The growing public lack of access to legal services and choice of legal representatives has come into sharp focus at the Scottish Parliament this week, as the Petitions Committee considered Petition PE1197 from Mr William Alexander of the Association of Commercial Attorneys, asking 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."
Holyrood calls for submissions on Access to Justice
I have reported on Petition PE1197 in an earlier article here : Parliament to consider competition in legal services market as Scottish Government fails on access to justice reforms
The Petitions Committee agreed to seek responses on the issues raised in the petition from the Scottish Government, Faculty of Advocates, Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Law Commission and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
However, members of the Committee did not feel moved to ask the public for their own submissions on how difficult it has been to secure access to legal services and the Scottish Courts system, for fear it seems of receiving detailed and harrowing accounts of how members of the public themselves have been prevented from securing access to justice in Scotland.
If however, you feel you have been denied or hindered from obtaining access to legal services, legal representation, or access to Scottish Courts, you can write a submission to the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee on your experiences or problems with access to justice in Scotland and email it to : email@example.com
Contact details of the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee :
Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee,
Edinburgh EH99 1SP
Clerk to the Committee: Fergus D Cochrane
Assistant Clerk: Franck David
Assistant Clerk: Zoé Tough
Administrative Support to the Committee: Eileen Martin
Contact: 0131 348 5982
RNID Typetalk service: 18001 0131 34 85982
Fax: 0131 348 5088
During the short four minute presentation of Petition PE1197, Bill Butler MSP (Labour) suggested there were specific points that responses should be sought on whether a precedent on widening rights of audience had been set after the the Scottish Government had granted rights of audience (albeit restricted rights of audience) to the Association of Commercial Attorneys giving a right to conduct litigation and secondly whether there are plans to expand those rights of audience to other groups and whether such changes are desirable ... and what impact there would be on the legal system in the light of such changes.
I reported earlier on the Association of Commercial Attorneys being given limited practising rights here : Non-lawyer rights of audience approved ‘with restrictions’ as Scottish Government continues to waver on access to justice reforms
However, spectators to the debate were troubled by Nigel Don MSP who seemed to drift off in an interpretation of Petition PE1197 as being that of a request to allow anyone to represent themselves in the Courts, which of course, is not what is being asked via the petition.
One spectator to the debate said "Mr Don seems to have got the wrong end of the stick which is worrying as he is a member of the Justice Committee, and I would have thought his experience in legal issues and the fact he is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill would have ensured he picked up on exactly what the petition was about which is widening rights of access to audience & representation for non lawyer professionals to represent members of the public, rather than what Mr Don claimed which was people being able to represent themselves in court"
A source close to the Petitions Committee claimed “the Law Society may try to undermine the petition at a later stage because they (the Law Society) wouldn’t be happy others were attempting to encroach on solicitors business”.
We must expect a degree of obstruction from the legal profession to the public’s wishes of wider access to justice as solicitors and the legal establishment have been far too used to holding a monopoly over legal services in Scotland for hundreds of years, a monopoly which has brought billions of pounds of profits to Scotland’s legal firms that many solicitors wish to keep for themselves in what is currently a very anti competitive, protectionist Scottish legal services market.
Opening up access to justice in Scotland, by granting rights of audience to non lawyer qualified professionals who are independently and effectively regulated would go a significant way to addressing the problems of many across the country who have been denied access to justice by a legal system which currently allows the legal profession to effectively chose the clients and cases it wishes to represent, and at costs to clients, which the legal profession currently determine itself.
Clearly there is a genuine public interest in the progress of Petition PE1197, where many individuals in Scotland, and indeed, whole groups of people have found their access to justice hindered or prevented by the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and other industry groups & regulators who don’t wish to see certain kinds of cases or individuals gain access to legal representation or Scotland’s Courts.
I therefore urge anyone who feels their access to justice or access to legal services have been restricted or denied, to make a submission to the Scottish Parliament on their experiences.