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Consumer protection weakened by lawyers FOI exemption while new Legal Complaints Commission must comply to information laws

21 Jul

For ever and a day, the Law Society of Scotland has been exempt from any law which would or could have helped clients who were or who are still having difficulties with their lawyers.

Currently, even though we are about to enter a world of ‘dual regulation’ where the legal profession and an ‘independent’ commission will regulate Scotland’s 10,500 solicitors, the Law Society remains exempt from key areas of legislation such as Freedom of Information laws, which have proved so valuable in dealing with not only errant professions & industries, but also a few wayward politicians along the way.

The Law Society of Scotland, however, is unsurprisingly content, to the point of seeing to it that, it retains it’s FOI exemption, lest some client use it to disgrace the legal profession (again) for covering up its dirty laundry as it has done so frequently and successfully in the past.

The twists & turns of the Law Society in Data Protection requests over the years, have demonstrated as much, with no useful information ever leaking out to a client who had a complaint against a solicitor being investigated .. or for that, anyone who had tried to investigate the way the Law Society operated.

Understanding now why the Law Society of Scotland must be brought within the unlimited scope of Freedom Of Information legislation, one must reflect on the progress of legislation passed in 2006 which was brought in to clear up some of the damage the legal profession has done itself over the many years lawyers have investigated their own.

Two years ago this summer, the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill rumbled through the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, amid threats of legal action from the Law Society to kill it, and even threaten the Parliament itself if the ‘crooked lawyer’ busting legislation was passed into law.

Despite the many problems the legal profession made for the LPLA Bill, and the many amendments thrown up from politicians who were so obviously in the pocket of the Law Society, the legislation was eventually passed by the Scottish Parliament during late December 2006, after some of the stormiest of Committee hearings ever relating to a new act of the Scottish Parliament – one such now famous televised meeting showing the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland himself lying to all & sundry over not only his personal involvement but also Law Society policy on complaints and client claims against Scottish solicitors.

Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill telling a few lies to the Justice Committee & John Swinney at the Scottish Parliament.

We are therefore now in a ‘new era’ supposedly, with the looming start of duty for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on 1st October 2008, which is allegedly going to give Scottish consumers of legal services a new layer of consumer protection against the infamously poor levels of legal services in Scotland, which nowadays seemingly illustrate that most clients come undone at some stage in their dealings with the legal profession.

This ‘new era’ however, has already been dampened down by what appears to many as a Law Society ‘take over’ of the new ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by way of not only transferring it’s staff to the new body .. also transferring many of it’s Committee members to key positions within the SLCC .. .positions which are likely to ensure there are no conflicts generated between the ‘independent’ regulator and the lawyers own version – the Law Society of Scotland, who will continue to regulate conduct complaints, while the SLCC it is claimed, will focus on ‘service’ complaints.

You can read some of the woes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on everything from appointments scandals to conflicts of interest here :

SLCC news stories

So, we will have two regulators of the legal profession on 1st October 2008, but only one of those regulators will be forced to comply with Freedom of Information laws – that being the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The Law Society of Scotland, will for now at least, until the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decides to do something, continue to be immune from FOI legislation, so it can carry on being as secretive and corrupt as it has been for all the decades poor members of the public have been forced to deal with it.

Since we are now in late July 2008, I would have thought by now, the Scottish Government would have done something on this matter – because there has been enough advance warning the two regulators will exist side by side, one FOI compliant, one not ….. so why the wait ? is it perhaps because the Law Society is bargaining hard with the Scottish Government to retain certain exemptions so it can go on giving consumers of legal services a raw deal, sanctioned by the Government itself ?

I recall as far back as January 2006, the then Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson was saying the Scottish Executive was looking into the matter of the Law Society’s FOI exempt status, after queries from myself & others .. as can be seen from her following letter :

Cathy Jamieson : Reviewing the FOI Act – we might do something ..

Scottish Executive response on Law Society FOI Exemption removal Page 1Scottish Executive response on Law Society FOI Exemption removal Page 2

Here is an article I wrote at the time on this issue : Law Society of Scotland & Freedom Of Information – End the Exemption Now.

Now of course, with a change of Government, one meant to be better for the Scots public, and a new Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, surely the clock has spun round enough to actually do something for Scots consumers and bring the Law Society into compliance with Freedom of Information ? Well .. perhaps .. but Mr MacAskill almost repeats word for word, Cathy Jamieson’s review of more than two years ago …

Kenny MacAskill : To be or not to be … Should we make lawyers FOI compliant or not ?

K MacAskill FOI policy response 19 June 2008

Two years is a long time to wait, and with there only just over two months before the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission takes up it’s regulatory duties on complaints against solicitors, surely its time to make the Law Society FOI compliant, rather than continue to deny consumers the levels of protection they have in other ‘required’ services .. not to mention giving the public the right to inspect and question the way the legal profession regulates itself in a way which must be allowed to ensure much higher levels of honesty accountability and transparency which have never been seen before in Scotland’s legal profession.

What could there be to gain from allowing the Law Society of Scotland to remain exempt from Freedom of Information legislation ? …. Nothing honest, that’s for sure !

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