To: The Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others
Law Society of Scotland: Allow Legal Spark Legal Practice to continue Legal Aid Work
The Law Society and Legal Aid Board informed Legal Spark Legal Practice that they had to stop all legal aid work on 30th June. As a result, "A", "B' plus many other disabled clients are forced to forego representation. They have the power to reverse their decision, together we can make that happen.
Why is this important?
Legal Spark was formed as a result of the crisis in legal aid. People were going without representation because they could not afford a lawyer. This is particularly the case for disabled people.
No one else would do this type of work, as it was deemed too expensive, not financially viable and also too complex.
Daniel Donaldson, a disabled Solicitor, set up Legal Spark with the Support of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise under their Young Innovators Challenge 2015 programme.
Daniel wanted to develop creative solutions to help people access justice and to fix the exclusion that disabled people face from the legal system.
Daniel spent one year talking to the Law Society about this issue, highlighting that it was important that everyone could access a lawyer.
Legal Spark consulted with the Chief Executive (Lorna Jack), the Head of Professional Practice, the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar (James Ness) and the Secretary to the Civil Legal Aid Quality Assurance Committee (Hannah Sayers) amongst others.
A document was prepared that explained what Legal Spark was planning to do. The Law Society accepted this document and did not object. The Law Society encouraged Legal Spark and found their approach "refreshing" and "innovative".
Legal Spark was granted permission to do Legal Aid work in November 2015, and a compliance certificate was issued in December 2015. Legal Spark began helping the many disabled people that needed their help and began to have success.
In April 2016, the Law Society decided that they had made an "error" and instructed Legal Spark to stop all Legal Aid work by Thursday 30 June 2016. By this stage, Legal Spark had a number of clients, with active and complex cases, some of which were about to go to Court.
"A" is one such client. They had experienced awful disability discrimination from a University. They were not given adequate support to help them during a course, and had to leave. Additionally, Legal Spark uncovered evidence that the University's staff had used "unprofessional language" in their approach to "A". This case has now been lodged in Court.
"B" is another client adversely affected by this decision. B is also disabled and is housebound. They had tried to find a lawyer for sometime but because of their rural location in the Highlands there were no Solicitors available to help. Legal Spark took on this case and was successful (in part) in achieving a resolution for B. However, because B had been adversely affected by a decision of Highland Council, and had lost out financially, the case may need to go to Court. B is unable to find anyone else to help them.
These are only two examples of where Legal Spark is making a difference, there are others too.
Since establishing Legal Spark, Daniel Donaldson has not drawn a salary and has used some of his own money to sustain the Legal Practice while it develops and is able to stand on its own feet.
Legal Spark has also grown to enable it to employ staff and provide much need paid employment to some disabled people and unemployed law graduates.
The Legal Aid certificate meant that Legal Spark could help people who could not access help elsewhere. Now "A", "B" and other will have to go without representation because of the Law Society of Scotland's failures.
The Law Society's Chief Executive (Lorna Jack)says that they have to act in the public interest. The Director of Regulation (Philip Yelland) shares this view.
1. Where is the public interest in denying disabled people representation?
2. Also, where is the public interest is giving permission to do Legal Aid work only to revoke that permission 6 months later?
The Law Society say that there are other Solicitors who can help, however this is not true.
Legal Spark contacted 134 Civil Legal Aid lawyers with advertised specialism in discrimination law. Even the biggest Legal Aid firm in Scotland could not help.
The Law Society has said that this will cause Legal Spark’s disabled client’s “inconvenience”. This is an offensive comment; they have never met any client, they have ignored client’s opinions, and also refused to acknowledge that they will suffer substantial prejudice in their cases because of the Law Society’s decision.
This petition is addressed to the Law Society and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
It is important that you fulfil your roles correctly.
Overturn your decision to stop Legal Spark doing legal aid work, remedy the mistake you have made and apologise. This is the only way you can restore public trust and continue to say you act in the public interest.
Allow Legal Spark, and their clients the opportunity to continue to work together for the public interest and tackle the horrors faced by disabled people on a daily basis.
How it will be delivered
Signatures to this petition will be emailed, delivered in person, or a press conference will be arranged.