Partner at Thompsons reflects on changing the law
AS far back as Frank Maguire can remember his calling has been to help those less fortunate than himself.
The son of a policeman was one of seven children growing up in Castlemilk in the early 1960s and he has never forgotten the roots which gave him the grounding for his entire career path.
After years toying with the idea of joining the priesthood, an ambition carried from early childhood, Maguire decided in his early twenties the rigours of the the cloth weren't for him and went on to study law.
Now a senior partner in Thompsons Maguire is recognised as one of Scotland's leading personal injury lawyers.
He is also a tireless campaigners for legislative change in personal injury and industrial accident law.
His most recent success came from his campaigning to reform the laws determining damages paid out to families suing for wrongful death, which come into law in Scotland next month.
For the most part, these campaigns are conducted on a pro bono basis, though for Maguire achieving positive changes to the law to help others is all worth the effort.
He said: "We don't stop working at the end of the claim.
"If there is something wrong with the system which we see as being unfair or in need of change, then we will do our damnedest to get that changed, be that through the courts, Westminster, the House of Lords or the Scottish Parliament."
Maguire has spent his entire legal career with Thompsons and hasn't regretted it.
He said: "Landing a traineeship with Thompsons was perfect for me. That was driven from where I came from.
"I really had an axe to grind, so I didn't want to work for insurance companies or the monied side. I wanted to act for people from my own background, the workers.
"So it was a bit of a mission for me acting for the underdog, and specifically within that I just hated the fact working people's lives were being ruined by wilful neglect.
"They needed to have a voice representing their interests and I have spend my whole career in law doing just that."
Maguire cut his teeth assisting in claims relating to North Sea helicopter crashes, but it was the Piper Alpha disaster which ratcheted his career up to another level.
He said: "I was involved on the compensation side of things following the Piper Alpha disaster, acting on behalf of the trade unions.
"The partner I was assisting in these claims went on to work on the Piper Alpha inquiry, which led to a new safety regime as a result of the recommendations made in that inquiry, and that came about after an enormous amount of work."
For Maguire money has never been a primary driver, and most of the claimants he has met in a 25-year career also see compensation as a secondary concern.
He said: "We are also advocates in prevention of accidents and that comes from our trade union background.
"I remember a lady we spoke with who had lost her husband in an industrial accident who came to us from another firm who she said were only interested in the financial claim.
"I asked her what she really wanted and she said it wasn't money. It was answers to what went wrong and how it could be prevented from happening again.
"We pressed for an inquiry and prosecution on her behalf, which brought in changes to working practices, but were it not for the fact that woman was more interested in answers than money, then these changes which benefit everyone might never have happened.
"So it annoys me when I hear a legal challenge saying the claimants are only in it for the money.
"It is a basic human reaction to want to find out how a loved one died or was gravely injured."
The causes Maguire has put his weight behind include areas such as deafness from industrial injury and asbestosis and emphysema.
There is certainly no shortage of work.
He said: "At any one time you could say we have somewhere in the region of 25,000 emphysema cases ongoing from the mining industry.
"Asbestosis is not as high volume, but we still deal with around 1,000 a year."
Maguire has also spent years working on behalf of asbestos victims and NHS patients who contracted Hepatitis C and HIV from infected blood transfusions and products supplied by the NHS.
Alongside that he has been influential in pushing through legislative change which changed compensation culture in the UK first with the Damages (Scotland) Act 1993 and then the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997.
He said: "We campaigned to change the system where state benefits were set against compensation, which in many cases ended up reducing the compensation to nil as long-term state benefits were taken into account when deciding final compensation.
"That was something we thought was grossly unfair, and we took that fight to Westminster and won.
"We argued it should be the insurer who paid the compensation plus the benefits back, which meant the Government wasn't missing out and the insurer was taking on the responsibility for a wrongful act they insured against.
"I was settling cases at the time for a value of £45,000 and the claimant would end up getting £2,500 because of all the benefits claimed back, so it was rightly seen as being unfair."
Another issue which Maguire has been vocal in his condemnation of is corporate manslaughter legislation.
He said: "We campaigned for a law of Corporate and Culpable Homicide, but I think the Scottish Parliament was forced to follow the English Parliament and it has become a wholly tortuous act.
"There are so many hurdles to get over to bring a Corporate Manslaughter case to court.
"If I were acting for the defence I would be rubbing my hands because there is no way the Crown will overcome all of those hurdles.
"The burden of proof is proving culpability of senior management in its decision making but in a civil case I don't have to show that.
"All I need to do is show that a manager, regardless of level, did this and therefore the company is liable.
"On the criminal side I have to show a senior manager was involved, and a company can construct itself so that its senior managers are never close enough to the operations to be held culpable.
"Since the legislation came into effect there has not been a single attempt to bring a prosecution.
"The civil case has to be heard after the prosecution, which means of course civil proceedings can be delayed for years.
"A Fatal Accident Inquiry can take up to four years to be heard, which is appalling, and a civil case can then take three or four years, and meanwhile there's also a criminal case which may or may not go anywhere.
"A prosecution can't take place until a Fatal Accident Inquiry has been heard, but we seem to have a system mired in paranoia about prejudice to the prosecution and the accused."
Alongside those difficulties Maguire admits the unions have also been severely weakened in recent years.
He said: "It is well known that a non-unionised workplace will generally have a poorer health and safety record than one that does.
"Unions force management to the table to negotiate on issues like health and safety, but in times of recession unions are generally at their weakest.
"In periods of high unemployment there is a pool of labour which is non-unionised which companies can utilise.
"Unions have to get young people on board to show the benefits of membership."
WH Thompson, who founded Thompsons solicitors in the 1920s, had a history of supporting unions which survives in the firm to this day.
Maguire said: "He was an unusual lawyer because he didn't trust other lawyers, who he felt were too middle class to represent the interests of the workers.
"He started out in rent strike cases and representing the early formations of the trade unions.
"As the firm grew, Thompson picked his lawyers very carefully because he wanted his lawyers to embrace his ethos. That is something we still do at Thompsons today."
Frank Maguire would never have become lawyer were it not for an early career calling to become a priest.
Growing up in Castlemilk in the 1960's in what was then a new Glasgow housing development, Maguire was often sent home from school because of a lack of teachers.
"I remember thinking these early finishes from school were great, but my father, a police sergeant, thought otherwise," he said.
"My Mum and Dad realised quite early on the education on offer in Castlemilk was pretty dire, and I was just as keen to get out of the area as they were to see me get a good education."
Maguire was first enrolled at the junior seminary in Langbank before going to Blairs College in Aberdeenshire.
He went on to study philosophy in Rome, followed by a year's study in theology.
It was then Maguire had second thoughts about the priesthood, preferring instead to "get out into the big, bad world" and he returned to Scotland to study law at Aberdeen University.
He joined the personal injury firm, Thompsons Solicitors at its Edinburgh office, and has spent his entire career there.
Maguire is married and has four children ranging in age from seven to 22 with his eldest now studying for a law degree at university.
In his spare time he enjoys running but his real passion is sailing and has a boat moored on the west coast.
Thompsons first came to Scotland in 1979 when it set up an Edinburgh office when a legislative change forced some litigation cases from English to Scottish courts.
Another office in Glasgow soon followed.
The firm has grown to a staff of 200 overall, including 60 fee earners, and has recently opened in Aberdeen.
Thompsons was named Scotland's Law Firm of the Year at the recent Scottish Legal Awards, the second time the firm has won the accolade in three years.
Maguire was named Solicitor of the Year at the same awards last year.