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Scottish Executive thought to be blameworthy for allowing restrictive practices in legal services

05 Oct

 Harboured any criminals lately ? If you did, you are liable to be arrested as an accessory after the fact’ … involving whatever nefarious venture your criminal friend did.

Even worse, if you learn of a crime and give some form of assistance to it, you could be arrested as an accomplice, or “accessory before the fact” …. because of course, you are part of the criminal venture .. even more so than just standing back and keeping silent.

Interesting case then, when, the Government Department responsible for running Scotland – from (at least during the time of my own case) the Scottish Office , to the present Scottish Executive , has known all along, of problems with the regulation of the legal profession – while doing nothing.

Well, of course, it wasn’t the case they did nothing, as we shall see ….

It has usually been the case, certainly with myself, and everyone else I know who has had difficulties with the Law Society of Scotland & crooked lawyers) that people have written to their constituency politicians seeking help because of slow progress or bare faced corruption on the part of the Law Society of Scotland during investigations of client complaints against lawyers.

After a person wrote to their constituency MP, or MSP (after the formation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, legal affairs were devolved to Scotland), typically their request would go through a well worn process where their politician would write to the Law Society of Scotland, and also the Scottish Office (pre 1999) or the Scottish Executive (post 1999), to the relevant Minister responsible for Justice.

Just as in everyone else’s case, the same happened in mine. Archy Kirkwood wrote to Henry McLeish , when he was a Minister in the Scottish Executive during 1999. The usual response was – “we can’t do anything, the Law Society is mandated by the law to represent the interests of the client & the profession, and if you aren’t happy with the outcome of the Law Society’s investigation, you can approach the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman to look at the way the Law Society handled your complaint’ … everyone was told the same – and all the politicians who wrote all these representations for all their constituents who asked for assistance – knew what the response would be.

A neat way of making work then perhaps ? Almost … a merry go round, one could say ?.

Yes – that would be an almost perfect description of the whole thing from start to finish. Passing the buck – even though the Scottish Executive knew full well, there were significant problems with prejudice, bias, even, corruption in the way the Law Society of Scotland self-regulated their army of 10,000 solicitors.

But .. how does that fit in with telling thousands of people to do the same ?

Is it acceptable to know of crime, criminality, corruption, bias, prejudice, racism, sectarianism, abuse, embezzlement .. and tell thousands of people who report such matters, to go through a process which, knowingly, has no chance of success in preventing or halting the crime, criminality, corruption, bias, prejudice, racism, sectarianism, abuse, embezzlement ? Doesn’t that sound a little bit .. crooked ?

So, we are back to who knew what, when, and why nothing was done about it.

Well, it turns out the Scottish Executive were & have been getting over 1000 representations per year from members of the public & their elected politicians .. on .. complaints about the way the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates handle investigations of complaints against their members. This is, of course, one of the reasons the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, has come into being – because media attention to scandals on crooked lawyers, and campaigns such as mine, and those of others, have brought out this issue into the public domain, to the point something had to be done about it.

Sounds a bit like the McKie case, doesn’t it ? Scottish Executive knew something was wrong at the SCRO, but it looks like both sides – the McKie’s and those officers at the SCRO were played royally against each other in a political battle to keep the lid on a creaking legal system, full of corruption & political favours in exchange for the legal profession ‘leaving alone’ certain parts of Scottish Law which are highly prejudicial to receiving fair trials or fair hearings .. one of those instances of course, being .. complaints against so-called ‘professionals’ such as .. lawyers.

In a case which may shed some light on why the Scottish Office & Scottish Executive sat on the fence, knowingly, while all was crooked & corrupt in arena of self-regulation of the legal profession, Bill Alexander, another campaigner on this subject, has the assistance of the Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, in a case which opens today at the Court of Session, seeking disclosure of ministerial correspondence and memoranda from the last decade concerning the enduring ban on people other than solicitors and advocates being paid to represent clients in the Scottish courts.

Put simply, Bill Alexander wants to know why, when sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 should have abolished the ban on non-lawyers applying for rights of audience.

These sections of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 are still sitting on the books – inactive … because it is thought, they have been the subject of a political deal between the legal profession & the Scottish Executive, to keep a status quo and protect the monopoly which solicitors & advocates enjoy in the legal services market for who represents clients in Court.

There is no ‘official’ explanation why the sections were never enacted, but the Scottish Executive has refused to adhere to an order from the Information Commissioner to release the material requested by Bill Alexander .. and, as the Herald Newspaper reports, has employed Richard Keen QC to defend their position and prevent or at least prevaricate for as long as possible the release of such information – which may well go to prove the government stood by, knowingly, while the markets for legal business and opportunities for the client were stage managed by the legal profession in a monopoly which was allowed to continue – by the inaction of the Government.

You can read the decision of the Information Commissioner here : Decision 057/2005 Mr William Alexander and the Scottish Executive

Mr Alexander wouldn’t find anything out on this from the Law Society of Scotland using FOI – that’s because the Law Society of Scotland are exempt from FOI.

Imagine that – the Law Society of Scotland – a self regulatory body which has stage managed the legal services sector for decades in Scotland, was allowed an exemption from the Freedom of Information act, despite everyone, including the politicians & Government knowing full well it suffered from charges of corruption, bias, prejudice, restriction of who actually gets legal representation …

Let’s hope the Court of Session find in favour of Mr Alexander’s request for the relevant information on the stitch up of legal services & delay of legislation, just as the Court of Session found in favour of the Information Commissioner on December 1st, ruling that the Common Services Agency of the NHS (National Services Scotland) should provide information on the incidence of childhood leukaemia in Dumfries and Galloway.

It certainly seems the Scottish Executive are determined on spending vast amounts of public money to defend against disclosure of material which should really be in the public domain … all this information seemingly indicating a variety of scandals which have been covered up.

I say the Scottish Executive is guilty of allowing the suffering of clients to go unremedied for all these years while the likes of the Law Society of Scotland routinely fiddled client complaints against it’s member solicitors & stage managed legal services in Scotland to maintain it’s monopoly on rights of audience. The Executive, and the Scottish Office, were clearly aware of this.

It’s time the Executive did something about their sitting on the fence for all these years, and make financial amends to all those victims of crooked lawyers,who, over the years, have had to face the knowingly corrupt & prejudicial practices of the Law Society of Scotland in regulating the legal profession.

Read on for the Herald article on this case, link to follow.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/76926.html

Freedom of information, the law and the public purse
PAUL ROGERSON December 18 2006

The Scottish Executive has appointed one of the nation’s most eminent advocates to try and block the release of sensitive documents that could explain why Scotland’s legal services market has never been opened up to greater competition.

Richard Keen QC’s fees, which are understood to be as high as £6000 a day, will be met by the taxpayer.

However, ministers are still refusing to say why they are spending so much public money to thwart the release of information on a subject which is no longer a political hot potato.

The landmark case – the bill for which could run into six figures – begins in the Court of Session tomorrow.

Last year Bill Alexander, a longstanding campaigner for wider consumer access to
legal services, used freedom of information legislation to seek disclosure of ministerial correspondence and memoranda from the last decade concerning the enduring ban on people other than solicitors and advocates being paid to represent clients in the Scottish courts.

Sixteen years have passed since sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 should have abolished the ban on non-lawyers applying for rights of audience. Somewhat mysteriously,the sections were never commenced.

At the time, commencement of the sections was deferred indefinitely, amid bitter controversy.

Ministers gave an undertaking that the sections would not be implemented until other reforms in the 1990 act – in particular, the introduction of solicitor-advocates – had been given time to bed down.

However, the fact that the measures remain on the statute book but are still not active has provided ammunition for critics of the lawyers’ “closed shop”. It has also attracted the attention of both the Office of Fair Trading and the House of Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee.

Holyrood ministers are refusing to comply with an order by Scottish information commissioner Kevin Dunion to publish the documents sought by Alexander, which include letters from the late First Minister Donald Dewar to both Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Lord Irvine of Lairg, the former Lord Chancellor.

As The Herald reported earlier this year, the case constitutes the first occasion since freedom of information legislation took effect that the Executive has elected to fight its case before the courts.

Industry observers are puzzled why ministers are going out on a limb on the issue, especially since commencement of sections 25-29 is part of the legal profession bill currently at committee stage 3 at Holyrood. Suspicions have inevitably arisen that the documents sought by Alexander could prove embarrassing to members of the New Labour hierarchy and senior Scottish lawyers past and present.
Keen, whose recent cases have included acting for Tommy Sheridan in the News of the World libel case, will be supported by junior counsel Kenneth McBrearty.

The information commissioner will be represented by another eminent brief, Paul Cullen QC.

The Herald asked the Executive why it continues to block publication of the documents sought by Alexander, when it supports, and indeed is legislating for, commencement of sections 25-29. A spokesman said:

“The appeal process has an important part to play, for example in ensuring proper interpretation and application of FOI legislation. For the Executive, the commissioner has issued decisions in around 56 cases – in three of these we have considered that it’s appropriate to appeal. This is one of those cases.

“Those cases are currently sub judice, however, so it is inappropriate for us to make any further comment at this point.”

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Posted by on October 5, 2007 in Law

 

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