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‘Culture of fear’ grips Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Department witch-hunt threatens whistleblower staff over leaks to media

17 Feb

SLCC squareWhile the culture of secrecy continues to breed at the beleaguered Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with the blanking out of FOI responses to inquiries from the media, allegations have now emerged that staff have been threatened with spying, possible prosecution and job losses over recent leaks of information which has heavily compromised the quango whose function is to investigate complaints against Scotland’s crooked lawyers.

SLCC Staff Governance meeting 17 October 2008 - Justice Dept & Risk ManagementLeaked SLCC document ‘serious concerns on leaks’. Stunningly, in documents from the SLCC seen by this reporter, the Scottish Government’s Justice Department intervened yet again with the ‘independent’ commission, raising it’s ‘serious concerns’ over leaks made to the media which resulted in stories such as Law Society target ‘outsider staff’ for exit at Complaints Commission as lawyers undermine attempts at independent regulation being reported. Strong demands were made by representatives from the SNP controlled Scottish Government to “end the leaks or else there would be trouble”, claimed an informed source yesterday.

MacAskill tight lippedMacAskill demanded leaks be plugged “or else”. After the spectacular intervention from the Justice Department on behalf of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, members of the commission’s staff were allegedly given a ‘friendly word in their ear’, where the implication was that if anyone told the outside world, including the media, and me, what was really going on inside the SLCC, they would be sacked and possibly face prosecution for their whistle blowing.

ScottishGovernmentScottish Govt may use RIPSA surveillance ?. A source within the Government claimed “it was the determined intention of the Justice Department to plug any leaks at the SLCC, and if need be, RIPSA legislation would be used to discover the culprits and deal with them accordingly.” Although personally, I imagine it may well be more of a HBOS-FSA style cover up to silence the whistleblower, than a very public scandal which could ultimately damage the Government.

RIPSA, for those of you who do not know, is the anti-terrorist styled Regulation of investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act, which can authorise surveillance and spying on individuals where it is felt those who are the target of surveillance orders are breaking the law in some way as to threaten the fabric of society, or as it appears here, the fabric of crooked lawyers … You can find out more about the Scottish Government’s approach to RIPSA here : Scottish Govt Covert Surveillance : Code of Practice

One insider to the Commission, on being asked about the witch-hunt broke down in tears, giving a full account of recent goings on, claiming “the whole thing was being orchestrated by the Law Society to get rid of those members of staff who transferred over from the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.”

The insider went on : “The Law Society want full control over the Commission and it staffed by their own people and the Government seem to be quite happy to let them get their way”.

I have to say, I fully support the ex members of staff of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman’s Office. I see those few people as a balance to the Law Society’s infiltration of the organisation, and a hope, sadly now perhaps lost, that the public could have had a fairer hearing in complaints against solicitors.

However, as a ‘seasoned observer’ of all things legal, it does seem to me there is an organised attempt to undermine the work & credibility of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, both by the Law Society of Scotland, and the Scottish Government itself.

Cash Link to Law Chief Stabbing Scotland on Sunday 29 January 2006MacAskill ‘more determined to hunt whistleblowers than attackers of Law Chief’. A former Council Member of the Law Society, condemned the apparent witch hunt against SLCC staff & media journalists investigating crooked lawyers, claiming the Government seemed to be spending more time on protecting the Law Soceity’s position on regulation than pursuing the attackers of the Law Society’s former Chief Accountant, Leslie Cumming, who was injured in a mafia style ‘hit’ in early 2006.

He commented : “It looks like the Scottish Government are more determined to conceal the truth at the SLCC and protect rogue lawyers than discover who tried to kill the Law Society Chief Accountant Leslie Cumming and they still haven’t got anyone for that”.

I agree wholeheartedly of course, given the fact that three years on, despite the then Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill attempting to blame the Cumming attack on all & sundry, no one has yet been brought to justice for that vicious incident, which has amazingly gone unexplained for all this time.

The ex Law Society Council member went on : “This kind of conduct by the SLCC and the Government is not doing the profession or the public any good and what was to be an independent commission to raise the standards of regulation and public confidence in the legal profession is not happening.”

So, exactly how did we get to this point that the SNP Government are allegedly threatening to spy on, prosecute and sack whistleblowers of an ‘independent’ authority, just to protect the secrets of crooked lawyers and the legal profession ?

Is it really the case that RIPSA is actually being used by the Scottish Government or the SLCC, against SLCC staff members, journalists and law bloggers to discover the source of leaks at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ?

Well, at least to ascertain the intentions of Government, we don’t need to look any further than the actions & words of the Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill, who himself told us very clearly what side he is on in the debate on regulation of crooked lawyers :

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will protect crooked lawyers from those who misrepresent them ?

John SwinneyJohn Swinney – didn’t do ‘a MacAskill’. Contrast Kenny MacAskill’s actions, with those of John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, and a key member of the Scottish Government who enjoys a lot of cross party respect & public popularity for his work, as he took on the worst elements of the Law Society of Scotland, and exposed a key part of the Law Society’s policy of protection for crooked lawyers by taking former Law Society boss Douglas Mill to task over the content of secret memos which stalled complaints & claims against several firms of crooked lawyers which, even after Mill’s tirade against Mr Swinney still remain to be resolved !

John Swinney battles with ex-Law Society Chief Douglas Mill – Mr MacAskill would never have done such a thing as we now know ..

A Government spokesman could not be contacted today for comment, although allegedly an explanation will be forthcoming, which I will bring you in a further report on the matter.

Denials all round as usual perhaps ? … but we all know what “denials” means these days as just like in the Banking crisis which has brought our coveted financial institutions to their knees, denials no longer work on people now suspicious of most of the professions & politicians motives when their interests coincide … and that realm of suspicion also includes the current Scottish Government.

Oh one last thing, for anyone interested whether the SLCC have improved their culture of secrecy towards Freedom of Information requests in response to my previous article here : FOI disclosures censored to law journalists as MacAskill’s legal complaints commission prefers secrecy to public accountability.

Well, the answer is ….. they have not, as you can see from some of the SLCC’s latest releases, this time on the mega top secret subject of … “mediation” :

It seems “Mediation” is also a taboo word at the SLCC as more blacked out FOIs reveal …

SLCC Mediation Advisory Forum 23 May 2008 - Too many secrets

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