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Justice Secretary MacAskill forced into new appointments round at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after lay member ‘steps down’

29 Jun

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission delayed publishing minutes to hide lay members resignations. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was caught up in another scandal tonight as it was revealed that at least one, so far unidentified lay member wants to stand down, provoking a new round of Ministerial appointments of ‘lay members’ who are supposed to have no links to the legal profession, to the beleaguered law complaints body.

SLCC lay member steps down February 16 2009Minutes from February 09 just published reveal that at least one lay member is to stand down. Revelations from minutes recently released show that one of the SLCC’s lay members, so far unidentified, has asked to stand down, and discussions have already taken place between the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine, the CEO Eileen Masterman and the Scottish Government’s Justice Department over replacements and mysteriously also point to the appointment of an additional lay member. “Paper (08.07.5.1) was noted from the Chair. The Chair also stated that she and the CEO had attended a meeting with the SG to discuss the recruitment of an additional Board Member. It was noted that SG have agreed to the appointment of 2 additional Lay Members; this is due to 1 Lay Member wishing to stand-down in the near future so that there will be 1 additional new appointment. Discussion took place regarding the recruitment process for additional Members and it was agreed that the Chair would update Members as matters progressed.”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine. The Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Jane Irvine, refused give an explanation for the sudden departure of a lay member, nor did she wish to identify the individual at the centre of the latest crisis to hit the ‘independent’ SLCC. Ms Irvine delayed any announcement on the matter by making the enquiry a ‘freedom of information request’, which can take anything up to 20 days to receive a reply.

A legal insider said tonight : “This latest problem to hit the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission shows it is unfit for purpose and should be scrapped in its present format. The delay in publishing these minutes simply because there were problems within the organisation the SLCC did not wish to reveal, demonstrates the commission is more focussed on protecting itself than protecting the interests of clients.”

He went on : “If the public and the profession are to be served by a regulator which will give the public confidence in the Scots legal services market, there has to be a totally independent regulator with full powers of prosecution and enforcement of discipline, rather than the idiotic arrangement we currently have where the SLCC will investigate a complaint and the Law Society will ‘punish’ the offending solicitor.”

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decidedly unhappy over more disarray at SLCC. The Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill was asked for his reaction to the resignation and the requirement for a new round of lay person appointments to the SLCC. His spokesman said : “We wouldn’t comment on speculation about the board membership of an independent public body. Any further appointments that might be required would take place according to the statutory framework laid down in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Act and the procedures laid down by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland.”

An official from a Scottish consumer organisation who looked at the latest publications of minutes from the SLCC was staggered that ‘late publication’ had been used to conceal serious problems within the SLCC. He said : “This latest scandal points to an organisation which does not have the consumer’s best interests at heart. Concealing resignations of lay members by failing to publish information timely seems to indicate to me the Commission realises it has no public trust otherwise why fear releasing such information into the public domain ?”

He continued : “These events also raise many questions such as : if new lay members are to be appointed, where are the advertisements for these posts ? who will pay for this new round of appointments ? what are the criteria for these positions ? and why is there to be an extra lay member appointed ?”

If an extra lay member is to be appointed which will leave the SLCC with one more lay member than lawyer members, will the legal profession object to the arrangement or ask for an additional lawyer member to be appointed ? I can see this developing into another big mess at the SLCC.”

Well we have an interesting set of circumstances here, as it looks very much like the Justice Secretary will have to appoint new lay members to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, but where will these lay members come from ?

Are the replacement lay members to be more stooges from the legal profession or other self regulatory bodies who know how to protect the guilty from their victims ? I fear that will be the case, as the initial round of appointments to the SLCC by the Justice Secretary, which I reported on here : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry left a lot to be desired in terms of transparency and accountability.

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionThe SLCC board members : Do you want to join this bunch and be a lay member ? If you feel like contacting the Justice Secretary over the lay member positions at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, contacting the Justice Secretary as soon as possible, HERE. You can also contact the SLCC to offer your services as a lay member by email, HERE. Just don’t expect to be taken on if you don’t have relatives already in the legal profession .. which does seem to be one of the criteria for sitting on the SLCC and scoffing up to £350 a day in expenses.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland officials get top line access to SLCC meetings but clients are not invited. Full details of the February meeting of the SLCC, just published late this month, with the entire top brass of the Law Society of Scotland in attendance, can be viewed by clicking on the following images, where readers may also note, the poor dears at the SLCC are also still waiting for their pensions transfer …

SLCC’s February meeting, details just published in June ! :

SLCC 16th February meeting 0001SLCC 16th February meeting 0002SLCC 16th February meeting 0003SLCC 16th February meeting 0004SLCC 16th February meeting 0005

So how about keeping the public informed on these appointments ? or is this another ‘secret squirrel’ operation to parachute in more sympathisers of crooked lawyers into the once claimed ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission .. which is now anything but independent.

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