Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scottish Lawyers see their business revenue go down as new Public Defender plan takes shape, lawyers keen to protect vested interest

Dear All

We are in a time of change in Scotland has institutions adjust to the new realities of austerity.

Where some see nightmares with threats to the old orders, I see opportunity.

Scotland needs a Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO).

Why we haven’t had one before is a disgrace.

Unsurprisingly the biggest bar association is unhappy and has accused legal aid authorities of risking miscarriages of justice.

Public Defenders isn’t nothing new, as most people who watch American drama shows know, but the idea has been slow to take route here.

Scottish Lawyers want keep their cartel a closed shop.

Leading criminal lawyers say they are deeply concerned at plans to hand thousands of extra cases to solicitors employed by the state.

Their argument in part is that public defenders were around 50% more likely than their private rivals to enter an early guilty plea for their clients.

However, it should be pointed out that the Public Defender can only enter a guilty plea if the client agrees.

And ending a guilty plea earlier can lead to a reduction in sentence under Section 196 (1) of the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995.

So, delaying an early plea of guilty can ram up the accused sentence but also put more money in the pockets of his/her lawyer.

The Scottish Government and quango Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab) are trying to expand the PDSO.

I see no problem with this provided that the Public Defender’s interests are solely concerned with the directions given to them by the client.

Anything less undermines the entire system of justice, we can’t have a situation were the Public Defender is an unofficial part of the Fiscal Service.

The Scottish Government needs to ensure by law if need be protection for those using the Public Defender Service.

You can understand the legal profession position, money is getting taken away from them, for example, Slab is transferring all out-of-hours duty calls at Glasgow Sheriff Court from its usual rota of private solicitors to its team of just two public defenders in the city.

Ken Waddell, GBA president, said:

“The political decision to further roll out and extend the use of the PDSO is an expansion of a, thus far, expensive and inefficient use of taxpayers’ money. Statistics show PDSO clients plead guilty from custody 63% of the time. The clients of independent private firms appearing from custody plead guilty 41% of the time. The Government now propose increasing to 35% (from less than 4%) the duty allocation to the PDSO. The budget cut assumptions anticipate, accordingly, a swift growth in the rate of guilty pleas. GBA has genuine concerns that such a significant movement in the number of guilty pleas tendered at custody appearances may yet lead to an associated significant increase in miscarriages of justice.”

The Slab spokesman gave a possible explanation for why private lawyers in Glasgow lodge guilty pleas for just 27% of their clients from custody, compared with 51% for public defenders.

He said:

“Where a private duty solicitor makes a plea of guilty at the pleading diet, they are paid £70. If the private duty solicitor makes a plea of not guilty, they will be paid £515.”

A difference of £445!

The Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO) needs to be expanded right across the whole of Scotland.

But with safeguards in place!

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University


Anonymous said...

Hello George. Look out for the piece by the Director of the PDSO (a GU graduate) that should be in the Herald on Monday.

Liverpool Lawyers said...

Good discolser of account.......Family Law Liverpool