Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Scottish legal profession supports using family law cases to blackmail Executive for more legal aid fees & less reform.

Like North Korean dictators who are currently polluting our planet with nuclear tests, to make political ends for their benefit, the Scottish legal profession has decided to support it's own political campaign against reform of the legal profession, by the use of withdrawing representation for abuse victims & other types of family law cases, in the long running dispute over Civil legal aid feels with the Scottish Executive.

It's no accident that solicitors are now resorting to stronger tactics in their quest to gain more legal aid fees .. with the LPLA Bill currently being considered in the Scottish Parliament, anything which the legal profession can do to 'gum up the works' has been passed by the Law Society of Scotland as 'fair use' against the planned reforms of the way lawyers conduct business in Scotland.

What with the recent resignation of the Lord Advocate over 'unspecified matters', howls from many members of the legal profession, including retired judges, embittered over the loss of self regulation of complaints against their own members, we now see the true face of Scotland's hallowed legal fraternity ... who will stop at nothing to get their own way .. and there is more to come.

Not a very honourable thing for Scotlands legal profession to be doing .. and I haven't noticed retired judges such as Lord McCluskey & otbers in the judiciary, legal profession, or many msps coming out on this one to protest the Human Rights of the public to be defended in court, versus the thing they are so big on lately, being the howls of Human Rights abuse against the solicitors who face losing the power to regulate complaints against themselves. Surely the rights of abuse victims to be protected from violent attackers outweights the rights of lawyers to fiddle complaints against their colleagues ? One would surely think so ...

Of course .. pay someone what they want .. or allow them to set their own pay scales .. and you get a situation like this which we are now in ... and with lawyers over the years being used to milking the legal aid system for whatever they wanted (as long as it didn't include cases against other lawyers) ... they have gotten used to getting the levels of fees they asked for .. so in part, it is certainly the Executive's fault (and previous Governments of course) for allowing this situation to develop in the first place.

Civil legal aid rates are lower than Criminal legal aid rates, and Civil legal aid is more difficult to obtain than Criminal legal aid - because, barring the odd strike by lawyers using victims as a blackmail to obtain more legal aid, it is of course, a right for someone to be defended at a criminal trial - and if they have no defence or representation, either as a result of not being able to obtain a lawyer themselves, or having their legal aid withdrawn, occasionally, Sheriffs have dismissed criminal cases against accused on these grounds.

Civil legal aid applications can be opposed by the defender of the action - this alone, makes it obviously more difficult to persuade the Scottish Legal Aid Board that Civil legal aid should be granted in a case.

Many abuse victims have, at one point or anther, have also had to use a particular rule for claiming Civil legal aid, known as "Regulation 18" where a solicitor can apply for legal aid funding, on the basis they had to take urgent steps to bring a case into court for a client .. This rule has had to be used where there have been difficulties in obtaining Civil legal aid for such cases, in the past, however, sometimes SLAB have also been known to refuse 'Regulation 18" legal aid applications, dependent on the nature of the claimant's case.

A Solicitor can backdate a claim for legal aid using the "regulation 18" rule for emergency legal aid, and you can find out more about 'regulation 18" legal aid and how a case qualifies for it, Here

However, there are great dispartities in the way Civil legal aid is awarded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, as anyone who has tried to make a claim for Civil legal aid knows .. and there is an even greater disparity in the way the legal profession treats particular types of civil law cases, particularly those which involve civil litigation against colleagues.

For instance, try making an application to the Scottish Legal Aid Board for Civil legal aid in a case against a crooked or negligent solicitor, and you would find, like many before you, it's almost impossible to obtain legal aid .

A claimant in a case against a lawyer, would be faced with all matter of representations coming in from the Law Society of Scotland & the rest of the legal profession to SLAB, to interdict a claimant's application for Civil legal aid. A good example, of this, is my own claim for Civil legal aid, which was obstructed by the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, Douglas Mill .. but this is typical of the Law Society of Scotland, who make sure most civil legal aid cases against lawyers get killed off, or are obstructed to the point they never make it to court.

For example, an applicant for civil legal aid (who may also be in receipt of state benefits), in a civil law case against a lawyer might find that the lawyer they are trying to bring to court, has supplied the Legal Aid Board with deliberately false or erroneous information against their person. This has happened many times.

Solicitors up and down Scotland, when faced with a case against themselves, have went all out to 'get' members of the public who have tried to claim against a crooked lawyer who has ruined their finances .. and such dirty tricks as providing false information to SLAB, false information to the Benefits Agency, and even false information to the Inland Revenue & the Police, is quite a common practice - and nothing is ever done about this by the Law Society of Scotland, or even, the Crown Office, who know full well what is happening.

If a claimant makes a knowingly false statement to the Legal Aid Board regarding their claim for legal aid - it;s a criminal offence - and the claimant can be prosecuted in such a case.

If a lawyer makes a knowingly false statement to the Legal Aid Board regarding a claim for legal aid in a court case against a lawyer - nothing is done ..

If a member of the public wishing to claim state benefits gives false informatino to the Benefits Agency .. they get prosecuted ..

If a lawyer or a professional colleague, such as, an accountant, provides false information to the Benefits Agency against a member of the public who is trying to take that lawyer or accountant to court .. nothing gets done but the information remains on file, and is almost impossible for that member of the public to challenge.

I wonder if we may have a few words from the new Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini ?

I would hope the Lord Advocate should have a role & somethjing to say for the public's point of view in this legal aid battle .. where undoubtably, the interests of the public far outweigh the financial interests of the legal profession to rack up legal aid fees.

However, nothing seems to stop lawyers using the most vulnerable people in society for their own financial ends, as we see today in the Scotsman newspaper, who report on more strike threats by the legal profession if their demands for increased legal aid payments aren't met by the Scottish Executive.


Strike threat may see abuse victims go to court without lawyer

SCOTTISH lawyers are threatening to strike over legal aid payments in a move that could force victims of domestic violence to represent themselves in court.

Family lawyers are furious about the recent introduction of fixed fees for civil legal aid, which replaced itemised payments and an hourly rate for court work.

The Scotsman has learned that a number of family lawyers have called for strike action in the hope of forcing the Scottish Executive to change its policy.

Rachael Kelsey, chairwoman of the Family Law Association, said: "There is a strong feeling among family lawyers that this is coming to a crisis. Some members have said we will have to strike.

"We simply can't afford to do this kind of work anymore; my hairdresser charges more for hourly work than I get paid for legal aid work."

Many lawyers are refusing to represent families in divorce, child custody and domestic abuse cases in an escalating dispute over legal aid.

Next month, the association's 300 members will meet to discuss the option of an all-out boycott of legal aid work, introducing strike action for the first time in its 20-year history.

"We will hold a meeting to canvass views on the prospect of a strike. It would mean a ban on all legal aid work," said Ms Kelsey. "If you have someone who is suffering domestic violence, they would have to represent themselves in court against their alleged abuser.

"I'm currently representing a ten-year-old girl in a particularly difficult case. A strike would mean I would not be able to represent her. It would be heart-breaking to pull out of that case ... but if the association voted for a strike, I would not be a strike-breaker."

Lawyers warned yesterday that a range of sensitive court work would be placed in jeopardy and the most vulnerable clients, including children, would be let down.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Women's Aid said it was appalling that women should be forced to represent themselves in court. "The courts are not places for lay people," she said. "Family law is very complex and needs to be handled sensitively.

"These women won't know the law and to represent themselves could be hugely detrimental to their case."

In recent weeks, the Family Law Association has received more than 100 letters from members concerned about the rates of pay for legal aid work.

Family lawyers have cut the amount of publicly-funded family work they are prepared to carry out as they believe current legal aid payments are so poor.

Helen Hughes, a family lawyer in Paisley, said: "The fees we're paid simply do not reflect the amount of work done.

"In some cases, we're getting about £30 an hour for drawing up writs, appearing in court and speaking to very vulnerable clients. You're running at a loss when you take into account the rent and staff salaries."

A Scottish Executive spokesman said it was currently in negotiation with lawyers over possible changes to the fees for civil legal aid.

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