Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Emergency meetings between lawyers & Scottish Executive on legal aid dispute

In the latest report on the Legal Aid dispute between Scottish Lawyers and the Scottish Executive, the interests of the client don`t seem to feature at all .. it`s just about .. money ... as are all things to do with the Scottish legal profession.

Read on for the latest article on this issue, reprinted from "A Diary of Injustice in Scotland - By Peter Cherbi" at :

Scottish Lawyers boycott of legal aid cases scores a meeting at the Scottish Executive - it`s more about money than clients interests ...

In the words of solicitor Vincent McGovern, spokesman of the Hamilton Bar Association speaking to `The Scotsman` newspaper - "This is about trust and respect, before it is about money. The Executive has rolled us over for many years. That has to stop."

"Trust and respect" ? isn`t that something the client has to have with their solicitor ?, well, one would think so ... but "trust and respect" went out the window many years ago on Scotlands near 10,000 solicitors .. with a rising tide of some 5000 + complaints a year to the Law Society of Scotland.

... and what is this about the Executive rolling them over for many years ? in reality, the Scottish Executive have been receiving well over 1000 complaints from individuals and representations from constituency MSPs & MPs against crooked Scottish solicitors and the way in which the Law Society of Scotland has fiddled & controlled complaints investigations ... with Mike West, Malcolm Pringle, and the rest of the gang over at the Justice Department, Civil Law Division, answering letter after letter trying to fill in for the crooked schemes of lawyers either fiddling clients or fiddling legal aid ... in effect, they have actually been doing the legal profession a service, by not getting the Executive involved (up until now) in regulatory matters.

... so, lets say, if the truth be told, the legal profession have been rolling us all over for more than just a few years ... and it has most definitely got to stop now !

Wait a minute though ... aren`t lawyers and the Law Society of Scotland supposed to be concerned with the rights of their clients ? hmm ... yes ? no ? .. well, the legal profession usually pontificate to us that they have their clients best interests at heart in whatever they do ... so, where in all this hullaballoo about the lack of fat legal aid payments to lawyers, appears the best interests of the client ? ... don`t see any mention of that in the recent articles.

...and what happened to the fact that, as I commented on yesterday - lawyers are also boycotting family law cases over the lack of fat legal aid payments ? ... no mention of that today either .. we are back to the sex cases instead.

Maybe after yesterday`s article in "The Scotsman" .. the Law Society of Scotland felt it better public relations .. or better `spin` to say that any further reporting on the matter centred on the criminal cases side of matters ... rather than the family law stuff .. which sounded very bad indeed .. sort of made Scottish lawyers look like ... terrorists .. kidnappers ... thieves ... muggers ... gangsters ... - well .. these are some of your own suggestions which came in via email today ... and I would have to agree of course - after what I have been through myself .. and after what I know many of you and many other silent victims have also been through - at the hands of Scottish lawyers.

Well, `The Scotsman` reports that today, an `Emergency meeting` will be held between the Scottish Executive and lawyers to try and resolve the legal aid payments dispute - so you can bet there will be plenty arm twisting by the legal mafia to get their wicked way.

I wonder ... what will fall in any demands by the legal profession ? Perhaps some of the reforms planned to the complaints system ?

Ending the prospect of independent regulation is something high on the agenda of the Law Society of Scotland these days ... in public they decided to agree with it.. but started a costly private campaign to derail and kill off the regulatory reforms proposed in the new"Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, currently under consideration by the Justice 2 Committee.

Also on the agenda of course ... would be the immediate increases in fat legal aid payments to Scottish lawyers so they can keep their profession`s expensive habits up, and probably, some compensation for the few months they have missed the fat legal aid payments they were used to.

Mind you though ... I have had my own battles with the Scottish Legal Aid Board ... and I would have to describe them as a bunch of crooks themselves .. with only a few consciencious individuals I ever had cause to contact.

However, the woes of SLAB ... are mostly again, down to the obviously political and `grace & favour` style appointments to it`s Board, along with SLAB`s infamous crew of in-house lawyers ... stopping legal aid to people who`s cases might upset their pals over the road in Drumsheugh Gardens (the offices of the Law Society of Scotland are opposite the Legal Aid Board !)

I have been in Court several times to see case hearings, criminal trials, and proofs, were SLAB have either failed to award funding for cases and lawyers have subsequently pulled out from acting for their clients due to lack of funding (even happened to me once).

In another case I remember well ... SLAB even failed to represent itself one day in Jedburgh Sheriff Court on a challenge over legal aid expenses .. which the Sheriff, if I remember correctly, awarded against the Scottish Legal Aid Board and commented on the fact that it seemed the Legal Aid Board was either unable to find a lawyer to represent itself - or couldn`t be bothered ... which of these Sheriff`s theories were correct that day, we shall never know.

So ... while the lawyers have certainly got used to ... (too much) .. rocketing uncontrolled charges for civil & criminal law work necessitating greater legal aid payments... it is also the fault of the Scottish Executive for allowing this situation to get out of hand over the years ... and instead of spending over two decades shielding the legal profession from complaints and keeping out of regulatory matters, the Scottish Executive and it`s former creation, the Scottish Office, should have nipped this in the bud a long time ago ... say ... 1990 and you know what ? we wouldn`t be in this mess today.

What do I mean by the uncontrolled charges ?

Well .. take for instance one example .. but common to many different kinds of cases - and certainly a trick employed in the legal aid sphere by some but NOT all solicitors ... we could have a case, where perhaps your parent dies .. a lawyer administers the will .. the will takes 6 years to settle .. and that lawyer obviously wants to meet the family over that period of time ... maybe a few meetings.

Well .. I looked at a case like this (not mine) .. the lawyer .. asked for and had 12 meetings with the family .. sent them letters asking for meetings beforehand ..(at £65 a letter) then obviously sent 12 further letters confirming each appointment and then sent another 12 or more letters confirming the details of the said meetings ... so that`s 36 letters .. @ £65 each ..hmm .. say about £2340 and add that to all the other charges made to that particular estate ... was well over £10,000.

£2340 for 36 letters .. most of them on one sheet of A4 .. with only a few lines .. and most of it being quite unneccessary in the first place ... but - the lawyer has to generate some fees for his office of course .. so this is a good way to fatten the bills to the client. How about it ? could you write letters for £65 a time ? good way to earn money, isn`t it ?!

The thing is though - how come letters now cost anywhere from £65 to well over £100 + ? why has this cost been allowed to spiral out of control .. along with all sorts of other `expenses` at lawyers offices up and down the length of Scotland ? - easy answer - because the Law Society of Scotland has made sure there has been no opposition or independent scrutiny of such charges and restrictive business practices of the legal profession up until now.

There are plenty of other tricks too ... photocopies for instance ... one case I looked at saw a man billed £50,000 for photocopying .. and there wasn`t muich proof that the work was actually done .. even some of the supposed copier task reports had differing dates on from when the alleged copying took place ! .. or stuffing the final account when it`s presented to the client ... and the favourite trick of keeping particular file notes out of the files so a client never gets them after they pay for the work and request the full file.

So, we are back to the situation at hand, which really - the Scottish Executive is guilty of allowing to happen in the first place - by letting the legal profession have it`s way for so long ... so, really .. it`s the lawyers who have been rolling the Clients over for far too long and that`s exactly what those who take advantage of a lack of oversight tend to do, until they are stopped .. isn`t it ?

See if you can spot any concern from the Scottish legal profession for client`s rights of representation in the following article, from "The Scotsman", at :

Emergency meeting aims to avoid lawyers' sex trial boycott

EMERGENCY talks will be held tomorrow between the Scottish Executive and lawyers in an attempt to resolve a bitter dispute over legal aid which could lead to the collapse of sex cases.

Justice department officials will meet the Law Society of Scotland amid rising anger over the amount solicitors are paid to defend people accused of murder, rape and other crimes.

More than 1,000 lawyers registered to take on legal aid work say they will boycott sex crime cases after "broken promises" by ministers over the introduction of new payments.

The Glasgow Bar Association began the legal profession's unprecedented grass-roots rebellion earlier this month, voting not to defend people accused of sexual offences from 1 August unless they are given a substantial pay increase.

Their militant position has been backed by the Edinburgh, Hamilton and Dumbarton bar associations, and by last night the strike pledge had spread to Aberdeen, Stirling, Paisley, Elgin, Banffshire, Roxburgh, Lanark and Fort William.

It is thought that around three-quarters of the 1,500 legal aid defence lawyers are signed up to the boycott.

The planned strike is targeting sex offence cases because people accused of such crimes are not allowed to cross-examine witnesses in court, so without a defence agent, trials cannot go ahead.

The meeting was arranged after Jack McConnell's scathing attack on lawyers last Thursday. The First Minister called the boycott "irresponsible" and urged lawyers to get round the table for talks. The following day the Law Society, which had already requested a meeting with the deputy justice minister, Hugh Henry, to discuss legal aid, was invited to a meeting with Executive officials. It is expected that tomorrow's meeting will be followed by further talks with Mr Henry.

Solicitors receive £66.40 an hour for court appearances and £44.20 for preparation and for waiting in court for cases to be called. They say the rate has not changed since 1992 and are furious at delays in introducing new block payments to replace hourly rates.

Lawyers have been told the new fees will not be introduced before April next year - nearly 18 months later than promised - and have dismissed a proposed interim pay rise of 8 per cent for court work and 5 per cent for other work as derisory.

Vincent McGovern, spokesman for the Hamilton Bar Association, which represents around 300 criminal defence lawyers, said solicitors had never before been so united on a single issue. "This is new landscape as far as the legal profession is concerned. We've never seen such a unified position on something.

"The Law Society has a mandate to negotiate with the Executive and we trust them to do that. But the Law Society will understand they will require to consult widely with the profession on any possible resolution.

"This is about trust and respect, before it is about money. The Executive has rolled us over for many years. That has to stop."

He said to restore the value of legal aid to the 1992 level, a 50 per cent rise would be required.
"That's a conservative estimate. But I understand that, politically, that's impossible. However, the Executive is going to have to move ground."

The Executive says contingency plans are being drawn up in an effort to prevent rape and other sex cases collapsing should the boycott go ahead.

"The offer is still on the table and we are wanting to continue negotiations to try and reach an agreement," said a spokeswoman.

Oliver Adair, convener of the Law Society's legal aid solicitors' committee, said he understood how lawyers felt about the issue.

Mr Adair said: "I'm acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the profession and I would not be entering into any binding commitment without first testing the support of bar associations."

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