One could be forgiven for thinking that lawyers hate the public after recent vitriolic attacks on the public's right to access to justice from certain quarters of the legal profession, but many have known for some time there is no love lost between solicitors & their clients these days.
In what may be a defining point in the debate on how the public should be able to freely choose their legal representatives without that being decided by the legal profession itself, Solicitor Advocate Frank Maguire, of Thompsons Solicitors Glasgow, vehemently rejects the idea that consumer law should be applied to clients dealing with solicitors, fearing of course, the ramifications of the impact of consumer law on the legal services market, which would inevitably drive the huge & restrictive costs of legal services down to more sensible and competitive levels which everyone could afford.
Mr Maguire launches a scathing attack on what the public perceive as their right to access to justice, and access to a decent standard of legal service which has never been given by the legal profession under the administration of the Law Society of Scotland, to date.
In a quote from the Scotsman, Mr Maguire says :
"I find the "consumer rules" philosophy naive. The irony is that these very consumers will come to lawyers whom they will want to be independent of such commercial undertakings.
The consumer lobby has had too much influence so far in our Scottish society. It now needs to be checked and, instead, we should be reasserting a rights-based system underpinned by an independent judiciary and an independent legal profession."
Good for you Frank. In the light of your obvious disdain for the public interest, can you tell us when are the swastikas being hoisted in front of the Law Society's Drumsheugh Gardens office ?
It sounds like you want to check democracy itself, swapping Parliament for the rule of the unaccountable judiciary and the legal profession. I don't think that's in the public interest at all ... and as far as consumer rules philosophy being naive, well, at the end of the day its the consumers money which is keeping you in work. Don't like it ? Go and be a plumber instead and don't fit any bent pipes.
For me, I prefer electing a Parliament to consider and legislate rights for the public, rather than handing over the process to the professions and vested interests who are only concerned with fattening their balance sheets and purchasing a few extra houses & cars for themselves at the cost of everyone else.
Lawyers seem to have forgot who they are at the end of the day. They are a business, they use the law as a business model for making money out of us, out of corporations, out of Government, and out of just about anyone they can take money from. Lawyers serve the law and make money from it.They are not 'above the law' nor do they 'reign over us' as they like to think they do. We are their masters.It is our money which keeps them in fancy houses, fancy cars, bonuses and that big bit on the side.
It's time to apply new rules and new laws to the relationship between the public and the legal profession, as clearly, the public need to be boss for a change, not being bossed around by the legal profession or arbitrarily denied access to justice on the whim of a lawyer.
I note Mr Maguire cites among his examples, the victims of accidents, disasters & the tainted blood products scandals that these people are "consuming nothing" when it comes to Justice.
In a further quote from the Scotsman article Frank Maguire goes on to say :
"Try telling families of the Stockline factory explosion, the recent tugboat tragedy on the Clyde, the husband of the family wiped out in a car accident from diesel spillage or someone dying from an industrial disease or infected with blood products, that they are consuming justice. They are consuming nothing.
Their right to justice is the same as their right to education and health, and it is the duty of society to uphold that right."
Oh yes, all these tragedies, disasters, scandals, and all those victims waiting years, decades even for action while their lawyers sit back and take the money, with little or no return.
How long do the victims of the contaminated blood products scandal have to wait until they get a proper inquiry, explanations and compensation for what happened to them ? What about those who are already dead ? Why have these poor people had to wait years, decades for action on this while lawyers have taken the money claiming there was action or success "just around the corner", and "just around the corner" never comes ?
Do you keep telling a client of five years plus "Oh we are about to win; about to win, about to win, there is going to be an inquiry soon and you will get a lot of money, we will all win, the group will win .." and nothing happens ?
How long can a victim take that kind of talk from a lawyer they are constantly paying to represent their legal interests and obtain them access to justice which society has failed to deliver ? In fifteen years time with the client nearly dead will you still be telling them "We are about to win, you will get your inquiry soon" ?
Would applying consumer law to an opened legal services market, coupled with a strong, independent Legal Services Board style regulatory authority, allow consumers to wait ten, fifteen, twenty years for a legal service with an end result to be provided ?
I don't think victims of tragedies, disasters, bombings and scandals would or should have to wait all those years and pay all that money to their legal representatives for nothing, so if consumer law were applied to legal services as it should have been a long time ago we wouldn't have all these decades old cases of injustice which the legal profession seem to be driving themselves just to fatten profits once again.
It certainly is the duty of society to uphold a person's right to justice - but it is not the duty of the legal profession to decide who gets access to justice, the power which lawyers have lorded over the rest of us for far too long.
The public consume justice, and have a right of access to it. Consumer law, coupled with a strong independent regulatory authority which will also oversee the enforcement of standards of the legal services market must be applied to legal services to ensure public confidence, trust, transparency, accountability and provide a safety net in the event of any failure of those legal services.
These benefits can only be achieved with opening up the legal services market which is truly in the public interest and ensuring the consumer is protected at all times, as we should be, because, its our money, its our right to justice and it's our right to ensure we get good legal services we can rely on, trust, and be assured that if things go wrong, we don't lose out and have a strong independent regulator safeguarding standards and ensuring proper compensation for failures of service.
A further "supercomplaint" is warranted in this case, in the public interest, as it is clear from the steps the current Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has taken to align himself with the current leadership of the Scottish legal profession, that he prefers no change to any change, simply to protect lawyers profits over the rights of the public to gain a measurable access to justice not seen before in Scotland. The impotice for change therefore must come from consumer organisations, and again perhaps, the OFT, as too many lawyers still control the legal services debate currently raging in Scotland.
I would therefore urge the Which? organisation, in the light of their stance on the issue of providing Scots with an opened legal services market to make a further challenge by way of a "supercomplaint" on the regulatory aspect of the current legal services market model in Scotland, which must see the implementation of a fully independent Legal Services Board just as the rest of the UK enjoys.
Frank Maguire, Solicitor Advocate
I REJECT the fundamental principle underpinning this whole debate, namely the consumer lobby's assertion that justice is consumed.
Try telling families of the Stockline factory explosion, the recent tugboat tragedy on the Clyde, the husband of the family wiped out in a car accident from diesel spillage or someone dying from an industrial disease or infected with blood products, that they are consuming justice. They are consuming nothing.
Their right to justice is the same as their right to education and health, and it is the duty of society to uphold that right.
Lawyers are portrayed as obstacles to civil justice, enjoying monopolistic control of the legal market, leading to high prices and commensurate profits.
The monopoly, it is said, must be broken. Legal advice and representation should be open to non-solicitors. Solicitors' and advocates' practices should be open to ownership outwith the profession and even by such entities as banks, building societies and, no doubt, estate agents and claims companies.
The promoters of such an agenda are those who profess to represent the consumer, like Which?', the magazine.
I find the "consumer rules" philosophy naive. The irony is that these very consumers will come to lawyers whom they will want to be independent of such commercial undertakings.
The consumer lobby has had too much influence so far in our Scottish society. It now needs to be checked and, instead, we should be reasserting a rights-based system underpinned by an independent judiciary and an independent legal profession.
Julia Clarke, of Which?
WE ALL agree legal services are vitally important. Access to justice and an independent legal profession are cornerstones of our democracy. But there appears to be confusion among some in the legal profession about what we are campaigning for.
We support the rights of people seeking justice from the courts. But we also want to see the market liberalisation of legal services such as will-making, conveyancing, divorce, employment rights; matters that many members of the public will find themselves addressing at some point.
With competition, new providers will emerge, stimulating innovation and delivering high standards of customer service, greater efficiency and improving price and quality for consumers.
As the Financial Times of 6 June, 2006 said: "Competition delivers results in ways that government bureaucrats cannot anticipate. Consumers can expect more choice, innovative services and lower prices. Familiar brands such as Tesco and the AA have nothing to gain from offering substandard legal services."
By enabling competition and lower prices, liberalising the industry is likely to increase access to legal services for people who have been effectively priced out of the market by cuts in legal aid.
Which? has considerable expertise in improving consumer markets for the good of everyone using these services. And Scottish legal services is a consumer market worth £1.2 billion.
We would like to see regulation by a new Legal Services Board including in its objectives access to justice and the protection of consumers. What we have now is lawyers regulating themselves.