Scottish Government published the Thomson review of solicitor-advocates. A REVIEW OF SOLICITOR ADVOCATES carried out by the Scottish Government has recommended there should be a single code of conduct for solicitor-advocates & advocates, as well as a single complaints process for clients to use when the standard of their legal representatives fall beneath the acceptable mark. Oddly enough, all the issues covered in the Thomson review could mostly be resolved by implementing the much needed panacea of full independent regulation, which we all know is now necessary to shape up Scotland’s poorly regulated legal profession.
Lord Gill criticised a solicitor-advocate for leaving the trial of his client to lobby the Government for more legal aid fees. The review of solicitor-advocates was instituted after the Law Society persuaded Mr MacAskill to act on the criticisms from Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill in the February 2009 appeal of Alexander Woodside over the conduct of his defence during his original trial at Glasgow’s High Court for murder during 1998. One of Mr Woodside’s defence team, Gerry Brown, a solicitor-advocate with Livingstone Brown solicitors in Glasgow, and Convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s “Criminal Law Committee” had ‘absented himself’ from the trial of his client to travel to London for the day to lobby for more legal aid fees in a lobby group organised by the Law Society of Scotland.
Lord Gill branded Mr Woodside’s solicitor-advocate’s conduct as “a dereliction of duty” and expressed the following concerns : "This appeal has highlighted problems of rights of audience that seem not to be unique to this case. I think it would be opportune if there were to be a review of the working of the system overall." He added: "I fail to see how any practitioner could be justified in absenting himself from any part of a murder trial except in an emergency."
The main recommendations of the review, which is being chaired by Senior Scottish Investment Banker Ben Thomson who was appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, after the Law Society intervened and turned Lord Gill’s criticisms into one of those dreaded establishment in-house reviews, which at least did come up with some useful recommendations not entirely liking to the Law Society : (1) A universal standard examination for admission as a pleader in the Supreme Courts should be established and all pleaders should be reviewed on a regular cycle (2) There should be one code of conduct for all pleaders (3) The complaints process should be enhanced and provide for one process for advocates and solicitor advocates.
The Scottish Government’s media release on the publication of Mr Thomson’s report quotes the investment banker as saying : "There is a great deal that we can be proud of in our legal profession in Scotland, and I believe that maintaining the two separate branches of the profession preserves our strong Scottish traditions and encourages healthy competition. However it is apparent that there are different rules and conventions surrounding advocates and solicitor advocates which can cause issues. Our recommendations look to address these issues, by proposing a common qualification, common standards, and a common monitoring and complaints process for all pleaders. We have been pleased to see that there is widespread support for these proposals amongst those with whom we have discussed them."
Law Society of Scotland President Ian Smart. The Law Society, who must be pleased with themselves for deflecting any major parliamentary attention into the under-regulated solicitor-advocates who can whoosh off on Law Society lobbying expeditions, commented via their President Ian Smart, saying : “We want to see changes brought in that will make sure that we have a fair and effective system that works for everyone and that clients are properly represented in court whether by an advocate or a solicitor advocate. This is very much a draft report and further consideration must be given to the report’s recommendations and their implementation, for example, whether there should be a single complaints process for those appearing in the Supreme Courts. We will continue to contribute to discussions before the final report is published in March this year.”
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission may end up investigating solicitor-advocates. However, it turns out the single complaints process proposed in the Thomson review would see complaints given to the hapless Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which itself has had a year of scandal over its shoddy conduct towards clients making complaints against members of the legal profession, while racking up huge expenses claims for its board members and so far having no success stories to present to the public. The Law Society are of course, concerned that involving the SLCC in the regulation of solicitor-advocates will cloud the ease in which most complaints against solicitor-advocates – even from judges, have been treated with slight of hand.
The Thomson review on solicitor advocates can be downloaded here : Rights of Audience Review and any comments you wish to make on the Thomson review, and solicitor-advocates should be submitted by February 19, 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Admittedly, I was not going to cover this particular review, but after details of a complaint against a solicitor advocate in a civil case was passed to me this morning by a colleague in the media, I think its probably fair to say the public should have a shout in this review, and hopefully express some views which some in the know should take into account.
As solicitor-advocates also operate in civil courts, it is obviously important to ensure they are effectively regulated, to ensure consumer protection, which clearly is just as remiss in the world of solicitor-advocates, as it is in the remainder of Scotland’s sub-standard legal profession. If any readers do have experiences of using solicitor-advocates, I would urge them to participate in the review, and send in comments to the review team in the contact details listed above, along with download links to the actual review itself.
Clearly the concerns expressed by Lord Gill, and the interests of consumers must ensure that fully independent regulation is applied to solicitor advocates, and all other branches of the legal profession, if of course, we are to have any trust in those whom we pay to represent our legal interests and ensure access to justice …