Friday, November 21, 2008

Scottish Parliament calls for 'access to justice' moves as solicitors struggle to maintain monopoly on legal business

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 :

Contact details of the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee :

Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee,
Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh EH99 1SP

Clerk to the Committee: Fergus D Cochrane
Assistant Clerk: Franck David
Assistant Clerk: ZoƩ 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.


Anonymous said...

Yes I can imagine the petitions committee wont want to hear from people who cant get a lawyer when all these lawyers claim there's no restrictions on who they will represent !

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Good post I think I will have a go at writing to the committee too given t he fact the law society have seen to it I cant get anywhere near a lawyer now.

Keep up the good work !

Anonymous said...

oh well not to worry because now youve told everyone I'm sure the submissions will just pour in and rightly so laddie !

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary of the inequities which every major political party has allowed to continue for many years.

A Westminster early day motion in 1996 noted the House was astonished that to learn of the case of Iain McIntyre and believed that;

1. "..inherent conflicts exist between the Law Society of Scotland's duties to guard the public interest and protect its members interest..."

2.".. believes it is unjustifiable that the Law Society of Scotland holds the Master Professional Indemnity Policy which has built into it penalties and bonuses which give solicitors a vested interest in minimizing negligence claims at unfair levels.."

3." convinced that the principle of Scots law that everyone is entitled to independent legal representation has been breached by the Scertary of the Law Society of Scotland...."

4."..calls for a judicial enquiry..and an urgent review of the self-regulatory status of the Law Society of Scotland".

All of which puts into its proper perspective the statements of apoligists for the status quo such as Mr. McAskill and Mr Bill Aitken.

Anonymous said...

"Monopoly" as you put it is designed to keep people such as you away from the courts.Just think Peter if you were a lawyer the kind of damage you could do to governments and regulators such as the lss

Anonymous said...

This is why I like to read your blog Mr Cherbi.Full of public service and spirit

If only those who rule over us would follow your example the injustice that is committed every day against countless people would end because those who we elect turn their backs on us when we need them most

I will make it my business to write to this petitions committee and put my views to them on your access to justice quest.

Anonymous said...

Nigel Don doesn't half talk a lot of rubbish at times and he excelled himself there.Is he on Kenny Mac's I Love Lawyers club ?

Good luck with the submissions hope you get plenty !

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Peter - the public should also have been asked to give their thoughts on this issue because it comes down to people having to go without a lawyer when no lawyer will take them on either because there's no legal aid or they don't want the case to get into court as you say.

Anonymous said...

I watched the video and I do think you are correct about Mr Don not getting the right version of what the petition is all about.However if anyone is allowed to say they are legally qualified and can end up in court representing someone you are going to end up with a lot of problems about quality of service and then what kind of attitude wll a judge who is probably been a lawyer all his life take to someone who isn't a lawyer standing in front of him ? Probably some bias for maybe the other side who has employed a lawyer so I see problems ahead on that front.

I see what you are getting at overall but someone needs to decide who exactly can stand handle peoples legal issues properly or clients are going to end up getting a pig in a poke even if they are already getting that with some lawyers just now.

Anonymous said...

is this something that can be solved with money ?

Anonymous said...

To the 9.13pm contributor, all people want is representation - preferably legally qualified - which can be seen to be wholly independent and impartial. This is presently denied them.

In many instances, while in others people through injury or illness are simply not well enough to speak on their own behalf.

Anonymous said...

How long do we have to make a submission to the parliament ?

Anonymous said...

A good idea Mr Cherbi.I will send a letter into the parliament about how difficult a time I had getting a lawyer to sue another lawyer and it all ended up in failure

Anonymous said...

was told to read your site today about the petition and i support it 100%

Anonymous said...

I get the sense Nigel Don was sent in to say exactly that by MacAskill who probably wants this petition dead.Any other theories to his tirade against anyone who isn't a lawyer ?

Anonymous said...

never been able to get a lawyer after i made a complaint to the law society about the lawyer who sold our house and basically took most of the money for himself so if this is about allowing others to represent people like me that would be great

Anonymous said...

I'm not really in the mood for more letter writing about crooked lawyers but I know what I'd like to do instead.

I saw a story in the Sunday mail today about a Sheriff who had to go because he visited saunas with prostitutes its a pity they dont get the judges and lawyers who go after kids too bceause theres plenty from what I hear walking around up to that

Anonymous said...

The lawyers will fight this all the way because it will ruin their business hopefully!

Anonymous said...

Yes a good idea Mr Cherbi and I do agree it looks like Nigel Don was sent into the hearing to get rid of the petition.

Its good we have people like you to keep us informed of such things so keep up the good work and I look forward to see your own submission to the committee.

Anonymous said...

I would have expected to see this in the newspapers but it looks like they have given up their coverage of legal issues from the point of the public.

I suppose clients dont take out huge colour supplements so its not in the interest to upset the advertising lawyers !

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the notice Mr Cherbi,I will write in to the parliament and tell them of my own horrible experience in trying to get a lawyer to put right the damage our first lawyer did.A total waste of time and now not one will take us on but they are quick enough to bill us for a first and only meeting.

Anonymous said...

One of the worst jobs I ever had was being employed at Holyrood.
I know Nigel Don quite well and he isn't usually that stupid so I can only conclude he was wound up by his boss to come out with that ridiculous comparison on something which has no relation to the petition you refer to.
My opinion is the petition will be put to bed one way or another so don't get your hopes up.

Anonymous said...

I called the petitions committee about your story Mr Cherbi and they were very angry to learn you had publicised this.It sounded awfully like they don't want anyone other than the Law Society and their friends to make a report probably saying "Oh no the public doesn't need anyone else to represent them in court because lawyers already do a fine job.End of story".
Good work anyway and I hope your revelation on this apparently well kept secret petition causes a few letters in from people with their own stories of no access to justice.

in a spin said...

Thanks Peter I was trying to find out more about Bill Alexander and found this and all your other stuff on him.

Its good to see you keeping them all on their toes !

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all of your comments and points on this issue.

The deadlines for submissions to the Petitions Committee is 5th January 2009, so anyone planning to put in a submission on their experiences of a lack of access to justice should do so now.

#Anonymous @ 4.28pm

I have heard similar to what you say from another source ...

Anonymous said...

Funny thing,look what happened to Mr Don this weekend over his mortgage allowance !

Anonymous said...

Yeah, thanks for the post, this is a helpful site you have. Nice to see someone interested in justice. I've been having problems myself, I posted some of the details online for quick reference. It's definately a case of 'Who you know in Dundee', solictors are quick to come out in support of the money/landlords/employers not so much for the less fortunate. Feel free to check out the entry here, and the section starting 'what a web we weave'. Maybe I'm being unreasonable here, I don't know, but it's frustrating.