It is a measure of Austin Lafferty’s current tenure that he is a man who can trade reasoned argument with the best. As an experienced criminal court practitioner he can also defend the indefensible. However, his well constructed article can only be regarded as fudging of the highest order.
The subheading states: “The fact has to be faced that the Government will only deal with the profession through the Society”. This only increases the responsibility of his Legal Aid Negotiating Team (“LANT”), and yet somehow between the vote casting of faculties and the bewildering acceptance of the Government concessions by LANT/the President, there is a large echoing question mark that is still unexplained.
Since the introduction of the fixed fee, the profession has been surrendering ground to SLAB/the Government pretty much without demur. For the first time we have a strong position and are acting with unity. The Edinburgh Bar Association through Cammy Tait and Mark Harrower has led the way, and other faculties have been supportive.
Our President tells us that because SLAB says “collection is not negotiable”, there is no point in continuing to protest. Sorry?
It may be a minor point, but the “concessions” by SLAB were meaningless, raising the contribution level at the lower end but increasing at the higher end. The bottom line is that (a) these unfortunate contributors can ill afford these sums, and (b) the profession are still being required to collect the contributions. Not only is this situation a massive conflict of interest, but we need only look at the recently published non-payment of fixed penalties/court fines to realise that contributors are hardly likely to pay their beloved lawyer ahead of their court fine. Result – another swathing cut.
The Government narrowly won the vote on the bill after wielding the whip on the potentially rebellious Justice Committee (who clearly had seen sense), and then persuading the Parliament following the Society’s acceptance of the concessions on behalf of the profession.
I am unimpressed with Mr Lafferty writing that we should simply roll over with our legs in the air because of the attitude of the Government, the press and the public. He knows as well as the rest of us that we will get absolutely nowhere without a fight.
But regardless of legislation, this Government will eventually realise that this package of collection cannot possibly work.
The second part of the subheading said: “the solicitors who comprise [LANT] do not deserve to be pilloried for their actions over the amendment package”. I agree it may not be productive, but as one of my colleagues pointed out, if a committee representing the local darts club returned to their membership with such lame excuses, they would be strung up for target practice.
Let’s hope this debacle results in any future LANT and the profession marshalling their respective strengths to the good of all.Roy M Harley, Edinburgh