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Justice Secretary ‘lacks necessary leadership’ over independence of legal complaints commission

19 Aug

The bitter battle over who controls the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission continues as spokesmen for the Justice Minister confirm that public sector staff from the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman are effectively to be left in the cold on salaries and workplace opportunities.

This is in stark comparison to staff from the Law Society of Scotland who are transferring over to the ‘independent’ SLCC with larger salaries (up to £18,000 more) and apparently greater prospects for career advancement and promotion, and all because it seems, the Law Society of Scotland says so.

As I revealed in an earlier report on the latest round of problems to hit the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, moves were being undertaken by the Law Society with the tacit approval of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department to ‘force out’ staff from the former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman’s office, who have for years, investigated the way in which the Law Society of Scotland has so poorly investigated complaints against lawyers.

You can read my earlier article on this issue here : Law Society target ‘outsider staff’ for exit at Complaints Commission as lawyers undermine attempts at independent regulation

The Law Society of Scotland, frustrated by the fact there will be members of staff from the Ombudsman’s office working at the new Complaints Commission, want the SLCC staffed entirely by Law Society staff, many of whom, of course, will still be members of the Law Society of Scotland itself. Hardly a fair arrangement to plant one’s own staff into a new, allegedly ‘independent’ regulatory body, with the sole intention of undermining its independence from the very start …

One of the main fears of the Law Society is that the former Ombudsman staff will be outwith the control of the legal profession, and most probably feel no blinding loyalty to report home on cases and investigations into crooked lawyers which are in progress .. and more worryingly for the Law Society, the former Ombudsman staff may at times be prone to blowing the whistle on whitewashes of client complaints, which have been standard at the Law Society for nearly two decades.

The Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill commented further late last week on the difficult circumstances which staff at the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission find themselves :

Law & Courts Directorate“Staff from the Law Society of Scotland and the office of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman are eligible to transfer to the Commission under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) and the Cabinet office Statement of Practice on Staff transfers in the Public Sector (COSOP) respectively. Staff consultations are still underway in both organisations and decisions on whether or not to transfer will be taken by the staff involved once this process has been completed.”

So … while the Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE) regulations seem to be protecting the staff from the Law Society quite well .. it seems from background reports, the Ombudsman staff are being frozen out of discussions and decisions, in the hope they wont transfer over, and the Law Society can get its wicked way, stuffing the new Complaints Commission solely with its own staff !

Kenny MacAskillMr MacAskill continued : “Once the Commission is established, a harmonisation exercise will take place involving senior management and staff representatives from both former SLSO and former LSS staff who will discuss differences in employment terms and conditions and proposals for their resolution. The timing of this harmonisation is for the Commission to consider in due course.”

However, with no foreseeable increases in budget .. which the SLCC will have to work within, and the rich pickings of the SLCC members at £300 plus per day of attendance, it seems unlikely there is any great wish to match the £18,000 extra which Law Society staff will be demanding from the new Commission against those public sector employees of the former Ombudsman’s office.

An insider at the Scottish Government when asked for comment stated “There has been significant lobbying from the Law Society on the issue of their staff transferring to the new Commission and the Justice Department team either don’t understand or don’t accept the importance of having the former Ombudsman staff on board”.

A good and cunning plan then, to force out the poor Ombudsman staff, and see the Law Society of Scotland gets its way, ensuring that what was to be a new broom of independence in dealing with complaints against lawyers in Scotland, is staffed and controlled by the very people who have always been dealing with complaints against lawyers, and that is .. more lawyers.

A source within the Law Society yesterday confirmed that plans were still going ahead to force out the Ombudsman staff from the new Complaints Commission, reporting to me in a stark comment : “It is being seen as vital the profession keep control over regulation of complaints at all levels in the new Commission.These Ombudsman staff cannot be trusted to tow the line if a conflict between the Law Society and the Commission arises”.

So there we have it – the Law Society can’t allow anyone else to handle complaints against lawyers because if such a thing were to happen … Scotland would find out just how corrupt some solicitors have become or have always been – as some could well attest to.

However, Scotland might also find out the histories of some of the Law Society staff who intend to transfer over to the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and there is no shortage in information now coming out about what some of those individuals have been up to over the years.

Indeed, the Law Society has become so concerned of revelations concerning the complaints handling records of their members of staff transferring over to the new Complaints Commission that a block has been put on naming and identifying those individuals, even by the new Commission itself.

This secretive move by the Law Society is being seen as an attempt to prevent members of the public from finding out that Law Society staff who have ruined and mishandled so many complaints in their present positions will transfer over to the new Commission with the likelihood that once in place, they will revert to the old ways of whitewashing complaints against colleagues in the legal profession, or worse still, report back to the Law Society on every case they are handling at the new ‘independent Complaints Commission.

Perhaps when clients are making complaints to the new Complaints Commission about their solicitors, they would also do well to ask about the complaints handling records of those Law Society staff who have been mishandling complaints for years in their former jobs at Drumsheugh Gardens … and what a sordid tale of disclosure might be revealed.

So, over again to the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who did of course say, he would protect the legal profession at all costs, even at the cost of public sector jobs it would seem !

Kenny MacAskill : A dangerous game of protecting the interests of the legal profession above the public interest …

How about changing that attitude, Mr MacAskill ? and giving Scots a fairer deal in the legal services market, and make sure independent regulation of legal services is exactly what it means, rather than follow the legal professions line of no independent regulation and no consumer protection from crooked lawyers …

Being seen to do the right thing goes a long way to restoring public confidence and consumer protection … especially when it is so obviously needed as it is in the public’s dealings with the Scottish legal profession …

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