RSS

Tag Archives: Faculty of Advocates

AXIS TO JUSTICE: ‘Treat lawyers like Hospitals & Police’, Democracy ‘at risk’ if state refuses to fund litigants – Law Society & Faculty of Advocates attack plans to make secretive, slow Scots courts self funding

Fund lawyers like nurses & public services – say lawyers. DURING TIMES of financial crisis, Brexit woes and growing demands on nurses, doctors, the NHS, Police, education and everything else. public services should be forced to take an equal seat to the spiralling billions of pounds of public cash lavished on lawyers, the courts and legal aid – according to claims from the legal profession.

The demand for equal treatment to public cash comes from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates – who, along with other legal vested interests – are calling for the state to fund all court actions and treat lawyers in the same ‘deserving of public funds’ category as medical care provided by the National Health Service, education, social care and Police.

The latest call from the Law Society of Scotland to increase – by millions more – the flow of public cash into legal business and struggling lawyers pockets – comes in answer to plans by the Scottish Government to hike court fees by up to 25% and turn the closed shop, secretive, slow and unjustly expensive Scottish courts run by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) into a self funding operation.

However, under the guise of defending ‘access to justice’ – loosely translated to ‘public cash for lawyers’ – the Law Society state in their response: “Plans to introduce the full recovery of civil court costs in Scotland would be damaging to access to justice, particularly for those bringing forward personal injury cases and more vulnerable people.”

The Law Society of Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Court Fees goes on to state “any move towards full cost recovery should be avoided” and “that the state has a duty to help people in achieve ‘equality of arms’ in the courtroom.”

The Law Society also claims that a proposal to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would be ‘unjust and unjustifiable’.

Syd Smith, from the Law Society of Scotland’s Remuneration Committee, representing the views of pursuers’ solicitors, said: “We believe it is essential that the courts should provide an independent and impartial forum for resolving disputes between people or organisations and that the state has a duty to help those involved have equality of arms when their cases go to court.”

The Law Society has said that any new system for court fees would have to ensure they were proportionate, taking into account Lord Gill’s Review of the Scottish Civil Courts, and the findings of Sheriff Taylor in his Review of Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation in Scotland.

Mr Smith said: “We think the focus of any review of court fees should be on redressing the balance between claimants and defenders in personal injury cases. However if the government’s aim is to have a system where 100% of the cost of the courts are covered by fees paid by those involved in the actions lodged, it will be vital to have proportionate fee levels.

“The consultation option to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would represent an unjust and unjustifiable increase which would create a very real barrier to access to justice for claimants especially vulnerable people who have suffered life changing personal injuries.

“Any change to the current system also needs to recognise that there is not a level playing field between personal injury claimants and the insurance companies who are the defenders in those claims. Any changes which fail to recognise this problem risk widening the existing gap.”

Going a little further, and backing up their legal vested interest colleagues, the Faculty of Advocates response to the Court Fees consultation claims democracy could not function if the state did not pay for litigants to sue everyone under the sun in the same way convicted mass murderers and fraudsters empty hundreds of millions of pounds of Criminal legal aid from the public purse.

A submission from the Faculty of Advocates to the Court Fees consultation states: “The civil justice system should be funded by the state from general taxation…(it) is a cornerstone of a democratic state…(and) is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant,”

“No part of our democratic society could function without our civil law being maintained by the operation of our courts. There is no warrant to shift the cost of the courts entirely on to litigants when the whole of society benefits from them,”

“As a matter of principle, the civil justice system should be funded by the state, not litigants,” it said.

“The civil justice system is a cornerstone of a democratic state. It is the duty of the state to provide an accessible civil justice system…To the benefit of society at large, the law is made, declared or clarified daily by the civil courts. The civil justice system is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant. The benefits to society justify it being funded in full from general taxation.

“Many state-provided services are funded from general revenue, on the basis that these services benefit the whole of society, and not just those in immediate need of them. Our society accepts that, without regard to their means to pay, individuals should have access to medical care, and that every sort of person should be served by the police and emergency services.

“The Scottish Government has recognised that charging tuition fees to students limits access to higher education for many and that charging for prescriptions might deter people from seeking medical assistance. The Faculty considers that access to the courts is of equal importance.”

The Faculty believed that the proposed increases would be likely to impede access to justice, and that requiring a person to pay expensive court fees could be a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects access to a court.

“The funding of the civil justice system by litigants rather than the state does not protect access to justice, it hinders it.

“If even a few people are deterred from litigating a good claim or defence, that is seriously damaging justice. There may be many more than a few who are so deterred, of course,” said the Faculty.

“The system of court fees exemptions is inadequate to protect access to justice…the thresholds for exemptions are set very low.”

So, the next time you need emergency medical care, the Police, education for your children, help with homelessness or any other public service – remember not to call the well trained and dedicated people who staff these vital arteries of life.

Instead, call a lawyer and insist your taxes, your hard earned savings (if any) and dwindling assets are handed over to fund a solicitor, court clerks, a struggling Sheriff on £160K a year or a £230K a year Court of Session judge – just like the Law Society of Scotland said – because you know – lawyers have your interests and ‘access to justice’ as their priority.

GIVE CROWN OFFICE MORE MONEY – Law Society to MSPs.

In a second take on the more public cash for lawyers approach, earlier this week the Law Society of Scotland also demanded more public cash be given to the struggling Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – who are forced to eek out an existence on a staggering £112 million a year.

In written evidence to a Scottish Parliament Justice Committee inquiry into the workings of Scotland’s “Institutionally corrupt” Crown Office, the Law Society of Scotland has said that consideration will be needed to ensure that the service provided by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and others is accessible and inclusive for all members of society.

In its response to an Inquiry on the role and purpose of the COPFS, the Society also stated that all participants involved in the criminal justice system have responded to a number of reforms during a time of significant financial pressure.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Criminal Law Committee, said: “It’s important that the criminal justice system evolves and makes use of new technology which can help improve the service particularly when there continues to be financial pressures alongside increasing numbers of serious crime reported to the COPFS and legislative developments.

“However it is important to be aware of the potential impact on core services at a local level and on access to justice. There will need to be careful consideration on how best to ensure the service provided by the COPFS and others within the criminal justice system is accessible and inclusive to all member of society.

“Lack of resources has had an impact on the preparation and the time available for presenting criminal prosecutions in our courts. The number of prosecutions resulting in court disposals has decreased in the past five years, however the complexity of the impact of recent legislation, and the complexity of certain types of cases reported, means more preparation and court time is required.”

Previous reports on how much the Law Society of Scotland values your ‘access to justice’ and their vested interests, can be found in the archive of reports, here: Law Society of Scotland

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

WOLFFE’D HALL: Edinburgh Council admit defeat in Parliament House titles fiasco – officials no longer pursuing recovery of Scotland’s top court buildings to common good public ownership

Top court now owned by ‘public body’ run by judges. THE City of Edinburgh Council have this week confirmed no further action is being taken by the council to recover ownership to the common good of Parliament House – the seat of Scotland’s top courts.

In a statement issued to the media, a spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said in relation to Parliament House: “We are not pursuing legal action regarding ownership of the Parliament House.The building, however,  remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) now have full title to Parliament House – granted to them by Scottish Ministers.

However as the SCTS is a public body which is effectively controlled by a quango commanded by Scotland’s top judges – the status of “public ownership” may well fall to be a loosely applied term given how the titles came to be in the possession of the courts after Scottish Ministers took ownership of Parliament House from the common good.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s costly £53K legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was destined to be heard in the very same court buildings – was abandoned almost as instantly as papers were served by the council’s legal agents on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Ministers- reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Commenting on the Laigh Hall – a large area of building which runs underneath Parliament House and was ‘gifted’ to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Government, a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

A spokesperson for the council also confirmed earlier moves by Edinburgh Council to ‘persuade’ the SCTS & Scottish Government to voluntarily hand back ownership, were also at an end.

DOI has previously published documents released under Freedom of Information legislation which revealed lawyers representing trustees of the Faculty of Advocates informed Registers of Scotland (RoS) that the Laigh Hall – part of the Parliament House complex – had been occupied by the Faculty for some 150 years, with no recorded titles – yet Scottish Ministers and Registers of Scotland went ahead and granted ownership to the Faculty of Advocates.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Records of titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stands in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scotland’s current First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the debate, but only after being asked questions during a session of First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister gave little indication the Scottish Government were willing to ensure titles were handed back to the City of Edinburgh Council : Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 and as the Council have now confirmed, the matter is closed.

DOOMED TOP COURT TO UP STICKS?

Amid rumours of plans loosely based around the Scottish Government’s desire for “modern justice centres” to one day move the Court of Session out of Parliament House, questions remain on who will ultimately benefit financially from any redevelopment of the imposing, gargantuan buildings which make up Scotland’s top court and power seat of the judiciary.

The sprawling complex of high value, if aging buildings – located in the centre of Edinburgh – are described as “inaccessible” “Victorian” and “unfit for modern court needs” in loose discussions between interested parties and land developers.

However, development possibilities for Parliament House reveal a host of difficulties in turning “an overly ornate set of imposing buildings” into a mixture of office, business and residential units.

Concerns of resistance from the legal profession, elements of the judiciary and a “public outcry” appear to be uppermost in the minds of developers and politicians who may wish to move the judges out of their plush Parliament House headquarters to a “greenfield site”.

In the last few years, ‘improvements’ to Parliament House saw £58 million of taxpayers cash spent on updating the constantly crumbling court buildings – which also house the offices of Scotland’s powerful judicial clique and their top judge – the Lord President, currently Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland).

Some in the legal fraternity have since pointed to the recent multi million pound expenditure on improvements as part of a move to clean up Parliament House before a possible transfer of court staff and court functions and eventual sale of the buildings to the private sector.

It also emerged during hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in the summer of 2013 – the Scottish Court Service (SCS) – the predecessor to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had previously demanded around £120 million of taxpayers cash be spent on renovating Parliament House.

£60M TO ‘IMPROVE’ PARLIAMENT HOUSE:

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

WOLFFE HALL: Edinburgh Council racks up £53K legal bill in failed bid to recover ownership of Parliament House – as papers reveal Faculty of Advocates “occupied” Laigh Hall for 150 years without recorded title deeds

Costs mount for return of Scotland’s top court buildingsAN UNSUCCESSFUL legal action by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of Parliament House – the sprawling, high value land estate situated in Edinburgh’s old town comprising Scotland’s top court buildings – has so-far cost taxpayers £52,991 – according to figures released to the media.

The costs of legal advice and other legal services provided to the council, revealed in a Freedom of Information disclosure, list law firm Burness Paul as the largest single expense at £38,726, followed by Counsel’s fees listed as £10,620K and ‘experts’ and other professional fees reaching a total of £2,400 after VAT.

However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned – reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI revealed the then Dean of Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to former Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice  Alex Neil MSP – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates. However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant – James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service also disclosed their own figures incurred following legal fees in the action against the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the titles of Parliament House, Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall. The SCTS admitted it had incurred legal costs in respect of advice from solicitors amounted to £4,388.20 and costs of £3,980 in instructing Counsel.

The full listing of Legal Fees to City of Edinburgh Council: Parliament Hall Titles: Burness Paull 38,726.40, Charges/Diligence-Other Registers search fees 108.00, Counsel’s fees 10,620.00, Courier Charge 30.90, Court Dues 213.50, Court Officer fees 479.28, Experts/Other Professional fees 2,400.00, Registers Form Reports 60.00, Registers – Copy/Extract Dues 236.40, Registers Direct search fees 21.60, Travel Expenses 94.92, Totals £52,991.00

LAIGH HALL ‘OCCUPIED’ BY FACULTY OF ADVOCATES WITH NO RECORDED TITLES:

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Additionally, the position of the Faculty of Advocates in relation to their ownership claim over the Laigh Hall becomes a little clearer in a chain of correspondence from the Edinburgh law firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn to RoS, which follows on from a letter from Registers of Scotland to a law firm marked “Destroy correspondence after archive”.

In a letter dated 19 January 2006, a solicitor – David A Smith of for Shepherd & Wedderburn appears to admit the Faculty of Advocates “occupied” a key part of Parliament House known as the Laigh Hall, but held no recorded title to it.

Mr Smith writes to Registers of Scotland, stating: The Disposition by The Scottish Ministers is stated to be for no consideration, and as I indicated to you In the course of our telephone conversation, the position with regard to the Laigh Hall is that the Faculty of Advocates has occupied the Laigh Hall for approximately 150 years, and the records of the Faculty indicate that although the Faculty did not have a recorded title to the Laigh Hall, the Senior Officer Bearers of the Faculty in the Nineteenth Century were of the opinion that the Faculty had “undoubted title” to the Laigh Hall.

Parliament House Is in the course of being redeveloped by The Scottish Court Service, and in the course of the redevelopment it became clear to all concerned that The Scottish Ministers did not have a registered title to the whole of Parliament House and it was agreed in the course of discussions between The Scottish Court Service and the Faculty that The Scottish Ministers would register a title to the entire building and they would then grant the Faculty a Disposition of the Laigh Hall in order to regularise the de facto position which has applied since the mid Nineteenth Century.

In the hope that this explanation will be sufficient for your purposes, I look forward to hearing from you with a receipted Form 4 and confirmation that the Registers of Scotland will now process the Faculty’s application for registration of its interest on the back of the application which was recently submitted on behalf of The Scottish Ministers in relation to the whole of Parliament House.

The solicitor at Shepherd  & Wedderburn acting for the ‘trustee’ for the Faculty of Advocates – David A Smith, was none other than David Alexander Smith – the husband of Court of Session judge Lady Anne Smith.

After his retirement from Shepherd & Wedderburn, David Smith served a term as a board member of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), where he sparked findings by Kevin Dunion – the then Scottish Information Commissioner – who demanded the release of censored comments by Smith targeting victims of corrupt solicitors who came before the pro-lawyer legal regulator.

PARLIAMENT HOUSE PUBLIC OWNERSHIP TITLE SWINDLE:

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

World Bar Conference: Lord Carloway – ‘luddite, paranoid & fee hungry lawyers who oppose change are wrong’ – top judge speaks on never ending reform proposals to Scotland’s Victorian justice system

Lord Carloway – fee hungry lawyers who oppose reforms are wrong. SCOTLAND’S top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway has again, publicly criticised the financial self interests of the legal profession who oppose reforms to  Scotland’s justice system – out of concern for their wallets.

In a speech at the World Bar Conference on Thursday in Edinburgh, aimed principally at the legal profession, criminal law & court reforms, Lord Carloway told his audience: “… it is readily recognised that some of the more Luddite and perhaps rather paranoid elements may inevitably regard all change as inherently wrong, designed to cut costs (specifically their fees) and to secure wrongful convictions. They are wrong, but their views must be listened to.”

The biennial event brings together the member independent bars of the International Council of Advocates and Barristers (ICAB) for seminars and social events, backed up by lavish occasions in public buildings such as the Scottish National Gallery.

This year the Faculty of Advocates hosted the World Bar Conference 2016 in Edinburgh, along with gatherings in Parliament Hall – which was revealed last year to have been secretly handed over to the Faculty in a dodgy free property handover masterminded by lawyers and approved by Scottish Ministers.

While the Lord President’s recent proposals for justice reforms and faster access to justice for Scots court users may be seen as welcome, the fact is – year in year out, legal figures from Scotland’s multi billion pound legal industry claim change will come, access to justice will be faster, fees will be reduced, regulation will improve, the courts will be more accountable. None of which is ever achieved.

In short, we have heard it all before. Just like ridiculous crime statistics, supposed cuts in the legal aid budget and stage managed publications of annual reports to coincide with a budget announcement. Public Relations and spin with the repeat button pressed down.

However, this is the second time this year, Lord Carloway – who succeeded Lord Brian Gill to the role of Lord President & Lord Justice Clerk – has hit out at ‘obstructive’ lawyers and those who oppose change..

In a speech on digital justice and reforming Scotland’s “Victorian” courts addressed to the Law Society of Scotland’s Council in late January 2016, Carloway reminded his audience of legal figures: “Much of this will be achieved in our professional lives, provided that we do not take a cantankerous and obstructive approach to it.”

And, during Lord Carloway’s speech to the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies Biennial Conference held in April 2015 – Carloway did not mince his words, accusing lawyers & critics of having a financial interest in retaining the centuries old injustice safeguard of corroboration.

Reacting to opposition from the legal profession – opposition which was backed by a number of judges, Lord Carloway said: “Reactionary or excessively defensive forces among the legal profession can, and often do, behave in a manner obstructive to progressive law reform, especially where there is transparent perceived financial self-interest.”

Carloway is keenly aware that powerful elements within the legal profession and the Law Society of Scotland oppose a faster and wider system of access to justice for Scots, on the grounds such reforms may impact on the profits of law firms & sizeable claims on the annual £150 million plus Scottish Legal Aid budget.

Since the banking & financial crash of 2008, a staggering £1.2 billion pounds has been handed out to Scottish law firms, much of which goes on criminal legal aid.

Yet despite taking billions  in public cash, solicitors, led by bosses at the Law Society of Scotland have staged strikes outside the Scottish Parliament & court buildings demanding legal aid cuts be reversed.

Lord Carloway speech to World Bar Conference 2016:

Lord Carloway’s opening lines refer to how the legal profession & courts are supposed to represent the interests of clients & justice: “The courts play the central role in the administration of justice. Their function is to promote observance of the law through the process of resolving civil disputes and determining criminal guilt. The legal profession plays its own important role. Members of both branches, solicitor and advocate (or barrister), represent the interests of the system’s users. They do more; specifically at the level of advocate, by assisting the court in finding the true facts and applying the correct law, albeit hopefully in the client’s favour. The advocate owes duties to the court and to the public, over and above those to fellow members of his profession and to the client.”

“In this broad sense, the legal profession is the muscle and ligament which makes the skeleton of the law in our democracy move.”

“Both branches of the profession remain largely self-regulating. Each is responsible, albeit in some sphere under delegated authority from the court, for training, standards, and very occasionally, the discipline of its members. The court retains a keen interest in the effective representation of both those who rely on the system to vindicate their rights and those in need of protection from state action. It must ensure that parties are adequately represented. In Scotland, this obligation is enshrined not only within the concept of a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights but also in the much older and more established common law principles of fairness in court proceedings generally. What amounts to adequate representation may vary from case to case, but it is ultimately a matter for the court to determine. It must do so to ensure that there is access to justice for all parties. After all, if someone does not have effective representation, justice cannot be seen to be done.”

On access to justice in the modern age – Lord Carloway said: “Advances in technology mean that the courts operate in a world which would be unrecognisable to those who lived 100 years ago and, in many respects, unfamiliar to those practising 14 years ago when the first of these conferences was held. Last year saw the implementation of the most comprehensive reform of the practices of the Scottish courts since the early Victorian age. The implementation of Lord Gill’s Review has had, and will continue to have, a very significant impact on the level at which both civil and criminal cases are decided. Court procedure is closely linked to access to justice: it is the link between evidence, as proof of fact, and correct decisions based on a correct application of the law.”

“Advances in technology influence users’ expectations. On a fundamental level, the opportunities presented by modern technology could, to use the words of Lady Dorrian …”make justice more accessible to a wider number of people, to make evidence more reliable and more readily available, and to make processes and procedures more efficient”. This is something which is being considered on a wider basis as part of the Digital Justice Strategy of the Scottish Government.It is a recognition of the fact that the court system should keep pace with developments and change in the society which it is intended to serve.”

Concluding his speech to the World Bar Conference, Lord Carloway said: “What is the role of the legal profession in all of this? The profession is a vital part of the machinery of justice. The court relies on both branches of the profession to perform their functions as representatives of the parties. Without this input, the risk that the court will fall into error is greatly increased.”

“The challenges posed by the development of the traditional roles of the profession, models of funding, competing interests, and modern technology are all ones which the profession, as well as the court system, require to meet.”

Sounds Familiar? – Civil Courts Review : Scots Justice still “Victorian” years after judge called for reforms:

The Scottish Civil Courts Review of 2009 authored by then Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Brian Gill, castigated Scotland’s Civil Justice System as being Victorian, costly, and unfit for purpose, yet years on from the review, little of the proposed reforms have been implemented due to pressure from vested interests in the legal world, and a lack of political will to deliver access to justice to all Scots.

The Civil Courts Review can be viewed online here : Scottish Civil Courts Review Synopsis, Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol1 Chapters 1-9 & Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol2 Chapters 10-15

In a speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference several years ago, reproduced in full here Lord Gill 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.”

Previous articles on the Civil Courts Review and reforms of Scotland’s antiquated civil justice system can be found on Diary of Injustice here: Scottish Civil Courts Review.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

WOLFFE HALL: As Edinburgh City Council demand return of Parliament House land titles, papers reveal Scottish Ministers refused to help recover ‘gift’ of Scotland’s top court buildings to Faculty of Advocates

Court battle looms over Scotland’s top court buildings swiped by legal fraternity AS LAND GRABS go, the Faculty of Advocates ‘assuming title’ to parts of the nation’s top court buildings – Parliament House in Edinburgh – must rank pretty high on the list of Scottish land swindles.

Even more so if you take into account the land grabbers in this case – highly paid advocates clad in Victorian robes – who appoint each other as judges, prosecutors and the like, and debate ordinary folk’s lives, loves & rights as if they did not even exist – have the last say and last word on ‘justice’ and many aspects of politics and public life in what passes for ‘modern day’ Scotland.

The great Parliament Hall land title swindle – revealed by land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – where land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates – has now prompted Edinburgh City Council to demand the return of what is, common good property – our top courts – which clearly have significant interest to the nation.

However, Scottish Ministers – including the First Minister, lawyers and other Govt. advisers, appear to feel otherwise.

A trove of eighty eight pages of documents  released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation reveal the Scottish Government plan to do nothing over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it is clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

The titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – currently stand in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

“The City of Edinburgh Council has intimated to the Scottish Government that it considers that it is the rightful heritable proprietor of both Parliament House and the Laigh Hall. It contends that the property was part of the Common Good Fund which is made up of grants of land owned by the Council. Consequently it maintains that Scottish Ministers should never have taken title to it. Representatives of the Council have asked that the position be rectified and the property returned to the Council. Scottish Government officials have met with Council officials and suggested to them that their remedy lies with the Keeper.

The Council may feel compelled to take action because, in their view,the property may have been part of the Common Good. Ministers, will be aware of disputes over Common Good land in the past. For example, when the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012, which converts ultra-long leases to ownership, was going through Parliament [redacted] land reform campaigner argued that the Waverley Market in Edinburgh was part of the common good. Edinburgh City Council said it was not part of the common good but still argued that the Waverley Market should not convert to full ownership under the Bill, so that the Council would remain the landlord in the lease over the property. In the end, the Bill was amended so that commercial leases with less than 175 years to run were not covered, which had the effect of excluding the Waverley Market from the Bill.”

An internal Scottish Government briefing of the meeting which took place between Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government makes for grim reading at the Council after Scottish Government civil servants stated the Council’s claim for a return of the titles may rest on moral rather than any legal right:

“Parliament House – Meeting With City of Edinburgh Council – 3 Dec. 2014 – – Main Points

SG – this was a courtesy meeting to hear what the concerns of CEC were as they had had difficulty finding somebody in central government to engage with.

CEC – an elected member had triggered an examination of the Parliament House non domino title and CEC officials concluded that the title trail was mistaken and CEC had an interest still. They had examined titles from the 1550s, 19th century, 1905 Common good records, 1925 entry in registers etc.

They were unhappy with the Scottish Ministers title and the subsequent transfer to the advocates and the SCS. It seemed that their case rested on a perceived moral right, rather than any legal titular right.

SG emphasised that it had no locus because:
• Questions about land registered titles are for the Keeper and the Keeper’s indemnity;
• The Scottish Government had transferred the property to the Advocates (Laigh Hall), and the Scottish Courts Service** a judicial led body at arms-length from the SG and so we could not discuss what we did not own.”

A detailed briefing prepared by a civil servant sets out what happened and how the Faculty of Advocates ‘secured’ ownership to parts of the sprawling, highly prized real estate which is Scotland’s top court and symbol of judicial & legal power:

“The position as regards title to the entire property is unclear, however, it would appear that Scottish Ministers (formerly the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions) did own part of it and so steps were taken to register a title in order to remove any uncertainty. Consequently, a voluntary registration was granted in favour of Scottish Ministers on 23/11/2005 with a date of entry of 10/11/2005.

As part of the process of registration the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland received a letter from the City of Edinburgh Council confirming that the Council had no right, title or interest in the property. On that understanding, the Keeper issued Ministers with a Land Certificate without exclusion of indemnity which has the effect of the Keeper having to indemnify a proprietor who suffers a loss as a result of the title being successfully challenged.

Scottish Ministers subsequently made an onward transfer in January 2006 of part of the property, namely Laigh Hall which sits underneath Parliament Hall, to the Faculty of Advocates who now hold a registered title.

When the Scottish Court Service became an independent body corporate on 1 April 2010 title to Parliament House was transferred to it under the Property Transfer Order made under powers in the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. Scottish Ministers therefore no longer hold a title to either Parliament House or the Laigh Hall.”

At this time Edinburgh City Council is thought to be considering its next move.

If legal action is to take place, the Council will ultimately be represented by top advocates who as members of the Faculty of Advocates will have an interest in ownership in Parliament House. The case will be defended by the Faculty of Advocates and will be heard in a court within Parliament House – partly owned by the Faculty of Advocates and the ‘arms length’ institution of the Scottish Court Service – so ‘arms length’ it squanders £60 million of taxpayers money on buildings not even owned by taxpayers.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

TOP JUDGE SILENT OVER PARLIAMENT TITLE SWAP

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Pressed for a statement on why Lord Gill or Eric McQueen did not inform the Justice Committee of the fact tens of millions of pounds of taxpayer money had been spent on a building partly owned by the Faculty of Advocates – the Judicial Office refused to give any comment.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

WOLFFE HALL: Parliament House – seat of justice – lost to Edinburgh as investigation reveals Scottish Government ‘gifted’ land titles to Faculty of Advocates after £58m refurbishment

Scotland’s top courts ‘gifted’ to advocates in secret deal with Scottish Ministers. PARLIAMENT HOUSE – the seat of power for Scotland’s judiciary and the nation’s highest, most expensive, elusive and pro-big business courts – has been lost to the Common Good and the citizens of Edinburgh who paid for it’s construction – after it was revealed earlier this week Scottish Ministers had gifted the land titles of the court buildings to the Faculty of Advocates .

And, yesterday, in an attempt to head off calls for an immediate return of Scotland’s highest courts to public ownership, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no easy solution to recovering the land titles for the citizens of Edinburgh – who originally paid for the construction of Parliament House.

Details surrounding the loss of Parliament House to Edinburgh – come from an investigation undertaken by well known land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – who discovered that in 2006 the Scottish Government asked Edinburgh City Council to confirm the ownership of Parliament House – which includes Parliament Hall and Laigh Hall. The moves by the Scottish Government to clarify ownership of the court buildings occurred prior to the taxpayer funded £58 million refurbishment project (originally budgeted at over £120m) of the sprawling court buildings.

However, after inquiries by government lawyers on the exact ownership of Scotland’s most highest courts, Edinburgh City Council concluded they were unaware of who owned Parliament House. This led to ownership transferring to Scottish Ministers who then allowed the Faculty of Advocates to register the title deeds to the interior of the building in its name.

From investigations carried out by Andy Wightman, it transpired the Faculty of Advocates had in-fact, lobbied the Scottish Government to hand over ownership.

Writing on his blog, Mr Wightman said: “The Faculty of Advocates has for centuries regarded Parliament House as theirs. They had almost exclusive use of it and so, by means as yet unclear, within a month of Scottish Ministers taking ownership, the Faculty persuaded Scottish Ministers to convey to its ownership for no consideration the room known as the Laigh Hall within Parliament House.”

The title deeds to Parliament House now state the interior of the building is owned by the Faculty of Advocates while the exterior comes under the government’s ownership as part of the Scottish Courts Service.

The full in-depth investigation by Andy Wightman is available here: Edinburgh Council loses Parliament House

During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked a question by Alison Johnstone  MSP (Lothians, Green Party) about the Parliament Hall land grab by the Faculty of Advocates.

In her reply, featured below along with video footage of FMQs, Nicola Sturgeon claimed she found no fault on the part of the Scottish Government – who handed over the titles to the Faculty of Advocates – effectively little more than a lawyer’s lobby group. The First Minister went on to warn “ there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council” without giving a real explanation of why the titles were transferred in the first place.

The First Minister also gave no explanation on why £58 million pounds of taxpayers money was thrown at the Court of Session buildings which were then effectively handed over to the Faculty of Advocates free of charge.

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

During the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – who is head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen said: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting by Eric McQueen was none other than Lord President Brian Gill himself, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Today, a spokesperson for the Scottish Court Service said: “The title to Parliament House, which includes the Laigh Hall situated underneath Parliament Hall, was registered by Scottish Ministers in 2006. The ownership of the interior of Laigh Hall was transferred to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Ministers. Court buildings under the ownership of the Scottish Ministers were transferred to the Scottish Court Service (SCS) in 2010 under the Transfer of Property and in accordance with the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

Parliament House is a public building and is home to our Supreme Courts. The SCS recently completed an extensive £58 million redevelopment of the courthouse ahead of schedule and within budget. Following the refurbishment, an exhibition, ‘The Hidden Gem’, became an Edinburgh Fringe event attracting thousands of visitors. Parliament House also hosts annual open days enabling the public to better understand our legal system, while Parliament Hall is  open to visitors during working hours.”

Asked how much was returned to public coffers via “The Hidden Gem” exhibition, a spokesperson for the SCS replied: “The Fringe event was open to the public without an admission charge and marked the completion of the substantial modernisation programme by the Scottish Court Service which conserves Parliament House for future generations and provides the modern and digital facilities required by the Scottish justice system. Our position is that Court buildings under the ownership of the Scottish Ministers were transferred to the Scottish Court Service (SCS) in 2010 under the Transfer of Property and in accordance with the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.”

The Scottish Government refused to answer calls for a statement and questions on whether any attempt would be made to recover the £58m of taxpayers money spent on Parliament House . Neither the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC or the Faculty itself have issued any statement on the matter so far.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

DODGE GUIDE FOR ADVOCATES: ‘Independent’ legal regulator launches guide for Faculty of Advocates on how to deal with allegations of poor legal services & dodgy court performances

Regulator’s guide for advocates written by advocates.. ADVOCATES who face complaints over poor provision of legal services & sub par performances in Scotland’s courts now have a new weapon in dealing with complaints – in the form of a ‘help guide’ on how to deal with dissatisfied clients.

The nine page booklet, issued yesterday by Scotland’s ‘independent’ legal regulator – The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – was developed with the co-operation and input of the advocates own lobby group – the Faculty of Advocates.

SLCC CEO Matthew Vickers welcomed the guide, saying: “Improving standards of complaint handling and service is an important part of our work. We’re pleased to see the interest shown by members of the Faculty of Advocates in the guide we’ve produced.”

The guide, published below, covers six basic principles of complaints handling and three steps to effective complaint handling.  It also includes an example of a model complaint handling process for Scotland’s highly paid, mega earning advocates.

However the guide’s references to transparency & fairness appear far from the reality of how the legal profession deal with complaints against its own in the environment of self regulation – where on occasion, advocates have used law firms to threaten clients who make complaints about their conduct. In at least one instance known to the media, an advocate even used Police Officers in an attempt to escape a complaint.

The guide states: At the outset, the approach to the complainer should be empathetic and not defensive – a defensive response will usually prove counter-productive. Try to see the complaint from the client’s perspective and engage openly, demonstrating an understanding of the issues which the complainer has raised. Bear in mind that it may have been difficult for the complainer to raise the matter by way of a complaint, particularly where they are emotionally involved.

It then goes on to claim: To achieve and maintain credibility it is important that the complaints process is transparent and fair. Complaints should be dealt with in a consistent approach which is, at the same time, proportionate to the complaint. The response to the complaint should be based on the facts surrounding the matter complained of rather than on assumptions. Each individual advocate is responsible for handling any complaint against him or her, but communications may be passed through Counsel’s Clerk. Guidance can also be obtained from a Faculty Office Bearer or from the Dean’s Secretariat.

A list of ‘dos and don’ts’ to advocates on the run from complaints contain the following suggestions:

• Be alert to any expression of dissatisfaction which should be regarded as a complaint, or at least a potential complaint, and treat it as such. Remember that this could be received by your Clerk or a member of FSL staff dealing with an outstanding fee.

• Engage with the client to understand the issue at hand. Do this through your Clerk if you wish to maintain some distance.

• Be empathetic with the complainer, be aware of the impact which the issue may have had on the complainer, including the emotional impact of bringing the matter to your attention.

• Don’t avoid the problem or hope that it will go away; always respond to a complaint.

• Don’t delay dealing with the complaint – the last thing you want is an additional complaint about concerns not being dealt with in good time.

Finally, don’t ignore complaints from third parties – the SLCC can accept complaints from parties other than a practitioner’s own clients and you need to treat these as seriously as a complaint from your own client, although it is important to bear in mind any confidentiality issues

Commenting on the guide, former MSP and now Vice-Dean of Faculty Gordon Jackson QC said: “As the SLCC indicated in its most recent annual report, there are very few complaints about advocates. As a result, it is helpful to have been able to produce a guidance document for those members who may not have had to deal with a complaint,” said Gordon Jackson, QC, Vice-Dean of Faculty.

“The Faculty is and always has been committed to promoting the provision by its members of the highest quality legal services. It is important that the public should know that if an advocate receives a complaint, it will be handled properly and in accordance with standards approved by the SLCC. We have therefore been pleased, in the course of revising our complaints and disciplinary procedures, also to have worked very closely with the SLCC to prepare guidance for our members on complaints handling.”

Vice Dean Mr Jackson – who once lost a £50K claim for slipping on ice covered pavements on Johnston Terrace in Edinburgh after temporary judge Gordon Reid QC said he had no relevant case against Edinburgh City Council – also sought to reassure the public over how complaints about advocates are handled.

He said: “The Faculty is and always has been committed to promoting the provision by its members of the highest quality legal services. It is important that the public should know that if an advocate receives a complaint, it will be handled properly and in accordance with standards approved by the SLCC.”

The guide was formally launched at an event on 8 January at the Faculty of Advocates by the SLCC’s Head of Oversight and the Dean of Faculty.  The guide follows a previous guide for solicitors.  Both guides are available on the SLCC’s website at Guidance and Advice for Practitioners pages.

Have you had a bad experience with an advocate, or made a complaint about an advocate and found the regulation system failed to deal with it? Tell us about it at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

Tags: , , , ,