Tuesday 14 December 2010

Scotland's Justice Secretary must back Scottish Consumers over unfair bank charges says MSP

Consumers in Scotland are being denied justice against UK banks according to the MSP for Glasgow Ballieston, Margaret Curran, who is the local constituency MSP and MP for GLC's client Jennifer Sharp. 

Ms Sharp has been refused legal aid by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to pursue her claim for a refund of unfair bank charges against the Bank of Scotland plc.  Labour MSP and MP Margaret Curran has issued the following statement:-

" 'Scotland’s Justice Secretary has refused to back Scottish consumers who are challenging unfair and excessive bank charges. The Justice Secretary needs to decide whose side he’s on. Scotland’s consumers or the banks? Scottish consumers are being routinely denied access to justice on this issue and Kenny MacAskill must break his silence and support hardworking Scots who’ve been treated unfairly by the banks'.

Last year there were approximately 120,000 Scottish households who had complained about excessive overdraft charges. The banks have since rejected their complaints and now there is effectively no redress through the Scottish courts on this issue.

In July, Kenny MacAskill claimed Scottish consumers have no problem in trying to recover overdraft charges in our courts: 'People are still able to raise bank charge cases in the small-claims court – this ruling does nothing to stop that. We totally support the right of people to bring such actions and the courts will decide each case on its own merits.'

However, the experience of Scots tells a very different and worrying story. Kenny MacAskill has displayed nothing but arrogance, and incompetence in failing to do anything whatsoever to help financially vulnerable Scots at least be able to access justice – with at least 120,000 Scottish households standing to benefit from action on this issue.

Last week the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) refused to grant civil legal aid for citizens on low income/benefits to pursue court actions for a refund of unfair bank charges.  In the cases of Sharp v. Bank of Scotland plc and Reid v. Clydesdale Bank plc SLAB refused legal aid because they said the value of the sums sued were too small.

Applying a ‘cost/benefit analysis’ test, SLAB said someone who was able to privately fund litigation would not risk spending their own money to pursue a claim under £3,000. Of course, this was the reason the small claims system was set up with restricted expenses.

However, bank charges cases in Scotland have been removed from the small claims system by the courts on the motion of UK banks (a tactic used in other parts of the UK too). Accordingly, as matters stand Scotland’s legal aid and civil court system have failed Scottish consumers who want to try and reclaim their overdraft charges.

Scotland’s Justice Minister needs to wake up from his slumber on this issue and take urgent action".


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