What do you call a dozen Lawyers at the bottom of the Atlantic, a good start! Can you really imagine a world without Lawyers? Ah, Utopia I hear you sing. Is that really the way the Scottish Legal system is heading. If Messrs McQueen (CEO, Scottish Court Service) MacAskill (SNP, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Scottish Government) and Gill (The Right Honourable the Lord Gill President of the Court of Session/Lord Justice General of Scotland) have anything to do in the equation the answer may inevitably be a resounding YES.
Was Eric McQueen’s (Chief Executive, Scottish Court Service) somewhat recent disclosed revelations in front of Holyrood’s Justice Committee (May 2013) about potentially replacing our long, well established historical legal system with a Tesco/Subway style legal system, sorry I of course mean “Justice Centres” an SCS faux pa, or was it a deliberate undertaking to reveal the glimmering future of our Scottish legal system.
And with Lord Gill’s fairly robust views on the petty piece meal changes within the Scottish Civil Courts over the last 30, or so years and his Summary Justice Reform review at the fringe of the horizon, the legal landscape, in which most are quite comfortable, will be lost forever. Further, with the constant upheaval of the Scottish Criminals courts due to the ad hoc striking of our Solicitors, due to Mr MacAskill’s near compression of the Legal Aid budget, it is really no surprise that Solicitors are beginning to call time on their careers.
However, all is not lost. Please enter the new streamlined breed of lawyer – the self defender. Yes, the builder, baker and candlestick maker will be throwing down their trowels, yeast and wax and picking up their library loaned, dog-eared 6th edition Renton and Brown Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act and quoting some spurious legislative measure like the Act of Union and the Magna Carta. All is well and all is good. No not really…..
The reality is that such a breed of Lawyer will no doubt catapult the Scottish Legal system Criminal/Civil/Employment Tribunals into complete turmoil. Take for example the current state of affairs within the Scottish Criminal courts. When a Summary prosecution case calls at the preliminary hearing, commonly known as the pleading diet and the party litigant (euphemistically known as the Accused), or if legally represented, tenders a plea of not guilty there is approximately 20 -22 weeks prior to the next calling of the case (usually the intermediate diet) with a further 4 weeks thereafter for the diet of Trial. That means an Accused has to wait 6 months before his case is heard, which probably means that the case will have already reached the first anniversary of the alleged commission of the offence. Then, when they do finally reach the diet of Trial it is discovered that the corroborating witness (watch this space) usually a police officer has been excused by the Procurator Fiscals office, yes the body meant to be prosecuting, because he has a little family holiday to Disney World Florida which has been booked since the 2nd week after the case called 5 months 2 weeks prior. Surely, this can’t really be the fault of the self defender can it? Well, in a word, Yes….!
The reason and actuality for this is the Accused is in point of fact guilty of the offence, but just because he has cunningly identified that the eagle-eyed COPFS (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscals Service) has misspelled his name Smyth, instead of Smith he is on it like a tramp on chips. Our new breed of lawyer fully believes this nugget of indiscretion by the PFs has offered him a water tight legal defence – eh no. Unfortunately, this example is an all too common affair in our courts. Whether, it is the Accused in the criminal environment who has read a couple of books, which usually relate to a different jurisdiction, or different country no less; the Defender in civil proceedings who has the sitting Sheriff half way up the wall with despair as he simply refuses to keep mum; or the party litigant in Employment Tribunal hearing proceedings who has lodged an application which at best is nothing other than frivolous and vexatious, at worst a load of twaddle. Thus, the new breed of legal mind will do nothing but bring the current system to its knees with increasing delays, adjournments and generally frustrating the daily operations of our beautiful legal framework.
Alas not all is lost. Generally speaking the majority of these new legal brains simply require a little steer, a gentle direction. As much as Solicitors can extract the majority of information from their client, not all relevant information comes to the fore. The maxim of “an individual who represents himself, has a fool for a client!” in reality no longer exists. If the party litigant can surf the net, pick up on blogs, ascertain information from various sources they should quite easily be in a position to successfully manage their own case/application with relative ease. What they lack in advocacy can quite easily be advanced and developed with some assistance.
Michael Wright, CEO, your court