Thursday, May 04, 2006

Scottish Parliament Justice 2 Committee not so interested in their own conflicts of interest

The arrogant response of the Justice 2 Committee to my article of the other day ..... well, after all, this is politics ... and what more can we expect from a Government backed up by a political system which these days is mired in sleaze, corruption, bribery scandals, extra-marital affairs (sometimes with the same sex) .... am I perhaps portraying a nation which has 'gone to pot' in political terms ? ... probably.

Despite the fact that the Adviser to the Justice 2 Committee, Margaret Ross, has under her belt, a major conflict of interest in her status as a 'leading member' of Scotland's legal profession and to boot - being a full supporter of self-regulation of lawyers by lawyers - the Justice 2 Committee has decided to keep her on ...

How will that affect people who have made submissions on the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill to the Justice 2 Committee ?

Well, if you have had problems with lawyers in Scotland (that seems to be most of the population who have ever used a lawyer) .. then perhaps you can expect your submission to be edited in the interests of the legal profession, by a member of the legal profession - before it gets anywhere near consideration by the Justice 2 Committee ... not to mention whether it is actually published or not because of course, Ms Ross is an advocate of self regulation of the legal profession, and since the new legislation is designed to bring independent regulation to the legal profession .. a conflict of interests certainly does exist ....

So how should you proceed if you want to get your views over to the Justice 2 Committee members and bypass Law Society of Scotland members and others at the Parliament determined that your submissions don't get to those who need to see them ?
Well ... we all know who is on the Justice 2 Committee :

So anyone who wishes to present their cases where they have difficulties with Scottish lawyers and the way the Law Society of Scotland has handled their complaint, could email or contact the members of the Justice 2 Committee directly, who are :

Mr David Davidson (Convener):
Bill Butler (Deputy Convener):
Jackie Baillie:
Maureen Macmillan :
Mr Stewart Maxwell :
Jeremy Purvis:
Colin Fox:

It does appear, that the transparency surrounding the Parliamentary process for considering this legislation, is being corrupted by the legal profession and they are truly determined to undermine this inquiry and the chance of the new Bill making it's way into Law. This is certainly assertion is certainly supported by the intense media campaign mounted by the Law Society of Scotland in recent weeks, which I have already written about in earlier posts... with Law Society sponsored McCrone report and also the Lib Dem Lord Lester's QC report - also coming in favour of the legal profession.

However, Margo McDonald - the independent MSP who also sits on the Parliamentary Bureau - the body which actually appointed Ms Ross to the position of Adviser to the Justice 2 Committee (she was NOT appointed by the Justice 2 Committee directly), seems not to have been made aware of Ms Ross' position on such matters relevant to the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill and she plans to raise the issue with the Parliamentary Bureau tomorrow (Tuesday) .. so we will see what happens next ...but surely. there is such a conflict of interest in Ms Ross's views that her position as an impartial adviser to the Justice 2 Committee on the LPLA Bill is significantly compromised to the point that a replacement adviser must be found.

After reading through my own information on this matter, I emailed the Parliamentary Bureau members asking what they knew and when ... so if they bother to answer, we will all have a better idea or even perhaps, the motives of Ms Ross' appointment to her position as Justice 2 adviser.

We have still not heard from the Justice 2 Committee as to whether ordinary members of the public who have had difficulties with the legal profession, are to be called to give evidence .. and amidst all the protests of the lawyers inside and outside the Parliament .. together with the Law Society of Scotland's intense dirty tricks campaign ... it looks like those who should be heard in these Parliamentary hearings, won't be heard .. for fear of creating a queue of victims of the Scottish legal profession .. showing just how really corrupt and dirty it actually is ... and raising the question .. why exactly, has this been allowed to go on for so many years ?

A post note from me ... Well, I have to be honest - I'd have liked to be the adviser to the Justice 2 Committee myself (I would have done it for FREE) - but of course, I would have had every single person I could have found lined up ready to testify before the Scottish Parliament on their difficulties with the legal profession and the Law Society of Scotland, et all ... to make sure everyone knew the size of the problem we were tackling here.

J2 committee bats away concern over bias of adviser on reforms

The Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 committee has brushed aside calls for it to dump Margaret Ross as adviser on controversial and bitterly contested legislation overhauling the regulation of legal services.

A spokesman insisted the Aberdeen University academic is the right person to counsel MSPs, choose witnesses and brief on policy, despite allegations that her independence is seriously compromised.

The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill proposes to strip the right of the nation's 10,000 lawyers to police themselves and also seeks to increase access to justice by abolishing the lawyers' monopoly over paid advocacy rights. Committee hearings on the bill began last week.

Ross, it has emerged, gave evidence to predecessor committee Justice 1 in 2002 opposing key reforms which the present bill advocates. One MSP dubbed her "an unashamed advocate of self-regulation", an assertion Ross did not deny.

Even more concerning, perhaps, is the fact that Ross is a senior Law Society of Scotland functionary and until recently sat on two of its committees, including the Access to Justice committee. The Herald noted a fortnight ago that none of the bodies which favour ending the lawyers' monopoly over paid advocacy rights has been invited to address the committee ・the Office of Fair Trading, the Association of Commercial Attorneys and the professional body representing patent agents. The committee says that the decision not to include them on the list of witnesses was made before Ross came on board.

Ross's appointment is particularly sensitive given the society's carefully choreographed media assault on the new bill. The Edinburgh-based body fired its latest salvo last week by issuing a report commissioned from governance expert Professor David McCrone, alleging that the proposals to overhaul regulation could prove a "costly hammer to crack a nut". Significantly, and presumably at the society's behest, McCrone set out to undermine analysis of the consultation which gave rise to the bill, showing that a vast majority of respondents favour independent regulation.

The society declined to disclose how much of its members' money was spent on McCrone's report and an earlier and equally savage critique by English QC Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
Last December the society apparently underwent a Damascene conversion, coming out in favour of an independent body to handle complaints about poor service by solicitors after years of trenchant opposition. Recent developments suggest this was a tactical retreat than a genuine restatement of principle. For the society to have Ross "on the inside" in such a difficult political context appears to some, including former SNP leader John Swinney, as inappropriate at the very least.

Back in February Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie stepped down from justice 2 because her membership of the Law Society clashed with the committee inquiry. Ross appears exempt from such considerations, even though the adviser's job description stressed that he or she "must be able to advise the committee dispassionately" and "should not be involved in any capacity that would compromise his or her ability to act".

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald is another politician concerned that Ross does not meet these criteria. She plans to raise the matter tomorrow with the parliament's business bureau, which is responsible for making committee appointments.

Macdonald said: "It states quite clearly in the adviser's contract terms that impartial and objective advice has to be given to the committee. It's ironic that we are talking about the justice committee when clearly justice must be seen to be done. It is very difficult for someone to plead objectivity when that person has gone on record so decisively in favour of one side of the argument, and this compromises the open-minded approach which the committee is required to adopt."

As far as Justice 2 is concerned, it appears to be a question of hats. In a statement, a spokesman for the new convenor David Davidson MSP, said: "Ross gave evidence to the former J1 Committee as an independent academic expert. As such she was expressly asked to give her personal view on the issue of how best to regulate the legal profession. Her involvement in the J2 Committee scrutiny of the ・Bill is as an adviser, which is a very different role. As set out in the adviser specification, the adviser will advise dispassionately on the basis of available evidence without seeking to persuade it of any particular outcome or approach that he or she may favour.

"Mrs Ross was not involved in the Committee's selection of initial witnesses for the Bill as her appointment took place after the Committee had agreed the witnesses for these sessions. As previously advised, the Committee will consider the written evidence received in early May and will decide then whether to seek any further oral evidence. To date the Committee has received over 600 submissions from both organisations and individuals, including the Office of Fair Trading and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys.

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: "While the Committee may receive advice from Margaret Ross, it is for Committee members to decide who to call for oral evidence and what questions to ask of witnesses. The Justice 2 Committee members were aware of Mrs Ross's Law Society interests at the time of her appointment and her undertaking to cease any involvement in the Society's Access to Justice Committee."

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