Law Society of Scotland is unloved by GBA over legal aid money row, however the Society's complaints fixing powers are still acceptable. THE Glasgow Bar Association, the representative group of many solicitors & law firms on the west coast of Scotland is reported to be “actively considering a court challenge” against the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which requires every solicitor in Scotland be a member of the legal profession’s regulator & governing body, the Law Society of Scotland (yawn, GBA to malky the Law Society over money worries ? not again ! – Ed)
Friday 18 February 2011’s Herald newspaper featured an exclusive report on the latest arguments between the GBA & the Law Society of Scotland over cuts in legal aid fees for cases that go before stipendiary magistrates. Solicitors who are members of the GBA feel the Law Society did not campaign enough against the cuts, which solicitors and legal observers feel may interfere with individuals’ access to justice, where levels of legal aid may make it unprofitable or unworkable for solicitors to properly represent their clients.
The Herald’s report came hot on the heels of reports on certain online legal websites earlier this week, such as “The Firm”, who, as we reported on Thursday, claimed a former GBA President, John McGovern had accused the Law Society of Scotland of having a “fundamentally dishonest at its core” – something many inside & outside the legal profession may well agree with, given the accumulation of evidence over the years the Law Society fails to represent either the profession or clients best interests.
However, in The Herald’s coverage, no such claim was reported to have been made by Mr McGovern against the Law Society, and the newspaper further reported a bar association source said: “We have no problem with the Law Society’s regulatory role – we just don’t think it should represent us as well.” (Ah, so its really a case of the GBA having their cake and being able to eat it too – Ed)
The GBA may want to consider a cheaper & more effective alternative to a-surely-to-fail court action against the Law Society, by throwing in their lot with a petition, Petition PE1388, filed at the Scottish Parliament asking for the repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, an issue which has been reported by one of our very own law journalists, Peter Cherbi, on his “Diary of Injustice in Scotland” law blog : HERE
Report from the Herald follows :
David Leask Investigations Reporter
18 Feb 2011
REBEL lawyers are plotting to end the grip that the governing body for all Scottish solicitors has on their profession.
The Glasgow Bar Association (GBA), which describes itself as the voice of the legal profession in the west of the country, is actively considering a court challenge to laws that require every solicitor in Scotland to be a member of the Edinburgh-based Law Society of Scotland.
GBA members have been at loggerheads with the society and its leadership for months and will focus on whether they are being denied the “human right” to choose who represents them in negotiations.
The current rules, which insist the society both represents and regulates all lawyers in Scotland, have been enshrined in Scots Law since 1980.
The latest bone of contention is over cuts in legal aid fees for cases that go before stipendiary magistrates.
Glasgow is the only place in Scotland with such magistrates – so city solicitors felt the cuts, imposed by the Scottish Government, unfairly targeted them.
Last week senior Glasgow solicitors came to the conclusions that the cuts to “stip mags” – as the Glasgow judges are called – had been suggested by Law Society negotiators during talks. That sparked fury.
A bar association source said: “We have no problem with the Law Society’s regulatory role – we just don’t think it should represent us as well.”
David O’Hagan, a former president of the GBA, said: “The credibility of the Law Society as a representative body is now at rock bottom for many Glasgow solicitors.
“The GBA are now actively looking at a legal challenge to end compulsory membership of the society and with a view to setting up their own independent representative body for its members.”
Yesterday it emerged that a senior Glasgow lawyer, John McGovern, another former GBA president, had stood down from the Law Society’s Council, a “parliament” of 52 Scottish lawyers. Mr McGovern is understood to have been deeply unhappy with the society’s role in negotiating legal aid fees.
Mr O’Hagan has kept his seat on the council.
The society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack, yesterday stressed most of the body’s members were happy with its unusual dual rule as both regulator and representative. She cited a referendum carried out last year that brought a 73% majority in favour of the status quo.
She said: “The majority of solicitors in Scotland recognised that they benefit from keeping the dual roles of regulation and representation together.
“The very essence of what it is to be a profession is bound by its ethics and principles as well as any common knowledge and skills.”
Ms Jack also defended the society’s negotiating stances with the Scottish Government. Ministers, who have been trying to slash the legal aid budget, initially came up with a plan to do so by expanding the tiny band of public defenders who work in Scottish courts.
That horrified many private lawyers, who have had their own war of words with the Public Defence Solicitors’ Office or PDSO, as revealed in The Herald. It also upset the Law Society, which came up with its own set of alternative cuts, including a drop in “stip mags” fees.
Ms Jack explained: “On the cuts to the criminal legal aid budget, the proposals put forward by the Scottish Government on a large expansion of the PDSO were seen as unacceptable by the society and the profession. The society asked for a wide range of scenarios to be costed as an alternative way of saving £4.5 million, which would have been achieved by expanding the PDSO.
“This included cuts to the core fees in summary legal aid cases and stipendiary court fees and greater use of the existing PDSO offices.
“The position on the cuts was discussed and backed by the Council of the Law Society last month.
“The council asked that further representations be made to the Scottish Government on the stipendiary fee, which was done. The Scottish Government has since agreed to improve on their original proposal the amount paid to solicitors on this.”