Law Society launches campaign to protect £1m legal aid pay-outs to crooks. ON THE day Scotland elected a minority SNP Government, the Law Society of Scotland has revealed it organised a ‘19,000 plus’ email lobbying effort targeted at candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections – aimed at ‘protecting’ over £150m a year in legal aid public cash hand-outs to lawyers.
The campaign – organised under the guise of ‘access to justice for all’ – criticises recent cuts in the huge Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) budget – which has seen a staggering £1.2 billion of taxpayers cash paid out to lawyers and their criminal clients since the financial crash of 2008.
As part of the campaign, the Law Society said it had encouraged both solicitors and members of the public to contact their candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections to ask them to support access to justice, along with a twitter campaign with the hashtag #defendlegalaid”".
Material published by the Law Society states: “over 450 people have written to their candidates in the Scottish Parliament election asking them to #defendlegalaid.”
“Over 19,000 emails have been sent to candidates”
“Candidates in over 70 constituencies have been contacted as part of the campaign”
“Candidates from eight political parties, as well as independents, have pledged to #defendlegalaid on social media”
Alongside a document titled Legal Assistance in Scotland fit for 21st Century, the Law Society launched a PR video in an attempt to persuade the public to support a drive to hand out millions more in public cash to lawyers.
The Law Society campaign strategy also includes ‘ research’ commissioned during 2013 from polling organisation Ipsos Mori - which claims “there is strong public support for legal aid.”
The Law Society ‘research’ claims “81% of the public agreeing legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure a fair society, regardless of its cost.”
Further research was carried out with lawyers during 2015 – coming just after it was revealed the Law Society had rigged a client satisfaction survey, publishing spurious claims of high client satisfaction with Scottish solicitors across several media outlets - the articles authored by the Law Society’s own President.
The 2015 survey of the legal profession claims to indicate 78% of solicitors surveyed believed “Scottish Government policy on legal aid risked undermining access to justice for the poorest in society”, with 77% of lawyers in the survey allegedly demanding an increase in legal aid rates.
Commenting on the latest campaign against legal aid cuts, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “We recognise that like all public sector funding, the justice budget is under significant pressure. However legal aid funding is quite simply the cost of access to justice for those in need.
Ms McLintock continued: “Access to justice is an essential element of a fair and democratic society and we have highlighted it as one of one of our key priorities for this year’s Scottish election. Providing access to quality legal advice and representation for people, regardless of their financial means, helps tackle inequality, encourages early resolution of problems, and protects fundamental rights.
“While our legal aid system is designed to meet costs on a case-by-case basis, there are fees for particular types of work which were set in 1992 and have not been revised.
Christine McLintock attacked the cuts to the legal aid budget, saying : “The legal aid budget was reduced from £161.4m in 2010/2011 to £138m in 2014/15. The target budget for 2016/17 is £126.4m – more than a £10 million reduction – and is less in cash terms than 20 years ago which, accounting for inflation, represents around a 50% cut in real terms over those two decades.
“This is causing enormous challenges – already there are areas of the country where there are not enough solicitors providing civil legal aid to meet demand, because practitioners just can’t afford to take it on.”
However, it has previously emerged during media investigations solicitors have got off the hook from multiple cases involving legal aid fraud & millions of pounds of public cash,
in one media investigation, it was revealed Fourteen lawyers accused of defrauding millions of pounds of legal aid public cash escaped prosecution after Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) refused to prosecute any of the cases reported to prosecutors by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
In another case brought to light by the media – Niels S Lockhart - a Kilmarnock based solicitor took over £600,000 of legal aid cash in just two years – and even when allegations of dodgy claims were reported to the Law Society an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board – the Law Society of Scotland failed to act.
It emerged last summer the same solicitor – Niels S Lockhart – ended up demanding more legal aid cash even after being barred from the legal aid register – reported here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years - and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register
LEGAL AID - How criminals & legal fraternity pocket £150 million a year of YOUR MONEY:
Scandal of £11m crook who lived high life on stolen cash ...& WE pay his £769k law bills
EXCLUSIVE by Russell Findlay Scottish Sun 12 July 2015
A FRAUDSTER who flew in private jets and lit cigarettes with burning £50 notes was handed £769,000 in legal aid.
Michael Voudouri cheated taxpayers out of millions of pounds through a VAT scam.
But we can reveal the public picked up the massive legal bill for the criminal, who was jailed for 11 1/2 years.
Labour's legal affairs spokeswoman Elaine Murray said: "It's shocking that a crook who has defrauded the public purse should get hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid.
"Ordinary people on low incomes struggle to get legal aid while someone who has stolen millions in VAT fraud gets a six figure sum."
Voudouri, 47, was found guilty in 2012 of laundering £11.5million from a massive VAT fraud.
The wealthy crook, who lived in a £1.5million mansion in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire and hired Katie Price and Chris Eubank for personal appearances, is not the first to get legal aid.
We told how Barry Hughes and his wife Jackie jetted off on a £50,000 trip to Dubai weeks after taxpayers covered their £175,000 court battle bills.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board said a "financial eligibility test" was carried out in each case.
By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 30 September 2012
THE European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 - more than in Italy, which has a population of 61million.
SCOTS lawyers collected more taxpayers’ cash for Legal Aid than their counterparts in Italy – a country 12 times the size.
A European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – around 39 euros, or £31, for every one of our 5.2million people.
Lawyers in Italy, which has a population of 61million, got just £100million of public cash – £1.50 per person.
The 450-page Brussels report also found that Denmark, with 5.6million people, paid its lawyers only 88million euros (£70million).
And in Belgium – population 10.9million – legal aid cost 75million euros (£59million).
The revelations, in a 450-page report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice – came as the Scottish Legal Aid Board banned three lawyers from claiming cash for criminal cases.
We can reveal that Gerard Tierney, Massimo D’Alvito and Andrew Brophy, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, breached the board’s code of practice. Tierney and D’Alvito have been reported to the Crown Office, who will decide whether to prosecute.
The ban also extends to Tierney’s firm G Tierney & Co, of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, who have raked in £610,500 in Legal Aid over three years, and Edinburgh firm Massimo D’Alvito Defence Lawyers.
The European report looked at 47 criminal justice systems across the continent.
It found the cost per person of Legal Aid in Scotland was third-highest – behind only Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The cost per person was 53.5 euros in Northern Ireland and 45.7 euros in England and Wales.
The findings led to calls for a radical overhaul of Legal Aid.
Central Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe said: “It seems major organised criminals and terror suspects qualify for unlimited Legal Aid, yet I have constituents who don’t get a penny simply because they have a few thousand pounds of savings.
“The system in Scotland and the rest of the UK is out of control.”
Legal blogger Peter Cherbi added: “Legal Aid is no longer about access to justice for the poor, but a state subsidy for the legal profession – and one they don’t seem keen on talking about.”
The Sunday Mail has exposed a series of rogue lawyers banned from claiming Legal Aid. But none of the 14 reported to prosecutors was put in the dock, prompting claims that Scotland’s legal self-regulation system protects lawyers.
Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, who took £600,000 in Legal Aid in just two years, was found to have made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. The Legal Aid board withdrew their complaint to the Law Society after he agreed to stop claiming.
Reacting to the Brussels report, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Across Europe, there are substantial differences between judicial systems and very different approaches to the provision of legal aid and its cost.
“The Scottish system is highly regarded internationally for the efforts made to ensure access to justice.
“The Scottish Government’s budget allocation for the Legal Aid Fund has reduced significantly in 2011-12 and is planned to reduce further in future years.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hopes to cut the Legal Aid bill by making criminals pay some of their costs. The planned move, outlined in a Holyrood Bill, could save taxpayers around £3.9million.
• The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size.
Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010.
Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned.
Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.
• A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock.
Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.
The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences.
Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.
• The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.
Researchers compared the wages of lower court judges across Europe.
Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss.
Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000).
Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.
EU Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals
The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.
A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.
The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.
The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.
Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.