Saturday, February 26, 2011

Law Society resignations : Scottish Legal Aid Board Chief accused of interfering with Law Society to gag committee in legal aid money debate

THE entire membership of the Law Society of Scotland’s powerful Access to Justice Committee is reported in today’s Herald newspaper to have followed its Convener, the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, and resigned in a mass protest over allegations of undemocratic behaviour at the Law Society of Scotland, the body which represents all of Scotland’s 10,500 solicitors.

The Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Lindsay Montgomery also now stands accused of leaning on the Law Society to silence Mr Dailly's criticisms of SLAB and how it is funded.

The Law Society’s President Jamie Millar denied all the allegations made by Mr Dailly in a rambling response, reported HERE

Mr Millar’s statement claims a number of Council members had expressed concern over the work of Mr Dailly’s Access to Justice Committee, a reference which appears to refer to a story reported in October 2010, where Mr Dailly’s Committee suggested the Scottish Legal Aid Board & the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should be merged in the name of saving money. The idea was widely attacked at the time by SLAB, the SLCC & the Law Society as neither wanted to be merged with the other (not again ! – Ed).

Independent law publication “The Firm” has published the full text of Mr Dailly’s resignation letter to the current Law Society President, Jamie Millar. In the letter, Mr Dailly pulls no punches in his criticisms of the way the Law Society operates, telling the President he has no confidence in him or the Law Society’s Council, who appear to have been determined to axe the Access to Justice Committee after discussions had allegedly taken place between the Scottish Legal Aid Board & the Law Society to reign in Mr Dailly’s Committee.

The Herald reports the latest developments :

Lawyers in revolt at alleged ‘gagging’ attempt

David Leask Investigations Reporter

26 Feb 2011

SCOTLAND’S legal profession was plunged into chaos last night after an entire committee of the Law Society of Scotland quit, claiming a senior civil servant attempted to gag them.

The society’s Access to Justice Committee stood down in a mass protest late yesterday after its convener, prominent solicitor Mike Dailly, accused the chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab), Lyndsay Montgomery, of leaning on the society to have him silenced.

The committee has led criticism of Mr Montgomery and Slab as Scotland’s lawyers squabble over who should take the brunt of millions of pounds in cuts to the legal aid budget.

Mr Dailly, in a resignation letter, said Slab had asked the society to have the committee “reined in and controlled”.

This was immediately denied by both Slab and the society. The mass resignations come less than a week after another high-profile Glasgow solicitor, John McGovern, like Mr Dailly, resigned from the society’s ruling council.

Both are members of the Glasgow Bar Association which, as The Herald revealed a week ago, is exploring legal ways to break up with the Edinburgh-based society, which both regulates and represents solicitors.

The Access to Justice Committee last year called for Slab to be scrapped. This, Mr Dailly yesterday claimed, prompted a furious response from Mr Montgomery, who phoned him to say solicitors were “useless and unable to count”. In the letter to Jamie Millar, the Law Society’s president, Mr Dailly said: “It was an intolerant and quite inappropriate call from a senior Scottish public servant.”

The solicitor, who heads the not-for-profit Govan Law Centre, believes the Law Society took sides with Slab and Mr Montgomery, and not its own committee. He said the society responded to the criticism by imposing a “gagging order” on him and his committee.

Mr Dailly claimed Mr Millar said council members were concerned about the committee’s attacks on the legal aid board. Mr Dailly added in the letter: “I find it deeply troubling that the Council of the Law Society of Scotland is incapable of standing up for free speech and open public debate on matters of importance to the Scottish public and the Scottish legal profession. Particularly, as this is a primary statutory function of the society.”

A spokeswoman for The Law Society last night confirmed that “a number of council members had expressed concern over the work of the committee”. Their main worry, she said, was that Mr Dailly had failed to answer to the ruling council for three successive monthly council meetings. They requested that he appear before a meeting next month. She said: “We are sorry that Mike has now chosen to resign from council, rather than allowing council members to discuss these matters with him directly”

Paul McBride QC, a member of Slab’s board, last night rubbished Mr Dailly’s claims that Mr Montgomery or anybody else from the legal aid quango was behind the gagging order. He said Mr Dailly was trying to “make a martyr of himself”.

A spokesman for Slab said: “We are disappointed that Mr Dailly has chosen to make misleading and personally offensive remarks.” He said the board had acted appropriately and there had been no undue influence on the Law Society.”

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