Monday, September 29, 2008

Parliament to consider competition in legal services market as Scottish Government fails on access to justice reforms

The Scottish Government's promised access to justice reforms, long stalled by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and members of the Judiciary such as the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, have been brought into question by new moves to get the Scottish Parliament to consider the issue of opening up the lawyers monopoly over the Scots legal services market.

Petition PE 1197, raised by Bill Alexander, a member of the Association of Commercial Attorneys, comes on the back of a series of gaffes, excuses, and outright prejudice by the Justice Minister against applications from individuals outside the powerful but corrupt lobby of the Law Society of Scotland to apply for rights of audience & representation which would allow the public to choose their legal representatives, bringing more badly needed competition into Scotland's woefully poor quality legal services market.

Petition PE1197 Bill Alexander - Reform Legal Services MarketPetition PE1197 - Allowing non-lawyers to enter the legal services market : A Petition by Bill Alexander calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform the legal system to adopt the Scandinavian system of allowing unrestricted access to legal representation before the court for example by allowing non-lawyers to appear in court on behalf of other parties.

Mr Alexander, who has been campaigning since 1995 for reform of legal services in Scotland goes onto describe his efforts to open the Scottish legal services market, efforts which have been obstructed by several political administrations, and always by the legal profession.

Mr Alexander : “I have been actively involved in the application by the Association of Commercial Attorneys under Sections 25 to 29 of the Law reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 and it is now clear that in the unlikely event of the application being approved, the restrictions on the areas of practice are such that there will still be a fundamental lack of choice for parties who cannot afford a solicitor or who may not want to instruct a solicitor in matters pertaining to Contract and Delict.

The Access to Justice Department and the Lord President’s office have interpretated the Law Reform Act in such a manner that they do not consider that access to justice should be a determining factor in considering any application.”

In a recent story on this issue, I reported on the exposure of Mr MacAskill's duplicity in stalling moves to open competition in the legal services market. You can read more about that story here :

Justice Secretary MacAskill blames Lord President for delays in ‘access to justice’ applications row

You can also watch Mr MacAskills very weak parliamentary performance on the issue, blaming everyone else including the Lord President, Lord Hamilton for the delays to legal services reform :

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill blames Chief Judge Lord Hamilton on delays over legal services market reform

Mr Alexander’s petition to seek the opening of the legal services market, which is supported by David Whitton MSP, has been raised because to-date, all access to justice applications made under Scotland’s existing legislation contained in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 have been refused by the Scottish Government, after taps on the shoulder from the legal establishment, who view legal services as their fiefdom, to the exclusion of all others.

Mr Alexander goes on in his parliamentary petition to explain a bit more on how unfair the Scottish closed shop lawyer monopolised legal services market is to the Scots public, obstructing access to justice at almost every level, where in effect, it is the legal profession currently, who determine the public’s access to justice, rather than a person’s own choice.

“At the moment the cost restrictions on access to justice means that there are people in Scotland who are being denied access to their Article 6 Human Right to a fair hearing in an impartial tribunal with a reasonable time. With the decision to only consider new complaints from the 1st October 2008 by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) the prospects for the many people who responded to the consultation on legal services who felt that they had a complaint are also effectively being denied access to justice.”

While Scotland seems to be left out of legal services reform, which was recommended by the OFT at Westminster, Scandinavian countries enjoy a more open view of their legal services markets.

You can read more about the OFT recommendations to open the legal services market, and how the Scottish Government have stalled legal services reform for over a year since the OFT acted, here :OFT recommends lifting of lawyers monopoly on access to justice & legal services in Scotland

… and you can read more of my previous reports on access to legal services reforms, and the legal profession’s struggle to hold them back here : Access to Justice reforms in Scotland delayed by legal interests

Mr Alexander details in his petition, the more opened legal services markets in other countries, which work well, presumably because their legal profession’s don’t have such a grip on power and politics …

Mr Alexander continues : “In the Scandinavian countries they have a very liberal legal system where non-lawyers are allowed to appear in court on behalf of other parties.

It is my belief that the people of Scotland, if a system similar to Sweden and Finland was adopted, were to be given a degree of encouragement and support, that they would acquire a greater knowledge and respect for the law of Scotland which would be a benefit to society as a whole, with the potential further benefits of greater access to justice, a reduction in legal costs to individuals and the public purse, a potential reduction in violence if people are encouraged to reach for a law book as opposed to a weapon to resolve a dispute, more self confidence and self belief and an end to a monopoly which has caused actual physical harm to people over the decades.

I am confident, having been involved in this subject matter for many years, that there are, in fact, no justifiable reasons why there should be an automatic presumption that the people of Scotland would not willingly embrace and be proud of this new legal system. It would also ensure that no-one in Scotland had to face the prospect of having to appear in court without representation unless they wished to.”

Opening the legal services market up to competition is a must, but as we can see, there seems little appetite from the Scottish Government on this issue, where even the Justice Secretary himself appears unable to slip the Law Society’s puppet strings controlling policy moves to block wider public choice of legal representation and increased consumer safeguards against rogue lawyers.

Perhaps it will take more than the Scottish Government to make the moves and open up Scots lawyers private monopoly over legal services, and if the Parliament itself fails, the OFT might have to step in north of the border to protect the public’s right of access to justice where the Scottish Government itself is failing to protect.


Anonymous said...

Obviously its too big a decision for oor Kenny to be left in charge.Too stuffed of the back pocket with big fat brown envelopes too I shouldn't wonder.

Anonymous said...

The LSS will just go in and block it like they do with everything else including your own petition Peter.

Get the OFT to force matters and show up the stooge national party!

Anonymous said...

nationalise the scum and make them do everyones legal work whatever it is

Anonymous said...

Nice to really know who is running the country.

Mr Salmond needs a new justice minister or we need a new government!

Anonymous said...

Nothing will happen and the Petition will fall flat on its face as it should.

If people want to get access to court they need someone who has the knowledge and skills to do that for them which is why you all go to a lawyer when you need expert legal advice.

If you go to the likes ot Tesco for expert legal advice you will probably end up coming out with a bag full of apples and some potatoes which will fill stomachs but not resolve your legal problems.

Anonymous said...

As I understand matters;

1. The OFT made recommendations for reform of Legal Services provision in Scotland following the Which magazine Super-Complaint.

2. The Scottish Government has stubbornly failed to implement the proposed OFT reforms, the Justice Minister Mr McAskill defending the monopoly (his term) operated by the Law Society of Scotland and its disgraced insurance provider Marsh.

3. The SNP continues to deny the Scottish Public any meaningful or proper access to justice by its conspicuous and continuing refusal to enact legislation passed by the democratically elected Government in Westiminster.

Clearly the OFT, Which Magazine and the Scottish Consumer Council must now submit this disgraceful history of abuse to the Competition Commission as a matter of urgency.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your reports on this Mr Cherbi.

I don't believe Mr MacAskill wants to allow anyone into the legal business other than solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland.

The Scottish Government either feel the same way or don't have the power to overrule the legal profession in its desire to remain a monopoly.

Change will have to come from somewhere else, and as you point out Westminster might just be the way to go.

Good luck.

wee rab said...

If you look closely you might be able to see the bottle of buckfast behind Kenny in that video.

Good work keep it up.We need a new Justice Secretary.Do you feel up the job Mr Cherbi ?

Anonymous said...

Unlikable chap Mr MacAskill.Entirely untrustworthy too as your report shows.

Anonymous said...

Would you expect the man to do anything else?He is protecting his own club of lawyers and nothing will stop him because there is a big pile of money at the end of it for him.

It IS enjoying to see all you scots gits get caught out by your own though HAHAHAHA you elected the snp and now they are treating you all like shit too HAHAHAHA

Anonymous said...

Clearly the Law Society wont allow anyone else into legal services or people like you might actually get their day in court.We cant have that now can we!

Anonymous said...

The parliament is full of lawyers and I don't think he will get anywhere with his petition

Anonymous said...

Disgusting.How much are they paying you Alex to keep the lawyers profits up?

Anonymous said...

Well yes I can understand you are all angry that Kenny is keeping his lawyer buddies back pockets stuffed to the gunnells with cash but writing about it isn't going to change much unless you get out there and hound these bastards into letting everyone have a fair hearing in court or get whatever problems they have with the law sorted out without it costing arms and legs.

Anonymous said...

Predictably the SNP have been coerced by the legal profession to gum up the works on opening your precious legal services markets.I don't think you can expect much from the SNP really - they are pretty weak as a Government goes and very inexperienced to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Monopoly is good for some by the looks of it but people should be able to choose their legal representatives as you say.

Good work Mr Cherbi.

Anonymous said...

The OFT will have to come to rescue the jocks from their own HAHAHAHA

Anonymous said...

You write a very persuasive story Peter but I doubt the Law Society will let this one pass without a fight.

The Society claims quality of legal service will be compromised by allowing anyone else other than a solicitor to hold the reigns of 'access to justice' and that will remain their argument however ridiculous it sounds.

You have your work cut out for you that's for sure !

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments.

Suffice to say I agree with those who say the Law Society will probably obstruct Mr Alexander's petition as they did with my own Petition PE1033.

Mr Clancy perhaps will send another letter to the Petitions Committee closing this down for the usual reasons, such as it is not in the best interests of solicitors for this to happen .. and the usual backdoor threats or calling in of MSPS will ensure it gets no further forward.

However, I would like to see Mr Alexander's Petition be successful .. it's just that with previous experience of trying to get Petitions past the Petitions Committee which the Law Society didn't like, I don't see much future in it, as they can't seem to do anything without the lawyers stamp on things these days at the Parliament.