Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scottish Courts remain a “Victorian”, ‘obstructive’ venue for many court users & party litigants despite small rise in ‘satisfaction survey’ results

A two percent rise in court user satisfaction masks deep concerns over poor state of Scotland’s Courts, run by body chaired by Lord President Lord Hamilton. SCOTLAND’S COURTS and the Scots justice system have been called everything from “Victorian”, “Institutionally racist”, “Institutionally sectarian”, “Institutionally corrupt”, & “Institutionally prejudiced” to name but a few of the accusations coming from all sectors of society, from court users, consumer groups and even from the most senior members of the judiciary itself. Put simply, when the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, calls the Scottish civil justice system “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose”, there is clearly something fundamentally wrong with our courts and how they handle access to justice, a seemingly ever dwindling right of Scots.

Curiously however, this is not the picture painted in the now nearly annual survey of court users carried out by the Scottish Court Service (SCS), in which their latest 2011 study released today claims a high level of “satisfaction” among court users, resting on the back of a small two per cent rise in “satisfaction” with some aspects of the Scottish Court Service. The SCS is the ‘independent’ body which runs Scotland’s courts, established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008, governed by a Corporate Board and chaired by the Lord President, the most senior judge in Scotland.

The survey, carried out by MVA Consultancy on behalf of the Scottish Court Service shows that 83% of respondents were satisfied overall, the highest ever recorded level, and up from 81% in 2009. Levels were similar for professional and non-professional users, with 85% of professional respondents, and 82% of non-professionals, stating that they were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied overall. The full survey report can be viewed online HERE with a summary HERE or downloaded from the Scottish Court website HERE

Among other findings, almost a third (31%) of respondents stated that they had travelled to court on the day of the survey as a car driver, with a further 15% stating that they were a car passenger. Over three quarters of respondents (78%) had travelled for up to 30 minutes to attend court. The majority of respondents had spoken with court staff on the day that they were surveyed, and most stated that they had found court staff to be either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ helpful (95%) and either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ polite (96%).

Less than half (46%) of all respondents stated that court staff had kept them informed about what was happening during the time they were in the court building. However, the majority of respondents (96%) who were given update information said that this information was either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ helpful. Just over half of all respondents (55%) said that they had had to wait to take part in court proceedings. Waiting times varied considerably by area.

Over half of the respondents said that they were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied (52%) with their wait to take part in court proceedings. A further 19% said they were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ dissatisfied. There was a high level of satisfaction with regard to perceived safety and security, ranging from 80% for the cells to 96% for the jury room.

The main factors that appear to be driving users’ overall experience are satisfaction with court staffs’ attempts to keep respondents informed about how much longer they were likely to have to wait and satisfaction with helpfulness of the information provided by the court staff. The results from the survey compare favourably with previous years, with definite improvements in overall satisfaction over time in Lothian and Borders and the High Court and Court of Session.

Since the last survey in 2009, those questioned were more satisfied with the quality of refreshments available and the comfort and cleanliness of both court rooms and waiting areas. A high 96% found Scottish Court Service (SCS) staff polite, while 95% found SCS staff helpful. For the first time security was covered showing that most users felt safe inside Scottish court buildings, ranging from 80% of those who had been in the cells to 96% of jury room users.

Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eleanor Emberson welcomed the results, saying, ”Achieving an 83% level of satisfaction among users is a credit to all our hard working and dedicated staff. The organisation is fully committed to a Customer Service Excellence programme as a way to develop our services to meets the needs of court users. We will use the constructive comments provided in the survey to continue this improvement.“

The Scottish Court Service has conducted satisfaction surveys with public and professional court users since 2005 although finding anyone who has participated in them has proved to be more difficult than the needle in the haystack scenario. The Scottish Court Service definition of “Court users” include all who enter or transact business within the court building and this includes for example solicitors, advocates, staff, social workers, police, jurors, witnesses, accused and members of the public including those involved in or interested in civil and criminal cases. The survey was conducted across all jurisdictions (Court of Session, High Court, Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts).

However, satisfaction levels from growing numbers of party litigants who cannot afford or cannot obtain legal representation for a variety of reasons, do not appear to fit in with the SCS survey findings which do not give one single mention of party litigants or those who appear to be involved in some of the most complicated sectors of litigation such as negligence cases against the professions & public services. There is also no mention of McKenzie Friends, otherwise known as Lay Assistants in Scottish Courts.

In one case of a party litigant currently under investigation by Diary of Injustice, a case liable to show a distinct lack of satisfaction with the Court Service, audio recordings of conversations between court staff & the party litigant appear to show the party litigant being told not to turn up at court hearings involving a highly suspicious ‘fees recovery’ action pursued by a law firm against a former client who the law firm dropped at the last minute during a damages claim against his former employer. Yet while court staff told the now seriously ill party litigant not to show up at court, the law firm at the centre of the wrangle somehow managed to persuade a Sheriff Principal to grant their demands without any regard to a fair hearing for their former client who is now so ill he is excused by doctors from the court hearings.

Further enquiries into seven other long running cases involving party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session & Sheriff Courts have revealed not one of the party litigants who have been involved in long and difficult legal actions in the courts were consulted by or ever encountered any survey teams acting for the Scottish Court Service.

One solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice this afternoon said “..the survey was unlikely to restore any confidence in the Scottish courts system” which has, even in the eyes of at least some members of the judiciary, been long overdue for a complete overhaul to put the public first, instead of the professions & vested interests.

Admittedly, there are steady signs of improvement in the SCS in some quarters, where, slowly but surely, parts of the courts system is beginning to open up to reforms, some of which appear to be brought about by increased media & public scrutiny of a domain still regarded by many in the legal profession as its closed shop business window. It is a fact Diary of Injustice has over the years, seen a marked increase in the willingness of the Scottish Court Service to engage the media and public in matters where previously a wall of silence was usually practised.

However, speaking as a journalist who has covered the legal system for many years now, I think we all know Scots satisfaction with the courts system overall, has a long way to go before justice in Scotland can be deemed to be reliable, trustworthy, modern or even honest and whoever is the next Lord President must be a force for change, instead of more stagnation in Scots access to justice.


Lord Gill Lord Justice ClerkThe Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, author of the Civil Courts Review. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference in 2009, reproduced in full here said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society. It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice."


Anonymous said...

The Courts are not about justice.

Anonymous said...

Taking into account your story on O'Donnell and the 11 (I also read 21 claims) against him I doubt 83% of people walking through the doors of Scotland's courts are happy with what service they receive!

Was it mostly lawyers cops etc as listed who participated?

I think the definition of "court user" is a bit off if we are including the Police & lawyers in it!

Anonymous said...

Isnt it a bit early in the year for the courts to be patting themselves on the back?

Anonymous said...

Let me just say this.

If they have interviewed any Police Officer I know they may well have been told about the huge waste of time it is to go to court each time and be told the case is not being heard or has been delayed because some solicitor told the Sheriff a porky.

I hardly think any PC is going to say he is happy to spend time hanging around the courts for a cup of coffee and if you dont believe me you can see for yourself

Anonymous said...

How did they manage to interview the weekly influx of neds to the Sheriff Courts after a weekend on booze?Most of that lot hardly even know how to speak never mind write.

Did the grunt suffice for "Well satisfied with the courts?"

I think we are down to any organisation telling you they are great - is a dead giveaway they are full of crap!

Anonymous said...

So the people who stand at reception, make sure the relevant papers get to the relevant Court on time etc etc are doing a satisfactory job, great.

But why were there no questions, even for the handpicked respondents, allowing them to comment on their experience of the legal profession, the conduct and understanding of the Court process, and if they felt they had any meaningful access to justice.

No doubt Mr Megrahi and several others could have given some revealing - and therefore censorable - replies.

Anonymous said...

How much do these annual surveys cost and why are they being done if MacAskill is always telling us the justice system is so great?

Pfft anyone who belives the numbers must be barking.Thanks to Peter once again we see through the spin these idiots keep throwing at us.Keep up the good work Peter!

Anonymous said...

The country is bankrupt
2.68million unemployed (must be at least 3 million in reality maybe 4)
The sick are getting told to fuck off and die or kill themselves instead of being supported by the country.
And here we have the lousy courts telling us all is rosy things have never been better.

Get a grip everybody and stop sitting around while these people suck your blood its your very lives now under threat what are you going to do?

Anonymous said...

"However, speaking as a journalist who has covered the legal system for many years now, I think we all know Scots satisfaction with the courts system overall, has a long way to go before justice in Scotland can be deemed to be reliable, trustworthy, modern or even honest and whoever is the next Lord President must be a force for change, instead of more stagnation in Scots access to justice."

Nothing will ever be achieved from within unless they make a real reformer LP.No such person exists unless you want the job..

Anonymous said...

Further enquiries into seven other long running cases involving party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session & Sheriff Courts have revealed not one of the party litigants who have been involved in long and difficult legal actions in the courts were consulted by or ever encountered any survey teams acting for the Scottish Court Service.

Speaks for itself.

They dont want to know anything that might tell the truth about the mucky courts and some of these sicko judges getting away with bloody murder.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 18 Jan wrote: "Nothing will ever be achieved from within unless they make a real reformer LP.No such person exists unless you want the job.."
That is where my gravest concerns arise. Under the Solicitors (Scot) Act 1980, the LSOS "Master POlicy" arrangements and "Accounts Rules" require the approval of the LP. Until this monopoly supply insurance / 'cartel' arrangement is broken-up access to justice will remain the dubious privilege of a few 'acceptable claimants'.
The Sols accounts rules are non-standard and so vague and riddled with loopholes that bogus book-keeping can be excused (as you know Peter, executry funds in the custodial care of solicitors mysteriously evaporate without qualms). A new LP will have to break with the vested interest insider lobby, it will take strong nerve and a man/woman of old fashioned (Visc. Stair) principles.

Anonymous said...

If 83% of court users are happy and this judge said what he did there is something seriously wrong with the Scottish courts.

Anonymous said...

Pfft anyone who belives the numbers must be barking.Thanks to Peter once again we see through the spin these idiots keep throwing at us.Keep up the good work Peter!

18 January 2012 21:12

I agree.

This is simply propaganda to deceive the public.

The Court staff are generally obfuscatory, tell lies, and treat you as if you should be kept in the dark about Court process and only speak when spoken to.

God forbid you ask them about Court process?

You'll be told, in a sarcastic tone, we are not allowed to give legal advice!

Anonymous said...

I simply do not trust any in-house worked statistics, especially anything to do with the Scottish Justice System.

It is rotten to the core.

The sooner the Judsges the Prosecuters and the Defenders belong to three separate distinct groups the better, with no conflict of interest between the groups.

Otherwise Lawyers in Scotland cannnot be trusted.

Tugendhat ruling is legal dictatorship said...

Restore Solicitors from Hell to the internet because you make a grave strategic error if you do not. Not only are the legal establishment blinded by prejudice and hatred of "those in real need" eh Hudson but they are against freedom of expression too.

Restore Rick's site because you will exacerbate your problem if you do not. He has more honour and right on his side that lawyers will ever have. Tugendhat you are harrasing potential clients by forbiding them to view a client feedback database.

I thank Peter, Rick, SFH 2, Cowboy Solicitors, SFH again. Victory to all legal reform campainers, we fight, we are tenacious because the legal dictatorship which leaves us rightless and ruined cannot stand. We are the new regulators Tugendhat and Hamilton, your attitude concerning self regulation needs renewing. Dissent renews power structures and we are taking the power from the judiciary.

I am proud to be part of our network to end lawyer tyranny.

Anonymous said...

Master Policy and Law Society also tamper with complaints like this

Direct Line and Churchill fined for file tampering

Insurance firms Direct Line and Churchill - both owned by RBS - have been fined £2.17m for tampering with customer complaint files before submitting them to the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

The FSA said the changes were "minor" and had not affected customers.

However, it said the action was still a serious breach of its rules.

"The firms' attempt to ensure that complete files were provided to the FSA backfired," the FSA said.

Tracey McDermott of the FSA said: "The firms failed to give clear instructions resulting in staff making inappropriate alterations with one individual even forging the signatures of colleagues.

"The firms' management did not know what changes had been made or when [but] it is of critical importance that material provided to the FSA must reflect the picture as it is - not as they might like it to be," she added.

Paul Geddes, chief executive of RBS Insurance, said: "We very much regret the findings of the FSA investigation."

"Although no customers were disadvantaged, we are very disappointed that we did not meet the standards we expect of ourselves and which the FSA expects of us."
Altered files

The file-tampering happened when the insurers tried to deal with the FSA's continuing inquiries, which have been underway for the past three years, into the way financial firms deal with customers' complaints.

RBS itself was fined £2.8m in January 2011 for failing to deal adequately with routine complaints from its banking customers.

In the case of the bank's insurance subsidiaries, the FSA had, in early 2010, asked for a sample of 50 complaints to be sent to it, so it could review how they had been handled.

Before handing them over, the insurers management asked external accountants to carry out their own review of a sample of complaints, and found that 28% were likely to fail the FSA's assessment.

Both Direct Line and Churchill decided to look at closed complaints to make sure they were complete and they told their staff to make sure the files would pass muster.

But when the FSA received its sample of 50 files in April 2010 it was informed that some might have been altered or "created".

Closer scrutiny revealed that 27 of the 50 had been tampered with, and seven contained signatures of employees, which had been forged by one member of staff.

"In this case, the alterations did not impact on the FSA's ability to do our job," the FSA said.

But it decided that the insurers had failed to carry out their duties with the required "skill, care or attention".

Anonymous said...

Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.

Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won't be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.


Anonymous said...

Yes Lord Gill the legal profession is failing society. When we need a legal resolution of our problems we either represent ourselves or trust a profession who are basically all Douglas Mill's. I can assure you I would never trust any lawyer and that includes you. The ones I know are radical evil and the rest, well do any of them stand up and protect any Scot from the tryanny of the minority. Have any protested over client suicides? Never, I believe that the average lawyer would put a bullet in my head before they would expose a crooked colleague.

Trusting a lawyer, costs a lot of money, a lot or heartache and mental torture, why, because we know we have been ruined not by accident but cold calculation. We are intelligent. And obtaining justice, well we are back to domination, that system of bureaus where it is impossible to identify culprits. Your Law Society.

I learned a brutal lesson that has dominated my life Lord Gill. I understand and detest radical evil. I feel compelled to tell everyone I meet, to protect them and their children.

Trust no lawyer.

Anonymous said...

You are better printing and distributing leaflets naming and shaming lawyers that writing to the Law Society.

Anonymous said...

Hamilton where none are guilty all are. Your Law Society and its network of law firms. They are the locksmiths for opening or keeping locked the doors of OUR courts.

This setup is legal tyranny. In totalitarian systems dissidents are locked up as guilty. In a democracy dissidents are denied a public hearing against a lawyer who is always innocent. Your professional unions mean laws applicable to laypersons (prevention of theft, attempted murder, murder, fraud,) do not apply to lawyers because self regulation bypasses public courts. It is an outrage, an afront to justice and must end.

Anonymous said...

Kind of odd they go to all the trouble of mentioning how satisfied people are with the refreshments and yet no mention of stuff like party litigants etc

Clearly nothing more than spin

Anonymous said...

Good one Peter.

They hived off the SCS from the judges to give the impression the courts were doing fine but you cant do a survey on the courts without looking at the way the judges perform so all these stats are just mince.No one believes for one second the courts are any good.

Wonder what Lord Hamilton will be doing when he retires?Will Salmond make him another Ministerial adviser to keep him onboard?