SLCC appointments scandal ‘humiliation’ for Justice Secretary as MacAskill forced to abandon new lay member recruitment

02 Jul

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was forced to cancel appointments round after media reports of scandals at the SLCC. Amid denials from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission that at least one of it’s lay members who were personally appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill last year wished to ‘step down’, revelations from Scotland’s independent appointments regulator and sources now confirm the incident did take place and that the new appointments round, had to be abruptly cancelled by the Justice Secretary just one month later after reports appeared in the media of scandals involving the SLCC’s lawyer members.

SLCC lay member steps down February 16 2009SLCC delayed publication of meetings details for 5 months to hide secret recruitment drive. The Legal Complaints Commission’s requirement for new lay members only emerged this week, in the five month late publication of their meetings minutes, which insiders allege was a deliberate delay to cover up the fact that at least one commission lay member had asked to step down, as I reported earlier, here : Justice Secretary forced into new appointments round at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after lay member ‘steps down’

Insults fly at SLCC as Law chiefs launch bitter tirades against campaign groups & law reformersMedia reports showed extreme anti-public bitterness at SLCC. However, revelations from documents obtained under the Freedom of Information act which I reported on, and were also reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper, portrayed board members & staff of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as anti-consumer, anti-reform, and having the same closed shop mentality as the Law Society of Scotland, where papers showed that board members had engaged in bitter hate fuelled rants against victims of crooked lawyers, had also attacked individuals who were claiming compensation against ‘crooked lawyers’ and were seemingly more interested in being out on the town than performing their public duties.

ocpasScottish appointments regulator OCPAS confirmed they were involved in now cancelled recruitment of SLCC lay members. The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland have now confirmed they were involved in an abruptly cancelled round of lay member appointments to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, initiated in February by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who was then forced to cancel the appointments round after only a month, in April.

A spokesman for OCPAS said : “We did assign an OCPAS Assessor to oversee a new appointments round for the SLCC in February of this year. The Scottish Government cancelled the round in April before it got beyond the planning stage. This is the prerogative of the Scottish Ministers.”

He continued : “It is not possible for the Scottish Ministers to recruit ministerial appointees for the Commission without our regulatory oversight. When we do have regulatory oversight over appointments the vacancies always have to be publicised appropriately. As a minimum they must be publicised on the Scottish Government’s public appointments website

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionSLCC Board members – Who wants to step down now ? However, this is not the first time board members have wanted to ‘step down’ at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has received over £2 million pounds of public money so far, where board members earn up to £350 a day in expenses, and some salaries of particular members of staff are hitting up to £1350 a week.

I reported earlier that the entire board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission threatened to resign over a lack of insurance cover and increased perks, which itself could have also provoked another costly round of appointments by the Justice Secretary. On that occasion, the Scottish Government were forced to give in, and bow to the demands of the SLCC board members.

ScottishGovernmentScottish Government ‘were humiliated’ by lawyers complaints quango the SLCC. A Scottish Government insider talking about the scandal at the SLCC claimed today the whole episode “had made a fool out of the Justice Secretary” after Mr MacAskill instituted a new appointments round for lay members in February of this year, but was then forced to cancel it just a few weeks later.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailMedia focus on booze culture & secret goings on at SLCC derailed the latest shoe-in appointments. The insider claimed : “The SLCC’s failure to competently handle their lay member issue ended up causing a lot of problems for the Justice Secretary and Justice Department officials, who, after the media reports on Margaret Scanlan and Eileen Masterman, had to cancel the new recruitment round the commission itself had requested.”

“Secrecy on the issue was viewed as important as the SLCC was presenting its budget to Parliament and no one wanted awkward questions on the conduct of ministerial appointees and the fact some suspected there would have been shoe-in appointments if there had been no press attention.”

He went on : “I understand the whole episode was very humiliating for MacAskill and the justice team. They were and still are very angry over the whole thing but many are thinking the SLCC is just not up to the job they are supposed to be doing.”

A spokesman for a consumer organisation today also expressed concern over the SLCC’s handling of the appointments affair. He said : “If the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission always choose the secrecy route in trying to hide their problems then I don’t see how the public can have any confidence in them at all.”

He continued : “This latest affair, which seems to show the Government and the commission were trying to hide their need for new lay members raises questions over the whole appointments process, especially where lay members are supposed to be independent of the legal profession and are there to balance the complement of lawyers already sitting on the SLCC.”

A member of the public, who read my earlier report this week on the lay member scandal at the SLCC decided to call in and ask for an explanation.

He said : “After reading your report on Monday, I called the SLCC to ask why lay members were resigning but the person I spoke to denied there were any resignations or anyone wanted to step down, despite the fact it says in their own minutes a lay member was going to step down which you also published. How can anyone trust an organisation like that ?”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine – greater clarity needed at SLCC for new lay members. To end the theme of secret resignations & secret appointments for now, the SLCC managed a two line reference in their April minutes to the ‘delay’ of the lay appointments round. The SLCC’s Chairman, Jane Irvine is quoted in the briefest terms as saying : “The Chair also advised that SGvt have agreed to defer the additional appointment of Lay Members to the Board until there is greater clarity over need by the SLCC.”

However the April minutes have only now been released, months after the events took place which you read by clicking on the following thumbnails :

SLCC April’s minutes – published 5 months late, hopefully not for public eyes ?

SLCC 20th April Meeting 0001SLCC 20th April Meeting 0002SLCC 20th April Meeting 0003SLCC 20th April Meeting 0004SLCC 20th April Meeting 0005

So, it seems, secrecy and outright lies are the order of the day at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, where news of internal scandals and the failures of its board members to live up to their expected duties towards the public are concealed, just in the same way the Law Society of Scotland conceals all its dirty operations. Is this what we expected from the hard work put in on the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 ? I think not.


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