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Tag Archives: Petition 1247

Sheriff Courts ‘unfair’ delay on McKenzie Friends until 2011 may impact on current cases of party litigant’s access to justice in Scotland’s lower courts

Edinburgh Sheriff CourtMcKenzie Friends in Sheriff Courts are delayed until 2011. MCKENZIE FRIENDS in Scotland are back in the news today as it was revealed Scotland’s Sheriff Courts are to take several more months before introducing similar rules already implemented in the Court of Session during mid-June 2010 which allowed the internationally acclaimed courtroom helper into Scotland’s civil courts some forty years after McKenzie Friends first came into existence in England & Wales. It had been thought McKenzie Friends would have appeared in the Sheriff Courts by the end of summer 2010.

Lord Hamilton 2Lord Hamilton enacted ban on McKenzie Friends being paid in Court of Session, Sheriff Courts may take different approach. The eight month delay has been caused apparently by considerations of issues such as whether expenses should be recoverable by a litigant who has the support of a McKenzie Friend. McKenzie Friends can already receive remuneration for their services in English courts, however the Lord President’s introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s court of session saw a ban on McKenzie Friends being able to charge for their services, a restriction some observers believe came about after the legal profession voiced concerns over their loss of business.

A statement (pdf) given to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee by the Sheriff Court Rules Council secretariat in response to questions over the timetable of implementation revealed : “I can confirm that the Sheriff Court Rules Council considered draft rules for the use of a McKenzie friend in civil proceedings in the sheriff court at its meeting on 6 August. The Council agreed with the recommendation of its working group that a different approach to that of the Court of Session was necessary namely that the procedure involved should be less formal with no certification as regards the suitability of the individual which the party litigant wishes to assist in the conduct of the proceedings being required. An amended draft will be considered by the Council at its next meeting on 5 November.”

The statement to the Petitions Committee continued : “The delay has arisen as the Council wishes to adopt a similar approach in principle to that of the Court of Session but at the same time wishes to reflect the different practices and procedures that operate within the sheriff court. In particular, there is a question whether expenses should be recoverable by a litigant who has the support of a McKenzie friend. This has been excluded in the Court of Session Rules. A decision has still to be taken as to whether this exclusion should also apply in the sheriff court.”

The statement concluded : “The Council will consider other draft rules in relation to the recommendations contained within the Civil Courts Review. Subject to the drafts being approved by the Council, it is anticipated that the rules will be submitted to the Lord President with a view to the draft instrument being made in January 2011 with the rules coming into force in February 2011.”

Legal insiders & consumer groups today criticised the long process of bringing McKenzie Friends to Scottish courts.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said the implementation process “could have been handled better, ensuring McKenzie Friends came into play in the Court of Session & the Sheriff Courts at the same time”.

A solicitor pointed out today while it had now been the case for some months that party litigants could apply for a McKenzie Friend to assist them in the Court of Session, party litigants in Scotland’s Sheriff courts were continuing to face a long wait on being able to use a McKenzie Friend, thus raising the possibility Sheriff court users may be facing a ‘loss of access to justice’.

On the subject of expenses & remuneration of McKenzie Friends, he said : “Personally I have no difficulty with McKenzie Friends in Scotland being able to charge for their services, so long as their service is a valued one and productive for the party litigant.”

He continued : “Allowing McKenzie Friends to be paid may well encourage groups such as law students & others willing to act as McKenzie Friends, assisting access to justice and giving some of our solicitors of the future valuable experience in court from the perspective of those who choose to represent their own interests.”

I have previously reported on the differences between Scotland & the rest of the UK on the remuneration of McKenzie Friends, here : Lord President softens rules on Scottish McKenzie Friends, remuneration issue still out of step with England & Wales

The Petitioner, Stewart MacKenzie raised the issue of the Sheriff Court delay, writing in a letter (pdf) to the Petitions Committee : “Whilst I am very pleased that the Sheriff Court Rules Council propose a less formal process for McKenzie Friends in Sheriff Courts, with “no certification as regards the suitability of the individual which the Party Litigant wishes to assist in the conduct of the procedure being required”, I am however very disappointed at the amount of time that the Sheriff Court Rules Council are taking to bring McKenzie Friends into force in the Sheriff Courts, particularly where they say that it could be February of 2011 before matters are finalised.”

Mr MacKenzie continued, critical of the delays : “That being so and given the fact that Lord Hamilton brought McKenzie Friends into force in the Court of Session on 15th June 2010, the Sheriff Court system’s implementation of McKenzie Friends will be at least eight months behind that of the Court of Session. I would also say that this may not have been fair to Party Litigants, whose cases are currently in the Sheriff Court system.”

Clearly there should have been a more uniformed approach to bringing McKenzie Friends to all of Scotland’s courts, particularly considering the time many agencies have taken to input on Petition 1247

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, and how having a McKenzie Friend in court may assist party litigants here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far.

I reported on a useful guide for party litigants in the Court of Session, which includes the use of McKenzie Friends, here : Access to justice improved : McKenzie Friends advice now included in guide for Court of Session’s party litigants

All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition (Petition 1247) at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

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Holyrood Petitions Committee to keep McKenzie Friend campaign open until Sheriff Court plans are scrutinised by MSPs & formally introduced

Petitions CommitteeHolyrood’s Petitions Committee heard latest on McKenzie Friends Petition. THE PETITIONS COMMITTEE of the Scottish Parliament have said they will not close Petition 1247 – McKenzie Friends for Scotland until MSPs have seen and had a chance to comment on the proposals from the Sheriff Court Rules Council to implement McKenzie Friends (otherwise known as lay assistants) in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, following on from the Lord President’s Act of Sederunt, passed earlier in the summer which introduced McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Court of Session in mid June, some 40 years after McKenzie Friends were first introduced to the English court system.

Nigel Don Petitions CommitteeNigel Don MSP (SNP) said Petition should not be closed until Parliament scrutinises Sheriff Court plans. During the Petitions Committee’s Tuesday session, Committee member Nigel Don said progress was being made ‘very fast’ and expressed his gratitude to the Lord President for introducing McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Court of Session. Mr Don went onto say the ”Sheriff Court Rules are being dealt with but they seem to have gone a little bit slower” and said he believed Petition 1247 should not be closed until the rules for the use of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts are “in the public domain” and the Petitions Committee has a chance to see & comment on the Sheriff Court Rules Council proposals.

Mr Don’s comments came after the Petitioner, Perth based law reform campaigner Mr Stewart MacKenzie had written to the Petitions Committee urging members to contact the Sheriff Court Rules Council for a clearer timescale for the completion of the implementation of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, bearing in mind the Court of Session and the Lord President had managed to complete the process in around five weeks.

Petitions Committee Convener Rhona Brankin MSP concluded the discussion on Petition 1247, by continuing the petition until the Committee receive more information.

Petitions Committee 7th Sept. 2010 – Nigel Don : Parliament should have a chance to see & comment on the Sheriff Court rules for McKenzie Friends before petition is closed. (click image below to watch video)

I have reported previously on the Sheriff Court Rules Council’s discussions on the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, here : Sheriff Court Rules Council reveals McKenzie Friends on course to help party litigants in Scottish Sheriff Courts by end of summer 2010

While party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session have been able to apply for a McKenzie Friend to assist their case since mid June of this year, party litigants in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, where most hearings in which McKenzie Friends will have a ‘helping hand’ take place, will have to wait until the Sheriff Court Rules Council formalise their plans for rules governing the use of lay assistants in Sheriff Courts before being able to apply to a Sheriff for lay assistance.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff Court Rules Council stated : “I can advise that the Sheriff Court Rules Council is still considering the procedure for McKenzie friends within the Sheriff Court and, in particular, is considering whether the approach by the Court of Session is appropriate in the Sheriff Court. At this stage, I am not able to advise when the provisions will be commenced.”

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandMcKenzie Friends for Scotland. You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, and how having a McKenzie Friend in court may assist party litigants here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far. All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition (Petition 1247) at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

 

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Access to justice improved : McKenzie Friends advice now included in guide for Court of Session’s party litigants

Guide for Party Litigants coverScottish Court Service offer guidance on McKenzie Friends. After a year of the Scottish Parliament considering the McKenzie Friend question for Scotland, in the form of Petition 1247, assisted by a ruling in the Court of Session last November, the Scottish Court Service have now updated their GUIDE FOR PARTY LITIGANTSRaising & Defending ordinary actions in the Court of Session(pdf) with details on how people who are conducting their own litigation (party litigants) can apply for “lay assistance”, (otherwise known as ”McKenzie Friends” in the rest of the world) to accompany them and offer help in proceedings in Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session.

All party litigants in Scotland and anyone with an interest in the justice system are advised to read the guide, which can be downloaded from the Scottish Court Service website HERE in pdf format. Currently no similar guide exists for party litigants in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, although with the Sheriff Court Rules Council currently considering how to implement the use of McKenzie Friends across Scotland’s lower courts, as I reported last month HERE, it is hoped something along the lines of the Court of Session’s party litigant guide will be issued for use in Scotland’s Sheriff courts where most small actions involving party litigants are heard.

Guide for Party Litigants Lay AssistanceGuidance from the Scottish Court Service on how to apply for McKenzie Friends. The updated guidance from the Scottish Court Service on McKenzie Friends statees : “If you are acting on your own behalf you may apply for permission to have a named individual support you. This is set out in Chapter 12A – Lay Assistance for Party Litigants (pdf) and is similar to the concept of a ‘McKenzie Friend’ in the English courts. You may choose to have this supporter sit beside or behind you at any hearings in court or in a judge’s chambers. The supporter is not allowed to speak on your behalf. You must apply for this permission by enrolling a motion. You motion must be accompanied by Form 12.A-A (Application by party litigant for lay support) which you and your proposed supporter must sign. Part 2 of Form 12.2-A) asks for confirmation on various matters from the proposed supporter. Motions will be granted unless the court is satisfied that to do so would not be conducive to the efficient administration of justice.”

Any permission:
* is not effective during any period when you are represented by a solicitors;
* is granted only until the proceedings are finished:
* is granted until the permission is withdrawn.

The court may withdraw permission on its own motion or on the motion of any party. The court must be satisfied that it would be contrary to the efficient administration of justice for the permission to continue.

You may want your supporter to :

* provide moral support;
* help to manage the court documents and other papers;
* take notes of the proceedings;
* quietly advise on –
– points of law and procedure;
– issues which you might want to raise with the court;
– questions which you might wish to ask witnesses.

Form 12.A-A Application by party litigant for lay supportApplication for McKenzie Friend Form 12.A-A. You may show your supporter any document including court documents. The supporter may receive any information in connection with the proceedings which is in your possession. This would not be a contravention of any prohibition or restriction on the disclosure of the document or the information. The supporter would then be subject to any prohibition or restriction in the same way as if he or she were the litigant. Any expenses you incur as a result of an individual’s support are not recoverable expenses in the proceedings.

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, and how having a McKenzie Friend in court may assist party litigants here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far. All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition (Petition 1247) at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

 

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Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains ‘Victorian’, untrustworthy, costly & still controlled by vested legal interests

Lord GillLord Gill’s Civil Courts Review published in 2009 recommended significant reforms to Scots justice system. THE CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, the two year review undertaken by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill which recommended significant, wide ranging reforms to Scotland’s antiquated Civil Justice system, is about to face its first anniversary since publication. However, a year on since the report was launched amid a blaze of publicity, there is little to show by way of reforms to the justice system, which Lord Gill himself branded “Victorian”, failing to deliver efficiency of justice or Scots accessibility of justice.

Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, 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.”

He continued : “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.”

“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.”

Here we are at the end of August 2010, and sadly little has changed.

Lord Gill’s definition of “major reform and soon” must have translated badly to the Scottish Government & Parliament, falling on the traditionally deaf ears of Scots politicians and the legal establishment, ever keen to ensure ‘access to justice’ remains a money making empire for the legal profession, rather than actually affording the right of access to justice to all Scots in our own country.

Readers can download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

Of course, it must be pointed out one notable success since the Civil Courts Review was published last September, is the partial implementation of McKenzie Friends for Scotland, so far introduced to the Court of Session and soon to be introduced to all Sheriff Courts in Scotland.

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandMcKenzie Friends for Scotland were only forced through to implementation after Holyrood Petition & November 2009 court ruling. However, the introduction of McKenzie Friends would probably not even have occurred had it not been for two key developments since Lord Gill made his recommendation to introduce the internationally acclaimed lay courtroom helper, where Petition 1247 filed at the Scottish Parliament by Stewart MacKenzie gained significant support & public exposure, effectively forcing the entire issue of lay assistance into the public spotlight, aided by Lord Woolman’s November 2009 ruling in the case of M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01), which overtook the slow pace of events at Holyrood and introduced Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session.

We are now left with the majority of Lord Gill’s recommendations still to be implemented, as the likes of the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates seek ways to ensure implementation of the Civil Courts Review’s aim of ‘wider, more efficient access to justice for all Scots’ also equates to pounds in the pockets of solicitors & advocates, rather than heaven forbid, reforming the justice system to the point that most people do not need to run up huge bills with law firms for litigation which could be heard and judged upon in a much speedier, consumer friendly updated civil justice system which the Civil Courts Review recommended.

Indeed, it was the Faculty of Advocates who effectively began the official ‘talking down’ of the Civil Courts Review, as I reported earlier, here : Process of ‘watering down’ Lord Gill’s civil courts reforms begins as Faculty of Advocates question public benefit, costs of access to justice changes

Readers should also note the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review was much less than an assurance the rights of ordinary Scots to justice would be put before the interests of the legal establishment, as I reported earlier, here : Holyrood debate reveals civil justice reforms & McKenzie Friends may be a long way off as Scottish Ministers stumble over Lord Gill review proposals

richard keen qcDean of Faculty supported calls for Class Actions in early 2009, yet over a year on nothing has happened. One example of the malaise which has hit the Civil Courts Review is that of the introduction of Class Actions to the Scottish justice system, an idea once supported by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Richard Keen QC, as an idea to take on the big banks. However, since Mr Keen’s call to allow class actions against banks was featured in the Scotsman newspaper in January 2009, the banks have of course, recovered somewhat from their weak bargaining positions of early 2009, and, with a little cash injection of extra sponsorship of events held by the Scottish legal profession, calls for the introduction of class actions since early 2009 have been all but silenced by, what many would term ‘hush money’.

October 2009 : Shirley Anne Somerville MSP speaks on the merits of introducing Class Actions to Scotland, yet one year on, not a hint anything on Class Actions will happen soon.

Debating chamberHolyrood goes slow on justice reforms, so Scots must give their views, campaign for wider access to justice to be implemented sooner rather than later. While Scots wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for the Scottish Government & Parliament to actually do something and ensure the many reforms of the Civil Courts Review are implemented, hopefully sometime before the next election, instead of sometime in the next 500 years, readers can also give their input into the Civil Justice Advisory Group, who have launched their own consultation on the best way forward for implementing the many recommendations made by Lord Gill’s report, an issue I reported on in early August, here : Consumers urged to give their views as Civil Justice Advisory Group launches consultation on key proposals of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review

The consultation and seminar feedback will help the Group in formulating a detailed report to the Scottish Government on how it should take forward some of the recommendations of the Scottish civil courts review report.

The consultation paper can be accessed by clicking here : Civil Justice Consultation Response Paper (pdf)

Responses to the consultation should be submitted to Consumer Focus Scotland before 24th September 2010 by email to : civil.justice@consumerfocus.org.uk or via the online response form

By post to :
Civil Justice Advisory Group Consultation
Consumer Focus Scotland
Royal Exchange House
100 Queen Street
Glasgow
G1 3DN

I would urge as many readers as possible to take part in this consultation, for the benefit of yourself and all Scots who need access to a fairer, much improved Civil Justice system in our own land. Access to justice for one, access to justice for all !

 

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McKenzie Friends ‘on the way’ to Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, application procedure to be ‘less formal’ than Court of Session

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandMcKenzie Friends will soon appear to assist party litigants in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts. SHERIFF COURTS across Scotland are on the way to formalising the arrangements for unrepresented party litigants to obtain the services of a McKenzie Friend, the usually non-lawyer lay courtroom helpers which have provided invaluable assistance to thousands of party litigants in the English court system for the past forty years, after the Sheriff Court Rules Council let it be known their work on the issue is at draft stage, hopefully soon to be concluded.

A spokesman for the Sheriff Court Rules Council on being asked about the developments to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Sheriff Courts after I had reported earlier on the Sheriff Court Rules Council’s consideration of the issue, said yesterday : “I can confirm that the Sheriff Court Rules Council considered draft rules for the use of a McKenzie Friend in civil proceedings in the sheriff court at its meeting on 6 August.“

He continued : “The Council agreed with the recommendation of its working group that a different approach to that of the Court of Session was necessary namely that the procedure involved should be less formal with no certification as regards the suitability of the individual which the party litigant wishes to assist in the conduct of the proceedings being required. I should advise you also that the draft rules require some amendment so they are still under consideration by the Council.”

Hamilton & MacAskillLord Hamilton & Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill were caught out by speed & widespread support of Holyrood McKenzie Friends Petition. The Sheriff Court Rules Council’s consideration of the McKenzie Friend question, follows the implementation of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Highest court, the Court of Session after Scotland’s Chief Judge, the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, and the Scottish Government were caught on the hop when a public petition (Petition 1247) was filed at the Scottish Parliament by Stewart MacKenzie, asking Holyrood’s Petitions Committee to address the 40 year exclusion of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s courts. Video footage of the Scottish Parliament’s hearings on Petition 1247 can be viewed online at InjusticeTV.

Lord GillLord Gill proposed McKenzie Friends in Civil Courts review. Progress to finally bring lay assistants to Scotland’s civil courts was helped considerably by McKenzie Friends being recommended by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill who had spent considerable time on the issue of lay representation as part of the two year Civil Courts Review. Lord Gill had also recommended a ‘super McKenzie Friend’ with a right of audience, enabling a lay assistant to address the court on behalf of party litigants, a proposal now part of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which I recently reported here : McKenzie Friends from today in Court of Session, Lord Gill’s ‘super’ McKenzie Friend with rights of audience proposal goes to Holyrood

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman granted Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in late 2009. Not long after Lord Gill’s report on civil law reforms was published, a decision in what appears to be Scotland’s longest running civil claims action, now in its f o u r t e e n t h year, M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01), overtook events at Holyrood and introduced Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session, granted by Lord Woolman, making the decision to introduce McKenzie Friends to general use in the Court of Session and lower Sheriff Courts, a formality, albeit a decision taking the best part of a year to complete.

Law Society & faculty of advocatesLaw Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates initially objected to Holyrood Petition bringing McKenzie Friends to Scottish Courts. The exclusion of McKenzie Friends from Scottish Courts has been attributed by many seasoned law reform campaigners, several politicians and even some insiders within the legal profession to the lobbying power of the Law Society of Scotland, who, along with the Faculty of Advocates, initially opposed calls to introduce the internationally acclaimed lay courtroom helper to Scotland’s courts, over fears consumers would turn to McKenzie Friends to save themselves the notoriously unjustifiably huge solicitor’s fees which are typical of even the simplest court actions in Scotland, a well known obstacle to justice which has excluded many members of the public from gaining access to Scotland’s courts over the past four decades.

However, while the legal profession have traditionally viewed themselves as the providers of access to justice to Scots, the fact is the legal profession are simply a multi billion pound business, who for many years have themselves monopolised Scots access to the court system & access to legal services, in effect, selecting who among Scotland’s population had access to justice, while excluding those who the Law Society decided should not be allowed near a court. Many know this to be true, as do many of Scotland’s highest judges. There are thousands of examples a year to support this view, with a trail of people left out in the cold by the legal profession who as a whole have little regard for the rights of individuals unless there is a huge amount of money to be made from their predicament.

Placing the interests of what is nothing more than a business above the rights of Scots to enjoy unfettered access to justice, is wholly wrong, and for this reason, many consumer groups across the UK backed the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s courts, to increase Scottish consumer’s access to justice.

A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today welcomed the developments from the Sheriff Court Rules Council, expressing hope the Scottish Court Service would offer written guidance in all of Scotland’s Sheriff Courts to assist members of the public on the issue, allowing informed choices to be made on using McKenzie Friends in cases which may benefit consumers & the interests of justice considerably by the use of lay assistants in many common types of cases which currently fall victim to unscrupulous solicitors who unnecessarily complicate even the simplest of Sheriff Court cases to ensure larger fees for their little input.

However, a Scottish Parliament insider said he was slightly disappointed the Sheriff Court Rules Council had not been able to proceed the matter at a faster pace, as the Petitions Committee was due to hear Petition 1247 in September and had hoped to report the availability of McKenzie Friends in all of Scotland’s courts, bringing the Committee’s consideration of the issue to a successful conclusion.

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far

All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

 

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Lord President softens rules on Scottish McKenzie Friends, remuneration issue still out of step with England & Wales

Lord Hamilton 2Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton. LORD HAMILTON, Scotland’s Chief Judge has written to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee informing MSPs of a slight softening of the requirements of McKenzie Friends or ‘lay assistants’ applying to assist unrepresented party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session. However while the changes proposed to the terms of who can be a McKenzie Friend in Scotland are welcome small steps, there are still a number of issues yet to be settled to bring Scottish Courts into line with the rest of the UK, after McKenzie Friends first came into existence in an English courtroom forty years ago.

The changes, although minimal, are a retreat from Lord Hamilton’s previous plans to question those applying to be a McKenzie Friend whether they are related to the party litigant. It will now be the case, according to the Lord President the document which accompanies the application for lay support requires now only to state whether or not the supporter has a financial interest in the case and if so to set out what that is.

Lord Hamilton to Petitions Committee 5 July 2010 McKenzie Friends for Scotland Page 1Lord Hamilton’s letter to Petitions Committee informed MSPs of rule changes. Lord Hamilton wrote : “The draft Act of Sederunt was considered by the Court of Session Rules Council at its meeting on 10 May. I refer to item 6 of the draft minutes of the meeting. The Council took account of the substantive points made in the Committee’s discussion at its meeting on 4 May. The draft was modified slightly so that document which accompanies the application for lay support requires now only to state whether or not the supporter has a financial interest in the case and if so to set out what that is.”

On the thorny subject of McKenzie Friends being paid for their help in Scottish courts, as they are in England & Wales – an issue now supported by case law, the Lord President informed the Parliament : “And the prohibition on remuneration was confined to remuneration from the litigant; it is not (and never was) intended to prohibit members of advice services from providing lay support on the basis that they were remunerated by a public body or a charitable organisation. Indeed, support from those sources is manifestly to be encouraged.”

The reference to case law in the English courts family division to support the right of a McKenzie Friend to charge for their services, reports that Mr Justice Munby, ruling over a case of costs arising from contentious contact and residence litigation between unmarried parents [N (A Child) [2009] EWHC 2096 (Fam)] concluded the child’s father’s McKenzie Friend “is entitled to charge, if he can find clients willing to pay his fees, at an hourly rate which can hardly be said to be extravagant when contrasted with the fees one frequently finds being charged to privately paying clients in family cases”.

Serious questions remain over the Lord President’s desire to forbid any payment to McKenzie Friends in Scotland, with some campaigners questioning whether the prospect of not even a small reward for the services of a lay assistant may well put off many capable individuals from offering to serve as McKenzie Friends to unrepresented party litigants, particularly when the lay assistant scheme is passed for use in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts later this year, as I reported earlier here : Sheriff Court Rules Council reveals McKenzie Friends on course to help party litigants in Scottish Sheriff Courts by end of summer 2010

Lord Hamilton to Petitions Committee 5 July 2010 McKenzie Friends for Scotland page 2Lord Hamilton also informed Holyrood he would keep the arrangements for McKenzie Friends ‘under review’. Lord Hamilton went onto inform MSPs there had been no difficulties reported to him so far over the McKenzie Friend issue : “The Act of Sederunt was duly made (SSI 2010/205). It came into force in relation to lay support on 15 June. At the time of writing it is not possible to offer the Committee any information about how it is working out in practice, other than to say that no difficulties have yet been communicated to me. Once the new arrangements have been in place for a reasonable period, I intend to survey my colleagues to establish the effectiveness of them. I would wish to stress that the arrangements will be kept under review and that, if there are any difficulties, they can be communicated to my Private Office and taken forward with the Rules Council as appropriate.”

Lord Hamilton concluded his letter to the Petitions Committee, informing MSPs the Sheriff Court Rules Council were drafting rules for the Sheriff Courts later in the summer : “That deals, I think, with the Court of Session. So far as the sheriff court is concerned, I understand that the Rules Council continues to have the matter under consideration and anticipates considering a draft of amendments of the sheriff court rules at its meeting on 6 August.”

Recent background to McKenzie Friends in Scotland :

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman granted Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in late 2009. During the course of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the McKenzie Friend petition, one of Scotland’s longest running civil claims actions, M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01), overtook events at Holyrood and introduced Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session, granted by Lord Woolman, making the decision to introduce McKenzie Friends to general use in the Court of Session and lower Sheriff Courts, a formality, albeit one taking the best part of a year to complete.

Lord GillLord Gill proposed McKenzie Friends in Civil Courts review. Progress to finally bring lay assistants to Scotland’s civil courts was helped considerably by McKenzie Friends being recommended by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill who had spent considerable time on the issue of lay representation as part of the two year Civil Courts Review. Lord Gill had also recommended a ‘super McKenzie Friend’ with a right of audience, enabling a lay assistant to address the court on behalf of party litigants, a proposal now part of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which I recently reported here : McKenzie Friends from today in Court of Session, Lord Gill’s ‘super’ McKenzie Friend with rights of audience proposal goes to Holyrood

I will report further on the McKenzie Friend issue when the Sheriff Court Rules Council publish more details on their draft rules and timescale for formal introduction.

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far

All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

 

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McKenzie Friends from today in Court of Session, Lord Gill’s ‘super’ McKenzie Friend with rights of audience proposal joins Holyrood’s Legal Services Bill

Lord Hamilton 2McKenzie Friends made official in Court of Session by Lord Hamilton. McKenzie Friends are officially available to all Scots court users & party litigants in the Court of Session as of today, 15 June 2010, after Lord Hamilton’s Act of Sederunt announced earlier in February of this year finally took effect, allowing anyone who cannot obtain legal representation for litigation which demands a place in Scotland’s highest court, to file a motion requesting the services of a McKenzie Friend to assist their case.

McKenzie friends as we are all probably now well aware of, are lay individuals who assist party litigants in court, for example by providing moral support, helping with court documents, or giving discrete advice. The Lord President has now clarified the situation in the Court of Session through an Act of Sederunt which comes into force today. Lord Hamilton has also notified the Sheriff Court Rules Council which will consider the matter at its meeting tomorrow, 16 June 2010. This will include an acknowledgement that lay assistance to party litigants is possible; a description of what form this assistance can take; and a presumption in favour of allowing a party litigant to have such a lay assistant.

margo_macdonaldA McKenzie Friend’s friend – unswerving support from Margo MacDonald MSP helped bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Courts. The success of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, kicked off by Petition 1247 filed by Stewart MacKenzie at the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, and supported by several law reform campaigners & groups, consumer organisations such as Consumer Focus Scotland & Which?, included key support from MSPs such as Margo MacDonald & David Whitton, and even support from the original McKenzie Friend himself, Australian Barrister Ian Hanger QC, all backed up by developments during November 2009 which saw Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend allowed in the Court of Session by Lord Woolman during M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & others (A1628/01), was hailed today by Scottish Parliament insiders as a collective effort showing the system of public petitions had worked well, helping to bring in a reform which had also been recommended by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill who had spent considerable time on the issue of lay representation as part of the two year Civil Courts Review.

Whilst I would characterise the year long campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland as being more of a struggle between the Lord President, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and supporters, there is no doubt a reform which featured heavily in Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review has made it to existence much sooner than if things had been left to the courts system itself to allow. After all, Scotland has been without McKenzie Friends for forty years, an omission no one is yet willing to explain substantively, and apparently an issue the Petitions Committee feels it cannot seek answers to.

Act of Sederunt proposal for McKenzie Friend certificateApplication for a McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session will cost £45. There are also some questions remaining over access, costs & funding of McKenzie Friends in Scottish Courts after the Court of Session Rules Council minutes revealed some ‘devil in the detail’, most notably on fees(proposed by the Lord President to stand at £45 per motion for a McKenzie Friend), which have been sharply criticised by some as party litigants are often unrepresented and have been put in a position of being a party litigant more because they cannot afford the expensive legal services of Scotland’s legal profession rather than the constant argument from the Law Society of Scotland that their cases are not worthy of courtroom attention. Given the costs of travel to the Court of Session and other associated costs, it is hoped the £45 fee may be looked at in a sympathetic light as applications for McKenzie Friends being to reach the Court of Session.

While Scots will be stuck with the £45 fee for the time being, fees for applications of McKenzie Friends/lay assistance in the English family courts (pdf) apparently stand at £175, using the Application Form C2 (pdf). However, party litigants have been able to circumvent the fees by writing to the judge enclosing the CV of their intended McKenzie Friend, according to individuals well experienced in the McKenzie Friend process in the English courts.

Lay Representation Rights of Audience Legal Services Bill Amendment Fergus EwingThe Scottish Government have lodged a promised amendment to the Legal Services Bill proposing McKenzie Friends with a right to address the court. While questions remaining over the use of McKenzie Friends (Lay Assistants) in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts will be answered at tomorrow’s Sheriff Court Rules Council meeting, chaired by Lord Hamilton himself, another benefit has emerged from the successful introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Court of Session .. in the form of a recent amendment lodged by the Scottish Government to the Legal Services Bill, which proposes to allow Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review recommendation of a ‘super’ McKenzie Friend with a right of audience, who will be able to address the court as well as assist their party litigant with all the other tasks associated with a McKenzie Friend up to now.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have lodged amendments to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to allow provision for lay representatives, who do not have a right of audience, to address the court on behalf of a party litigant, in certain circumstances.”

“In the report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review (“SCCR”), it was noted that “there may be exceptional circumstances in which it would be appropriate to permit a McKenzie friend to assist a party litigant and, with the court’s permission, to address the court”. It went on to recommend that “a person without a right of audience should be entitled to address the court on behalf of a party litigant, but only in circumstances where the court considers that such representation would help it”. We intend to implement this recommendation, so this will be the first recommendation of the SCCR, requiring primary legislation, to be implemented.”

So, compliments to the Scottish Government on this one … the first recommendation of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review to hit the streets in a usable form for court users in Scotland’s civil justice system. Lets have more please, including the reforms suggested by Lord Gill on Class Actions and also digital recordings in court which many would welcome being implemented in the present rather than far in the future.

I reported on the issue of transcripts of proceedings in Scotland’s courts in an earlier article here : Scottish court users advised to ‘take along a note taker’ as omissions in civil court transcripts jeopardise consumers access to justice and clearly Lord Gill feels the matter of digital recording facilities in Scotland’s courts would assist the interests of justice, confirmed to me by many litigants involved in civil actions where the events which took place in court are often omitted from interlocutors and later references made by opposing legal teams.

Lord GillLord Gill recommends digital recordings of all civil court evidence. The extent of problems with court transcripts and recordings, was referred to in Chapter 6 of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review, where the Lord Justice Clerk stated : “Currently where evidence is recorded in civil cases this is done manually by a shorthand writer. In our view it would be more efficient to record digitally all evidence in civil cases, as happens in criminal cases. The cost of this should be borne by the SCS. The availability of digital recording facilities in all courtrooms would contribute to more flexible usage of accommodation. We understand, however, that to equip a court fully for digital recording could cost up to £15,000. That may be prohibitive in smaller courts. Mobile facilities could be made available in those courts when required. If parties required a transcript of the evidence a charge would be made for this service. In many instances a recording of the evidence would be all that would be required.”

Clearly problems do exist with transcripts of courtroom activity, which as Lord Gill concludes himself, would easily be curtailed by the digital recording of all evidence in civil cases. You can download Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review at the following links : Civil Courts Review

Volume 1 Chapter 1 – 9 (Covers McKenzie Friends, procedures, use of information technology in courts, advice etc, 2.99Mb)

Volume 2 Chapter 10 – 15 (Covers mainly the issue of Class (multi party) actions etc, 2.16Mb)

Synopsis (215Kb)

How about it Mr Ewing ? It wouldn’t take much to produce an additional amendment to the Legal Services Bill putting forward Lord Gill’s recommendation on recordings of all civil court cases. Given the terms of the Civil Courts Review and Lord Gill’s proposals, I’m sure the Scottish Parliament would support such a move, which would be welcomed by many …

While there is still some work to do on McKenzie Friends in Scotland, to ensure Scots have the same entitlements as our English cousins, I would like to thank all involved who have cooperated in my series of reports on McKenzie Friends over the past year, thanks going especially to the original McKenzie Friend, QC Ian Hanger, MSPs such as Margo MaDonald and David Whitton, and the many officials from the Scottish Court Service, Scottish Government Scottish Parliament and others who have spoken out when it counted, or given statements to complete my coverage.

Also, and not least, my thanks go to all those unrepresented party litigants who have told me of their stories, all of whom have endured a considerable denial of their access to justice over the years in Scotland, simply because their cases were either too controversial or involved parts of the establishment which the legal profession were too close to. I hope through my reporting on the petition and the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, I have given you all a voice and a chance of access to justice denied for too long …

The Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament will again discuss Petition 1247 later in the summer.

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far

All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

 

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