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Whitewash at MacAskill’s Legal Complaints Commission as internal sleaze investigation clears officials of anti-consumer email smears

17 Apr

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission ‘now as corrupt as the Law Society’. Revelations of a whitewashed internal investigation into complaints made against the conduct of solicitors & officials personally appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, show the beleaguered law complaints body has turned into little more than a cruel clone of the Law Society of Scotland, made famous over the years in its own role for protecting crooked lawyers from client complaints.

Jane IrvineSLCC Chief Jane Irvine. The internal investigation, conducted by SLCC Chair Jane Irvine herself, amazingly found that a series of discussions & emails documenting members drunken conduct, which extended into bitter hate fuelled rants against consumer groups & law reform campaigners were a result of “free discussion of ideas amongst Board members and staff” rather than offences meriting disciplinary hearings and a clean up of the now little regarded law complaints body.

Insults fly at SLCC as Law chiefs launch bitter tirades against campaign groups & law reformersHow it all started as I reported on the board members antics. Jane Irvine’s brief investigation of her own highly paid colleagues conduct, ran only to a few lines, completely exonerating members email insults towards consumer campaign groups, law campaign reformers & political parties, and Ms Irvine even went on to claim that board members email smears against claimants to the Law Society’s infamously corrupt Guarantee Fund “were not defamatory”, while the actual emails reveal SLCC officials revelling in bitter hate fuelled rants against consumer groups & members of the public.

Jane Irvine SLCC investigation into emails by members 16 April 2009Jane Irvine said of her investigation into her own colleagues : “I have carefully examined the complaint you have made. I do not consider that it can be upheld. At base the copy records released to you under one of your FOI requests to us simply show working communications during an open process of discussion of process matters. As I have already confirmed to you I encourage open and free discussion of ideas amongst Board members and staff.

She concluded : “I reject this assertion which is not supported by the records released to you. The records released to you show expressions of opinions and open exchanges of views within the SLCC.”

So, as we see, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is nothing more than a costly mistake and repeat of the Law Society of Scotland.No justice for consumers and no protection against the criminal element of the legal profession, whom the SLCC seem just as willing to excuse as their counterparts over at the Law Society regularly do.

Margaret Scanlan & Douglas Mill  - similar attitudes towards clients of solicitorsSLCC email slurs ‘probably defamatory’. A senior solicitor who viewed & commented on the original email exchanges between SLCC board members retorted : “It is for a court to decide, rather than Jane Irvine, if her colleagues highly personalised slurs made against claimants to the Guarantee Fund are defamatory or not. Given what was said, I believe there may well be grounds for legal action by the claimant against the commission.”

He went on : “It is clearly in the public interest this matter be cleared up as to why claimants to the Guarantee Fund were called “chancers” by the board member concerned. It may for instance indicate SLCC members are aware there are irregularities in the individual’s claim to the fund, which clearly must be investigated.”

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had no power to intervene. The deal to clear members of their outrageous opinions & rants against consumer organisations & political groups was apparently struck after it turned out the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, was powerless to intervene in the widely reported antics of lawyers he himself had appointed to the law complaints body, due to the fact he had failed to implement a code of conduct for members before they began work.

A spokesman for the Justice Secretary said : “The article that appeared in the media referred to the views of members of the SLCC during early discussion of particular topics. Because of the independent nature of the Board it is important that they are entitled to hold full and frank discussion before coming to a joint view.”

She went on : ”It would be inappropriate for Ministers to comment on views expressed during the course of that decision making process. The Cabinet secretary will not be making a complaint on this occasion.”

Mr MacAskill’s unwillingness to make a disciplinary complaint against the conduct of his own ministerial appointees is understandable, given the fact there is no enforceable regulatory framework in place for SLCC board members, an omission on the Justice Secretary’s part which increasingly seems as if it was more of a deliberate policy, than an oversight, leaving conduct & regulation of the SLCC itself off the books for as long as possible.

I reported on the Justice Secretary’s failure to implement a code of conduct for SLCC members before they began their work, over a year ago, here : MacAskill ‘negligent’ as revelations show £4.5m Legal Complaints Commission operating with no standards oversight one year on

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailHow the media reported problems at the SLCC. However, not everyone at the Scottish Government takes that line, as a source commented : “Several of my colleagues accept this commission is a mess and there should have been action taken over what appeared in the papers, but Ministers wanted to keep publicity to a minimum as the SLCC is currently presenting its budget to the Scottish Parliament, and the Justice Secretary could do without any awkward questions on what officials at the commission have been getting up to.”

An official from a consumer organisation who did not want to be identified said :“The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in its current state is doing very little for consumer protection or restoring morale in the legal profession as it should have been well into by now over a year on from creation.”

He went on :“Several organisations which have observed the SLCC’s lack of progress to-date, when the issues it should be dealing with are very clear, feel it is not the consumer champion which was proposed in legislation. Consequently the public have been led up the garden path with claims this would be a new start in regulating the legal profession which it definitely is not.”.

Jane Irvine was challenged on whether the SLCC would issue public apologies to those who were the subject of board members insults & rants, but Ms Irvine pointedly refused to do so, ending the matter by saying : “I have responded fully. I have nothing further to add.”

I would point out that since the Prime Minister has taken responsibility & apologised for a similar email smear affair at Westminster, carried out by advisers working on their own who have now resigned over their conduct, the SLCC Chair and board members who, widely and apparently quite happily discussed the smears against consumer groups & law reformers, should do the honourable thing and issue apologies too.

However, the SLCC’s refusal to even apologise for its members & officials wholly unacceptable conduct, smacks of the arrogance and self protectionism which emanates from the remarkably corrupt regulatory policies of the Law Society of Scotland, which the SLCC was itself designed to clean up.

censoredSLCC staff ‘censored’ over whistle blowing. In a sinister twist to the story, a source close to the SLCC came forward last night and indicated some SLCC staff have been privately WARNED that if they talk to the media about their work or problems at the discredited law complaints body, they face criminal charges under a legislative clause known as Section 43, which the Law Society of Scotland insisted be contained in the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, making it a criminal offence for staff to whistle blow on the failings or corruption inside the SLCC.

This seems to echo a previous warning given out to SLCC staff, which I reported on earlier in March, here : ‘Culture of fear’ grips Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Department witch-hunt threatens whistleblower staff over leaks to media

So there we have it. Those who were or are expecting a measure of justice through the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s presence in regulating the legal profession, will have to look elsewhere, as this organisation, unregulated and unchecked in its actions, has simply copied the Law Society of Scotland and whitewashed its own anti-client anti-consumer attitudes from public scrutiny.

Surely this is as good an indicator to the public if any is needed, that this commission’s motives & allegiances still lie with protecting the legal profession rather than the consumer’s best interests.

A regulator such as the SLCC, which covers up its own dirty linen, has no productive role to play in the community other than to further the greed & corruption of the Scots legal profession it was supposedly put there to regulate, and which has yet to find a cure in a fully independent regulator, which for now, the Justice Secretary and the minority SNP Scottish Government are resisting tooth & nail.

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