Monday, September 01, 2008

Did the Law Society of Scotland know of lawyers media fixing operation over legal aid reforms ?

In the second part of last week's Sunday Herald expose of media manipulation tactics employed by the Glasgow Bar Association in an apparent attempt to thwart Government 'reforms' to the way legal aid is paid to solicitors, we learn the GBA has already claimed around £8 million from the public purse in legal aid.

Motive enough then for the GBA to employ a public relations firm to counter the so-called 'reforms' to legal aid which one of the solicitors in the article laughably claims is causing solicitors to "work out of their bedrooms" - please let us hear of and see some interviews of solicitors working out of their bedrooms !

Now .. I have nothing against legal aid. Legal Aid is there to allegedly ensure everyone has access to legal services, whether they can afford it or not.

However, we all know the above not to be true, because legal aid is only available to someone if the legal profession feel it is in their best interests to pursue their case ... not whether someone should have the right to access to justice.

Legal aid is of course, only payable to solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland ... so, as I, and many others have found out over the years, if your litigation is not in the best interests of the legal profession, your legal aid claim will go nowhere.

Legal Aid cases against the Law Society’s interests never succeed ..

Scotsman 5 June 1998 Law Society accused of closing ranks as claim fails

There is a more important issue though to what the GBA have done, via their use of MMM, a public relations firm, to 'encourage' and 'produce' stories in the media which were damaging or critical of the Government on their legal aid policy ... and that issue arising from some of the comments, is, when did the Law Society of Scotland know about the GBA’s employment of MMM over the legal aid reforms, and what was done, if anything to stop it ?

The Law Society of Scotland have, to my knowledge, employed public relations firms in the past on some of their exercises against clients and critics of the legal profession.

Indeed, twice, when the Scottish Parliament considered 'regulation of the legal profession', the Law Society of Scotland brought in just about everyone it could find, including public relations firms, to round criticism and anti reform stories on intended legislative reforms to regulation and even mount personal attacks on critics of the legal profession.

So, taking this into account, it would be hard to imagine, the Law Society of Scotland were 'in the dark' over the Glasgow Bar Association's little operation involving MMM to attack a key plank of legal aid reforms, which, if successful in bringing to a halt, would of course benefit not only the firms of the GBA but the remainder of the Scots legal profession who also claim legal aid.

Indeed, one could say the Law Society of Scotland would have been a rather poor governing body for the legal profession if it had failed to spot what was going on, through its vast network of contacts inside & outside the legal profession … almost to the point of negligence ….

Who therefore could investigate such a matter ? Well .. not the Law Society of Scotland, that's for sure .. for they would hardly be able to investigate themselves when they can't even investigate thousands of client complaints against their own member solicitors ... so perhaps this could be a task for the new but not so 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ? or is there a convenient wriggle out for the SLCC too ?

The Sunday Herald Reports :

Lawyers fighting Legal Aid cuts claimed £8m

Revealed: how the legal association campaigning against changes to the justice system stood to lose from reforms

By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor

A LEGAL body that funded a secret campaign against justice reforms that will make its members poorer is run by a group of lawyers whose firms have claimed almost £8 million in criminal defence fees.

The executive committee of the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA), which hired a PR company to attack a government policy that will cut the Legal Aid bill, is made up of 13 lawyers whose companies took in nearly £13m of public money over the same period.

One of the solicitors on the committee, Ally Thomson, said the system was forcing colleagues to work "out of their bedrooms".

The firm that employs Thomson, Carr and Co, has claimed £2,335,500 in Legal Aid since 2003.

The summary justice reforms introduced earlier this year were supposed to speed up the system by punishing low-level offenders with fines or a warning, instead of having the cases heard in court. But the system has been plagued by negative publicity after a spate of stories appeared which showed apparently serious offences being diverted from the courtroom.

However, the Sunday Herald disclosed last week that much of the coverage had been driven by a PR company, McGarvie Morrison Media (MMM), which was paid by the GBA to attack the reforms.

Law firms stand to lose chunks of their £122m Legal Aid subsidy from the new system as fewer court appearances will mean a fall in claims.

The Sunday Herald can reveal the firms which employ the 13 members of the GBA's executive committee are major beneficiaries of the Legal Aid regime, with the dozen or so firms having claimed £7,918,300 in "criminal and children's" fees since 2003, and £12,876,400 overall in legal aid during the same period.

MathesonRitchie, a firm that has GBA president Sara Matheson as a partner, claimed £418,400 in the criminal fees section and £791,600 in total during the same period.

The Lambie Law Partnership, at which GBA treasurer Phil Cohen works as a solicitor, clawed back £1,113,700 in criminal and children's fees, and £1,694,000 overall in legal aid.

GBA vice-president David O'Hagan's firm, Hughes Dowdall, also benefited from the old system, as the company claimed £511,700 in the criminal subsidies category and £997,200 from the entire system.

Fitzpatrick and Co, home to GBA executive member Gerard Considine, took in £1,107,900 in criminal and children's fees since 2003, which contributed to a total legal aid subsidy of £1,577, 600.

Dunipace Brown, of which the GBA's Colin Dunipace is listed as a partner, claimed £1,088,600 in criminal subsidies section, and £1,401,400 in Legal Aid since 2003.

Another committee member, Ally Thomson, is a vocal opponent of the new summary justice reforms, as made clear in an interview he gave to legal website CaseCheck.

Put to him that "lack of remuneration" was now a problem for lawyers, he said: "There is more legislation than ever, more preliminary points to consider, the law is getting more and more complex, and we are getting to the stage where very experienced criminal practitioners are working out of their bedrooms. Guys with 25 years of experience can't afford an office - it is ridiculous."

According to government figures, Thomson's firm, Carr and Co, has claimed £1,291,800 in criminal and children's legal aid since 2003, and £2,335,500 overall, the largest subsidy of all the 13 firms.

The president of the GBA, Sara Matheson, said: "The figures quoted are earnings and not profit, and include VAT and expenses. These law firms include some of the biggest practices in the country and employ several criminal lawyers across a number of offices."

She added: "Lawyers have a highly responsible job that involves up to seven years of training, but some criminal lawyers are now earning less per hour than unskilled workers. Some of the fees paid to solicitors have not been increased since 1992."


Anonymous said...

I'd say the answer to your question is obviously "YES they knew".
Now what are you going to do about it super sleuth ?

Anonymous said...

Your analysis as insightful as ever Peter.
If the Law Society didnt know about it they are an ineffective regulator and if they did know about it and did nothing they supported the GBA.Good conclusion overall and you are probably on the ball as you usually are.

Keep up the good work !

Anonymous said...

You are of course correct Mr Cherbi,If the GBA were successful in their campaign the rest of the profession would have benefited from higher legal aid payments.

Anonymous said...

of course the law society knew about it and so did macaskill

maybe part 3 of the story will cover that little mob!

Anonymous said...

Good points Peter and after reading your summary I think the Law Society probably did know about it.

Anonymous said...

Quite clear from the Sunday Herald the lawyers stood to gain a lot of money if it had worked.Iwonder who let the cat out of the bag?

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of money changing hands over legal aid and thats why the GBA put in the extra effort.If it had all went undetected they would have been the bees knees now they are well and truly in the doghouse so thats that and we will have to put up with people like you reminding us of how inept the profession is at setting up the media.
Maybe the GBA should have asked you to handle their case !

Anonymous said...

There is clearly no good or proper reason why a self regulating, secretive and conspicuously partisan organisation such as the Law Society Society of Scotland should be allowed to continue free of any proper or meaningful regulation.

However the spineless, self-serving and thoroughly selfish agenda of its membership (aided and abetted by politicians of every party) reveals them to be pleased to see an insult continue to be visited daily upon a subject they are presently priveleged to represent.

Time then to alert the European regulators to the conspicuous injustices regularly visited upon domestic law abiding citizens by this monopoly - Mr MacAskill's description - where, purely coincidentally, the Law Society of Scotland has already established an office.

Anonymous said...

Another fine mess the GBA has made !

Well spotted Mr C !!

Anonymous said...

Lawyers do a responsible job ... and then try this ?

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 3.25pm

Yes, I agree.

# Anonymous @ 4.06pm

Yes, although the Law Society will see themselves as innocent of any wrongdoing, and self regulation means the Bar Association can get away with what it wants ... which is convenient for all concerned.

# Anonymous @ 4.46pm

Of course.

# Anonymous @ 4.59pm

My latest report on the story seems to indicate just that.

# Anonymous @ 5.44pm


# Anonymous @ 7.17pm

Who knows ...

# Anonymous @ 9.18pm

For the honest effort I take it ?

# Anonymous @ 10.16pm

Yes I agree .. and that office of the Law Society of Scotland seems very adept at lobbying against change from the EU from what I gather ...