Your editorial comment
(20 November) that “disrupting courts in the name of the justice system is not the right way for solicitors to make their case” offers neither an alternative strategy nor an examination as to how Scotland’s solicitors have arrived at a position where industrial action was deemed appropriate.
Defence solicitors absolutely recognise that all professions have to cut their cloth in light of the Westminster settlement and economic inertia.
It should equally be acknowledged that £30 million of the latest Legal Aid bill is accounted for by VAT, which increased by 2.5 per cent in January 2011, and that civil Legal Aid fees have increased 36 per cent in five years; the fixed fee for summary criminal cases (to which the government now wishes people on very modest incomes to contribute) was £500 in 1999; it is now £485.
Defence lawyers have absorbed cuts (actual and “in real terms”) for a significant period beyond the downturn of the past five years.
So far as the industrial action is concerned, it was embarked upon with the utmost reluctance. You rightly point out that we have strongly held views which are replicated nationwide.
The Law Society has engaged in dialogue with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
Evidence presented to the justice committee appeared to persuade its cross-party membership of the merits of amending the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill to reflect valid concerns about the level and collection of Legal Aid contributions – yet the committee departed from that position when it came to the Stage 2 vote.
It was that volte face, together with the justice minister’s apparent refusal to budge on these specific issues, which prompted an overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action.
That said, we are encouraged that the justice minister has expressed a willingness to discuss matters with our representatives.
But rest assured, unless our concerns are met in deeds and not words, we shall continue to vent our fears about access to justice in the most tangible fashion, as displayed at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday.
lawyers operate in private trading companies in the same way as any other commercial enterprises. It is long overdue that they should collect part of their fees from their clients, like any other professional group. For too long they’ve been able to dip their hands in the pockets of working-class taxpayers like myself to enjoy the riches of life.
They have put their case very well, as one would expect. They are actually striking for our benefit, if they are to be believed. This is nonsense, of course – pure lawyer-babble to get us on-side.
It is time that the ever-rising public legal bill was curbed and the justice minister deserves to be congratulated in doing this. Making the clients pay (and, overwhelmingly, they are the same group of criminals being recycled) might teach them the value of money, for once.
These people get told by do-gooders how badly society treats them while they live on all kinds of state hand-outs, all take and no give, then bite the hands that over-feeds them (not much different from lawyers when you think about it).
The simple solution is to have a team of public defenders on a fixed salary. If the client can afford a lawyer, he or she pays directly; if not he or she gets an allocated duty lawyer.
That will leave the private practitioners to go ambulance chasing.
Thomas R Burgess
St Catherine’s Square
The photograph that accompanied your report about lawyers on strike featured many placards reflecting the concerns of the legal fraternity following the changes to criminal Legal Aid stipulated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Government.
“Access to justice” and “What price justice?” placards dominated the photograph. Anecdotal evidence from clients past and present suggests that the enlightened wing of the Scottish legal fraternity is not content with merely facilitating access to justice in the conventional manner.
The deep, dark recession and the climate of Gothic austerity persuaded many of Scotland’s free-thinking lawyers to innovate regarding the services they provide.
They now offer two-for-one services including nimble numptitude and chaotic preparation; untenable advice and baseless arrogance; peerless pomposity and breathtaking ineptitude; advanced incompetence and tepid advocacy; Dad’s Army representation and fearsome fees.
Hitherto, each of these professional services were separately costed and clients were billed accordingly. Clearly, the “price of justice” is going down.
Rumour has it that even better offers are in the pipeline.