Showing posts with label lawyers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lawyers. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One Law for the rich, another for the poor

Both the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland have criticised the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Faculty of Advocates warned that the reform will create a system where those who can afford it receive the best legal representation, while those on legal aid will suffer.

People relying on legal aid would automatically be represented by an advocate in the Court of Session, but in the sheriff court that would only happen in “exceptional” cases, it claimed. The faculty said in a statement:
“The effect of these combined measures will, in the view of the faculty, fundamentally undermine both access to justice and equality of representation...The proposal would in effect deprive individuals on low and moderate incomes and SMEs [small and medium sized businesses] with serious cases, of the right and ability to instruct an advocate. This aspect of the proposal would favour wealthy and corporate litigants, who can afford to instruct counsel, over ordinary people and would create inequality in the justice system.” (our emphasis)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

law for the rich

Scotland's legal profession is still dominated by a privileged elite, according to the latest figures on admission to university law courses. Fewer that one in 12 entrants to law degrees at Scottish universities comes from a deprived background.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Legal Class Struggle

Defence lawyers are protesting against a change to the legal aid system contained in the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill, which will not only force anyone with a disposable income of more than £68 a week to contribute to the cost of their representation in summary cases, but will make lawyers responsible for collecting the money. "Due to the nature of criminal law, a huge number of the people you are dealing with have substance abuse problems, alcohol problems, mental health problems or learning difficulties,” says Cameron Tait, the president of the Edinburgh Bar Association “Trying to get these people to play ball, to turn up at court and to engage with the criminal justice system can be difficult enough, but when you are trying to get them to pay part of a fee they can’t afford, it’s going to cause an impossible situation. The underlying point is that the Scottish Government knows most of these contributions will not be paid and they want the profession to take the hit." Unlike in England, those contributions will not be refunded in the event of an acquittal.

Andrew Houston of McSporrans explained “We are concerned that people on relatively modest incomes are going to have to make that contribution in straitened economic times,” Houston says. “Will they think: ‘Instead of paying I’ll just plead guilty to get it over and done with’? Then they’d be forfeiting the right to challenge the prosecution.”

If defence lawyers decide it is no longer worth their while to take on summary legal aid cases, those accused of crimes will either have to defend themselves or be represented by the Public Defence ­Solicitors Office. The problem with that is the PDSO is run by the state, it’s not independent – so you would have the situation where the state was prosecuting and effectively the state was defending as well and that is not a fair and equal system of justice. Reports also suggest that more guilty pleas are proferred by PDSO clients.

14 firms in Scotland last year received more than £1m in legal aid payments and reports showing the country’s legal aid bill is higher than that of Italy, a country with a population of 61 million, it’s little wonder people find it difficult to believe they are motivated by anything other than concerns for their own profit margins. Scandals involving lawyers who have made “false” or “excessive” claims have helped perpetuate the image of legal aid as a giant racket. Law Society president Austin Lafferty accepted the industrial action was a “hard-sell”. “People don’t think of lawyers being any kind of deserving case,” he said. “But the moment you get a call from the police saying your 19-year-old son has been caught up in a fight and he’s going to be in a police cell until Monday, when he’ll be in court charged with breach of the peace, then we are one of the emergency services – then you want the best lawyer you can get.”

While defence lawyers are aware the public sees them as belonging to the wealthiest section of society, they claim the cuts mean that – when it comes to summary cases (which make up the bulk of their work) – they may be paid a lower hourly rate than a plumber. Defence lawyers receive a fixed rate of £485 in the sheriff court and £295 in the district court, which covers all preparation and court attendances up to and including the first half hour of any trial (their fee is halved if their client later changes his plea to guilty). Every time a case is adjourned they lose out because they are being paid a fixed fee. On the first day of the trial the lawyer is paid just £100 in the sheriff court. The daily rate rises if the trial runs to a second or third day but few do. The fee was frozen from 1998 to 2008 and then cut to the £485 figure. Few professions anywhere that has had a pay freeze for a decade followed by a pay cut.

Cameron Tait said  “There are proposals to shut down sheriff courts around the country, so people in rural areas will have to travel far to get to court, the Procurator Fiscal’s office is understaffed and underfinanced – ­justice is in crisis.”
Oliver Adair, the Law Society’s Legal Aid convener says the non-payment of legal aid contributions will disproportionately affect rural firms which are already operating on tight profit margins and don’t have the volume of the business to make up for any loss of revenue. If those firms go to the wall, people in rural areas will find it more difficult to find representation.

Not only have they been asked to stomach a succession of cuts but they are being ignored on matters of fundamental importance, such as whether or not the need for corroboration – the historic requirement for two separate sources of evidence to secure a conviction – should be scrapped.

Tait believes if lawyers don’t take a stand now, the weakest people will suffer most. “We need to protect the independent criminal bar because we are the safety net for the most vulnerable people in society – people who can’t speak up for themselves, people who can’t represent themselves,” he says. “That’s such an important part of the criminal justice and such an important part of democracy as a whole – and it’s being eroded.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Even the lawyers are striking

Lawyers in Edinburgh caused chaos in a court as they staged a walkout in a dispute over changes to the legal aid system.

Anyone with more than £68 of disposable income each week or with £750 in the bank will be expected to pay all or part of the cost of their defence in court under the plans, designed to cut £3.9 million a year from Scotland's legal aid bill. Solicitors say the move will risk miscarriages of justice and deny access to legal representation for all.

Edinburgh Bar Association and Glasgow Bar Association have already voted to take industrial action over the issue and in the first round of action, members at Edinburgh Sheriff Court walked out of the custody court at 11.45am yesterday and protested outside.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

one law for the rich ...

The millionaire owner of the House of Bruar retail complex escaped a driving ban and was allowed to stay on the road despite now having 14 points on his licence after persuading a court it would cause him exceptional hardship. Birkbeck claimed he would be forced to sack staff at the shopping complex if he was banned from the road as no-one else in the company was capable of buying the goods on display at the upmarket shopping centre. He was fined £300.

Birkbeck was driving a £70,000, 3.6 litre Range Rover Vogue TDV8 when he was detected by police speeding at 90mph on the M90 motorway.

“If he is disqualified for six months there will be a large number of redundancies at House of Bruar...He would have no option but to let people go – breadwinners who live in the local area." Solicitor David McKie, defending, said.

Actually, to Socialist Courier, that sounds very much like blackmail.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not legal eagles but legal vultures

Two solicitors who took millions of pounds from compensation payouts given to sick miners have been struck off.
The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal heard the men acted "unacceptably" by charging clients even though the government was paying their fees.
Beresford, 58, said last year to be Britain's highest-earning solicitor, and Smith, 52, made millions of pounds from personal injury claims for miners under the government's coal health compensation scheme. Tribunal chairman David Leverton said: "If ever there was a group of persons who needed the full care and attention from solicitors, it was these miners. Mr Beresford described himself as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, his attitude allowed himself and Mr Smith to put commercial goals before his clients' best interests."
The lawyers were also accused of not giving adequate advice and entering into contingency fee deals against their clients' best interests.The tribunal heard that up to 30% of a miner's damages could be deducted by Beresfords. In one case, the firm deducted a "success fee" from the widow of a miner, leaving her with a total payout of just £217.73, the tribunal heard.
Beresford and Smith's joint earnings went from more than £182,000 in 2000 to £23,273,256 in 2006.
Perhaps , Socialist Courier wouldn't go as far as Shakespeare's "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" but we are sorely tempted .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crime Pays for Some

A junior barrister was handed more than £1 million in legal aid last year, it was revealed yesterday. Balbir Singh, head of Birmingham’s Equity Chambers, was paid £1,116,000 in 2005/06.

The second-highest paid was Nigel Lithman, QC, who received £978,000 in legal aid, followed by John C. Rees, QC, with £947,000.

Four of the 10 top-earning criminal barristers were from the same chambers: 2 Bedford Row in London. Mr Lithman, William Clegg, QC, Jim Sturman, QC and Howard Godfrey, QC had a combined pay-out of £3.3 million.

Tuckers Solicitors was the highest paid criminal firm, receiving £8.5 million in the year from the legal aid purse. They were followed by Irwin Mitchell (£5.3 million) and Burton Copeland (£5 million).

In a separate list of community legal service firms - carrying out non-criminal work - the highest paid was Duncan Lewis Solicitors with just under £7 million, followed by Irwin Mitchell with £5.2 million.

The law is an instrument of the owning class, that pretends to be for everyone, but is only for the rich. It's an instrument of class domination.

Shakespeare's Henry VI — “First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers” - Perhaps , on reflection that maybe a sanction a little bit too severe .