This week saw the appearance of Linda Costelloe Baker at the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament, to give evidence in the “Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill.
You can watch coverage of Linda Costelloe Baker`s appearance before the Justice 2 Committee by going to the main page of the Justice 2 Committee tv archive, which is at ; http://www.holyrood.tv/library.asp?iPid=3§ion=22&title=Justice+2
On the same day, Linda Costelloe Baker presented her last annual report of her tenure as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, showing that complaints against Scottish solicitors had risen a whopping 30% last year, and attacking the legal profession in Scotland for failing to deliver adequate complaints handling procedures for clients of solicitors, who are often ripped off while the crooked lawyer gets away with it … with the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates fixing complaints so that crooked legal agents get off the hook and clients are never really compensated for lost funds … despite all the ludicrous claims of the legal profession that all is well ….
In a blow to the campaigns of those who are trying to seek redress for the crooked misselling of mortgages by Scottish lawyers – who knew well what they were doing … Ms Costelloe Baker said that even the proposed legislation contained in the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill would not end the crooked practices of many lawyers selling policies to clients which they know full well to be against the interests of their clients – but of course, well inside the interests of the Banks and financial institutions by which the lawyers also have cosy secret financial dealings with (something the client never gets to know about …)
Linda Costelloe Baker also supports the handling of conduct complaints by the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – something the legal profession is dead against, because of course, they will be trying to get as many complaints into the conduct category as possible – so such complaints can be dealt with in the same old cosy fashion by the Law Society of Scotland … where the crooked always get off the hook and the client gets totally ripped off.
Some of the claims by the Executive, in response to the questioning of their position in relating to the funding and prioritising of Ms Costelloe Baker`s office are, quite laughable.
Three times as many staff ? … many of them actually resigned …and the department was left undermanned for long periods of time.
50% increase in funding ? … still not enough to tackle the huge workload – caused of course by crooked officials at the Law Society of Scotland letting crooked lawyers off the hook in client complaints …. the very reason people actually complain to the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.
I was quite pleased to see Ms Costelloe Baker come down against the Law Society of Scotland in terms of it`s position as regulator of the legal profession .. but I have always been of the opinion that much more could have been done by her office .. and many times the power to publicise the poor complaints handling by the Law Society of Scotland was never used … only in cases where the actual complainants kept badgering the Ombudsman so much that she had to use her powers.
Of course, however, on the face of things, Ms Costelloe Baker was certainly a great improvement over the former Legal Services Ombudsman – Garry S Watson – which whom I had many run ins and queries over his taking orders from the Law Society to bury complaints and even some of his own recommendations.
Interestingly, Mr Garry S Watson was also on the Complaints Committees of the Institute of Chartered Accounants of Scotland (ICAS) – another crooked gang of self regulators – who regulate accountants in Scotland and I wonder how Mr Watson has faired in his position at ICAS ….. (the mind boggles)
You all know what I have written about the crooked accountants self regulatory society in Scotland – ICAS, and how they and their Director of Legal Services fitted up an investigation into a crooked Borders Accountant ; Norman James Howitt – who now even has a position on one of the ICAS Committees himself (keeping all the crooked together of course) – you can read about that article here : http://petercherbi.blogspot.com/2006/03/norman-howitt-crooked-borders.html
Here are the articles on this weeks appearnce by Linda Costelloe Baker at the J2 Committee, along with articles on her annual report, all from “The Herald”
Mortgage mis-selling: no hope of making lawyers pay
PAUL ROGERSON and DEBORAH SUMMERS May 17 2006
Scotland’s legal services watchdog warned yesterday that legislation aimed at tightening the regulation of lawyers will not prevent the mis-selling of mortgage policies.
In her final annual report, Linda Costelloe Baker, Scottish legal services ombudsman, said that last year she handled a record 482 complaints about the way the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates handled complaints about their members ? nearly five times as many as 2001 and the vast majority involving the society.
Over a quarter of her workload related to alleged endowment mis-selling after the society was itself inundated with 1800 mis-selling complaints.
The Scottish Executive’s new bill will create an independent commission to handle complaints about lawyers, but Ms Costelloe Baker warned that this is inadequate because it leaves the society in charge of practice rules.
“When I was looking at the bill I had endowment misselling complaints very much in mind,” she said. “I kept on asking myself would this bill stop this happening again, and it wouldn’t. Not while the actual regulation is done by the profession.
“For example, the society did not expect solicitors to keep business files relating to the sale of endowment policies, so there is little or no evidence on which to base an investigation.”
Tens of thousands of people in England and Wales who bought endowment policies have already received pay-outs.
However, Scots who bought policies from solicitors before December 1, 2001, when the Financial Services and Markets Act came into effect, do not qualify for a deal from the Financial Ombudsman Service. They can seek compensation through the society but only to a maximum of ￡1000.
Editorial Comment May 17 2006
Leave-takings can be jolly affairs. They can also be maudlin. Linda Costelloe Baker, who has completed her term as legal services ombudsman, opted for neither approach when presenting her valedictory annual report to the Scottish Parliament yesterday. She went out with all guns blazing, as befits the champion of consumers on legal matters.
Mrs Costelloe Baker has been a thorn in the side of both the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates. In her eyes, they have failed to get the balance right between investigating complaints and defending a vested interest under the current system of self-regulation.
Yesterday, however, she was pleased to record the highest-ever level of satisfaction with the way both had handled complaints. She said they had learned these had to be taken seriously.
However, she also reported that complaints alleging mis-selling of endowment policies had continued to rise, and accounted for more than one-quarter of the ombudsman’s workload.
These complaints relate to policies bought through solicitors before December 1, 2001, when a compensation scheme administered by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) was established.
This allows for more generous compensation than is available for complaints upheld by the Law Society for older policies. The Law Society sets tougher criteria to meet, and caps compensation at ￡1000 for these policies.
A sense of injustice has been heightened by the fact these limits do not apply to English policies taken out before 2002. This is because very few householders bought endowment policies through solicitors. Policies bought from life companies or through banks, building societies or financial advisers were aggressively sold, whether in the best interests of the customer or not (invariably not). Redress was easier to pursue, and compensation awarded at higher levels. The Legal Defence Union, solicitors advising the profession, says most solicitors kept their endowment policy files and these showed advice was given that investments could fall as well as rise. But it is easy to understand the grievance felt by Scottish policyholders who have received no compensation and face having to sell their homes to pay off their mortgages, compared with English policyholders who have the same or similar policies but have fared much better. Ivan Lewis, the Treasury economic secretary, has conceded that the treatment of Scots amounts to a scandal but has warned against holding out “false hope” of compensation. John McFall, the Treasury select committee chairman, has called on the government at Westminster to address the anomaly.
Mrs Costelloe Baker contributed to the debate yesterday when she warned there was nothing to prevent this situation arising again, despite a new, independent policing body coming into being to replace the ombudsman, and to handle complaints that cannot be resolved between client and lawyer (the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission). She believes the solution lies in handing all regulatory powers over to the commission, including conduct. This is not envisaged under the legislation to create the new body. Of course, all post-2002 complaints are handled under the FSA regime, which helps. But this does nothing for those Scots facing mortgage shortfalls before then, and who are left in an iniquitous situation compared with English policyholders. There is still no justice in that.
Former watchdog bites back over unaudited accounts
DOUGLAS FRASER May 17 2006
Scottish Executive officials were left red-faced yesterday after a former watchdog attacked their failure to audit accounts, while undermining the watchdog’s attempts at an efficiency drive.
MSPs were told that justice department officials failed to audit the accounts for the legal services ombudsman over five years or to provide clear financial guidelines, despite being urged to do both.
They were told the watchdog office, on a budget of ￡400,000 this year, was forced to spend money on an unnecessary new phone network, and that attempts to find savings by sharing services with similar departments did not get support from central government.
The criticism of executive inefficiency and auditing came from Linda Costelloe Baker, who stood down as legal services ombudsman earlier this year. She told MSPs budgetary controls on her were “far from adequate”, and that her accounts were never audited.
This is despite a drive by Tom McCabe, minister for finance and public service reform, to achieve savings by sharing services across the public sector, and an MSP review of the burgeoning cost of a growing number of inspectorates, commissioners and ombudsmen.
The public services ombudsman, Professor Alice Brown, has been pressing the executive to help her save money by sharing services with similar watchdogs, and has made a further plea in her submission to finance committee MSPs.
Ms Costelloe Baker said she recommended a central unit to avoid duplication and confusion, but the justice department did “the exact opposite”.
She claimed officials saw her budget as too small to concern them: “I’m convinced it’s such a small part of an unallocated budget it almost didn’t matter ? but it mattered to me, and I think it matters to taxpayers. I would love to have been held more accountable.”
Ms Costelloe Baker said she had been raising her concerns for most of her six years in post.
Derek Brownlee, the Scottish Tories’ finance spokesman, said: “The evidence raises serious concerns at the budgetary controls across the whole of government in Scotland.”
An executive spokeswoman said officials were content that financial measures were open and transparent and met public finance criteria and funding was discussed, not imposed.
She added: “During her period in office, the justice department provided her with a near 50% increase in budget and over three times as many staff as she started with.”