For a profession which generates some 5000 plus client complaints a year, many of them involving serious complex frauds against clients, which result in no action against guilty lawyers after clients are forced through the Law Society of Scotland's prejudiced complaints process, Scotland's Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill certainly has a soft focus view of his colleagues, when he claims in a Scotsman article :
"SCOTLAND owes an immense debt to its legal profession which has helped people at times of crisis, protecting the rights of the vulnerable and supporting business and economic growth."
Mr MacAskill has used the theme of legal aid, to shower praise on the legal profession and his former colleagues ... but is such blinkered public admiration of Scotland's ranks of solicitors a wise move for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, himself, a former lawyer, but who now, as a Government Minister, must surely serve the people, and not the professions ?
Does Scotland owe any 'immense debt' to a legal profession ?
Lets examine whether there is a debt owed by us mere ordinary people, to the vast army of lawyers in Scotland today ...
In Scotland, we have a legal profession, currently managed & regulated by itself, which has seen the likes of :
the list, not a pretty one, goes on ....
What does Scotland owe such a legal profession Mr MacAskill ?
The answer, at least to my way of thinking is that Scotland owes lawyers and the legal profession nothing, nothing at all. The good which lawyers do in Scotland, is outweighed by the bad. To remedy that, the bad has to be eliminated. You, Mr MacAskill do not seem to understand that at all but Scotland needs an effective, unprejudiced, accountable & transparent legal profession, and somehow, someway, we have to have this 'immense change' take place ...
Why should Scotland owe lawyers an "immense debt" ?, when the legal profession performs as poorly as it does, under the administration of itself, with Government seemingly standing by the sidelines, turning a blind eye to the way it covers up for its own against clients who are abandoned when things go wrong.
This scenario shouldn't be the case though, should it, Mr MacAskill. Lawyers, should, actually, be respected. Lawyers do perform a valuable service, when they serve their client properly but when they don't serve their client's interests properly, when they get greedy, or decide to cover up their negligent or even criminal actions against clients, and then get away with it, lawyers undermine society and the system of values most people expect them to have.
If the legal profession wants to be respected, they have to first earn respect.
To be respected, lawyers should be honest, accountable, of the highest standard, and forthright in their determination to offer legal services to anyone - without prejudice to a client and without prejudice to the subject of the case, even if it be prosecuting a colleague from the legal profession or taking a case against Government. If a lawyer knows something is wrong, they have to stand up for what is right.
Is that so much to ask for or to expect ?
You yourself were a lawyer, Mr MacAskill, you should know that when people trust you with their legal affairs, they expect the highest standard of service, with a guarantee that if things go wrong, it will be put right. We as clients have every expectation of such, but in reality, no receipt of such from the legal profession today in Scotland ...
Kenny MacAskill ends his article in the Scotsman by saying
"Our legal system must adapt to a changing world, but maintain the values that underpin it."
Yes, our legal system must adapt to a changing world - where injustice and corruption, and the 'witness & do nothing about it' policy of the Scottish Government must also adapt to being no longer acceptable ... but 'maintaining the values that underpin it' (the legal profession) - please, Mr MacAskill - the Scottish legal profession in it's present form do not have much room to speak of 'values', as you well know.
Mr MacAskill, if you want to give the legal profession a level of respect, give it a fully independent regulatory body to investigate any & all forms of client complaints including service & conduct issues against solicitors, powers to handle disciplinary matters & prosecutions, powers to compensate clients fully without the need to go to court, and, of course, powers to ensure the highest possible standards of service & conduct attainable - values which the Law Society of Scotland has never been able to achieve in its entire history. Now, that, will generate some respect.
Is it not the case it is actually the legal profession which owes Scotland ? After all, it is Scotland and it's people, who are the legal profession's paying customers, both private & corporate, who expect high standards and decent legal services, but do not receive anything near a decent standard of service.
Scotland SHOULD owe the legal profession a debt of gratitude, if it were managed correctly, had the highest of standards of service, conduct, client protection, and satisfaction. Until we get those values however, Scotland owes lawyers nothing - they have to prove we do, and lawyers can start that process by cleaning up their act and cleaning up their sins of the past ...
If, Mr Justice Secretary, you do all that, and open up the legal services market as the OFT recommends, you will attain your stated goal of ensuring that legal aid works both efficiently and effectively - while also ensuring access to justice for all .. not just for some ...
Kenny MacAskill writes in the Scotsman :
SCOTLAND owes an immense debt to its legal profession which has helped people at times of crisis, protecting the rights of the vulnerable and supporting business and economic growth.
As cabinet secretary for justice, I want the profession to flourish and to compete in the modern world. That means adapting just like any other profession or business to the changes and challenges which the modern world throws up.
So what does that commitment to the profession mean in terms of the Scottish Government's position on legal aid? My aim is a simple one: to ensure that lawyers get paid appropriately and fairly for the work they do for people who would not otherwise be able to afford such help. That is why I announced a substantial increase in fees for those who represent accused persons in solemn cases, linked to reforms which will finally settle several years of negotiation. I will be announcing further increases to civil fees soon.
Expert advice from qualified professionals does not come cheaply, however, and we need to ask how we can continue to ensure fair reward for practitioners and fair access for the public without large increases in public expenditure.
This is not just another plea for savings and efficiency. The unavoidable fact is that there is no scope for substantial increases in legal aid spending in the near future. Any increases will only be affordable if savings elsewhere in the system release funds.
We must all strive to make sure that legal aid works efficiently and effectively. For government, that means not introducing change for its own sake. It means reducing bureaucracy and making processes simpler and clearer. It also means we may have to face some difficult decisions in the future about what legal aid should be for. The world has changed considerably since the legal aid system was introduced nearly 60 years ago.
We cannot and should not expect the courts to solve every problem or the state to fund everyone's legal representation in every dispute or difficulty. Such a view simply isn't going to be sustainable in the future. At the same time, legal aid lawyers need to be able to continue to do the vital work that they do and to be paid fairly for it.
For the profession it means working in a legal aid system which supports efficient judicial processes following the Bonomy and McInnes reforms, and those which will follow Lord Gill's current review of civil courts.
I want to think carefully about how judicial structures will look in the light of Lord Gill's review. It would not be appropriate to make radical changes to civil legal aid before Lord Gill reports but that doesn't mean that we sit on our hands until the spring of 2009; we need to develop our thinking while the review is going on.
Legal aid should be about paying people properly for work they need to do, stripping out wasteful process and getting cases dealt with at the right level. It should be about focusing on what work justifies expert legal involvement at public expense and being prepared to consider alternative ways of funding or providing help in less complex cases.
We also need to think about whether more types of legal problems can be dealt with effectively outwith the court system. If that helps improve efficiency and helps people get their problems resolved quickly, we should be prepared to consider it.
Our legal system must adapt to a changing world, but maintain the values that underpin it.
• Kenny MacAskill is Scotland's justice secretary.