Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Scotland's judges bring in fines for 'court disrupters' as fears over legal services market reforms gather

Scotland's judges - once lawyers themselves of course, who made a pretty penny standing before their forebears representing clients, have joined the battle against opening the legal services market to those other than their fellow members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Using a case where someone had actually tried to achieve the unthinkable and force the Law Society of Scotland's distinctly corrupt 'Guarantee Fund' (the main aim of which is to compensate victims of crooked lawyers) to actually pay out on a case, their lordships felt secure enough to send yet another warning to the rest of Scotland they will not tolerate any changes to laws & business monopolies which allow their legal brethren to rip clients off at will ...

We here at Scottish Law Reporter could think of a few deserving fines to be imposed against counsel themselves over somewhat lengthy case delays of years ....

The Scotsman reports :

New fines for those who disrupt courts


SCOTLAND'S senior judges enter 2008 with a growing resolve to get tough with litigants who cause unnecessary expense and disruption to business in the Court of Session, the country's supreme civil court.

While hitting them in the pocket is anything but new, the judges have decided that awarding expenses to an opponent may not always be enough of a penalty for an abuse of process.

In what is thought to be the first ruling of its kind – and a clear warning of what could lie in store for others – a man behind a four-day appeal, which was abandoned at the last minute, has been ordered to pay the court fees of £1,332 which would have applied if the case had gone ahead.

Lord Hamilton, the Lord President, said: "With the very great pressures and demands that there are on court time and judicial resources, it seems clear to us that to allow litigants to act with impunity and without sanction in advising the court, at such short notice and with no just excuse, that a four-day hearing will not proceed, would involve an acceptance by this court that it had no effective control over the administration of its business."

John Billig, from England, and a company controlled by him, had gone to the Court of Session to challenge a decision by the Law Society of Scotland to refuse to make payments to them from its guarantee fund, which compensates the victims of dishonest solicitors.

A judge dismissed the petition in 2006, and Billig and the company lodged an appeal. They confirmed, a few weeks in advance of the appeal hearing, that they were ready and that the appointed four days would be required. However, in the days before the hearing, court officials were advised that the appeal was not to proceed.

Expenses were awarded to the Law Society of Scotland, and Billig and the company were also ordered to pay fees of £1,332 to the Scottish Court Service. They disputed the fees order, but Lord Hamilton, sitting with Lords Nimmo Smith and Clarke, deemed it "both competent and wholly appropriate".

Lord Hamilton said the Court of Session, and in particular its appeal divisions, had been beset for some time with late settlements and short– notice cancellations.

He added: "The court has an obligation under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to ensure that parties have a hearing 'within a reasonable time'. That includes a hearing in appellate business. Unless the court can, and does, take steps to discharge that obligation, it will justifiably be criticised by parties, the determination of whose civil rights is unreasonably delayed.

"The inherent jurisdiction of this court to exercise real control and direction of its procedures and timetable requires it to be capable to being updated from time to time, in its application to situations which are identified as productive of disruption of the orderly dispatch of the court's workload. The making of the order in the present case is an example of the court exercising its jurisdiction in such a situation."

Lord Hamilton said the statutory court fees were fixed at levels that fell far short of the actual cost of providing judicial and other resources, but forcing an abuser to pay them could go some way to compensating the public purse.

In this case, a last-minute reshuffle had meant that the court had been able to use one of the lost four days. But that, he added, did not justify reducing the £1,332 in the order against Billig and the company.

"Their action caused a four-day diet to be lost. The fact that, by the efforts of its officials, the court happened to be able to find business for one of those days does not lessen the seriousness of their default."

No comments: