Monday, October 18, 2010

Doughnuts, principles and no £6m surplus : Law Society’s backroom plot to take over Legal Aid Board attacked by top QC Paul McBride

Mike DaillyLast week, Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee Convener Mike Dailly suggested Law Society should take over Legal Aid Board & SLCC. A BACKROOM PLOT by the Law Society of Scotland to take over the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, exposed late last week by Scottish Law Reporter has featured in today’s Scottish newspapers, with top QC Paul McBride, himself a board member of SLAB, coming out strongly criticising the idea lawyers should be able to award themselves legal aid and regulate it, all under the guise of saving money for taxpayers.

Mr McBride likened the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee’s suggestion as akin ‘to putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory’.

Even worse news was to follow for Mr Dailly on the subject of the SLCC’s massive surplus, allegedly £6 million pounds according to statements issued by the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee, which now turns out to be false, with the SLCC claiming they have a current surplus of around £1.5 million or less.

Report from the Daily Record follows :

Paul McBride QCIt's like putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory; Lawyer slams legal aid plan.

Byline: John Ferguson

A TOP lawyer has blasted proposals to put solicitors in charge of their own legal aid payments as "like putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory".

Paul McBride QC spoke out after an influential committee suggested scrapping the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to save money.

The Law Society of Scotland's access to justice committee want to shut down the SLAB and hand over their role to a new "one-stop shop" body funded and managed by lawyers.

But McBride, a SLAB member, slammed the proposed changes as "preposterous". He said: "SLAB exist to enable access to justice and to make sure legal aid delivers the maximum value for the taxpayer.

"The board serve a vital role and save the public an enormous amount every year. The idea of putting lawyers in charge of administering money to themselves is preposterous and unworkable. "This is like putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory."

The access to justice committee's plan would transfer the responsibility for administering legal aid to a new body created out of the Initiative Committee chairman Mike Dailly claimed the changes could save pounds 40million. Dailly, of Govan Law Centre in Glasgow, said: "We can either sit back and wait for front·line legal services for vulnerable people to be cut or we can seize the initiative.

"We are confident a new one-stop shop that handled all legal complaints and payments could save the taxpayer up to pounds 40million over the next five years."

But the SLAB hit back, saying they save the public "tens of millions" a year by limiting unnecessary and excessive payments to lawyers and cracking down on fraud.

A spokesman said: "It is unlikely the proposals would lead to significant savings and may risk higher costs to the taxpayer."

In an update to this report, Mr Dailly has now complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Daily Record’s story, reprinted above.

Mr Dailly’s complaint to the PCC, reported by The JournalOnline – the Law Society of Scotland’s own in-house law magazine, states : “Mr Dailly's main complaint is that contrary to what was stated in the article, and a supporting editorial, "the Access to Justice Committee has never suggested that solicitors be 'in charge of their own legal aid payments', nor that they should 'manage' the proposed new one-stop body, nor that they should ‘administer money to themselves’. Instead, we pointed to the obvious scope for making savings in terms of administration and overhead costs, with a view to ensuring vulnerable members of the Scottish public did not lose out in front-line services with the forthcoming expected severe public sector cuts".

“He adds that had the paper contacted him before printing the articles, he could have advised that Mr McBride "was misrepresenting our committee’s position and providing a false factual basis for his attack"; and also provided evidence of the Board's administration costs.”

“In addition to Mr McBride's connection with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, it is also pointed out that he provides regular legal advice to the Daily Record in checking the paper for potential defamatory content, and has a potential conflict of interest as adviser to the Conservative Party on legal affairs, given that the Conservative Party is in Government and implementing cuts to public funding.”

However, legal insiders have indicated to Scottish Law Reporter the Law Society remains of the view it should take over SLAB’s duties and those of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with secret discussions ongoing … so it would appear we at SLR, and the Daily Record are on the scent of the missing doughnuts ...

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