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.

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