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Faculty concerns over court reforms. Fears over access to justice.

News - date posted 01/03/2013

Faculty concerns over court reforms. Fears over access to justice.

Richard Keen QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, has raised concerns over equal access to justice following publication of a Scottish Government consultation on reform of Scotland's courts.

"Whilst many aspects of the proposed changes are welcome, essential, and overdue, other key proposals of the package of reforms proposed by the Scottish Government raise significant concerns for the delivery of justice in Scotland," said Mr Keen.

"Our concern, as lawyers and as citizens, is that those most in need of assistance should be able to secure equality of access and representation. That is overwhelmingly in the public interest.

"We consider the proposals contradict that principle in two key respects.

"First, the proposal to remove cases from the Court of Session of a value less than 150,000 is flawed. At present, cases worth more than 5,000 can be raised in the Court of Session.

"A rise to 150,000 represents an increase of 3000%. That, on any view, is extreme and unwarranted. By way of useful comparison, the equivalent figure in Northern Ireland is 15,000, and in England 50,000.

"Secondly, the proposal to deprive people of the automatic right to Counsel for cases worth up to 150,000 will guarantee inequality of representation. It is in the public interest that the historic right to Counsel should be preserved.

"People pursuing cases of great importance to them, and their families, will now be effectively deprived of the previously automatic choice of instructing an Advocate. By contrast, I have no doubt that wealthy companies, big business or rich individuals will continue to choose to pay for the particular expertise of Advocates in fighting those cases. That creates a blatant inequality and runs entirely counter to the Scottish tradition of access to equal representation in our courts.

"We do, however, welcome the commitment from the Scottish Government that this is a genuine consultation process, and not the announcement of a final position.

"We will therefore engage in that consultation fully and in good faith. The Faculty is committed to working with the Scottish Government to achieve our shared goal of creating a system of civil justice for the people of Scotland which protects access to justice for all, and equality of representation before our courts."

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