RSS

Tag Archives: Public Petitions

PRIVATE PARLY: Questions raised of what really took place in private meeting between Scotland’s top judge & two MSPs over judicial interests transparency register petition

More questions than answers emerge from private meeting between politicians & top judge. A PRIVATE MEETING between Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill and two MSP members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee over a PUBLIC PETITION calling for judges to declare their full interests in court  has raised serious questions over how far the judiciary are willing to go to avoid declaring secret wealth, hitherto unrevealed business links & family connections within the legal sector, allegations of offshore interests and even criminal convictions for benefits cheating.

The unprecedented private meeting between Lord Gill, Convener David Stewart and Deputy Convener Chic Brodie MSP and the Clerk to the PPC in attendance, became the subject of heated debate at this week’s Petitions Committee meeting on Tuesday.

The private meeting with the Lord President, held away from deliberations of the full Petitions Committee, came as a compromise solution because Lord Gill refused several invitations to appear before the Petitions Committee during 2013 to face questions on, and account for his vociferous opposition to a call for transparency over how judges recuse themselves in court and how judicial interests are not being properly declared.

Petitions Committee Meeting 28 January 2014 (Click to view video footage)

During the meeting, an account was given by the Convener & Deputy Convener of what had been said at the private meeting with Lord Gill. However, no written notes of the meeting had been handed to members of the Committee in advance of Tuesday’s Public Petitions Committee meeting, which caused some members to raise questions of the whole issue of Lord Gill refusing to appear before the Scottish Parliament on this issue.

Raising the issue of minutes of the private meeting with Lord Gill, John Wilson MSP asked the Convener if any notes of what was discussed at the private meeting were going to be placed on the official record of the Committee. Jackson Carlaw MSP also pointed out that had it not been for tenacity of this committee so far, there would be no letter forthcoming from the Lord President.

The day before the Public Petitions Committee met, it was reported on Diary of Injustice that limited declarations of interest by Scotland’s top judge and only six other members of Scotland’s vast, sprawling ranks of a multi million pound well salaried & well pensioned judiciary were published in the 2012-2013 Annual Report of the Scottish Court Service, a fact which Lord Gill omitted to tell MSPs in three ‘stonewalling’ letters of protest against the petition which the Lord President sent to msps last year.

The full article reporting on Lord Gill’s limited declarations, is available here: M’Lud’s Interests: What Scotland’s top judge did not tell Holyrood MSPs when he refused to give evidence on register of judicial interests

From the Petitions Committee’s own records, it transpires MSPs were informed of Lord Gill’s limited declaration in the SCS annual report during November 2013 by the petitioner, and a submission was published by the Scottish Parliament’s own website at that time, available here: PE1458/T: Petitioner Letter of 14 November 2013 (9KB pdf)

However, during Tuesday’s meeting earlier this week, an account given by the Deputy Convener to Committee members appeared to suggest the declarations by Lord Gill had come as a revelation from the Lord President himself during the private meeting which occurred only two weeks ago, leading some to feel Lord Gill is choosing a divide and conquer approach to how he responds to questions asked in private meetings, compared to questions raised by the Petitions Committee in published letters.

It was also reported to the Committee that Lord Gill had told both MSPs during the private meeting he would tinker with his apparently complicated computer systems to ensure data on judicial recusals was easier to come by for members of the public, albeit missing the point about publishing details of declarations of interest – called for by the petition itself.

However, the Lord President’s IT suggestion was today branded “laughable” by court sources who themselves have frequently said they find it difficult to even publish complete transcripts or verbatim final opinions delivered by judges in Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session

The limited declarations, required for the positions on the Scottish Court Service Board, appear to fly in the face of a series of excuses, complaints, accusations and veiled threats made by the Lord President in writing against the idea of creating a publicly available register of judicial interests, and raise questions over how Lord Gill has handed the judiciary’s battle against what is a simple call for transparency, itself supported by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

Moi Ali, Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer recently gave testimony to MSPs at Holyrood on the benefits of a register of judicial interests, reported along with video footage of the testimony, here : As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Any publicly available register of judicial interests which could be created from the aims of the petition, would take in the entire judiciary and have to show criminal convictions,professional & other relationships, undeclared earnings and business links to law firms, investments, property and memberships of organisations and other information which commonly appears on registers of interest throughout the public sector.

It has also come to light some of Scotland’s judges have not declared their interests or recused themselves in court in cases where persons have been wrongfully convicted of a criminal offence.

Victims of miscarriage of injustice have then have gone on to suffer even greater injustice when it was revealed the same judges who prosecuted them while serving as Prosecutors for the Crown Office, had then gone on to hear the wrongfully convicted person’s appeal without recusing themselves from hearing the case, and had then dismissed the appeal.

A report on how the failure of judges to recuse themselves or declare their interests in cases which have led to miscarriages of justice features here: Failure to Recuse : Evidence handed to MSPs in judicial register of interests proposal reveals judges who blocked injustice appeal failed to declare interests in court

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Mail newspaper, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary is due to be heard again at the Scottish Parliament in some weeks time after a letter has been received from the Lord President, who is apparently still refusing to attend the Scottish Parliament and face open questions from all Committee members regarding judges hidden undeclared interests.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Anti-transparency top judge ‘should reconsider his position on Scotland Act’ as MSPs invite Judicial Investigator to give evidence on register of judicial interests

Scottish Parliament will hear evidence on register of judge’s interests after summer recess. MSPs from the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee made it clear at last Tuesday’s committee meeting they still want to hear from Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill who has so far been reluctant to attend Holyrood to discuss issues of judicial transparency raised in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The move by members of the Petitions Committee who have also decided to hear evidence in public sessions from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), Moi Ali, comes  after the Lord President refused to appear before MSPs to explain his vociferous opposition to the proposal seeking to create greater transparency in the judiciary.

During last Tuesday’s meeting at Holyrood, Chic Brodie MSP, the Deputy Convener of the Petitions Committee spoke on the issues of transparency in relation Lord Gill’s refusals to accept invitations from the Petitions Committee to attend the Parliament and speak on the matter.

Chic Brodie said : “We are looking for openness and transparency, but the Lord President has chosen not to attend to explain why there should not be a register of interests for judges, as there is for members of Parliament, members of the Scottish Police Authority and so on.”

The Deputy Convener also drew attention to the fact that Lord Gill was being selective in which Parliamentary Committees he attends.

Mr Brodie said : “I recently attended the Justice Committee to talk about changes to the Scottish Court Service; it is somewhat paradoxical that the Lord President was happy to go along to that committee to explain?or not to explain, as the case may be?the rationale behind those changes.

Commenting further on Lord Gill’s terse opposition to the petition and refusal to provide answers to questions from members of the Petitions Committee, MSP Jackson Carlaw said : “Lord Gill’s response, which took us to something of an impasse from our point of view, was, “It’s not happening down south, and neither I nor anybody else has any intention of doing it, so get your tanks off my vested-interest lawn.”

Mr Carlaw also agreed that the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, be invited to attend an evidence session to speak to MSPs on the merits of a register of interests for the judiciary.

Agreeing with Jackson Carlaw, John Wilson MSP also raised the possibility Lord Gill should reconsider his earlier refusals to attend the Petitions Committee after MSPs have heard from Moi Ali.

Mr Wilson went on to comment on the Lord President’s position regarding the Scotland Act, pointing out the issues being dealt with in the petition did not relate to decisions taken by judges in court, rather it related to the administration of the judiciary where it is the position of the petitioner that Parliament should have the right to speak to judges on these subjects.

John Wilson MSP said : “I hope that, once we have heard that evidence, Lord Gill might reconsider his position in relation to section 23(7) of the Scotland Act 1998. Basically, my interpretation is that Parliament and its committees cannot call judges or sheriffs to give evidence on and to be accountable for judicial decisions that they have made, but the petitioner’s main point is that we should hear from Lord Gill in his role as the Lord President, which involves overseeing the judiciary.”

The discussion on Petition 1458 drew to a close with the Committee agreeing to invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence at a future meeting. The Committee also agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP of the New Zealand Green party. Dr Graham’s bill for a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges in New Zealand, helped in-part inspire Petition 1458.

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali has already voiced her support for the proposal in a letter to MSPs, reported by Diary of Injustice here : ‘Better Transparency would enhance Judiciary’ as Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer issues support for Register of interests for judges

Full video coverage & transcript of the Public Petitions Committee’s discussion of Petition 1458 :

Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scottish Judiciary 25 June 2013 Scottish Parliament (Click image to watch video)

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener) : PE1458 is on a register of interests for members of the judiciary. Recommendations for action that the committee might wish to take are included in the papers. One is to invite Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, to give evidence to the committee at a future meeting. We could also take any other action that we consider appropriate.

Before I make any personal comment, I seek the views of members of the committee.

Previously, the committee decided that there was no further purpose in pursuing the Lord President. I pointed out that the Government appointed JCR had particularly strong views on the matter and said that, although the Lord President wants to talk only about the constitutional principle, that principle needs to be seen in the light of potential constitutional changes. The view was that we should seek to close off the petition with the Lord President.

However, I certainly recommend that we get Moi Ali in here to hear her views.

Jackson Carlaw MSP: I agree. I thought that we had reached something of an impasse. When I saw the support for the proposal from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer?an appointment that was established under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008?I felt that, given that the weight of evidence so far from the establishment has been of one colour, it would be interesting to hear why the Judicial Complaints Reviewer takes a different view.

Malcolm Chisholm MSP: I have not been involved in the petition, so I would really like to ask a question. I have read Lord Gill’s view of judicial independence in relation to attending the committee and answering questions. Are his and others’ objections to the register based on the same principle of judicial independence, or are they not really to do with that at all? I do not know whether anyone can answer that, but it seems to me that the petition raises interesting general questions about  the line between judicial independence and accountability and political oversight. In part, that relates to an issue about judicial independence that I raised in last week’s debate in Parliament on the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill. I am curious about the issue.

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener):  The view that was taken was that there are other mechanisms and checks and balances, such as recusal, that secure the independence of the judiciary without exposing judges to what would be seen as a breach of the Scotland Act 1998 in performing their role.

Malcolm Chisholm MSP:  So the issue is about a register that would affect judicial independence, rather than just about the Lord President appearing here to answer questions. Is that what you are saying?

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener): That is the difficulty and the reason why we are struggling. We are looking for openness and transparency, but the Lord President has chosen not to attend to explain why there should not be a register of interests for judges, as there is for members of Parliament, members of the Scottish Police Authority and so on. That is his view.

Jackson Carlaw MSP:  Lord Gill’s response, which took us to something of an impasse from our point of view, was, “It’s not happening down south, and neither I nor anybody else has  any intention of doing it, so get your tanks off my vested-interest lawn.” We were unable to find a way to break through that, but the information that we have received from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer potentially offers us an interesting extension of  the discussion. However, I do not think that the issue that the petitioner raised has ever been properly and fully addressed, beyond the Lord President saying that he does not think that a register is necessary and, surprisingly, neither does anybody else who is currently employed in the profession.

John Wilson MSP:  I agree with Jackson Carlaw. Given the interesting comments in the response from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, it would serve a purpose to invite her to give evidence to the committee. I hope that, once we have heard that evidence, Lord Gill might reconsider his position in relation to section 23(7) of the Scotland Act 1998. Basically, my interpretation is that Parliament and its committees cannot call judges or sheriffs to give evidence on and  to be accountable for judicial decisions that they have made, but the petitioner’s main point is that we should hear from Lord Gill in his role as the Lord President, which involves overseeing the judiciary.

I hope that Lord Gill might reconsider his position in the light of the fact that we are to take further evidence. I hope that that evidence will draw out other issues that are relevant to our deliberations. I support Jackson Carlaw’s suggestion to take evidence from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener):  Okay. We will invite Moi Ali to give evidence.

I recently attended the Justice Committee to talk about changes to the Scottish Court Service; it is somewhat paradoxical that the Lord President was happy to go along to that committee to explain?or not to explain, as the case may be?the rationale behind those changes.

Do members have any other comments?

Jim Eadie MSP:  I just want to reinforce Mr Carlaw’s and Mr Wilson’s points. Notwithstanding the points that the Lord President made in his letter to the convener that judges cannot be compelled under the Scotland Act 1998 to appear before committees of the Parliament, I note the statement in that letter that“a register of interests for the judiciary is both unnecessary and unworkable.”

It would  have been beneficial if the committee had been able to hear oral evidence from the Lord President about why he thinks that that is the case. Like John Wilson, I hope that the Lord President will reconsider that. However, I certainly endorse the view that we should hear further evidence from other expert witnesses.

Angus MacDonald MSP:  I draw the committee’s attention to the petitioner’s letter, in which he asks the committee to approach a Green Party member of the New Zealand Parliament, Dr Kennedy Graham, who  is currently putting his Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill through that Parliament. We could approach Dr Graham to ask for his views.

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener):  We can e-mail Dr Graham, but we will need to ask him very specific questions. I do not think that there is any harm in that but, as the clerk has just pointed out to me and as the correspondence makes clear, the suggestion is that the New Zealand Government is intending to move in the direction of recusal. Should I formulate some questions and just zap them around everyone?

Angus MacDonald:  That would be fine, convener.

Jim Eadie MSP: I do not think that we should rule out a future evidence session involving experts from furth of Scotland. When the Health and Sport Committee considered minimum unit pricing of alcohol, it benefited greatly from evidence from Canadian experts?notwithstanding the time difference between the two countries.

Chic Brodie MSP (Deputy Convener): I thought that you were going to suggest that we go out there to speak to them.We have covered the position.

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary filed by law journalist Peter Cherbi calls on the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a requirement that all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.

Previous articles from Diary of Injustice including video footage of the Petitions Committee meetings and further information on the drive to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary can be viewed here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

DEMOCRACY LIVE @ Holyrood ? Scottish Parliament to re-launch e-Petitions website after major redesign hopes to improve Scots interaction with politics

Petitions CommitteeScottish Parliament’s e-petitions website was down for much of the year, awaits ‘imminent’ re-launch. SCOTS eager to add their signatures or debate the many & varied subjects of Public Petitions submitted to the Scottish Parliament as E-PETITIONS, should again be able to exercise their right to add their contributions to Scotland’s political landscape  with the expected re-launch of e-petitions at Holyrood sometime later this December, according to statements released by the Scottish Parliament’s media office. The re-launch of the e-petitions website comes after the well used facility to sign & discuss petitions had been taken offline for many months after it had experienced several widely reported failures, most notably in a petition for a debate on the Lockerbie Trial.

E-Petitions, for those who are not familiar with the term are the electronic online version of a public petition submitted by an individual, which has additional advantages of encouraging online discussion & debate among contributors as well as having the facility to add signatures to a cause anyone thinks worthy of support.

A statement on the Scottish Parliament’s e-petitions website which has lain dormant for a number of months since the Parliament re-launched it’s website during late summer states : A new system for submitting petitions online is currently being developed which we hope to launch shortly. In advance of the launch of this new system, the e-petition facility has been suspended therefore there will be no facility to host petitions online and gather e-signatures. The new system will feature a new e-petition site.

For those of you who want to use the Internet to petition the Parliament,  e-Petitioner allows you to have your petition live on the Internet, rather than just on paper. This way, your petition and supporting information can be made available to a potentially much wider audience, giving you the opportunity to gather more names to support the petition.

A petition may gather signatures in both forms – you can have a paper version and an online version, although repeat signatures will be removed. Each e-Petition also has its own discussion forum, where visitors and signatories can discuss the petition and surrounding issues online. There is also space for supporting information, so that you can add any background necessary and put your petition in context.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, a spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament commented on the expected e-petitions system re-launch. She said : “Petitions can still be lodged with a webpage on the Parliament’s site for each petition. The Scottish Parliament was the first Parliament to launch an e-petitions site and the 11 year-old system required updating to ensure it could continue to meet both high demand and users’ expectations.”

The spokesperson continued : “The new e-petitions site, where petitioners can gather signatures prior to the petition being lodged, is expected in December.”

Noting the success of some petitions at the Scottish Parliament which petitioners and observers have claimed were ‘helped along’ with the addition of short video clips of specific debates on specific petitions by the Petitions Committee which were posted online on social media outlets, and also here on Diary of Injustice with regards to the long running & heavily debated McKenzie Friend petition, consumer advocates & law reform campaigners have made it be known to Diary of Injustice that a facility on the Scottish Parliament’s e-petitions website to include short video clips of debates on petitions would be a great help to those wishing to participate in online discussions of petitions, rather than having to search through hours of video clips of entire Committee sessions already posted on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

If readers are not familiar with how video clips have helped along some petitions, examples of short clips of petition debates, particularly on the McKenzie Friend petition can be found on Injustice TV and in previous reports on the McKenzie Friend petition, covered by Diary of Injustice HERE where video coverage posted to You Tube and on Diary of Injustice helped bring in international submissions on the McKenzie Friend issue.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament, responding to the idea of including video clips in a form similar to how the BBC DEMOCRACY LIVE website operates, said : “It has never been our intention to provide a service along the lines of Democracy Live. The Parliament has always made available video of all its meetings in public – and this will continue to be the case. The whole petitions system will be integrated now, and it will be easier to register, track, comment and interact with Petitions.”

Anyone who wishes to contact the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions team can do so via emailing the Petitions Committee here : petitions@scottish.parliament.uk where staff & clerks from the Petitions Committee can address individual questions and develop direct relationships with potential petitioners, providing appropriate support to them.

Margo MacDonald Petitions McKenzie FriendsVideo clips of debates including Margo MacDonald’s fantastic input on McKenzie Friends swung it for success, said observers, and one angry senior judge ! In my experience on petitions I have reported on, particularly the McKenzie Friend Petition which saw the Scottish Parliament’s shining gem, Margo MacDonald MSP give what can only be described as fantastic input into a petition to assist Party Litigants with lay assistance in Scottish Courts, helped along with a particular court judgement in a long running case, the short video clips of the discussions at Holyrood which accompanied reports of the McKenzie Friend petition’s progress on Diary of Injustice, gave an example of how the public, politicians and even members of the judiciary react to the distribution of & public comment on video clips of debates in the Scottish Parliament.

The inclusion of short video clips specific to petitions, along with written reports and a facility to debate or comment on the Committee’s proceedings gives a greater chance of success to the petition at hand and a greater chance of Scots to debate and understand how they see the issues of the petition progressing before their very own eyes. It would be such a simple yet effective addition to the e-petitions website for petitions to have video clips of their own specific debates posted alongside the actual petition.

 

Tags: , , , ,

Law Society’s legislative powerbase ‘is anti-consumer’ as Holyrood to hear petition calling for repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980

Petitions CommitteeScottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to hear petition calling for Law Society to be stripped of its power. LEGISLATION created at Westminster which has given the Law Society of Scotland a right to self-regulate Scotland’s 10,000 plus solicitors for over thirty years, a right which has in the eyes of many been abused to the point the phrase “crooked lawyer” has become common place in Scotland, is now facing a challenge at Holyrood after an online e-petition was filed at the Scottish Parliament calling on MSPs to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and end self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession.

The e-petition, filed by a Mr William Burns which is currently open for signatures until 6th January 2011 calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, end self-regulation, and remove the independence of the legal profession, bringing it onside with true democracy.”

To sign the e-petition and learn more about it’s aims, CLICK HERE. Alternatively you can text ‘421’ and your name to 07537 400395 to add your e-signature to this e-petition. (Texts are charged at your standard network rate. Text signatures will not appear instantly.)

Mr Burns, speaking to Diary of Injustice said today :Every MSP has been provided free of charge a copy of the book “Legal Hell” by Angus M. Brown, a True Story illustrating how self-regulation is incontrovertibly wide open to corruption. This specific matter of policy and a superabundance of other material were submitted to the Justice 1 Committee of the Scottish Parliament between 22 June 2001 and 17 April 2002 for the “Regulation of the Legal Profession Enquiry” and can be found at: Justice 1 Committee Regulation of the Legal Profession Inquiry.”

Mr Burns continued : “My own submissions can be found at No 19 on the page. Representatives of the Law Society presented their own submissions and were also allowed to make lengthy oral presentations, unlike members of the public, creating an unfair imbalance in their favour. Many members went down various avenues to attain justice, but the common stumbling block is the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which allows the Law Society to protect its members through this self-regulatory legislation.”

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991A 30 year run of Scots crooked layers may become less frequent if fully independent regulation of Scots legal profession takes place. Any client of a solicitor in Scotland having been put in the unenviable position of having to complain about the legal services provided to them by their legal representatives will be well aware of the problems in trying to pursue complaints against solicitors, while having to deal with the almost unearthly processes employed by the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to defeat the aims of consumers who for the most part, used the services of a solicitor expecting a fair deal and access to justice.

Indeed, many clients have come to realise that using Scottish legal services can mean lengthy waits of years for court appearances, common failures to deal with even the simplest of tasks, and the inevitable ‘padded’ and unexplained huge fee demands of solicitors for very little coherent work carried out on their clients behalf.

Forcing the Scottish Parliament to confront the Law Society’s legislative powerbase, the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which, as many legal insiders admit themselves, allows the Scots legal profession almost a free hand in the world of regulation & political double-dealing, may finally bring changes of increased consumer confidence in what is one of Scotland’s worst performing in terms of public trust, yet highest earning professions which, as the almost compulsory route for access to justice in Scotland, everyone at some stage in their lives must use.

The complaints process operated by both the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC has consistently been described by many involved in it as “Torturous” & “Prejudiced against clients while protective of crooked lawyers”, and the passage in the Scottish Parliament in 2006 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)after a long campaign to reform the legal complaints system, a campaign which involved many consumer campaign groups, organisations, individuals and even the media, has so far done nothing to resolve the intense prejudice consumers & clients face when attempting to secure a fair hearing of complaints they are inevitably forced to make against their solicitor when things go wrong.

The Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 established the Law Society of Scotland in terms of legislation, giving it many controversial powers & duties including representing the interests of its solicitor membership and the interests of the public (& client)in relation to the legal profession.

The 1980 act also empowered the Law Society of Scotland to maintain professional indemnity insurance cover and a ‘guarantee fund’ to ‘protect’ solicitors clients from negligent & crooked lawyers. Both schemes, the first known as the “Master Policy”, an insurance scheme run by brokers Marsh UK and backed by insurers Royal Sun Alliance & others, and the “Guarantee Fund”, an in-house compensation scheme managed by the Law Society itself are ultimately famous for their failures to pay out in most cases where solicitors have either stolen or frittered away their clients finances through theft, or their poor quality of work on their client’s behalf.

The Master Policy itself was the subject of an independent investigation carried out during 2009 by the University of Manchester’s Law School, The investigation’s findings linked the insurance arrangements for protecting crooked lawyers to the deaths of clients, while the Guarantee Fund was revealed as little more than a multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption.

Law Society of ScotlandRepealing the 1980 Solicitors Act and the Law Society will bring a fairer deal for public in access to justice & regulation of legal services complaints says petition. The Scottish Parliament’s website gives the following background information in relation to the petition : The action requested in the petition is necessary because, hitherto, decisions have been made by, for example, previous Justice 1 and 2 Committees, loaded in favour of a self-regulated legal profession, detrimental to the best interests of the public. Section 1(3), in particular, of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 epitomises the limitless scope the Law Society has to protect its members at the expense of the public, which states:

The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of the functions [i.e., the promotion of- (a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and (b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession] or the attainment of those objects.?

Section 1 of the Act states, verbatim:

1.–(1) The Law Society of Scotland (referred to in this Act as “the Society”) shall continue to exist and shall exercise the functions conferred upon it by this Act.

(2) The objects of the Society shall include the promotion of

(a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and

(b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession.

(3) The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of these functions or the attainment of those objects.

(4) Schedule 1 shall have effect in relation to the Society.

Schedule 1 of the Act, under the heading “Powers”, at 10 (e) and (f) state, respectively:

The Society may

(e) accept any gift of property for the purposes of the Society;

(f) accept, hold and administer any gift of property or hold as trustees any property for any purpose which the Society consider to be for the benefit of solicitors in Scotland or their dependants or employees or any substantial body of such solicitors or dependants or employees.

The use of the adverb “anything” in Section 1(3) above is not restrictive and does not limit the application or reference of the term and to what extent the Law Society can and does protect its members at the expense of the public. In fact, the Law Society has a vested interest in protecting its members. This creates a conflict of interest between Sections 1(2a) and 1(2b) because, if the Law Society is to choose who to protect, either a fully paid up licence member of the Society, or Joe Bloggs, their loyalty will naturally, and almost invariably, come down in favour of one of their members.

Furthermore, Schedule 1(10) (e) and (f) could reasonably be viewed as an invitation to prosperous solicitors to proffer gifts, monies or properties to the Society in exchange for quid pro quo favours. This additional bond of fellowship between the Society and its membership does nothing for the confidence of an aggrieved client with a justifiable complaint against a solicitor.

The 1980 Act is, therefore, potentially and actually a distinct conflict of interest. The aforementioned Section and Schedule alone leave the 1980 Act wide open to abuse. Self-regulation in any way shape or guise is the pivotal enemy of any true democracy; therefore any civilised society. It is not only undemocratic it is antidemocratic, anti-society and hostile to a public unconversant with all the nuances of our ambiguously cryptic laws.

There have been no Bills passed or laws enacted since 1980 that does anything to remedy this stark conflict of interest and there have been no recent announcements made by the Scottish Government that might have a bearing on our petition.

My advice ? If you have been forced by the actions of your solicitor or your legal representatives to make a complaint to either the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), you may wish to consider signing the petition, and ensure the focus of attention in the debate on self regulation of the legal profession shifts to the legislative power the Law Society of Scotland uses against consumers & clients to preserve itself, preserve its members and preserve its political power to prevent legislative reforms aimed at giving the consumer & client a fair deal.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked for comment on the aims of the petition. A spokesperson said : “The SLCC has no comment to make about this petition as this time.”

No one was available at the Law Society to give comment although a source close to the legal profession said “the Law Society will use any means to fight any attempt to remove its powers of self-regulation.”

A Holyrood insider commenting on the petition said he “could imagine various Directors of the Law Society again preparing their poison pen letters & ‘on the qt’ briefings for MSPs to save their skins once again” which, from my own personal experience with the Petitions Committee is probably what will happen next … so being forewarned, I would advise readers to sign the petition and spread the word !

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

Petitions CommitteeHolyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee to receive multiple petitions involving complaints about SPSO. EIGHT PETITIONS calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable which were heard earlier this week by Holyroods Public Petitions Committee, and featured a second attendance by Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil in support of the petitioners, are now to be referred to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

I reported on the initial hearing of the multiple petitions calling for a review of the SPSO in coverage during September, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

Holyrood’s Petitions Committee referred SPSO petitions to Local Government & Communities Committee (Click images below to view video)

Since the initial hearing of the petitions during September, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body & the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman himself, Mr Jim Martin have filed written responses to all of the petitions, available to download here : PE1342/A: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman letter of 1 October 2010 (23KB pdf), here : PE1342/B: Scottish Government letter of 5 October 2010 (31KB pdf) & here : PE1342/C: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body letter of 8 October 2010 (144KB pdf)

Jim Martin, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said : “It is for the Parliament to determine to whom and how the SPSO should be accountable for its performance. In my 2009-10 annual report, I invite the Parliament to consider ways of strengthening the SPSO’s relationship with, and the accountability of the office to, the Parliament.”

Mr Martin went onto say : “I welcome external scrutiny. This office has adopted many non-statutory measures to ensure greater accountability for our performance.”

In commenting directly on the petitions before the Parliament, Mr Martin went onto say : “So it is to the handful of cases where a body refuses to comply that the petitioners’ question is addressed. My strategy to date has been to contact the relevant Chief Executive and bring about a conclusion I am satisfied with by the art of persuasion or the threat of publicity. In any case where this has not brought about the desired outcome, my option is to use the ‘special report’ mechanism in the SPSO Act. This allows me to ask the Parliament to take steps to enforce a recommendation. Since the SPSO was set up in 2002, we have not laid such a report, but I am now close to doing so.”

Concluding his letter to the Petitions Committee, Mr Martin said : “In conclusion, it is my strong view that commitment from the top and culture change, rather than technical legal compliance, are the real lever here. A very few bodies can be reluctant to admit fault and enforcement will not necessarily change their view – it might make them tick the boxes, but will not bring about the wider aim of encouraging bodies to learn from their mistakes and to see complaints as valuable tools to drive improvement. I believe that the work that my office is doing to lead the development of standardised complaints handling processes and to establish principles of good complaints handling (which we will bring to the Parliament for approval later this year) will go some way to bringing about the desired culture change.”

The response from the Scottish Government to the petitions claimed public bodies within the jurisdiction of the SPSO would be less than willing to work with the SPSO if enforcement powers were given to Mr Martin’s Office.

The letter from Scottish Government stated : “Having taken evidence from stakeholders, including Government and the SPSO, in 2009 the RSSB (Review of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body) Committee concluded that it would be more appropriate for Government to legislate for improved complaints handling. The Scottish Government agreed the approach proposed by RSSB Committee in November2009 and the recommended provisions were proposed as amendments at Stage 2 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25March 2010 and the Act received Royal Assent on 28 April 2010.”

“To give the SPSO enforcement powers would alter the function of the Ombudsman (from Adjudicator to Enforcer). This would also be likely to impact negatively upon the willingness of bodies within jurisdiction to work with the SPSO on complaints. Traditionally, bodies are normally quick to take remedial action where the SPSO sees fit for them to do so.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate body took a similarly negative view, with its reply to the Petitions Committee, from the Parliament’s Chief Executive, Paul Grice, saying : “As the SPSO has procedures in place for dealing with complaints from members of the public who are dissatisfied, including publishing statistics on the number of complaints received and the outcome, we can see no reason to establish public complaints channels. In addition, given the SPSO’s independence, it would not be appropriate for the Parliament to have a role in the SPSO’s complaints processes.”

Mr Grice went onto say : “The SPSO in the exercise of his functions is not subject ot the direction or control of any member of the Parliament, any member of the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. This is to safeguard the SPSO’s independence.”

”On the SPSO’s performance, the SPCB has noted that since the SPSO introduced new internal practices and procedures the number of outstanding complaints has fallen significantly and that the average turnaround time for determining complaints has also dropped substantially.”

Mr Grice ended by saying it was for the Scottish Government to propose legislation changes for altering the SPSO’s remit.

In the case of Petition PE1342, the petitioners responded to the written submissions by Mr Martin, Mr Grice & the Scottish Government, telling the Petition’s Committee in an email : “Having read the reports of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliament Corporate Body and Scottish Government, it appears that nobody, Jim Martin included,is opposed to the widening of the Ombudsman’s powers. We feel Parliament must improve the Ombudsman’s powers to enforce findings and also they must make clearer definitions of topics on which SPSO can comment.”

The petitioners continued : “One such is “malpractice”, for which the SPSO’s office provided a number of possible definitions, but could not provide definitive and practical clarification of the criteria which would be applied and to what degree malpractice might occur before SPSO would be obliged to comment.”

The petitioners ended their email stating : “It would also be very useful if the Parliament could enforce time limits on SPSP for the completion of complaint investigations. This should allow for extensions in cases of exceptional complexity or where new evidence emerges, but these would be the exception rather than the rule and would have to have the specific approval of Parliament or its appointed committee.”

An additional petition involving the SPSO, Petition PE1341, filed by Dr R A Rahman, calling “on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.” was, according to the Parliament’s website “closed under Rule 15.7 of Standing Orders on the grounds that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman makes an annual budget application to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body which is considered annually by the Finance Committee and the Scottish Government, also that regular financial performance information is supplied by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The decision to close Petition PE1341 went onto state : “Further, Audit Scotland has made it clear that the external auditors perform an annual audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman in accordance with the code of audit practice. Audit Scotland may produce a further report on the audit but, to date, ‘appointed auditors have produced unqualified opinions of the annual accounts of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and the Auditor General has not produced any reports’.”

Further developments will be reported, given this is a regulation issue involving public services.

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Holyrood Petition launched to promote education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scots secondary school curriculum

Debating chamberScottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to consider education of legal & consumer rights in schools. A PUBLIC PETITION promoting education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scotland’s secondary schools has been lodged at the Scottish Parliament by Perth based law reform campaigner Mr Stewart MacKenzie, whose successful McKenzie Friends Petition 1247 brought forward the system of lay assistance used in courts around the world since 1970 to our very own Scots legal system this year after a year long campaign at Holyrood, which I reported on in more detail HERE.

Petition PE 1354 introducing Justice Legal & Consumer Rights Education into Scottish secondary school curriculum Petition 1354 calls for the education of justice, legal & consumer rights to Scots children. With children in England & Wales already ahead of their Scots counterparts in receiving education of legal & consumer rights, Mr MacKenzie’s petition calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce ‘citizenship’ as a compulsory element of the secondary school curriculum and which covers knowledge and an understanding of consumers’ rights, the roles, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession and the different courts systems in relation to civil justice and also human rights legislation”.

Mr MacKenzie commented further in his petition on the apparent lack of will in the current Scottish Government’s education plans to follow the English education system in teaching legal & consumer rights to secondary school pupils, saying : “I have contacted the Learning Directorate, Curriculum Division, of the Scottish Government and received the details of what is currently provided in the Scottish education system. They have confirmed that although the matter of citizenship ‘may’ be touched upon in secondary schools, it is not a compulsory element of the Scottish curriculum and, if it is covered by individual schools, it is very basic and does not cover the topics recommended by the petitioner.”

Mr MacKenzie continued : “All Scottish school pupils, within their secondary education, would greatly benefit from, for example, knowledge and an understanding of consumers’ rights, the role, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession in Scotland, the purpose and role of the different courts systems in relation to civil justice in Scotland and also human rights legislation, all of which would install this much needed knowledge and give confidence to young people, so that they are ready to face issues which they will incur in everyday life after leaving school and avoid many of the pitfalls of modern, everyday life.”

“In the English education system a learning course covering these issues has been statutory since 2002. The ‘citizenship’ element of the National Curriculum in England gives teaching and learning of the key areas which the petitioner describes but which are lacking in the Scottish education system and whilst within the Scottish education system citizenship is covered to a very limited degree, it is not a compulsory element of the curriculum and does not cover the areas which are described in this petition and which Citizens Advice Scotland describes as being desperately needed by all Scottish secondary school leavers.”

In England & Wales, schoolchildren have for some time, received “Citizenship Education” as a compulsory course, which covers issues such as democracy & justice, & rights & responsibilities, described on the TeacherNet website as follows :

Democracy and justice — This focuses on the role that citizens can take within the political and justice systems in the UK. It includes: freedom as part of a democracy; fairness and the rule of law as part of justice; power and authority; and accountability. Pupils learn that accountability happens at many levels ranging from a responsible opposition in parliament challenging, testing and scrutinising what Government is doing, to citizens in local communities challenging decisions that affect them.

Rights and responsibilities — There are different kinds of rights, obligations and responsibilities — political, legal, human, social, civic and moral. Pupils explore contested areas surrounding rights and responsibilities, for the checks and balances needed in relation to freedom of speech in the context of threats from extremism and terrorism.

ScottishGovernmentThe Scottish Government introduced the recent Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, although omitted legal & consumer rights. The Scottish Government’s recent “Curriculum for Excellence”, more about which can be viewed at the Engage for Education website apparently does not include anywhere near the same level of education on justice, legal & consumer affairs for Scots schoolchildren, leaving the feeling Scots kids are being left in the dark while their English counterparts receive a much wider, more responsible view of the world around them.

The move by legal campaigner Mr MacKenzie to ensure Scots secondary school pupils receive equivalent or even better education on legal & consumer affairs, which already received by pupils in England & Wales, is backed by consumer organisations such as Which?, and Consumer Focus Scotland who have long held views on the subject of a public legal education strategy, featured in their recent report : Making Civil Justice Work for Consumers

Consumer Focus Scotland - A Public Legal Education StrategyConsumer Focus Scotland also advocate a public legal education strategy. Consumer Focus Scotland said in their report “If consumers are to be able to access legal services, and make informed choices about which services best meet their needs, they need to be able to a) recognise they have a problem, b) recognise the problem has a potential legal remedy, & c) identify a course of action to pursue that remedy, be it taking action themselves, or seeking help from an appropriate source” – issues which could be greatly helped by a compulsory course in Scottish schools for pupils on justice, legal & consumer rights subjects.

The Consumer Focus Scotland report went onto state : “In other jurisdictions, public legal education (PLE) is seen as an important tool to help consumers navigate these stages. It is a tool not only to improve consumers’ knowledge of their rights, remedies and means of redress, but also to build their skills and confidence so that they possess sufficient ‘legal capability’ to act upon this knowledge. This could be about giving them the knowledge and confidence to reach the appropriate adviser at the appropriate time to help them resolve their problem(s), or it could be equipping them with the necessary skills to take action themselves.”

The report goes onto state Consumer Focus Scotland “believe the development of a Scotland-wide public legal education strategy to be fundamental to efforts to improve access to justice for consumers.”

Sarah O’Neill, Head of Policy for Consumer Focus Scotland commented on the moves at Holyrood saying : “While we have not seen the detail of the petition, and cannot comment on this at this stage, we would be supportive in principle of any initiative to include coverage of some of these issues in the school curriculum.”

Ms Neil continued : “We have long been supportive of the concept of public legal education, and have a particular interest in looking at ways of developing people’s legal capability, by increasing their skills and confidence, allowing them to recognise when they have a legal problem, any legal rights they may have in relation to that problem, and identifying a course of action to resolve that problem. This is set out in more detail in our recent publication making Civil Justice Work for Consumers.”

Educating our children on issues of justice, legal & consumer rights is obviously an essential part of growing up, and since the rest of the UK has long recognised this, it is surely time for Scotland to follow suit. After all, we have regular announcements of Scottish Government Ministers attempting to cut crime & break the cycle of crime many people find themselves trapped in by providing offenders with more of the skills they need to live positive lives, so why not go a step further and teach Scots schoolchildren about justice, the legal system & consumer rights at school level .. it may do a lot more good for our nation’s future ….

 

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

Questions over Holyrood’s exchanges with Lord President as Scots McKenzie Friend law to be heard at imminent Court of Session Rules Council meeting

Debating chamberHolyrood Committee’s exchanges with Lord President questioned. QUESTIONS have been raised over the outcome of Tuesday’s Petitions Committee hearing on Petition 1247 (McKenzie Friends for Scotland) after it emerged late yesterday that while two members of the Petitions Committee had raised important points to be clarified with Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton, over the proposed Act of Sederunt to allow McKenzie Friends in Scottish courts, the actual letter sent from the Petitions Committee to the Lord President simply stated “Could you provide an update to the Committee once the Act of Sederunt has been brought into force”.

This latest extraordinary turn of events in the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s courts, a non-lawyer courtroom helper which unrepresented party litigants have been successfully using in England & Wales for the past forty years, comes after last Tuesday’s Petitions Committee hearing concluded its latest deliberations on the McKenzie Friends petition by stating on the Scottish Parliament’s Petition 1247 web page : “4 May 2010 : The Committee agreed to write to the Lord President of the Court of Session seeking a response to specific points.” after two of the Petitions Committee members, MSPs Nanette Milne & Nigel Don raised the thorny issues of the usage of the term “McKenzie Friend” and the question of whether a McKenzie Friend could be remunerated for their services – both key points the Lord President has proved highly resistant to discuss or implement.

Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee 4 May 2010 : McKenzie Friends should remain McKenzie Friends in Scotland (click video to watch)


The transcript of Tuesday’s proceedings on McKenzie Friends :

nigel_donNigel Don MSP (SNP) Nigel Don, member of the Petitions Committee & Parliamentary aide to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill raised two significant points the Lord President had failed to resolve over the year long battle to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s courts. Mr Don initially praised Lord Hamilton “for getting on with things”, going onto firstly tackle the question of a ‘certificate’ which Lord Hamilton initially proposed should be required for all potential McKenzie Friends to sign prior to their acceptance by the court – a move heavily criticised by politicians, law reform campaigners and even several consumer bodies including Which? & Consumer Focus Scotland.

Nigel Don said : “I am probably not the only one who feels slightly confused about where we have got to. The issue seems to be moving so fast that I am not sure on which side of the net the ball has ended up. However, we should commend the Lord President for getting on with things and for explaining, in his most recent letter, some points that we did not get round to discussing during our previous meeting due to shortness of time.

“I want to raise two points about the suggested rules in the Lord President’s letter of 19 February, which predates our previous meeting. Paragraph 5 of that letter states: “The certificate should … confirm that the lay assistant has no interest in the case”.

“I get the impression from the Lord President’s subsequent letter that he sees no problem with the lay assistant being a family member or friend of the litigant. Therefore, I draw the conclusion that the suggestion that the lay assistant should have “no interest” should be translated as “no greater interest than the litigant”. That is what I would have expected, so I have no problem with that. However, I thought that I had better put that on record in case I am wrong.”

Mr Don went onto raise the equally thorny issue of whether a McKenzie Friend can be paid for their services, an issue I reported on in mid-April, revealing actual case law from the English Family Courts division, which supports a McKenzie Friend’s entitlement to charge for their services. Nigel Don at the April hearing appeared to support the Lord President’s resolute position that no McKenzie Friends should receive money for their services, however Mr Don now appears to have changed his position substantially.

Nigel Don continued : “Secondly, the Lord President’s letter of 19 February states immediately thereafter that the McKenzie friend—or lay assistant, as we should perhaps now describe him—is “to receive no remuneration for his or her services in any form”.

“I can quite understand why the Lord President should take that view, but there is good reason to believe that that might not be the best view. Given that many of those who might act as lay assistants might be paid by a charity such as a citizens advice bureau to help those who need help, it seems a step too far to assert that the lay assistant should receive no remuneration from anywhere. I can well understand that the Lord President and his colleagues do not want, as it were, second-class lawyers hawking themselves around as McKenzie friends, but I am slightly concerned that the suggested rules go a bit too far.”

“Can we ask the Lord President to consider that point, so that those with experience of the subject who could well help people are not required to act completely for nothing when a charity might support them ?”

nanette_milneNanette Milne MSP (Scottish Conservative) Nanette Milne, the Conservative MSP member of the Petitions Committee joined the debate, raising the highly contentious issue of the Lord President’s stubborn resistance to using the term “McKenzie Friend” in his plans for bring in the Act of Sederunt to allow, “Lay Assistants”, as Lord Hamilton would rather call “McKenzie Friends” into Scottish courts. Nanette Milne said : “In addition, the petitioner obviously still has concerns about the terminology of “lay assistant” rather than “McKenzie friend”. Given that Which? magazine and Consumer Focus appear to use only the term “McKenzie friend”, can we perhaps press for the retention of that term ?”

Lord Hamilton judicialScotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton. Lord Hamilton’s hostility against using the term “McKenzie Friend” – which is accepted in most international jurisdictions where the McKenzie Friend is used, has left many involved in the Scottish debate on McKenzie Friends questioning why the Lord President apparently feels even after forty years, that Scotland should, not join the rest of the world in allowing what is a uniquely named and internationally recognised courtroom helper to assist the growing numbers of unrepresented court users in Scotland who find themselves unable to obtain legal representation.

McKenzie Friends Which researchWhich? reported that 85% of Scots would like to see McKenzie Friends allowed in our courts. In an earlier report on the McKenzie Friend petition, I revealed the Lord President had put forward several reasons to the Petitions Committee why he felt the term “McKenzie Friend” should be swapped with the term “Lay Assistant”, where Lord Hamilton alleged Scots were too ignorant to know what a McKenzie Friend actually is, this despite research & polls taken by consumer organisations such as Which? who reported that 85% of those questioned during recent research carried out by Which? on Scottish Legal Services thought it would be a good idea to allow McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s courts.

Petitions Committee Convener Frank McAveety attempted to draw the debate to a close with a continuance of the petition, although one important issue raised by the Committee Clerk remained, namely that of whether the Committee “should push the Lord President to defer consideration of the issue.”

Replying to the Convener, Nigel Don said he was against deferring the planned enacting of the Act of Sederunt at Monday’s Court of Session’s Rules Council meeting.

Nigel Don said : “My instinct is not to defer anything at all. I am sure that the Lord President has the good of the system at heart, as people do not get to be Lord President without having a pretty good idea of what goes on in the courts. I think that we should trust him to get on with it. If, one way or another, he and others come to the conclusion that they did not get it quite right first time round, I suspect that the speed with which he is now acting demonstrates that he will be swift to amend things. I do not think that we should defer anything for the sake of it.”

The Committee agreed to continue Petition 1247, and write to the Lord President on the issues raised during the hearing, however as revealed by Holyrood insiders late yesterday, the Committee had apparently changed their mind and simply asked Lord Hamilton to update them once the Act of Sederunt has been brought into force, leaving many questions over whether the Lord President had amended any of his ‘overly protective’ plans announced in February, which have formed the bunk of debate & criticism since being proposed by Lord Hamilton as a way forward.

Mr MacKenzie, the petitioner said this afternoon : “I find it strange the Committee has proceeded in this way, apparently letting the Lord President off the hook on some very serious points of contention. They are not asking for a response to the specific points raised by the two MSPs on the Committee last Tuesday and their own minutes confirm that is indeed what was agreed to be done.”

A Holyrood insider also joined in criticising the Petitions Committee, expressing concern the Lord President had not been called in to be questioned on the issue. He said : “It appears the Committee said one thing then did something completely different. Not a very satisfactory outcome given the Lord President is to act on the McKenzie Friend issue at Monday’s Court of Session Rules Council meeting.”

He continued : “I would also have to say for what is a fundamental shift in the rights of court users to have a McKenzie Friend accompany them as never before in Scotland, it has been a significant failure of the Petitions Committee not to have invited Lord Hamilton in to be questioned over the issue. People must be left wondering why Lord Hamilton or the Petitions Committee have dodged such an open debate on the issue, preferring to exchange what can only be described as series of bizarre exchanges by letter.”

No one from the Scottish Parliament was available for official comment late yesterday, nor were enquiries acknowledged on exactly what the Committee had asked of the Lord President after their meeting last week.

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

 

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