solicitors and recovered via legal fees to clients – comes after widely reported evidence showing the SLCC has failed to live up to expectations of dealing with rising numbers of rogue solicitors who rip off their clients.

And, the Law Society’s decision to retake control of the ‘independent’ SLCC by placing one of their own in charge also comes after a challenging year for self regulation of the legal profession – left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” –  which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own and legal aid fraud.

For the past fifteen months since the BBC programme aired in January 2014,  the Law Society have demanded significant changes at the SLCC after concluding the hapless complaints quango – staffed mostly by former Law Society insiders – failed to stand up for lawyers during the BBC Scotland investigation.

And, earlier this year, further friction between the two legal regulators emerged when the SLCC criticised a rigged poll organised and funded by the Law Society which claimed solicitors are ‘well liked’.

Articles on the client satisfaction poll – published in some media outlets were written by the Law Society’s own president Alistair Morris in which the Law Society President extolled the virtues of lawyers, backed up with dodgy statistics.

However the full extent of how the poll had been rigged –  featured in an investigation by DOI reported here: OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help

Another twist to the friction between the SLCC & Law Society emerged after it was revealed a series of communications between the SLCC and law reformers brought about a tipping point forcing Law Society bosses to act.

The communications – which fell into the hands of the Law Society – ‘in real time’ – appear to have helped the decision to force out the then SLCC CEO – Matt Vickers – who stood down out of the blue earlier this year to pursue a career at Ombudsman Services, reported here: GONE MEDIATIN’: Pro-lawyer legal regulator loses another CEO as Matthew Vickers leaves Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for Ombudsman Services role

The replacement of an outsider with a Law Society insider as head of the SLCC have led to further suggestions the anti-consumer quango can do nothing without a say so from the Law Society.

In an announcement the SLCC said yesterday: The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the independent body for complaints against solicitors, advocates and other legal practitioners in Scotland, has announced the appointment of Neil Stevenson as its new Chief Executive Officer.

Neil Stevenson has been with the Law Society of Scotland since 2004.  He is currently the Society’s Director of Representation and Professional Support.  He will be joining the Commission in mid-July.

As the new CEO Neil’s priorities will be to drive the full implementation of the SLCC’s strategy – to provide an excellent complaint resolution service for legal complaints in Scotland, to provide guidance on service standards to the profession and consumers and to raise the confidence in the legal profession in Scotland.

Bill Brackenridge, Chair of the SLCC welcomed the appointment. He said : “I am delighted to welcome such an accomplished professional to the Commission; he will inspire our staff to deliver their challenging role and move the Commission to a higher level.

Neil Stevenson, the new CEO said “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Law Society and am grateful to have all the opportunities and challenges afforded to me.  I am looking forward to joining the SLCC and working with the staff to deliver some very challenging objectives.”

The Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack commented: “I am delighted for Neil and congratulate him on his appointment. As someone who understands the legal profession and with his passion, good judgment and positive attitude, I know Neil is going to make an outstanding contribution as SLCC chief executive.”

Jack continued: “Whilst I am sorry to lose Neil from the Law Society, we will benefit from his hard work for many years to come. In his time as director of representation, he has helped to transform the range of services and support we offer the profession. He has championed our innovative new Smartcard project, ensured we remain a leader on equality and diversity, and has helped develop our new long term strategy. All of us at the Law Society are grateful for everything he has done.

“I am now looking forward to working with Neil in his new role. The relationship between the Law Society and the SLCC has improved greatly over the last few years. Given the specific roles we play in the regulation of solicitors, this has been important, particularly for the public who depend on both of our organisations to work together to protect their interests.”

The current biography of Neil Stevenson on the Law Society of Scotland’s website says: “Neil joined the education team of the Society in 2004, having previously worked on medical and dental training for NHS Education for Scotland. He holds an Edinburgh law degree and a masters in management, and has previous experience in the oil and gas sector and management research. Neil is responsible for the confidential helpline service provided by the solicitors in professional practice and for the provision of CPD to the profession through Update. The professional support team focuses on ensuring the Society listens to and learns from its members, campaigns on their behalf, and provides support services to individuals and firms. He is a director of both the independent charity LawCare and the Scottish Arbitration Centre.”

Stevenson’s directorship of “Law Care” – a charity set up by the legal profession to help and defend solicitors who have been found out for ripping off their clients – will be of interest to clients who end up in the unenviable position of having to approach the SLCC to make a complaint about their solicitor. The charity has filed numerous reports with the pro-lawyer SLCC & Law Society Complaints Committees – pleading for corrupt solicitors to be let off the hook on everything from embezzlement to faking up paperwork.

Stevenson’s directorship of the Scottish Arbitration Centre may also put him in conflict of interest with SLCC policy of forcing complainants into the murky world of arbitration – where clients who are ripped off for large sums of cash by their solicitor end up with only a pittance in return. The Scottish Arbitration Centre – started by the Scottish Government and backed by lawyers, is a sponge for taxpayers cash and international trips by lawyers & former judges who are trying to promote Scotland’s tarnished legal sector as a haven for international mediation.

REVOLVING DOOR OF LEGAL REGULATOR CHIEF EXECUTIVES:

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy since the legal quango was created in 2008. Now, eight years on and five Chief Executives later, the SLCC is looking for another boss to steer it through troubled waters and continuing accusations of pro-lawyer bias.

mkmc slcc openingMacAskill as Justice Secretary backed secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. The SLCC’s first ‘appointed’ Chief Executive – Eileen Masterman – held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and resigned from her role at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Eileen Masterman then returned to work for her former employer – the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) as a “complaints reviewer”, and was accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of a baby at the NHS Forth Valley Hospital – reported by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive – civil servant Richard Smith – resigned from the role after disagreements about how the SLCC would act as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman was eventually appointed as the first ‘official’ CEO.

Concluding a turbulent few months which saw exchanges of letters between current Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Masterman over claims and counter-claims about the Master Policy – reported here: SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh’ Masterman stood down from the SLCC – which by that time had suffered significant reputational damage.

After a speedy recruitment round, Rosemary Agnew then became the SLCC’s fourth Chief Executive, reported here: The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role. However Ms Agnew later resigned to take up the post of Scottish Information Commissioner in early 2012.

The SLCC’s current and now outgoing CEO Matthew Vickers took on the role in June 2012, reported here: “Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

 

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Review of 2010 : Scots legal system ‘remains Victorian’, party litigants, court users & consumers face a continued battle for access to justice

Court of Session EdinburghScotland’s Court of Session still rules over ‘Victorian’ justice system. WHILE 2010 has brought a few, welcome, if ever-so-slightly-forced-by-media-attention reforms & changes in Scotland’s creaking ‘Victorian’ civil justice system, there is still, undeniably a long way to go for the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament & Scottish Courts in ensuring access to justice, legal services & access to the courts for all Scots, especially those who cannot obtain or afford the services & typically outlandish fees of law firms who offer little in the way of speedy dispute resolution or even a modicum of success in many common types of legal disputes.

Over a year and a half on since the high profile announcement & publishing of the Civil Courts Review, the two year plus investigation of Scotland’s civil justice system undertaken by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, and the high hopes many pinned on a speedy implementation of the hundreds of recommendations made by the Lord Gill, many consumer organisations, court users, and even solicitors themselves see the past sixteen months as providing Scots with little more than a talking shop for justice reforms. I reported on the lack of developments on the Civil Courts Review back in 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

Lord HamiltonLord Hamilton enacted McKenzie Friends in Scotland 40 years after the rest of the UK had the facility. For instance, one of the few tangible-to-court-users reforms enacted to-date has been that of allowing McKenzie Friends to operate in the Court of Session, a right hard won after a campaign mounted by consumer organisations, campaigners, continued reporting by the media, an original recommendation by Lord Gill himself to allow McKenzie Friends, and all spurred on by a ruling in the Court of Session last November which eventually led to the Lord President, Lord Hamilton enacting an Act of Sederunt in June 2010, allowing Scots (who, in April 2010 he branded too ignorant to know what a McKenzie Friend is), a facility the English & Welsh courts & public had enjoyed for a full forty years before and it should be noted that Scottish Sheriff Courts are still to enact McKenzie Friends, expected eventually in February 2011.

Judiciary of Scotland website coverScots Judiciary’s new website – a welcome move in bringing transparency to the judiciary, but like scenery, you cant eat it. Some may say, oh but what about the new Judiciary of Scotland website, the new GUIDE FOR PARTY LITIGANTS ; “Raising & Defending ordinary actions in the Court of Session(pdf), increased competition by way of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (pdf) etc etc .. but after forty, fifty, sixty plus years, its just not enough to tinker with the curtains and hope everyone falls into line, proclaiming a new era in Scots justice, especially when the UK’s Supreme Court based in London, can, in a few hours, change Scots criminal law in an instant, as I reported in late October, here : Access to justice ? Scots criminal law changed by UK Supreme Court in a day, ‘Victorian’ civil justice reform proposals ‘growing older by the year’

There are, of course, some little gems from the new Judiciary of Scotland website, such as Scots now being able to see for ourselves how much the justice system costs us, despite most of us apparently not having access to it : Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online although again, these little gems appear to have been reared for publication after a dose of media attention and with the helpful assistance of Freedom of Information legislation.

The Scots judiciary’s shiny new website, as welcome as it is, has existed in an equivalent, perhaps better organised format in England & Wales for years, as well as the guide for party litigants, and the Scottish version Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 asp 16 (pdf) of the Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales has been so brutalised, butchered, twisted, tortured & re-written by the Scottish legal profession itself, eventually being passed by msps who were more concerned with doffing their caps to the Law Society’s influence in politics than the public’s right to justice, it has given Scots little more rights or choice against the legal services monopoly controlled by the legal profession after its near two year talking-shop passage in the Scottish Parliament.

Indeed, comparing the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 asp 16 (pdf) and the Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales is like comparing a horse & cart to an Aston Martin DBS … with the Scottish Government & Parliament version giving the appearance of trying to fit the Aston’s Bridgestone tyres onto a wooden cart pulled by a donkey, such is the value they place on the Scots public’s access to justice and meanwhile the Law Society of Scotland was busy worming its way onto the Calman Implementation Group to ensure it had a say in giving the Scottish Parliament some tax raising (and doubtless expenses claims raising) powers, while also lobbying for the Society to be made an ‘approved regulator’, giving crooked lawyers an eternal Christmas.

In truth therefore, at the end of 2010, Scots access to justice, access to legal services or even access to the courts itself has changed little at the end of this year, with solicitors, advocates and law firms still effectively the gate keepers of the doors of justice, which remain so obviously closed in the face of anyone the legal profession doesn’t care for, or takes a slight to.

Richard Keen QCCurrent Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Richard Keen called for Class Actions two years ago, little happened since. Whatever happened to multi-party actions (Class Actions) being speedily introduced to the Scots justice system so the legal profession could, under the clarion call (made two years ago in January 2009) of the Dean of Faculty of Advocates, Richard Keen QC, take on the might of the banks and allegedly represent & protect the interests of consumers so robbed by many of Scotland’s financial instructions who themselves coincidentally sponsor many events within the legal profession itself ? Nothing, that’s what happened, nothing. Class Actions are still being talked about, talked about, talked about … with little movement made on the issue in the past sixteen months Lord Gill originally said Class Actions should become a reality and two years since the dean himself started shouting about it in the newspapers.

Of course, Mr Keen has been busy with other things since January 2009, such as representing the insurance industry against paying out damages in asbestos claims cases & challenging the new legislation (the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009) which brought pleural plaques into the scope of asbestos claims. Mr Keen and the insurance industry, many of whom also coincidentally fund or have financial interests in the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, the Master Policy, went onto lose their court challenge against the new asbestos compensation laws, as I reported at the beginning of the year, here : Lord Emslie defeats legal challenge over pleural plaques as Insurers ‘big name’ legal team fail to overturn Holyrood’s Asbestos compensation law

Just think if Scots could enter into Class Actions in such cases as asbestos claims, instead of victims having to approach only a few select law firms which end up dealing with the claims on a case by case basis while piling on the fees & time-to-claim-resolution to the point their clients end up dying before receiving any compensation. Of course, we are told it may come in 2011, or 2012 or 2013 … so as the clock ticks on and the years fly by, the next hope for developments in the long running saga of bringing Class Actions to Scotland, apparently lies with the considerations of the Civil Justice Advisory Group, under the chairmanship of the Right Honourable Lord Coulsfield. The CJAG is due to publish a report with recommendations for the way forward in early 2011.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government eventually agreed to introduce Class Actions & other reforms to civil justice system ‘over years’. The Scottish Government, ‘ever swift’ to claim the high ground in all things Scottish, announced its intentions in late November to implement ‘some’ of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts review recommendations to reform the Scots ‘Victorian’ civil justice system, bringing Class Actions, a new tier of judge & ‘more effective’ case management to Scotland’s courts system, which I reported on here : Scottish Government’s response to Civil Courts Review : Class Actions, more cases to Sheriff Courts, & faster, easier access to justice ‘over years’.

Lord gillThe Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, author of the Civil Courts Review. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, reproduced in full here 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. 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.”

Lord Gill continued : “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.”

This is the 30th of December, 2010 and sadly little has changed, making 2010 another year that access to justice for all Scots was again, denied. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone expect too much in the way of speedy reforms, unless campaigning is stepped up, along with perhaps a few public petitions, court rulings & media attention in 2011 to prompt changes & reforms which should have been introduced in Scotland decades ago, since everyone else had those same ‘reforms’ decades ago …

Readers are as ever, encouraged to download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

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.

Whatever 2011 will bring for access to justice in Scotland, I will continue to report …

 

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‘Choice’ but not as we know it : Legal Services Bill passed, Scots access to justice remains mostly under Law Society’s control

Debating chamberScottish Parliament passed Legal Services Bill, doing no particular favours for consumers. THE Legal Services Bill was finally passed by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament late yesterday afternoon after what can only be described as a round of ‘buy one amendment get one free’ set of deals between the Scottish Government & Law Society of Scotland ensuring consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s legal services marketplace will for the most part, remain out of reach of Scots consumers.

The Law Society are happy as are most of the big law firms in Scotland who supported the bill, happy their fiefdom of the Scottish legal services market has been preserved once again, and ‘meddling outsiders’ kept out of Scotland’s multi billion pound racket legal business. As for the Consumer bodies, well, most of them are just having to put a brave face on things and say they ‘welcome’ the bill which we all know is a mere shadow of England’s soon to come into force Clementi proposals and the Which? supercomplaint which began the whole Legal Services Bill process in Scotland.

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunity Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, said the bill would deliver benefits to lawyers & clients, after being forced by the Law Society to amend access to justice plans. The Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing commenting on the passage of the bill through the Scottish Parliament said: “The passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill today is good news for our businesses and consumers. At the heart of this Bill is a desire to modernise the profession. It presents greater opportunities, in a regulated framework, for firms of all sizes to be more competitive and to devise a business model which suits them and their clients.”

He ended by saying : “The Bill will deliver clear benefits for the legal profession and consumers.”

The Law Society’s media release reflected the profession’s welcome relief their cash registers will still be ringing up huge charges & fees to clients for some of the western world’s worst quality legal services. The Law Society were quick to gloat their amendments, forced on the weak SNP minority controlled Scottish Executive “meant the ‘Tesco law’ option, which would have allowed 100% of non-solicitor ownership of a law firm, was ruled out for Scotland.”

The Law Society release went onto triumphantly announce : “The legislation will for the first time allow non-solicitors to set up in partnership with solicitors to provide legal services in Scotland. The Bill, as passed, will mean solicitors and other regulated professionals must still have a majority share of at least 51% in any new legal services business, with the remaining 49% open to other external investors.”

jamie_millarJamie Millar, president of the Law Society whose own law firm Lindsays is linked to a dishonest firm of Borders solicitors, said: “I am pleased that MSPs have voted to approve this legislation. These changes will broaden access to legal services and allow the Scottish legal profession to remain competitive against a challenging economic backdrop and in an increasingly international, competitive market. At the same time, the Bill continues to protect the principles and core values that underpin the Scottish legal profession.”

He continued : “There has been much debate, both within and outwith the legal profession, on this Bill and its provisions to allow solicitors to enter into practice with non-solicitors. However, it is now important to move forward and ensure these changes work in practice within the strongest possible regulatory framework. The Society intends to work with government to enhance the provision of legal services and access to justice for people in Scotland.”

One client who has been involved in a bitter 5 year battle with the Law Society and has faced problems in securing legal representation after several law firms dumped him over a case involving a complaint regarding his original solicitor’s embezzlement of over £60,000 from the sale of land scoffed at Mr Millar’s statement.

He said “What principles and core values of the legal profession is Mr Millar talking about ? I know of one solicitor who is a cocaine user, another who is a convicted paedophile, another who was charged with raping & assaulting his own wife, and another who has defrauded over 15 clients of several million pounds yet each of these crooks are still practising law in Scotland.”

He continued : “Mr Millar and his colleagues are talking a lot of rubbish when they talk about values of the legal profession and access to justice. There are no values and there is no access to justice. People should wake up to realise their solicitors and those in charge of regulating them are not be as clean as they claim to be.”

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s Director, Marieke Dwarshuis commented in a statement on the Legal Services Bill vote, saying : “We are delighted that Parliament has voted in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice. We have long argued that these changes are in the interest of consumers and are pleased that today’s vote will pave the way for the development of a legal services market which better meets the needs of the public.”

Ms Dwarshuis continued : “We recognise that there are many who remain sceptical about the benefits the Bill will bring about, but are confident that in time, most will come to accept that the legislation will be effective for both users of legal services and the legal profession.”

Which logoWhich? also ‘welcomed’ the Legal Services Bill. A spokesperson for Which?, whose supercomplaint began the Legal Services Bill’s peculiarly Scottish journey, in comparison to the much easier and stronger pro-consumer friendly Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales, said : “We are delighted to welcome the Bill which will improve legal services for the public in Scotland.”

Doubtless however, some at Which? must be feeling a touch put out over the way the Law Society of Scotland so easily butchered their proposals for free market competition in legal services, as what was passed yesterday in the Scottish Parliament clearly puts Scots consumers on a less choice, less protected, lower standard of service footing than consumers in England & Wales.

The Office of Fair Trading, who issued a report calling for changes to Scotland’s closed shop legal services market has issued no press release or comment.

I could easily write something along the lines of … I find it hard to believe the Law Society were able to amend the bill, bully the Scottish Government to introduce amendments, call in msps for ‘personal briefings’, suggesting they follow the profession’s line to “avoid trouble further down the line”, ensure consumers or anyone with an actual experience of how legal services are provided were not allowed to testify in public to the Justice Committee … but there wouldn’t be much point, as what some might find hard to believe, happened, and I covered it as the Legal Services Bill progressed through Holyrood, here : Legal Services Bill – How Scotland’s legal profession avoided giving consumers wider access to justice

In my opinion, the whole debate on the Legal Services Bill can be summed up in one short television appearance between Mike Dailly & former Law Society President Ian Smart. It really was nothing more than a battle for market share and power between factions of the legal profession … nothing really to do with consumers at all. You can watch the video of Ian Smart & Mike Dailly slogging it out on live television here : Law Society President Ian Smart v Govan Centre’s Mike Dailly on Legal Services Bill reforms. There would have also been a good video clip of Fergus Ewing caving into solicitors during a Law Society meeting, however the Law Society pulled the clip from their own website for reasons unknown – or perhaps so the public couldn’t see how easy it is for the legal profession to influence an elected politician.

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

I’d be happy if someone could prove me wrong – quote me an example if you can .. however the odds are stacked against consumer rights taking precedence over the legal profession in Scotland and every single piece of legislation, order or amendment passed by the Scottish Parliament concerning legal services or regulation of our country’s legal system since the Scottish Parliament came into existence in 1997 leaves the consumer interest far behind that of the legal profession – even the Legal profession & Legal aid Scotland Act 2007, passed in a similar blaze of glory, gory & Law Society sponsored resistance at Holyrood, which as we all now know has ended up a brutalised, watered down, now almost useless piece of legislation in terms of consumer protection from Scotland’s historically poor quality legal services market.

If anything can be learned from the way the Scottish Parliament handled the Legal Services Bill I’d say its this – collectively, msps in the Scottish Parliament cannot be trusted to pass a piece of legislation involving the legal system which puts the rights of ordinary members of the public over & above the interests of the legal profession. Its as simple as that. There is no other conclusion someone outside the Scots legal system’s bubble can reach on the available evidence.

It is with some irony that on the same day England & Wales placed the consumers interests first, moving to fully independent regulation of their legal services market, Scotland took a backward step which will see the Law Society of Scotland ultimately appointed by the current SNP controlled Scottish Executive as an “approved regulator” to wipe the floor with consumer complaints against legal services once again.

On this note, consumers in Scotland who actually value what they have left in their lives, what they have worked for, what they own, what assets they have, might wish to consider using legal services in England if at all possible because at least consumers might have better protection from independent regulation in the form of the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, which at least so far, appears to be a world of difference from any Scottish solution born from the Law Society of Scotland’s grip over Scots legal reform …

 

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Scottish Parliament urged by Consumer bodies ‘to put public interest first’ in Legal Services Bill vote & reject Law Society ‘anti-consumer-choice’ amendments

Debating chamberHolyrood will debate & vote on the Legal Services Bill on Wednesday 6th October 2010. CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS in Scotland & across the UK have today urged the Scottish Parliament’s MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Legal Services Bill, and to reject amendments mostly demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & the legal profession’s current roll of vested interests that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market, the aims of which are to expand Scots consumers access to justice & quality legal services as is being implemented in England & Wales through equivalent UK legislation.

As I reported earlier today, the Legal Services Bill originates from proposals originally put forward by UK consumer organisation Which? and the Office of Fair Trading’s subsequent recommendations to break open the monopolistic Scottish legal services market which has long been dominated by solicitors & advocates. The Law Society of Scotland has continually demanded changes to the legislation which would hand control of the legal services market back to the Society as an ‘approved regulator’, which I reported on earlier, HERE

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland urges MSPs to pass the Legal Services Bill and reject amendments from ‘vested interests’. Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3, Marieke Dwarshuis, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: “Throughout the Parliament’s consideration of this Bill, the arguments in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice have often been overshadowed by the interests of the legal profession.

Mr Dwarshuis continued : “We are confident that the alternative business structures the Bill will permit legal firms to pursue will support the development of a more open, innovative and competitive legal services market in Scotland, which better meets the needs of those using legal services. The Bill will also increase access to justice, by allowing advice agencies to employ solicitors directly, and will protect consumers who use currently unregulated will writing services.

Mr Dwarshuis concluded urging MSPs to pass the bill, saying : “For these reasons we are urging MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Bill, and to reject amendments that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market.”

Which logoWhich? began the road to legal services reform in Scotland with their supercomplaint to the OFT over Law Society monopoly of the Scots closed shop legal services market. Consumer group Which? who were responsible for the supercomplaint to the Office of Fair Trading which began the long process to overhaul competition in the Scottish legal services marketplace also issued a plea to the Scottish Parliament ahead of its vote tomorrow, its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, commenting : “Since the launch of our supercomplaint in May 2007, Which? has campaigned for the opening up of legal services to provide more competition and better services for the public in Scotland. Too often the debate has been dominated by the interests of the legal profession when it should have been about the best interests of the public.

Mr Vicary-Smith urged MSPS to put the interests of the public first, saying : “The Legal Services Bill debate tomorrow must be about the public deserving and receiving the best and most effective provision of legal services for the future. That cannot happen without the legal profession being allowed to modernise. ‘We urge MSPs to put the interest of the public first and vote through the Legal Services Bill.”

Consumer Focus Scotland also issued a statement on their view regarding ‘approved regulators’ which are to be appointed by the Scottish Government to regulate current & new entrants to the expanded legal services market if the bill becomes law.

The unwelcome prospect of the Law Society of Scotland being made an ‘approved regulator’, has caused many (including myself) to suspect having the Law Society again regulate complaints involving legal services will bring the same infamous historical problems regarding regulation & consumer protection against poor legal services in Scotland as Scots consumers have always had to bear when attempting to gain a fair hearing of complaints against the legal profession.

A spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland gave its view on approved regulators :

“The key principle that must underpin the bill is that users of legal services must have the same level of protection whatever legal services provider they use. We believe it is crucial that all regulators of legal services apply high standards of regulation. For example, we are pleased that a policy of proactive regulation is to be adopted for licensed legal services providers. It is in the interests of consumers that regular checks are undertaken to ensure licensed providers are acting in a way which is compatible with the regulatory objectives, rather than waiting until a consumer has been adversely affected before taking action. We believe the principle of proactive regulation should also be applied to regulation of traditional forms of practice to ensure consumers can be confident of the consistency of approach to the regulation of legal services, whatever type of provider they access.”

“As regards any specific potential regulators, we did not support the inclusion of section 7(4)(a)(i) of the Bill, which allows authorisation to act as a regulator of licensed legal services providers to be awarded without limit of time. We believe it is necessary to have in place a robust procedure to review the authorisation of a regulator of licensed legal services, including reviewing how their regulatory scheme adheres to and applies the regulatory objectives and obligations.”

“We were disappointed that the Bill does not contain provision for establishing an advisory panel to advise Ministers on applications for authorisation to act as an approved regulator and to keep the regulatory framework under review. We stated in our response to the ‘Wider Choice and Better Protection’ consultation that establishing an advisory panel was a necessary safeguard, given the potential for a regulatory body to have the dual or multiple responsibilities for regulating a licensed legal services provider, regulating individual professionals and promoting the interests of the public and the profession. Such a panel could also play an important role in monitoring the regulator body’s performance against the regulatory objectives. We suggested that as with the Consumer Panel in England and Wales, this panel should be made up entirely of non-lawyers and should include representation of the consumer interest.”

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports listed below or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

Readers can view my report of the Law Society of Scotland’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament, here : Little mention of consumer protection for Scots as Law Society give evidence to Holyrood on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of the OFT & Which? testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : OFT & Which? call for independent regulation of lawyers as Justice Committee hears evidence on Legal Services Bill

Earlier coverage of the Faculty of Advocates, Society of Solicitor Advocates & Professor Alan Paterson’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Holyrood’s Justice Committee hears of doubts & criticisms from Law Professor & Faculty of Advocates on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of Consumer Focus Scotland & the UNITE union’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Legal Services Bill : Consumer Focus & UNITE union differ over access to justice proposals as ‘Tesco Law’ comes under the Holyrood microscope

You can read my full coverage of the progress of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far and decide for yourselves how much the Scottish Government’s proposals for improving access to justice will really improve YOUR access to justice.

Consumers will benefit to a degree if the Legal Services Bill is passed and will benefit a whole lot more if many of the amendments demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & vested interests are rejected …. indeed .. MSPs should put the public interest first during tomorrow’s vote on the Legal Services Bill.

 

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Holyrood’s Justice Committee ‘to wave through’ latest Law Society proposals for Legal Services Bill as Scots consumers access to justice takes another tumble

Justice Committee Holyrood’s Justice Committee has a track record of saying YES to the Law Society. AS Holyrood’s Justice Committee prepares its Stage 3 consideration of the latest raft of amendments to the Legal Services Bill proposed by the Law Society of Scotland, consumer groups & critics contend access to justice is not expected to be significantly widened or improved by the passage of the Bill, now a weak shadow of proposals originally put forward by UK consumer organisation Which? and the Office of Fair Trading’s subsequent recommendations to break open the monopolistic Scottish legal services market which has long been dominated by solicitors & advocates.

You can read more about the Legal Services Bill at the Scottish Parliament’s website : Legal Services (Scotland) Bill: Committee page, the latest amendments lodged to the bill are here : 28 September 2010 (215KB pdf) & here : 30 September 2010 (167KB pdf)

Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland’s most recent media release on their latest ‘proposals’ to amend the Legal Services Bill stated : “The Society has had constructive discussions with the Government and MSPs during the summer recess about the planned reforms to legal services provision in Scotland, which would allow non-solicitors to have a stake in law firms.”. Many of these ‘constructive discussions’ however relate to the Law Society’s demands it alone remains in charge of regulation, along with added controls over claims funds to compensate consumers as a result of poor legal services, and also the Society having the final say-so on exactly who or which company can provide legal services in the resulting ‘expanded’ legal services market should the Legal Services Bill become law.

jamie_millarThe Law Society’s media release went onto quote its President, Jamie Millar, whose own law firm Lindsays is linked to a dishonest firm of Borders solicitors, said : “We have supported the general principles behind the Bill and believe that it will give solicitors new opportunity to adapt their businesses as they see fit to meet the demands of their clients. There has been a great deal of debate which has already led to substantial changes to the Bill, particularly on the percentage of ownership of legal services providers. At Stage 2, the Justice committee voted against 100% ownership and the Bill now states that there must be at least 51% ownership by solicitors and other regulated professionals.

“However there remain a few key areas where we think there should be further amendments. The legal profession has changed hugely in recent years and is much bigger, more specialist and is operating in a highly competitive, global marketplace. However even with these changes, we must ensure that clients continue to have the same level of protection, whether they seek legal advice from a traditional solicitors’ firm or an alternative business structure in the future.

Bill Aitken Justsice ConvenerJustice Committee Convener Bill Aitken MSP (Scottish Conservative) has frequently agreed with Law Society proposals to amend Legal Services Bill for further Society controls. Mr Millar continued : “The proposals currently contained in the Legal Services Bill would allow new business structures access to the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund. While we think it is absolutely right that the protections offered to solicitors’ clients should be extended to those who go to a new legal services provider (LP), we believe all regulators should have as rigorous an inspection regime as the Society and also that the Society should have the power to monitor the operation of corresponding accounts rules by other approved regulators where necessary.”

The Society has also recommended that the Bill should take account of a potential breach in the ownership criteria of LPs, which the Bill states must be majority-owned by solicitors and other regulated professionals, due to unforeseen circumstances such as death or incapacity. It also encourages the Scottish Government to make sure that the public protections for clients of confirmation agents are as strong as they can be.

Millar said: “We are pleased that MSPs and ministers agree that will writers and confirmation agents should be regulated in order to assure the public of better service and protection. Indeed, the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill means that Scotland will be the first UK jurisdiction to do so. I commend the government for its approach and would again encourage ministers to make the rules governing confirmation agents as comprehensive as possible.”

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunities Safety Minister Fergus Ewing frequently caved into Law Society demands to amend the Legal Services Bill. The Bill also proposes a new overarching Regulatory Committee within the Society. The Society however is concerned that as drafted, the Bill will create a split similar to that of the Law Society and Solicitors Regulatory Authority in England and Wales, which the Government, Justice Committee and the Law Society have endeavoured to avoid as the Bill has progressed. The Society agrees the Regulatory Committee should be independent from Council but has proposed changes to the Bill so that the committee would have autonomous decision making powers, but be accountable to the Society’s Council.

The Society has also proposed that amendments to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, to take account of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, should include registration and subscription by firm, currently done on an individual solicitor basis, to allow the organisation to update its processes and lead to potential benefits for members.

President of the Law Society of Scotland Jamie Millar again commented : “The Bill has opened the door to change some of the structures within the Society itself which will help improve the services we can provide for members as well as ensure that our regulatory processes continue to improve. We shall continue to press for amendments to ensure high standards in legal services once the Bill is enacted and that there continue to be proper protections for the public where things go wrong.”

Law Society & faculty of advocatesLaw Society of Scotland member solicitors & the Faculty of Advocates have long dominated Scotland’s legal services market with no competition. An official from one of the UK’s consumer organisations scoffed at the Law Society’s proposals and interference with the bill. He said : “I think this is a very poor showing from the Scottish Parliament, who have virtually said yes to anything the Law Society proposed. Given the Law Society and its member’s stranglehold over consumer’s access to justice in Scotland is the very problem the bill sought to remedy, I doubt Scots will see any improvements in legal services north of the border as a result of this bill being passed.”

A legal insider this morning branded the Legal Services Bill “a waste of parliamentary time” and went onto accuse the Law Society of yet another instance of regulatory capture similar to the influence the Society has exerted over legal profession’s ‘other regulator’, the much weakened Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Regulatory capture Regulatory capture is a state of affairs which occurs when a regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead acts in favour of its own members commercial or special interests that dominate in the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.

As things stand the Law Society of Scotland is the only regulator applying to be an ‘approved regulator’ in terms of the Legal Services Bill’s requirements for regulation of the resulting expanded legal services market. I reported earlier on the prospect of this widely seen anti-consumer development here : Christmas for Crooked Lawyers : Law Society say ‘make us approved regulator’ and we will continue to protect dishonest solicitors who rip-off clients

Consumers should be in no doubt as spectators to the Legal Services Bill’s progress have warned … there will not be a significant improvement in choice of legal services in Scotland as a result of the proposals as they now appear, with the prospect that several years from now, we will still be talking about a distinct lack of access to justice in Scotland for those the legal profession wish to keep out of court …

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far and decide for yourselves how much the Scottish Government’s proposals for improving access to justice will really improve YOUR access to justice …

 

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Holyrood’s Justice Committee votes against majority non-lawyer ownership of law firms, saves investors from funding Scots legal world’s organised crime gangs

Justice CommitteeScottish Parliament’s Justice Committee voted against non-lawyer ownership of law firms. INVESTORS can breathe a sigh of relief at the result of a vote at the latest Justice Committee hearing of the Scottish Government’s beleaguered Legal Services Bill, where last Tuesday, MSPs voted through an amendment written by the Law Society Scottish Government to restrict non-lawyer ownership of Scottish law firms to 49%, throwing out the Scottish Government’s initial proposals that non-lawyers could end up owning 100% of law firms if the ‘alternative business structures’ as originally proposed in the Legal Services Bill had become law.

The problem with the original proposal, allowing non-lawyers to invest or even totally own a Scots law firm raised the question who would actually want to buy in to any Scottish law firm with the kind of poor regulatory & client treatment record which is so typical of providers of legal services in Scotland’s currently solicitor only dominated legal services market ?

Who for instance, would want to invest in a law firm with over thirty partners which is currently facing 21 separate complaints investigations (5 of those involving embezzlement of client funds), 20 negligence claims, 9 claims against the Guarantee Fund & 2 criminal investigations ?

Luckily for the law firm in the above typical example, and noting many others have similarly poor complaints records, they wouldn’t have to disclose such information to potential investors and of course, the Law Society of Scotland would never volunteer such detailed information which may slightly discourage any investors with an ounce of common sense from touching a Scottish law firm with a barge pole …

This is certainly one vote on the Legal Services Bill which may well end up saving outside investors a lot of money, as most Scots law firms are seen as poorly performing & untrustworthy, holding among the worst rates of client complaints & consumer dissatisfaction in the modern world, where it has become more the norm than the exception for clients to be ripped off after engaging the services of even the most famous law firms in Scotland’s legal services marketplace today.

The Justice Committee’s latest stage two debate on the Legal Services Bill, during which several amendments were debated as well as the non-lawyer ownership issue (Amendment 317), can be read in full here : Legal Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2

robert_brownRobert Brown MSP (LibDem) voted in favour of restricting outside control of Scots law firms. Robert Brown, speaking in favour of Amendment 317, put forward by the Law Society to restrict outside ownership of law firms said : “Amendment 317 is designed to ensure that there is a majority holding in the hands of solicitors or other regulated professionals. It is the compromise position that was debated and supported by the Law Society of Scotland. I hope that it has the merit both of being reasonable and, as the convener indicated, of being common ground on which the profession can regroup, to some extent.”

Mr Brown continued : “I do not pretend that it is the perfect solution—there are issues with all the potential solutions—but it provides further protection against outside control, which is, rightly, of concern to many solicitors. Last week we debated issues relating to the rights of minority investors. It is certainly the case that influence is as relevant as control. Nevertheless, amendment 317 would put a brake on the extent to which law firms can be taken over by outside interests. The committee should apply that brake.”

I for one am certainly in agreement with Mr Brown on this issue. Unsuspecting members of the public & potential investors must be protected from pumping their money into some law firms whose business models border (or even surpass) that of organised crime. Perhaps an amendment should be raised prohibiting law firms from accepting any outside capital investment, thus saving a lot of people from a severely dodgy investment in very dodgy law firms …

Fergus EwingFergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety argued in favour of external ownership of law firms. The Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, once again apparently standing in for the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who has all but disappeared from the Legal Services Bill debate put forward the Scottish Government’s view, claiming the Legal Services Bill would usher in effective regulation : “I emphasise that the bill contains a particularly Scottish solution. It is important that we have a robust regulatory regime. I can recall having been involved in debating no more robust regulatory regime as a member of the Parliament for the past decade. That regime will also be obtained at virtually no expense to the taxpayer. That contrasts with the position down south, where the Legal Services Board’s implementation costs to 31 December 2009 were £4.58 million and its budget for running costs in its first full year, which began in April 2010, is £4.74 million. Similar costs here would not be as high as that, but would be comparable.”

Mr Ewing, you must be kidding. Regulation without expense to the taxpayer ? Even the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received a whopping £2million from the taxpayer, effectively a public gift to the legal profession which your Ministerial colleagues now refuse to talk about or demand returned to help protect public services now on the verge of being slashed due to the UK’s budget deficit.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are anti-client when regulating complaints against lawyers. Robust regulation of the legal profession in Scotland is simply not possible, as all reforms to regulation to the present date have been compromised by the Law Society and so willingly voted through by politicians in the Scottish Parliament. The new broom of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has become little more than the anti-client front organisation for the Law Society of Scotland and rogue lawyers the Law Society always wanted it to be, leaving the reforms of the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007 firmly in the rubbish bin. The same is already happening with the Scottish Government’s plans for a ‘robust regulatory regime’ for the Legal Services Bill which has been steadily re-written by the legal profession itself.

Without much surprise, the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the Justice Committee’s vote to retain Law Society member majority ownership of law firms, thus ensuring the society’s continued influence & control over consumers choice of legal services in Scotland.

Jamie Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “A number of key amendments were debated today and I am very pleased that the committee has agreed that there should be a majority ownership of new legal services providers by solicitors and other regulated professionals. It’s clear that MSPs on the committee have listened carefully to the issues and concerns raised by the profession and others, particularly those about external ownership, and what has been agreed today is very much in accordance with the Society’s own policy on ABS ownership.”

Lord Hamilton judicialThe Lord President Lord Hamilton is once again ‘a buffer’ between the Government & legal profession to maintain lawyers independence (from independent accountability). Mr Millar also said that the Society was pleased that the role Lord President of the Court of Session was to be enhanced and that his consent would be required in the appointment of approved regulators. He echoed the comments of Robert Brown MSP who said the role of the Lord President was an important ‘constitutional buffer’ (in other words, a well practiced drain-blocker, immovable by any means in existence) between the government and the legal profession and necessary to preserve the independence of the profession.

With the dreaded inclusion of the Lord President in all of this, at the behest of the Law Society of course, lets hope the Lord President doesn’t take 40 years to come to a decision (as he did with McKenzie Friends) on whether approved regulators (the Law Society of Scotland being the only ones applying) are functioning properly or not – and since the Law Society hasn’t managed to regulate the legal profession properly in the past 60 years, we doubtless can expect a continuance of the Law Society of Scotland’s style of crooked self-regulation when or if the Legal Services Bill manages to pass into law.

So, obviously the Law Society is pleased with it’s re-write of the Legal Services Bill after all that fuss & pantomime between so-called ‘factions’ of the Scots legal profession wanting to break away if they didn’t get their way … and then getting themselves elected to the Law Society’s ruling council after things went their way ….

My advice to consumers ?

The Legal Services Bill as it is being re-written by the Law Society of Scotland, will not benefit consumers of legal services in Scotland one bit, so much that now, some of the consumer organisations which are responsible for the Legal Services Bill’s very existence, now choose not to issue comment on its progress nor have those same consumer organisations chose to campaign against any of the Law Society sponsored re-writes of the Legal Services Bill, which was initially claimed would bring free choice of legal services to consumers in Scotland.

Clearly, for honest, dependable legal services, consumers are going to have to look elsewhere, as the Scottish legal profession under the regulation of the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC couldn’t be trusted with an exploded oil well, which I’m sure they would argue was nothing to do with them as similarly appears to be the case in each of the 5000 complaints & grievances filed or expressed by clients against solicitors & advocates each year in Scotland.

My advice to investors looking at putting their money into Scottish law firms ?

Take your investments elsewhere ! There are billions more opportunities and safer havens around the world for your money than investing in Scots law firms with poor regulator records who would much rather dance the tune of the Law Society of Scotland than give you a good, stable, dependable return on your investment. You would be well advised to avoid investing in what many corporate & private clients of Scots law firms, through their own bitter experiences of using solicitors in Scotland dub ‘the organised crime of the Scottish legal services market’.

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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