Criminal legal aid lawyers received a big fat bonus from the Justice Secretary last week , with a rise of £1.8 million pounds of taxpayers money going straight into their pockets - no doubt to be shared by only a few of the top earners, rather than enabling the ranks of family lawyers to represent more people in court, as the Law Society 'claimed in various releases to the media.
Again, the Scottish Government demonstrates it can find money for lawyers but not the victims of lawyers, or anyone who truly lacks access to justice but why should lawyers get increase after increase of Criminal legal aid, when the Law Society's own research revealed that solicitors were getting more legal aid than ever and that savings on legal aid expenditure the Scottish Government were trying to make were 'a flop'. I covered that in an earlier article :
Lawyers protests over low legal aid fees revealed to be fake as Law Society's own research points to increase
I take it that saving the taxpayers money has gone out the window with the SNP on this one, preferring to fill the legal profession's pockets again with taxpayers money to satisfy the wallets of lawyers once more, while little is done to stem the rising tide of significant legal aid frauds by lawyers bent on fiddling more from the taxpayer ...
Civil legal aid, which the lack of is causing some of the main problems in access to justice in Scotland, received no increase at all, so yet again, thousands of people in Scotland who need to get to court to pursue cases in a supposedly 'justice for all' system, remain excluded once more from access to justice - with not so much as a cheep from the Law Society's twittering canaries ...
All the while the spin was flowing on this week's legal aid increase, being sold as an opportunity for lawyers 'to bring cases to courts which would otherwise not be heard', little mention was made of the Law Society continuing to oppose opening up the legal services market and thus breaking the solicitors monopoly on access to justice, and also not forgetting the solicitors monopoly on receiving any form of legal aid payment for client representation ...
Perhaps to mitigate Friday's announcement of an increase in Criminal legal aid, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, earlier in the week attempted to promote 'alternative dispute resolution' or ADR, as a way of people being able to resolve disputes more quickly, by means of arbitration, adjudication and mediation ....
Alternative Dispute Resolution, while sounding good, sadly bears all the hallmarks of spin of the past, amounting to empty ideas unfit for the majority of problems which most properly, people require, yes, the services of a qualified legal agent & possibly access to the Court, and enforceable judgements, to resolve.
While Kenny MacAskill was promoting ADR last week, his Ministerial colleagues, such as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney MSP, were advising people with disputes against the legal profession, to take the Scottish Government itself to court - this advice coming after Mr Swinney at the 2006 Justice 2 Committee hearings into the LPLA Bill, challenged Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill over the widely & well known interference of Law Society officials including Mr Mill himself, in clients access to justice & claims against crooked solicitors.
Forcing people to try to obtain legal representation - which has previously been denied to them for many years by a hostile & prejudiced legal profession, and then forcing an individual to try to take the Scottish Government to court on an issue the SNP itself knows very well is impossible to do, doesn't seem to hold very well for Mr MacAskill's promotion of 'Alternative Dispute Resolution', does it ...
Of course, it's not just lack of civil legal aid which stops certain people from obtaining legal services .. sometimes, it's good old fashioned interference from the Law Society of Scotland itself, where a solicitor who is representing a client, is ordererd to cease such representation ...
Everyone in Scotland is paying for lawyers to have a good time these days ... so why shouldn't everyone have access to justice ? particularly under an SNP Government which professes to have the best interests of it's 'own people' at heart ? but who are the SNP's 'own people' when it comes to law & justice issues ?
Finally, to end a look at last week's news, the Law Society of Scotland announced a 'North Korean' style consultation on opening the legal services market, seeking the views of just about everyone, as long as of course, you agree with them.
You can download the 'consultation' paper from the Law Society's website in Acrobat pdf format HERE - remember to give your views !
The consultation, latest attempt by the Law Society & some in the Scottish political establishment to stall implementation of the OFT's recommendations for opening the legal services market, will no doubt be subject to the usual round of 'opinion rigging' from submissions submitted by the legal profession itself, an example of which was seen during the 2006 Justice 2 Committee hearings into the LPLA Bill, which saw the Law Society flood the Committee with apparently pre-written submissions by Law Society officials, signed by legal firms instead .... oh what a deceit !
You can read through some of my earlier articles on the Law Society's attempt to thwart wider access to justice in Scotland here : Previous reports on access to justice & the OFT's recommendations
Perhaps we will have to be saved by the Westminster based OFT, if our own SNP Scottish Government is too involved with the legal profession to do the country right and tackle access to justice, and injustice ...
Following articles from the Herald :
Lawyers yesterday welcomed a government announcement that the amount of money they receive in legal aid is to go up from next year.
Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, said lawyers in the most serious criminal cases will see the fees they can claim increase by 7% from April.
At the moment, top QCs receive £900 a day while conducting so-called "Category A" High Court trials, which include murder, culpable homicide and robbery.
A row broke out last year over the level of legal aid, with lawyers across the country threatening to refuse to represent people charged with sex offences in protest over what they claimed was the previous Scottish Executive's failure to implement a revised pay structure.
But speaking at a legal aid conference in Dunblane yesterday, Mr MacAskill said it was important that lawyers are paid "appropriately and fairly" for the work they carry out.
He said: "Scotland's legal profession provides an essential service, helping people at times of crisis, protecting their rights and helping businesses to grow.
"The work the profession does in advising, assisting and representing clients who could not afford to pay for the services is a vital part of increasing access to justice for all.
"This government is committed to ensuring that solicitors are paid appropriately and fairly for the work they do.
"We have already made improvements in legal aid fees for work involving adults with incapacity and vulnerable witnesses and have improved fees for some undefended actions in the sheriff court.
"This increase in legal aid fees for solemn cases is long overdue and is a tangible example of this government's commitment to the legal profession."
Mr MacAskill said the increase in fees, which are estimated to cost the public purse an additional £1.8m a year, will be brought in alongside substantial reforms to the structure of legal aid.
Taken alongside previous increases, the move represents an overall rise in fee levels of 25% since the new system of fees was introduced in 1992.
In 2004, advocacy fees were increased by 15%, while charges for waiting times and meetings with clients went up by 5%.
The following year, advocacy fees increased again, by 8%, while all other fees went up by 12%.
Lawyers have called for a more regular review of legal aid fees and Ian Duguid, the chairman of the Faculty of Advocates' Criminal Bar Association, last night said Mr MacAskill's announcement was a positive development.
He said: "On any view, this is very welcome indeed.
"Come April next year, it will have been three years since the last review of fees, so this is good news.
"I know lawyers are always looked upon as earning inflated fees, but when you're talking about criminal legal aid, compared to Northern Ireland and England, we are the poor relations."
Oliver Adair, the convener of the Law Society of Scotland's legal aid committee, said: "We welcome the positive announcement by the minister, and in particular welcome the increase in solemn criminal legal aid rates in a year of restricted public spending.
"The society will urgently consult with the profession and hopes that an effective, revised system for solemn criminal legal aid can be introduced quickly."
The so-called Tesco Law' that would allow legal services to be provided by places other than law firms, such as supermarkets or banks, has been thrown open to a national debate.
The Law Society of Scotland yesterday issued a consultation paper which could result in changes to how legal services are delivered in future.
The society is looking for views from the legal profession, politicians, consumer groups and other interested parties. It will examine whether the rules governing law firms should be relaxed to allow the legal services market to be opened up to other providers who are already gearing up to offer legal services to consumers in England and Wales.
Richard Henderson, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "This is one of the most important issues to arise in the history of the Scottish legal profession and could result in far reaching changes.
"There is a growing demand for change both from within the profession and other interested parties, including consumers, and while we have embraced the need for change and have been active in driving this debate forwards, we cannot underestimate some of the challenges that must be addressed to do this.
"With any opening up of the market, we need to ensure that members of the public can continue to access legal advice locally and that protections for the public, currently provided by a strongly regulated legal profession, remain in place".
ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political
Court should be the last resort in settling disputes, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said yesterday.
He told MSPs that alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as arbitration, adjudication and mediation could "enable people to resolve their disputes more quickly and effectively".
Building up expertise in ADR could lead to Scotland becoming recognised as an international leader in the field and somewhere to which global companies could take their disagreements, boosting the Scottish economy, he said.
Mr MacAskill said Scotland was "perhaps too reliant on traditional adversarial processes and laws.
"My aspiration is to make use of the formal court system the remedy of last resort rather than the remedy of first resort," he said.
Pressed by Tory MSP Gavin Brown on whether the Scottish Government would use ADR, Mr MacAskill said: "I don't think I can give that formal commitment because it depends on each and every matter. We would have to reserve the right to litigate and litigate urgently and immediately."
The minister told MSPs that at least one aspect of Scots law on arbitration dated back to 1695 and it needed to be modernised.
"The unsatisfactory state of the law here makes Scotland an unattractive place in which to arbitrate. As world trade continues to expand, there will be increasing demand for high-quality arbitration services to resolve cross border commercial disputes," he said.
He said an Arbitration Bill to modernise the system would be issued for consultation next spring.
The government wanted to develop a dispute resolution centre, which could attract international arbitration cases as well as domestic one.
"Scotland should be an easy place to do business and it needs the law and courts to back this up and make Scotland the jurisdiction of choice for resolution of disputes."
For Labour, Pauline McNeill said that at its highest level ADR was about "solving disputes and differences between commercial companies across national borders" but she said it could also help those who could not afford to take cases to the civil courts, including people involved in family disputes.