Thursday 30 September 2010

Factor cases ‘swamp courts’

The Evening Times reports today: Courts are being “swamped” by cases of property factors taking legal action against home owners, the Scottish Parliament heard. And two Glasgow MSPs revealed they have been inundated with complaints about factor disputes.  Maryhill MSP Patricia Ferguson and lawyer Mike Dailly, of Govan Law Centre, told the Local Government Committee how big a problem disputes with factors had become and that a new law was essential.

Ms Ferguson’s Property Factors Bill would set up a compulsory registration scheme with a set of standards designed to root out rogue factors. It would also provide an independent dispute resolution system to prevent costly court cases. Ms Ferguson said problems with factors has become her biggest caseload, prompting the Bill. She said: “Not a day goes by without someone from across Scotland contacting me for advice. Not one day.”

A series of Evening Times investigations published over the last two years have also uncovered a catalogue of complaints and shocking cases of overcharging and poor work. Our reports were passed to the committee for it to consider. Mr Dailly said that as well as contacting politicians the courts were under pressure and people put into debt, which could be avoided. He said: “The reason Govan Law Centre got involved was because we were seeing what is happening day in, day out. Sheriff courts are swamped with property factors raising actions for payments. “A lot have added on costs, expenses are attached, and I have seen many people sequestrated by factors.”

Glasgow SNP MSP Bob Doris also confirmed the frequency of complaints. He said: “I am not short on the number of these cases I have on a weekly basis from people in factoring disputes.” Ms Ferguson said: There are property factors who threaten court action, but never see it through. Yet the charges are still added to bills.That is not acceptable.” It was the final session of evidence to the committee and it will now consider it before submitting it for the Bill.

GLC's evidence can be seen on the Scottish Parliament's Holyrood TV here (opens as video); and the Bill's Committee Page is here.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Why we believe 'There is a Better Way ...'

Here, our Principal Solicitor explains why we support the 'Better Way' campaign, led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). The STUC's position is that there is an economic crisis in the UK – a crisis of high unemployment and stagnant growth; and not, as the UK Government insists, a crisis of the public finances. The Better Way campaign provides an alternative economic strategy to unprecedented cuts to welfare and public sector funding in Scotland and the UK.


Friday 17 September 2010

Legal Personality of the Year award for GLC's Principal Solicitor & Ian Smart

GLC's Principal Solicitor has been honoured at the 2010 Law Awards of Scotland. The prestegious Legal Personality of the Year award went jointly to GLC's Mike Dailly, and past President of the Law Society of Scotland, Ian Smart. Last night, awards host Richard Draycott explained the thinking behind the decision of the Judges as follows:

"Surely nobody would argue with the proposition that we have had an unprecedented 12 months in the history of the Scottish legal profession. It has been a year of argument for the hearts and minds - a battle for the very soul - of the Scottish solicitors’ profession. The Law Award judges were unanimous that it would be disingenuous – perverse even - to look beyond the furore over ABS to find the Legal Personality of the Year".

"The publication of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill in late 2009 reignited a debate that had been dormant since the Law Society’s 2008 AGM. What followed was months of passionate argument – evidence to the Justice Committee, blogs, press releases, newspaper reports, journal articles, road-shows – the whole interspersed with what to many outsiders seemed a baffling succession of Law Society general meetings, alleged general meetings and referenda, with outcomes no more comprehensible than the proceedings themselves. Solicitors truly living up to their reputation for obfuscation".

 "The battle lines were drawn between: on the one hand, those urging regulatory change and ABS as commercial and practical necessities for Scottish solicitors to remain competitive and seize the opportunities of globalisation and technology, and on the other, those urging caution and the maintenance of the traditional model of independence as both more in keeping with Scottish legal values and a better competitive bet in the long-term".

"Both sides had one thing in common: both saw themselves as the true defenders of the values, traditions and ambitions of Scottish solicitors. Both sides also had in common some of the most articulate, and entertainingly trenchant, debaters in the profession today. Two personalities from opposite sides of the argument stand out amidst the swirling smoke and gun fire of the battlefield".

"Both have in common tenacity and stamina. Both can be argumentative and combative. Both have a tendency to hyperbole. Both have the common touch. Both have a sense of humour. Both have engaged us. Both have entertained us. Both share the distinction of debating the future of the Scottish legal profession from the same sofa on national television".

"One found himself cast as what he would see as the improbable advocate of the establishment position and master of political spin. One found himself cast as the rebel outsider, master of the campaigning blog. One is Ian Smart, past President of the Law Society of Scotland. The other is Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor of Govan Law Centre.  The Judges are unanimous in awarding the Legal Personality of the Year award jointly to Ian Smart and Mike Dailly".


Wednesday 15 September 2010

Unlawful private sector tenancy charges in Scotland

GLC's contribution to BBC Newsnight Scotland's story on unlawful tenancy fees (or 'premiums') charged by private sector landlords and letting agents in Scotland is available to watch on BBC iPlayer here (18 min into the show).  For more information on how to challenge the charges see GLC's online information here.

Friday 10 September 2010

Chancellor's further £4bn benefits cuts 'ruthless and reckless'

GLC believes that the announcement today of an extra £4bn of social security cuts by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in addition to the £11bn of benefit cuts announced in June, is ruthless and reckless behaviour by the UK Coalition Government to vulnerable citizens.  Describing unemployment as a 'life-style choice', as Mr Osborne has chosen to do, is the classic language of scapegoating, and GLC believes that such an approach is particulary unhelpful when the future of 10,000 shipbuilding and related jobs in Govan, Rosyth and wider Scotland have been threatened by the UK Government's uncertainty over the construction of the Royal Navy's carrier programme.

GLC fully supports the 'Better Way' campaign led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).  The STUC's position is that there is an economic crisis in the UK – a crisis of high unemployment and stagnant growth; and not, as the Government insists, a crisis of the public finances. The Better Way campaign argues that the UK Government has systematically distorted and exaggerated problems with the public finances.

The STUC argues that the UK was never in danger of becoming the next Greece. The rising deficit reflected the collapse in tax revenues and rising cost of unemployment benefits during the recession. It was not caused by out of control public spending. History does not support the Government's assertion that cuts will be good for growth and jobs. But history does support the STUC’s belief that deep and premature cuts will lead to persistently high unemployment. There is a Better Way! (visit the site to find out more).

Thursday 9 September 2010

Property firm tries to evade new Bill

The Herald reports that a controversial property management firm has tried to exclude itself from a Bill to impose standards on property factors.  Glasgow Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson’s Property Factors Bill began its first parliamentary stage yesterday, with factors giving evidence to the Scottish Local Government Committee.

Glasgow-based Greenbelt Group Ltd, which charges owners for land management in developments, claimed it would not be covered in the bill because it is a landowner. The Bill would introduce a compulsory register of property managers to root out rogue factors, and also set up a dispute resolution process to give homeowners right to redress.

Yesterday, Greenbelt’s managing director Alex Middleton was told by MSPs his company was effectively doing the same job as a property factor, and Ms Ferguson said the Bill would cover Greenbelt.  Mr Middleton said: “The Bill recognised the need for registration, regulation and resolution. Greenbelt is not a property factor so we don’t feel it applies to us.” Greenbelt owns the land around developments and charges the owners a management fee, billing owners for maintenance.

Conservative MSP David McLetchie said Greenbelt served the same purpose s other factors. He said: “Ultimately, it is no different if land was owned in common and they paid a factor. You bill them for the same services. The issue is not about ownership, but services and costs associated with that.” Ms Ferguson said the Bill was drafted to ensure it also included Greenbelt.

The Property Factors (Scotland) Bill, drafted by Govan Law Centre, expressly includes companies, such as Greenbelt, as the definition of 'property factor' in section 2(1)(c) includes: "a person who owns and manages or maintains land which is available for use by the owners of any adjoining or neighbouring residential properties (but only where the owners of those properties are required by the terms of the title deeds relating to the properties to pay for the cost of the management or maintenance of that land)".

Tuesday 7 September 2010

New code will help parents of children with additional support needs

The Herald reports that parents of children who need extra help in school are now in a better position to demand it, but many councils don’t fully understand the duties imposed on them by a new Government code, according to legal experts. Last month the Scottish Government published a code of practice on supporting children’s learning, which clarifies laws passed in 2005 and updated last year.

Iain Nisbet, of Glasgow’s Govan Law Centre, says the guidance will give parents new rights to take councils to tribunals or courts if their children’s needs are not met. “The code of practice will have a subtle but significant impact,” he said. “We already have duties incumbent on schools, but this gives it a standing in law that previous policies didn’t have.”

The code makes it clear that parents of children with learning disabilities, for instance, can expect schools to help plan what happens when their child leaves school, no less than a year before it happens.

“Transitions to post-school places are supposed to begin not more than 12 months before the child is due to leave school. Such transitions are a really big problem and are still not being done very well,” Mr Nisbet said. “If there is no plan in place, parents will be entitled to ask – why not? And they will have a new right to challenge transitions that aren’t done well.”

The code also clarifies the duty of local authorities to consider the additional needs of children in care, and the right of parents of any child to ask for an assessment of any special needs they may have.  The full story is available in The Herald here.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Call for radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill

The new Access to Justice Committee (AJC) of the Law Society of Scotland is calling upon members of the Scottish Parliament to support the introduction of a radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill as a top priority in the next session of the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

The AJC agreed at its first meeting in Glasgow yesterday to produce, as a matter of urgency, a detailed framework for a comprehensive and far-reaching Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill, which could immediately address a number of major deficiencies in accessing Scotland's systems of civil and criminal justice.

The Committee also agreed to identify, tackle and address the emerging risks to access to justice in Scotland which would flow from the announced cuts to welfare benefit spending by the UK Government, the forthcoming public sector cuts by the Scottish Government, and from the forthcoming decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of Cadder v. Her Majesty's Advocate.

The Committee Convener Mike Dailly said:
"Access to civil or criminal justice in Scotland is a constitutional and human right. We believe that Scotland's legal system is a public service, not a commodity, which should deliver that right in the same way that schools deliver education, or the NHS delivers a health service. The courts must therefore be free at the point of use and should never be used as a means of generating income for the state"

"Accordingly, we believe that citizens in Scotland are entitled to access the appropriate legal advice, assistance, and representation, whenever their liberty, life, wellbeing, children, home, work, environment, and community are significantly threatened. We hold these principles to be self-evident".

"We have resolved to identify the key components for a wide ranging, and comprehensive Access to Justice Bill in Scotland, capable of meeting the needs of Scotland's people, its communities, and its legal system in the 21st Century".

"We would urge all MSPs and all Scottish political parties to embrace the need for a radical Access to Justice (Scotland) Bill in the next Parliamentary session, and to have regard to our analysis of the emerging risks to access to justice in Scotland in light of UK and Scottish Government welfare benefit and public sector cuts".

Committee Membership: in addition to the Committee Convener, the legal practitioner members are Patrick McGuire, solicitor advocate with Thompsons, whose career has been seeking compensation for victims of accidents, injury and disease; John McGovern, solicitor advocate with McGovern Solicitors and current President of the Glasgow Bar Association; Robert Sutherland, advocate and convener of the Scottish Legal Action Group; and Frances McCartney, solicitor and board member of the Environmental Law Centre Scotland. The lay members are Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress; Danny Phillips, board member of Child Poverty Action Group; Geraldine Cotter, manager of Money Matters Advice Centre; Bob Hay of Glasgow University Student Representative Council, who has worked with a range of voluntary agencies and organisations on a consultancy basis; and Phyllis Craig, a senior welfare rights officer at Clydeside Action on Asbestos. Full biographical details of members are available here.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Law Society of Scotland's new Access to Justice Committee to meet

The Law Society of Scotland's new Access to Justice Committee meets tomorrow for the first time (Thursday, 2 September 2010) in Glasgow. 

Committee Convener, Mike Dailly said:  "It's a great honour to have been appointed by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland to convene its new Access to Justice Committee.  We've brought together an outstanding group of Scottish access to justice champions, which includes solicitors, solicitor-advocates, advocates, anti-poverty and social justice campaigners, trade unionists, welfare rights specialists, and experts in rights based advocacy and community empowerment.

"This is a committee of the 'coalface', members with direct experience of the myriad of access to justice problems that many citizens face every day in Scotland. We're going to take a fresh approach. Our job is to identify and demand radical improvements so that Scotland's system of civil and criminal justice is fit for its people, its communities, and the 21st Century".