Sunday, July 15, 2007

After years of oppositoin, SNP challenged to end injustice in Scotland

More From A Diary of Injustice in Scotland

It's time for Injustice to end, but will the SNP end Injustice in Scotland ?

This week, may well see a change of Government in Scotland, with the polls showing a significant lead by the Scottish National Party over Labour. However, what would an SNP victory mean for the many victims of injustice throughout Scotland ?

Well, most politicians say much and do little, when it comes to issues involving justice & law .. and as a reflection of that, these issues only really entered the media spotlight in the last two weeks of the election.

Well, for the issues I write about - injustice, and Law - it seems there is a significant conflict within the SNP over what to do and what not to do, potentially giving justice to some, and injustice to others.

There are politicians within the ranks of the SNP who will fight tenaciously for constituents on issues of injustice - and one of those people is Mr John Swinney, who famously skirmished with Douglas Mill - the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, last May before the Justice 2 Committee, revealing secret memos written by Douglas Mill himself, showing the legal profession were engaged in a campaign of discrimination, prejudice and lies against client claims of negligence against firms of solicitors in Scotland.

John Swinney then went on to fight on for the aims of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which I have campaigned for since 1994 .. and as you all know, the LPLA Bill was indeed passed in late December 2006, albeit with some amendments rushed in from mouthpieces of the legal profession.

Here is John Swinney fighting for the rights of his constituents and speaking before the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the LPLA Bill on candid issues of corruption within the Scottish legal profession.

John Swinney has certainly been admirable in his determination to see through the case of his constituent Stewart Mackenzie, who has suffered interminably at the hands of the Law Society of Scotland and their henchmen ... but surely, since every single MSP has received letters documenting injustices by members of the legal profession against their clients, they should all do the same as Mr Swinney and campaign for resolution to their constituents cases ? - well .. no !, they don't.

I know myself, from asking Christine Grahame (SNP) to take on my case, that not everyone in the SNP wants to do anything for people who have suffered at the hands of the legal profession. Christine Grahame refused to assist me, and as the then Justice 1 Committee Convener, she played havoc with the Justice 1 2002 inquiry into "Regulation of the Legal Profession" .. not allowing members of the public to testify to their problems with lawyers, but allowing the legal profession unfettered access to the Justice 1 Committee hearings, and hearing all manner of lies from those officials of the Law Society of Scotland and their supporters .. without even bothering to check the validity of their claims.

However, it seems there is another within the SNP who may not favour the victims of injustice .. and would it be a surprise to you if I said that individual is also, a member of the Law Society of Scotland, and (at least for now) former solicitor ?

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's current Justice spokesman, who may become the next Justice Minister after this week's election, is quoted in an article written by himself in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, as describing victims of injustice as "malcontents".

Mr MacAskill goes on in the "Journal' article, to demonstrate a significant lack of understanding of how people feel with regard to the way the Scottish legal system has been failing us for all these years .. and he certainly doesn't seem to understand how victims of the legal profession have had their lives ruined, and been tortured over the years by the likes of the Law Society of Scotland, just for making a complaint about how they were ripped off by their crooked lawyer or for that, by making a complaint against any crooked professional whose self regulatory body carries a lot of political influence and friends & colleagues within political circles ....

The article from the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland is reprinted here :

View from Holyrood
by Kenny MacAskill
Issues currently before the Scottish Parliament, including whether to raise the small claims limit

It’s strange being a contributor rather than a reader of this Journal. However, having retired from practice as a solicitor shortly after election I now find myself covering the Justice portfolio for the SNP. Rather than responding to what has happened in the legislature I am in the position of commenting on what is happening there.

Moving from lawyer to politician was like shifting from the frying pan into the fire; from a derided profession to a despised business. Absence makes the heart grow fonder but I see no reason why lawyers should apologise for the work they do. Whether court, conveyancing or commercial, the overwhelming majority do an excellent job for their clients, ensuring that important matters whether financial or personal are addressed and rights and obligations met. If lawyers didn’t exist then society would need to invent them. Politicians are lobbied incessantly by an organisation attacking crooked lawyers. As both a lawyer before and a politician now, I am yet to meet a member of the profession who does not seek or insist on action being taken against those that bring all into disrepute. Whatever a few malcontents may say, lawyers need not hang their heads in shame but can hold them high.

The Parliament has now convened in its new home. Irrespective of arguments over costs, there is an acceptance that it offers a second chance to deliver what the people of Scotland wanted when they voted for it. What it does need not be earth-shattering, but it must be an improvement and add tangible value to our lives. Such as, perhaps, the Tenements Act so recently approved. In itself it is hardly the legislation that turns the nation, never mind the earth, on its axis. However, it is of significant importance to many who reside in such accommodation. It is action that the profession has highlighted the need for over many years. In the absence of the Parliament, doubtless change would have required to await some Law Reform Act in decades to come. It isn’t big in the grand scheme of things but it does make a discernible difference. The profession needs the change and the politicians need to be seen to be effecting change.

Another piece of legislation that is meandering its way through the legislative procedure is the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill. This is a piece of legislation with worthy intent. After all who can possibly object to the protection of paramedics or firemen going about their business? That said, these matters can already be libelled as aggravated offences and sheriffs and procurators fiscal advised of the serious view taken of such incidents. The Executive has decided though to proceed with a specific offence, as it is entitled to. In that I will seek to support, not hinder. However, if such legislation continues unabated then consideration sooner rather than later needs to be given to codification. Legislators bring in many well intentioned laws but it’s the implementation that is the problem. Time will tell.

Finally, there appears to be something brewing on the financial limits for small claims and summary cause actions. Motions are now being lodged by individual MSPs calling for the threshold to be raised or personal injury excluded. I doubt that they are doing so without some hint or suggestion from the Executive that change is in the offing. Clearly, there has to be change. The limits are dated and eroded by inflation.

The warnings of the dangers of increasing them without considering the ramifications for personal injury cases in particular are correct. This should not simply be rushed through with a statutory instrument uprating the limits. There must be a proper debate on the nature of justice and access to it for smaller financial claims. Given that the cost of a sheriff, according to a parliamentary answer I received, now amounts to £159,000 per annum, do we want them deciding on whether someone’s plumbing work was poor, or whether I signalled or not as your car ran into the back of mine causing £200 worth of damage?

There must be access to justice but also at an affordable level – especially for minor claims. How courts are run, staffed and operated at that level needs to be decided. It must not be foisted on either politicians or the profession with a take it or leave it increase in thresholds through a statutory instrument. This is a debate that must take place not just in the chamber but in the profession.

Kenny MacAskill

However, by coincidence, Kenny MacAskill appears in the Herald newspaper today, and while it is reported he has no plans to alter any of the reforms as proposed in the LPLA Bill as passed, he does indicate the SNP, curiously, will be taking 'cautious line on the vexed issue of Scotland's shockingly low threshold for small claims'.

Why is that now ?

We all know the issue of the small claims limit has been held back by lobbying from the legal profession, particularly the firm of noted friends to the Labour Party - Solicitors Messrs Digby Brown, which has been covered before in the Herald and on my blog ...
Small claims limits in Scotland restricted to £750 for the last 18 years by the legal profession for their own interests.

We also all know the legal profession has tried to gag the media over revelations of serious corruption by the most senior officials of the Law Society of Scotland attempting to fiddle complaints against lawyer colleagues Law Society of Scotland claims success in gagging the press over Herald newspaper revelations of secret case memos

We also all know the legal profession - well, the Law Society of Scotland itself, threatened the Parliament & Executive with court action if the LPLA Bill was passed : Law Society of Scotland threatens Court challenge against Scottish Executive over LPLA legal reform Bill

We also all know the 'tesco law' which some (lawyers) don't want in Scotland, goes much further back than Clementi - and we have Sections 25-29 of the Law Reform Misc Provisions Act 1990 which were to open up the legal services market - but which were never implemented due to intense lobbying from the legal profession - and resistance from at least one serving Lord Advocate who in 1997 floated the idea of delay, and even repeal - which left lawyers & advocates retaining their monopoly over legal representation - and also - their power over saying who gets access to justice or the courts, and who does not.

Why should we then give these people any extra favours ? They, the legal profession, have threatened our very independence & democratically elected Parliament & Government, just to keep their right to cover up for their own colleagues in case of injustice after injustice .. for money, profit, power and influence.

So, members of the SNP if you win this week, why not just raise the small claims limit, and introduce some competition into the area of legal representation, so we can have justice for all, and not just justice for some.

As we all say, IT'S TIME ... so, IT'S TIME FOR INJUSTICE TO END, and if the SNP are true to their word, INJUSTICE IN SCOTLAND MUST END.

I ask you, Alex Salmond, if you become the next First Minister, to ensure that injustice in Scotland ends. You will have the power to do it, please use it.

After all, its our Scotland - all of us, and we all deserve and have the right to justice, and proper resolutions to those cases of injustice we have suffered for years, because of the constant 'oh lets not do anything for those people because the legal profession don't want us to'attitude of politicians at both Holyrood and Westminster ..


Herald article of today, with link :

SNP says ‘Tesco Law’ is not suited to Scottish society
PAUL ROGERSON, City Editor April 30 2007

SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill has said the party will not seek to introduce so-called "Tesco Law" north of the border, should it take power at Holyrood.

He was commenting on the party's policies towards the legal profession, which are broadly outlined in its election manifesto.

South of the border, of course, external investors such as supermarkets and banks are being allowed to own and run law firms for the first time. Practices will also be able to float and appoint non-lawyer partners, and English barristers and solicitors will be able to form partnerships.

"MacClementi", a working party report on Scotland's legal services market commissioned by the Scottish Executive and published early last year, was widely viewed as a damp squib in respect of opening up the market to greater competition. This has split the profession, with some eminent lawyers in favour of the new freedoms and others hostile.

Asked if he would seek to legislate to allow any or all of the freedoms enshrined under the general term "Tesco Law", MacAskill responded: "Further investigation is needed. Tesco Law is to be avoided as it would not suit Scottish society. However, some opportunity for successful Scottish firms to compete globally is appropriate."
Protection of those pursuing personal injury claims must be assured

MacAskill did give a commitment to implement fully reforms scrapping self-regulation enshrined in the recently passed Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, including the creation of an independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to address complaints of poor service by lawyers.

Some consumers have expressed concern about his commitment to that cause, since he himself is a qualified solicitor and was a partner in an Edinburgh law firm until 2000.

Asked if the SNP was committed to the full implementation of the bill as recently passed by parliament, however, MacAskill answered with a simple "yes". He said he has no plans to alter any aspect of the reforms. The SNP is taking a cautious line on the vexed issue of Scotland's shockingly low threshold for small claims. It is now nine years since it was recommended that the limit be lifted to £1500 from £750, but nothing has been done.

Scottish consumer groups continue to despair that for people wanting compensation from a supplier of shoddy goods or services without the expense of hiring a lawyer, the effective maximum is £750 - less than the cost of a plasma TV. That limit has been frozen for 19 years, whereas in England and Wales the small claims ceiling is £5000 and has been since 1999.

According to consumer organisation Which?, some despairing Scots who can do so, choose to pursue their cases in the English courts. Julia Clarke, public affairs officer for Which? in Scotland, has described the Executive's failure to act as a "charter for cowboys".

Personal injury claims are to be excluded from increases in the small claims threshold if and when the Executive does act. That much is clear.

Opponents of higher limits, however, which include trade unions, allege that more radical action would deny legal redress to thousands of Scots by taking them out of the legal aid net.

Others make dark allegations of protectionism, stressing that a rise would enable more people to go to court without having to pay a solicitor. Asked if the SNP will be increasing the small claims limit and, if so, to what level and when, MacAskill responded: "A root-and-branch reform is needed for a system unfit for 21st century society.

"The protection of those pursuing personal injury claims must be assured.

However, a faster and more streamlined system must be available for minor consumer and other small claims."

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