Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Victory for us ! - Scottish Executive announces terms of the bill enforcing reform of the legal profession in Scotland which now goes to the Scottis

Some more questions about how to handle the media have come in, which I will try to answer in the next few days .. but dealing with the media can of course be a fickle experience ..

Take for instance, the matter of how I told a Scotsman journalist (initials : TT) about the McLeish rent story and his constituency offices, nearly 10 months before it became news ... how did I do that ? well, I knew Andy Duncan of Glenrothes, Fife .. that's why ! .. and don't be fooled that David McLetchie & others were the prime movers behind the McLeish story .. I knew all about it over a year before it came into the public arena, and the way in which Andy had been treated by Mr McLeish, his constituency msp. If it hadn't been for Andy Duncan doggedly pursuing the matter .. nothing would ever have come to light ..... but it goes to show, sometimes journalists don't listen .... wonder why ? well you'll just have to come up with your own conclusions on that one .... but, it's not the same for all newspapers of course ... and since others have told me great stuff about their msps over the years, maybe it's about time to have another scandal ??? ....

To today's business then ......

The terms of the "Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, something which I have been campaigning for since 1994, have now been announced where, as clients of lawyers in Scotland, we will get a lot more rights than we have previously had when dealing with lawyers ... but there are still many pitfalls and catches, which need to be addressed when the Bill comes up for its considertation by the Justice Committee 2 ... and of course, if any of you readers, or your parents, have had bad experiences with lawyers, please keep reading this blog and I will post details of how you can make submissions on what happened to you, to the Justice Committee 2 of the Scottish Parliament.

Personally, I think the biggest catch of the Bill, is where complaints over MISCONDUCT and FEES will still be handled by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates ... and I can well understand why the likes of the top fiddlers at the Law Society want to keep this part of the regulatory process in house - that is because this is the most dirty part of regulating the crooked lawyers & advocates .. the part where the real dirty side of the Scottish legal profession is revealed .. where lawyers act as they like and do as they like - without the fear that their pals over at the Law Society will do anything against them ... and even though service and consumer complaints do comprise a lot of the complaints statistics against the hordes of crooked lawyers in Scotland .. the fact is that many complaints which start out as consumer or purely service complaints, also reveal matters of misconduct and questions over fees ... which will then of course go on to the crooked hand of the Law Society of Scotland to deal with .... so we certainly have to make our representations over that when the Justice Committee 2 starts to look into the matter, don't we !!!

However, I personally view this as a great step forward from the apallingly poor level of rights we, as clients of lawyers have had to endure over the decades in Scotland, where complaining against a lawyer has been a farce & fit-up by the Law Society of Scotland - 20+ years of naked 'Client-bashing' ... but what must now come also, and this is very important, is a complete independent review of how all these people have been treated over the past decades by the legal profession regarding their complaints against solicitors and we, as those victims of the legal profession, must continue our campaign to see we all get justice !

So at least, congratulations to all us individual campaigners and members of Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers and the Scottish Consumer Council & National Consumer Council who supported our views, who have helped force this issue into the political arena for reform - because one thing is for sure, if it had been left to the politicians, there would have bee no debate, and no reform because of the lobbying power of their pals in the legal profession .. and the proliferation of lawyers in the political arena .. whether it be lawyers who are actually politicians, or lawyers who are married or connected to politicians ....

Here's the coverage on this, from today's Herald newspaper ... great coverage of the issue I think, and my compliments to the newspaper for remaining balanced in this issue. (Herald link now out of date)

Lawyers face claims of up to £20,000
PAUL ROGERSON March 03 2006

Scots who receive poor service from their lawyers will soon be able to claim up to £20,000 in compensation – four times the present maximum.

Hugh Henry, deputy justice minister, announced the rise which will bring Scotland in line with England and Wales.

The move delighted consumer groups but dismayed the Law Society of Scotland, the governing body of the nation's 9000 practising solicitors.

The measure is included in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, which aims to modernise justice services and encourage "healthy" competition.

The cornerstone of the legislation is the creation of a new independent watchdog to handle complaints, which will comprise a majority of non-lawyers and end centuries of self-regulation.

Mr Henry said: "Consumers now look for more from the services they use. They want and deserve more choice, tailored services, transparency and confidence that, when things go wrong, their complaints will be handled fairly and efficiently."

The Scottish Executive announced in December the country's 10,000 solicitors and advocates would be stripped of the right to police themselves after piecemeal reforms to the regulatory regime failed to win public confidence.

In a public consultation, just 10% backed keeping the present system. Currently, the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, its sister body, has the ultimate power over resolving complaints – and deciding compensation.

Policing the legal profession
Editorial Comment March 03 2006

Revolution, not evolution. That was the verdict handed down by the Scottish Executive yesterday when ministers published their plans for the way the legal profession is policed. The Law Society of Scotland, which carries out the bulk of regulation at present, initially had argued against change, but eventually came round to agreeing that the system was ripe for radical overhaul – the executive's preferred option. There will, indeed, be blood on the walls (although too much for the Law Society's liking, it appears).

According to the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, the role of regulation will be passed to a new, independent body with teeth.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will have an inbuilt majority of lay members. It will handle complaints that cannot be resolved between client and lawyer. In addition, it will have powers to enforce its recommendations.

Lawyers or their firms found to have let clients down will be liable to fines of up to £20,000.

Caroline Flanagan, president of the Law Society, predicted the proposals, when enacted, would increase costs considerably.

The bill says the commission will be funded by a levy on lawyers and an additional charge on firms that attract the most complaints. No business operating in a competitive marketplace likes to see its cost base rise as it could be put at a disadvantage with rivals. The law is no different to any other sector in this regard. But the blunt fact is that, if all lawyers did the job to the best of their ability, there would be no need for the commission. But they do not and there is. The Scottish Legal Services ombudsman, the body that will disappear when the commission is set up, has handled a four-fold increase in complaints against lawyers since 2001.

That in itself tells a story of customer dissatisfaction with the current system of self-regulation and has reinforced a perception that it serves the interests of lawyers, not clients. That is neither helpful nor healthy.

But it will not be possible to level that charge against the commission if it lives up to expectations.

The new body will deal with grievances about the service provided, the subject of about 90% of complaints, rather than fees and the conduct of lawyers. But conduct can affect service. When the line is blurred, and the client suffers either way, it would perhaps have made more sense to hand the commission powers over all complaints, including conduct. The Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, which are responsible for professional discipline, would still have a role in applying appropriate sanctions after the commission's deliberations. This reservation aside, the bill's provisions should be welcomed.

Taken with measures to enable qualified and regulated patent agents, trademark attorneys and legal executives to represent clients in appropriate cases in court, the bill should give the public access to a better, fairer deal from the law. That cannot be bad. (Herald link now out of date)

New legal complaint scheme ‘more open’
PAUL ROGERSON March 03 2006

NEW moves to establish a more independent system for handling complaints about Scotland's lawyers were yesterday welcomed by consumer groups and opposition politicians.

Legislation will set up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with a non-lawyer majority, to handle issues about services provided.

It also paves the way for abolishing the monopoly which 10,000 solicitors and advocates enjoy over paid advocacy rights north of the border.

People other than trained lawyers, such as patent agents and legal executives, are set to be allowed to represent clients in Scotland's courts for the first time.

Reform campaigners have argued that this measure will make it easier and cheaper for the less well-off to secure access to justice. Solicitors and advocates can charge hundreds of pounds an hour, rates which critics believe would not be so high but for the monopoly enjoyed by the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates, their professional bodies.

Graeme Millar, chairman of the Scottish Consumer Council, said: "The SCC has argued for many years for a fairer and more transparent procedure for dealing with complaints about lawyers, which consumers can have confidence in.

"We have also argued that greater competition in the provision of legal services is in the interests of the public. We very much welcome this bill."

John Swinney, the former SNP leader who has taken a close interest in a more independent complaints-handling system, welcomed the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill as "a long overdue step" in tackling a regulatory weakness.

"A number of my constituents have had a terrible ordeal in trying to secure justice when solicitors have let them down," said the MSP for North Tayside.

The main function of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will be to handle consumer or service complaints, which comprise about 90% of the thousands of grievances lodged each year about solicitors and advocates.

Complaints of misconduct and over fees will still be dealt with by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.

Hugh Henry, deputy justice minister, said the bill would improve the handling of complaints, better co-ordinate the provision of legal assistance, and ensure suitable advisers are available to the public. He added: "I am confident we can provide modern legal services that set high professional standards and deliver excellent, qualified advice to the public."

The new bill also gives the Scottish Legal Aid Board responsibility for legal aid in the higher courts, where it is at present decided by the courts themselves. It will also open up access to legal advice by allowing the legal aid board to fund advisers with particular expertise – for instance, on housing matters – rather than lawyers alone.

But Caroline Flanagan, president of the Law Society, said: "We have significant concerns about a number of key features in the bill and will be highlighting those as the bill passes through the Scottish Parliament."

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