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Justice Secretary MacAskill silent on taxpayers £2million ‘write off’ to lawyers quango as Complaints boss reveals Law Society defaulted on levies

08 Dec

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was today silent on revelations that some two million pounds of public money handed over to the legal profession to start up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is to be secretly “written off”, despite recent announcements from the Commission that it intends to levy all practitioners who enter the Scots legal services market, which will potentially rake in surpluses of several million pounds more than the complaints quango’s operating budget of £1.1million.

SLCC squareThe £2million costly start up costs of the ‘independent’ SLCC have been generated by the ‘needs’ of transferring in employees, lawyers and even ex Committee members of the Law Society of Scotland, and ensuring the ‘right’ people were appointed to oversee complaints against lawyers, which have previously and poorly been handled by the Law Society of Scotland .. and by the looks of it, will be handled in a similar way by the less than ‘independent’ SLCC.

However, the Commission members and staff have so far concentrated on ensuring they retain huge pensions, and also have demanded insurance protection from the possibility that clients and solicitors alike may take legal action against them personally for ill considered or negligent work.

Another startling, if very selfish development from the SLCC was that members unanimously decided they would not investigate any complaint which arose from legal work instructed prior to 1st October 2008, allowing the Law Society of Scotland to carry on investigating complaints still in its books for possibly another ten years up to 2018 !

One insider to the Justice Department today condemned the Minister’s lack of will to recover the public money handed over to the SLCC : “The public should be going mad about this – lawyers are getting enough public money anyway so I don’t see how the Commission should get a multi million pound freebie just so members can sit back and draw their pensions and several hundred pounds a day for their work”

As if MacAskill’s seemingly secret intention to write off two million pounds of taxpayers money to his fellow solicitors wasn’t enough, jaw dropping revelations today report the Law Society of Scotland have defaulted on the levies which are required by law to be paid to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with figures released today from Jane Irvine showing the Law Society still owes well over 100k to the complaints quango.

Jane IrvineSLCC Chairman Jane Irvine revealed the Law Societyof Scotland’s default on levies : “The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received £2,406,400.50p from the Law Society of Scotland on 30 September 2008 and £114,328 from the Faculty of Advocates on 26 September 2008. I have been made aware that LSS will send the balance, which is in the region of £100,000, by 31 December 2008.”

However, this statement by the SLCC, released as an Freedom of Information response, compares unfavourably with previous claims from the Commission in early November where I was informed : “The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received full payment of the levies from the Law Society of Scotland by the due date” (30th September 2008), giving the impression that much more than a mistake was made when that erroneous and misleading claim was made.

A senior solicitor who was asked for comment today on the Commission’s performance to-date described matters as “bleak” and that the Commission “lacked any credibility in it’s current format”.

He went onto claim the quango was widely disrespected in the profession itself, after revelations of who had been appointed to it and the decisions they had taken to restrict it’s complaints procedures & powers.

He said : “The public aren’t going to be fooled much by this half baked quango which might end up sitting on top of a lot of money by way of levies taken from us and other groups of qualified professionals who may get the chance to practice law under alternative business structures”.

He went on to say the following in response to the revelations of the Law Society’s failure to pay up : “I have heard of several solicitors who refused to pay their levies in protest, which I take it may form part of what the Law Society has still to pay the Commission, however some smaller legal firms might not be able to afford or may be reluctant to pay the complaints levy in the downturn so that could also be a factor.”

A client with a complaint against several legal firms of solicitors, who is being aided by a leading Scots MSP stated “All this complaints body seems to be doing is telling us what it wont do and cant do.There is no will to do anything for the consumer at all.Its going to be just another round of lawyers and their friends covering up for lawyers and we wont get the independent regulation we were promised by the Scottish Parliament”

The beleaguered SLCC, stung by allegations of a lack of competence or will to handle the complaints work it was supposed to do, also announced that it had finally secured indemnity insurance for its members, who recently threatened to resign if they didn’t have the same type of insurance cover which has been well known to protect crooked lawyers from financial damages claims by clients as a result of poor or crooked service.

I reported on the Commission’s members bizarre threats to resign over lack of indemnity insurance protection in a previous article here : Legal Complaints Commission in crisis amid funds shortage & resignation threats over lack of insurance protection

SLCC Director of Communications, Doreen Graham, announced that Park Place Insurance Ltd, 53 High Street, Kirkcaldy, KY1 1LL had arranged the insurance for members, and that the Professional Indemnity Insurance cover is being provided by Brit Insurance Ltd Brit Insurance Ltd.

Brit Insurance Ltd’’s Professional Risks cover is described on their website as : Our specialist claims team provide a professional and disciplined approach to handling complex issues. They provide prudent and reassuring responses to clients during times of distress and uncertainty. Our North American Professional Indemnity team are established market leaders in all areas of professional negligence, including accountants, architects, engineers, insurance brokers, lawyers, miscellaneous and technology risks”.

One would have though that the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission would have stayed away from insurance deals which might also insure lawyers too … but it seems the old habits of the Law Society of Scotland die hard …. and perhaps more worryingly, the Scottish Government has sat back while the Commission lurches from crisis to crisis.

Mr MacAskill’s office also refused to comment today on whether there was any policy put in place to deal with the multi million pound surpluses which would be generated by the SLCC’s intention to levy all entrants to the Scottish legal services market.

The Commission was also silent on what might be done with the surplus cash which will come in through increased levies … and on whether the multi million pound taxpayers handout to start up the quango would be repaid to the Government … or ‘go elsewhere’ …

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