Kenny MacAskill vowed to protect lawyers. Greedy lawyers celebrated last night as the Scottish Parliament effectively barred the public until at least 2014 from the freedom to choose their legal representatives, as the latest petition to bring the free market to Scotland's monopolistic legal services market, failed after intervention from Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and elements of the Scots legal establishment, worried their profits would tumble as people wised up to cheaper, better quality and independently regulated legal services.
Petition 1197, brought to Holyrood by Bill Alexander, who has fought a long battle to open Scotland's monopolistic legal services market, currently controlled by the Law Society of Scotland, was closed by the Holyrood Petitions Committee after a meek hearing, with only two members of the Petitions Committee even bothering to voice their views.
Petitions Committee thwarts efforts to bring wider public access to justice in Scotland.
One of those speaking, firstly to apologise to the Committee and everyone involved in the petition, was Nigel Don MSP, parliamentary assistant to Kenny MacAskill who recently came to fame for creating a series of property transactions to allow him to claim £688 a month from the public purse to pay his mortgage.
You can read more about Mr Don’s mortgage claims here : Influencing Justice reforms in Scotland worth ‘price of a mortgage allowance’ as MacAskill's ministerial aide gets £688 a month to fund capital flat
Nigel Don 'got the wrong end of the stick'. Mr Don, who was 'pulled up' for his comments by Justice Secretary MacAskill in his letter to the Petitions Committee demanding the petition be closed, firstly had to apologise for his lack of understanding of the issues involved, which generated his earlier, somewhat lengthy talk on the virtues of using a Law Society solicitor during the first hearing of the Petition late last year.
However, Mr Don in this week’s Petitions Committee hearing, simply could not resist overtly supporting the legal profession's demands to protect their business monopoly, and after making his initial apology, claimed that solicitors were right to defend their business monopoly, and that people who want to get into court should "get themselves qualified to do so".
Nigel Don said this week : "My reading of the large number of words we've got in front of us is that basically what the professionals are doing is defending their patch which is what you would expect them to do but having said that I think they might very well be right and that really if you want to represent people in court the message is get yourself qualified to do so".
Comparing Holyrood’s two hearings of the access to justice petition, one can see a general lack of will to bring access to justice to the Scots public …
Holyrood’s earlier hearing of access to justice Petition during November 2008
You can read about and watch the earlier hearing of Petition 1197 which took place last November, here : Scottish Parliament calls for 'access to justice' moves as solicitors struggle to maintain monopoly on legal business
As the current system stands, by way of rights of audience applications, which Mr Don knows full well along with the rest of us, it takes approval from the Justice Secretary, the Lord President, and seemingly a ‘back door’ approval from the Law Society of Scotland to get an application for rights of audience considered, let alone passed, for individuals or organisations to offer the public legal services in Scotland.
MacAskill’s letter to Swinney on access to justice - Ministerial misinformation ? Difficulties in pursuing access to justice applications have been well documented in previous articles I have written on the subject, even on one such occasion, leading the Justice Secretary to mislead & misinform John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, over the ease of how access to justice applications were being considered by his office.
You can read more about that leaked letter from the Justice Secretary here : Leaked letter from MacAskill to Swinney on legal services 'misleads' Cabinet Secretary Swinney & Parliament on legal services admissions
Lord Hamilton took the blame for delays. In one incident, involving the actual application of Petition 1197's author, Bill Alexander who was seeking rights of audience & representation in the Scottish courts, the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill took over a year to consider matters, then famously blamed the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, for holding up approval of the application, which ended up being granted swiftly after an earlier article I wrote on the matter HERE, along with the video of Mr MacAskill's pitiful blame game with the Lord President :
Kenny MacAskill plays the blame game with Lord Hamilton over access to justice applications :
Lord Hardie wanted Scotland’s 1990 ‘access to justice' laws repealed. Also let us not forget that revelations from a bitterly contested Freedom of Information request, made by the same petitioner, Bill Alexander seeking information on why Sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 had been delayed for 17 years, exposed papers which implicated a former Lord Advocate, now High Court Judge, Lord Hardie, who had sought the repeal of Scotland’s very own 'monopoly busting’ legal services legislation which if enacted two decades ago would have given all Scots more freedom of choice in legal services, rather than the continued protection of ‘use a solicitor and pay the earth if you want something legal done in Scotland’ for all these years.
First Minister claimed arc of prosperity for Scotland, but no arc of justice for Scots ? While some in the Scottish Government continue to rant on about the 'arc of prosperity' of Scandinavian countries, which they promote that Scotland could have followed as a model of independence (although the credit crunch & global downturn has put paid to that), it seems the fabled 'arc of prosperity' which Scotland could have mirrored, does not include bringing any Scandinavian 'arc of justice' for the Scots public, given that those same Scandinavian countries have a much more open legal services market, which does not restrict public choice of legal representation.
The current Scottish Government consultation into legal services reform, dubbed “nothing more than a delaying tactic” by Scottish Government insiders, will not bring the envisaged opening up of legal services in Scotland, and delaying matters even further to the 8th program of ‘Law Reform” to be held by the ponderously slow Scottish Law Commission from 2010 to 2014 means there is, in reality, little prospect of ordinary consumers benefiting from an opened legal services market in Scotland for many years to come.
Why must Scots suffer the lack of freedom to choose their own legal representatives and competitively priced legal services when many other countries allow such a freedom of choice ?
It seems to be simply all down to the ‘greed is good’ logic of some in Government & politics, who are no doubt financially & politically benefiting from the protection of undeservingly long held business monopolies by the likes of the Law Society of Scotland who control the closed markets of access to justice and the regulation of legal services.