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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ‘lacks impartiality’ despite Ombudsman’s appointment as Chairman

21 Jan

The Law Society are certainly happy with the appointments to the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission going by this week’s press purge of any debate on how the Commission was stuffed with ex-Police as lay members and a Judge’s husband, a lawyer who is a senior partner in one of the panel solicitors to the Royal Sun Alliance PLC for the Master Insurance Policy of the Law Society of Scotland.

Last week I revealed how the incoming Chairman of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, was kept out of the loop and told nothing of the background of the appointees to the Commission, who were passed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, an ex solicitor himself who is well known to disagree with anyone who may take issue with the fact the legal profession is corruptly regulated by the Law Society of Scotland.

My earlier report on the SLCC appointments ‘fiddle’ – the public kept well away from any hope of impartiality : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry

As further details emerge of the actual appointments process, which saw an ‘appointments panel’ put together by Ken Thomson, the new head of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department, it transpires that there were even Judges themselves sitting on the appointments panel such as The Hon. Lord Wheatley , among others from the legal profession …

Nothing wrong with having a few judges on appointments panels for what was supposed to be an ‘independent’ legal complaints commission … but in the spirit of ‘independence’ from the legal establishment .. it might have been better to have an appointments panel composed of more ‘ordinary’ people, somewhat more detached from the legal establishment than those who serve it …

What a pity that last week, a journalist told me a ‘newspaper’ was ‘asked’ not to mention the fact in their coverage of the SLCC appointments story that Mr David Smith, one of the lawyers appointed to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, was the husband of Lady Smith. I see that fact is still not being mentioned, and that Mr Smith has a position which involves handling cases involving the Master Insurance Policy of the Law Society of Scotland, the sole aim of which is to kill off any prospect a client has of getting compensation after being ruined by a crooked lawyer.

It seems that only the Cabinet Secretary for Business, John Swinney MSP, was able to stand up to those who want to silence any public detail or criticism of the Master Policy, with his excellent questioning of Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill, and revelations of blatant, rampant corruption involving both the Law Society of Scotland and the insurers of the Master Policy.

John Swinney questions an abrasive & inconsistent Douglas Mill on corruption in claims & complaints against crooked lawyers

 

 

So far no response yet to calls for an investigation into the appointments process – no doubt a few documents are being altered and a few minds being given different versions of events to save skins … but despite glowing testimonials in the press, the public are a bit weary of quangos being stuffed with judges, ex police and others who are not seen as particularly ‘impartial’ … especially when it comes to the vexed question of regulating complaints against lawyers – which has now suffered several decades of endemic corruption when it comes to dealing with clients who regularly get ripped off by their solicitors …

Perhaps the Which? consumer organisation should step in themselves with a new “super complaint” on the subject of regulation, as the rest of the UK now enjoys the existence of the “Legal Services Board” – an independent regulator of solicitors, which sadly stops at the border with England.

My earlier report on the Which? “super complaint” on the lawyers closed shop monopoly of the legal services market in Scotland : Consumers call for OFT Inquiry to investigate restriction of legal services in Scotland

This new independent regulator for the rest of the UK stops at the Border, because Kenny MacAskill protests, rather strangely, and without any good reason, that Scotland does not need an independent regulator of legal services.

My earlier report on Kenny MacAskill’s rejection of an independent legal services board and more rights for Scots when it comes to dealings with the law & the legal profession : Justice Secretary MacAskill insists on second class legal system for Scotland as England names & shames crooked lawyers

Of course, to have an independent regulator of the legal services market in Scotland would be too much against the interests of the same legal profession Kenny MacAskill is a member of, and has said he will always support against anyone who seeks to ‘misrepresent it’ (in other words, tell the truth) … so it’s easy to see why Mr MacAskill insists that us Scots must remain second class citizens next to his legal brethren in the Law Society of Scotland.

Kenny MacAskill – insistent as ever the Scots public will have no rights against lawyers or freedom of choice in what is current a closed monopolistic legal services market : Justice Secretary rejects independent regulation of lawyers and public right of choice in legal services market

Of course, it could be that the new Chairman of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission might recommend herself that Scotland needs an independent regulator of the legal services market. After all, Jane Irvine, whom I congratulated last week in being appointed to the position, has a long history of experience in areas of consumer affairs and particularly investigation of complaints relating to the law, the Police, and of course, the legal profession itself in her current position as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.

Such a gesture by Mrs Irvine, to recommend a Legal Services Board for Scotland, so that Scots enjoy the same rights as the rest of the UK or even better, would be greatly appreciated, considering our Justice Secretary seems to be far too biased for the legal profession itself, at the expense of the wider public interest …

The Scotsman reports :

Irvine brings stability to new commission

By JENNIFER VEITCH

WE’VE known for more than a year that it was coming and now, at last, we know who is going to be running the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The appointment of Jane Irvine, the current Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, as chairwoman of the new commission seems like a sensible move. From the profession’s perspective, at least they know who they will be dealing with, and both can build on the existing relationships established since 2006.

Irvine’s pragmatic and plain-speaking approach certainly appears to have earned her respect from the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates. Along with commissioners – including lawyers Alan Paterson, David Smith, Margaret Scanlan and David Chaplin – Irvine should bring continuity and stability after a period of uncertainty about the new gateway for service complaints.

The focus can now firmly shift to ensuring there is a smooth transition – both for the profession and for the public – from the old to new complaints handling systems.

Certainly there are many logistical issues that need to be addressed before the commission opens for business in October.

For example, when exactly will the window shut on complaints being made under the existing system and open for the new one? What approach will the commission take in looking at historical cases?

Irvine needs to ensure the commission communicates early and effectively with the public and the profession to raise awareness of the new system and all the changes it will bring.

Even bigger challenges remain to be resolved, however, not least of which is how complaints about the legal service will be judged by the commission, when the Law Society of Scotland is still working on a new set of standards for the profession.

Last year, Irvine warned that the profession was being hampered by a “weak” code of conduct for solicitors, with a “patchwork” of rules and guidelines, “sprinkled with confusing exclusions”.

The profession may yet risk having standards imposed upon it from the commission’s rulings.

Also, will the commission be able to clearly distinguish between service and conduct issues? If this is not always possible, how will this fit with the Law Society of Scotland’s own investigations into solicitors?

Many of these issues have already been flagged up by Irvine and Richard Smith, the commission’s interim chief executive, who has been speaking to the profession about its role since last summer. Irvine may wish to use less slightly less bullish language than Smith, however, who once commented that the commission was holding out a hand to the profession with “a fist inside the glove”.

To start with at least, the commission should enjoy a generous degree of public, and some professional, goodwill. Despite the Law Society of Scotland’s repeated protestations about the tiny proportion of complaints arising from transactions, the new complaints gateway is being introduced in response increasing consumer frustration with the existing system.

It is worth remembering that solicitors are not always happy with the current system either, as Caroline Flanagan acknowledged during her presidency, when the Law Society of Scotland gave up trying to retain control of service complaints handling.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the new system will be better than the old. It won’t be a magic bullet, and it seems unlikely that most complaints will reach a different resolution just because the commission looks at the same set of facts.

But, as Irvine herself wrote when she presented her last annual report, there has been a “constant theme of lack of trust” in the Law Society of Scotland. “Clients simply do not believe an institutional members’ body can deal with consumer complaints fairly,” she said.

If the commission can provide greater transparency and clarity for all concerned, then that seems very much in the public’s and the profession’s interests.

and finally …

A small apology to readers …

As I am moving my image albums just now, the “Flickr” links which contained images of media stories, letters and other revealing information in some of my articles are for now, missing. The move was forced on me after complaints from the legal profession apparently to Flickr, because they don’t want the pubic to be able to read what actually goes on when the Law Society interferes with clients cases against crooked lawyers.

Terrible thing censorship of the media, isn’t it … and it seems to happen a lot to anyone who writes about scandals in the legal world where lawyers ruin clients and get away with it …

The material will be restored for public viewing in due course.

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Posted by on January 21, 2008 in Politics, Scots Law, Scottish Law

 

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