Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Government host latest talking shop on civil justice reforms. MONDAY of this week saw the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Government co-host an event to mark European Civil Justice Day (25th October), an incredibly audacious feat on the Law Society/Scottish Government’s part, considering Scots still find themselves caught in the same “Victorian” civil justice system which came in for sharp criticism by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill in his Civil Courts Review, itself now more than a year on from publication.
McKenzie Friends reform only saw light of day because of Holyrood petition. However, one year on from the Civil Courts Review, only one significant civil justice reform has been implemented – that of McKenzie Friends (lay assistants), which was itself forced through the Parliament by an intense consumer backed campaign surrounding Petition 1247 (McKenzie Friends for Scotland), filed by Perth-based law reform campaigner Stewart MacKenzie, and a November 2009 court ruling by Lord Woolman allowing Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the case of A1628/01 Wilson, Martin v North Lanarkshire Council. & C Simpson & Marwick.
My earlier report on the one year anniversary of the Civil Courts Review can be viewed here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests
Council of Europe. The EU’s own press release for this year’s European Civil Justice Day 2010 states : “The European Day for Civil Justice is celebrated around the 25 October 2010. It aims to bring justice closer to citizens, to inform them on their rights and to to promote the work of the European Commission and of the Council of Europe in the field of civil justice, through simulation of procedures and information sessions. This day is open to all European citizens, students and people who work in the field of justice.”
“The Council of Europe invites representatives from the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) for information about their projects in their respective countries. The Secretariat of the CEPEJ and the Deputy Secretary General of the council of Europe will participate in the main event, organised by the Ministry of Justice of Slovenia in Ljubljana, on 25 October 2010. During this event, the Crystal Scales of Justice Prize will be awarded.”
While the Scottish Government chose not to issue a media release on the £35+ per person event, held on Monday 18 October at Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, (presumably because, according to one Justice Department insider, they didn’t want ordinary citizens attending the event) the Law Society of Scotland reported in their own press release (one could be forgiven for thinking looked like a Scottish Government release), and featured the comments of Communities Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, who again apparently stood in for the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in terms of prepared comments.
Fergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety delivered the opening address at the event at Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, giving legal practitioners up to date information about existing and proposed EU legislation and other initiatives relating to civil justice. Mr Ewing said : “Today is the first time that a purely Scottish event to mark the European Day of Civil Justice has been held. Cross-border co-operation in civil justice improves the lives of the citizens of Scotland, as it increases their confidence in the civil justice system and their belief that it is working in their interests. It also brings economic benefits, by helping to encourage people to come to Scotland to live and work and making it easier to do business across national boundaries. The Scottish Government is therefore very much committed to it.
Mr Ewing continued : “The Scottish Government’s aim is to ensure that existing EU instruments are implemented effectively in Scotland, and that any new initiatives take proper account of Scottish circumstances. Close co-operation with practitioners is an important part of that process.”
Julia Bateman, head of the UK Law Societies’ Brussels office said: “European Civil Justice Day was established in 2003 by the European Commission and the Council of Europe to take place in October each year to bring justice closer to citizens, to inform them on their rights and to promote the work of the European Commission and of the Council of Europe in the field of civil justice.”
She continued : "Civil law is part of daily life for people across Europe — at work, when they get married, have children or buy goods and services within the single market. The increased mobility of people and business across national boundaries means that it has an increasing cross-border dimension. This event is aimed at raising awareness among practitioners of the mechanisms that exist in the EU to help secure legal rights and obligations across national boundaries. It also presents an opportunity for those whose work is influenced by EU policy and legislation to share information and learn about forthcoming proposals.”
According to the Law Society’s own media release, the joint event with the Scottish Government was intended to alert those who offer advice on the variety of ways they can themselves keep up-to-date with EU legislative developments, including the various services offered by the Society’s Brussels Office and by the EU and International Law Team at the Scottish Government.
Speakers also discussed a range of topics including debt recovery and enforcement (throwing people out of their homes, repossession etc on behalf of loan sharks) ; succession law (making the most of defrauding deceased client’s wills & getting away with it) and family law (encouraging as many divorces & custody battles as possible). Tools designed to simplify the provision of cross-border legal advice such as the e-justice portal were also highlighted.
An attendee of the meeting said today : “It was just another talking shop with a ministerial appearance thrown in for the Law Society to show their members they still matter. Almost embarrassing to attend, considering here we are over a year on since Lord Gill’s civil justice review with nothing to show for it.”
An official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said this evening : “Civil law may well be part of daily life for people across Europe but the fact is here in Scotland if the legal profession decides consumers should not be represented on a particular issue or case, consumers are effectively being denied access to justice, something which appears to be happening with increasing frequency in the Scottish civil justice system.”
You can read my earlier coverage of the Civil Courts Review here : Civil Courts Review - The story so far and decide for yourselves just how fairly Scots are treated in terms of access to civil justice, or for that matter, access to any justice …