NEARLY four years on from the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s damning indictment of Scotland’s Civil Justice system as being “Victorian” and unfit for purpose, signs of a limited effort to mend Scotland’s thoroughly broken, corrupt, prejudiced & riddled with vested interests civil justice system with the Scottish Government’s announcement of the new Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill, which is claimed to be part of a four-year ‘Making Justice Work’ Programme.
The Scottish Government statement claims the ‘Making Justice Work’ project draws together a range of reforms across criminal, civil and tribunal justice. The goal is to ensure the justice system better meets the needs of those it serves - the people of Scotland – through a series of improvements to make it fairer, more accessible, cost-effective and efficient.
The Bill marks the Scottish Government’s commitment to two justice priorities:
The establishment of a Scottish Civil Justice Council to replace the Court of Session Rules Council and Sheriff Court Rules Council. The new Council will also have a wider policy role to advise and make recommendations on improving the civil justice system in Scotland.
The introduction of financial contributions in ‘criminal legal aid’ for those who can afford to pay, in order to protect access to justice for those who can’t afford to pay.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Scotland has a justice system we can be proud of. It is a justice system which is steeped in history and one which is rightly admired by other jurisdictions. Through over 1,000 additional police officers on the streets making our communities safer, we have seen recorded crime in Scotland reach its lowest level in 32 years, we’ve seen those who are committing crimes being punished swiftly by our justice system and serving the longest prison sentences in a decade. However, there is no room for complacency and we need to ensure that we constantly look at new ways to improve our justice system even further, drive out inefficiencies, and make justice work for the people of Scotland.
“Today’s Bill is the first legislative step in the most significant programme of civil courts reform in Scotland for a century and implements one of the key recommendations made by Lord Gill in his expert review of the system. We listened to Lord Gill and we are acting.We will consult on proposals for civil courts reform toward the end of this year. Legislating for the new Council now will aid the pace of reform. On legal aid, the Scottish Government believes that it is right and proper that those who can afford to pay towards the cost of their legal defence costs do so.We shouldn’t have a system where those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their legal fees get taxpayers’ cash at the expense of those who simply cannot afford to pay. The Bill will ensure this isn’t the case. It will also deliver up to £3.9m of savings on the legal aid budget that will contribute to maintaining the current scope of legal aid in Scotland for those who need it most, protecting access to justice.”
Many of the Lord Gill Review recommendations will need new rules of court. To prepare those, the Review recommended a new, single body should be established with oversight of the entire civil justice system. This Bill will therefore establish a new body, the ‘Scottish Civil Justice Council’, which will replace the Court of Session and Sheriff Court Rules Councils, and place us on the path towards far-reaching reform of Scotland’s civil justice system through the Making Justice Work programme.
The changes to legal aid will also correct an anomaly in the system which the Scottish Government believes is unfair. Applicants for civil legal aid can already be required to contribute towards the cost of their case, whereas applicants for criminal legal aid do not, even if they might have the means available to do this.
However, legal observers have indicated the changes proposed in the new bill will do little to widen access to justice for Scots, or cure the tribal, anti-public attitude of many of Scotland’s highly paid judges who are on salaries up to £220,000 a year plus expenses & gold plated pensions.
Giving his opinion on the Scottish Government’s Making Justice Work initiative, a legal insider said : “No reforms of the courts or justice system will pass muster if the judiciary or the legal apparatus does not agree with them”.
He continued : “The fact is Scotland’s courts system has been out of control for some years, with highly paid untouchable, unaccountable judges leaning towards vested interests and the interests of the establishment in almost every decision of the court. There will be no gains for the Scots public over the wishes & interests of the fat cat judiciary no matter what the intentions of the Scottish Government may be.”