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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s ‘ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers

13 Jul

Law SocietyConsumer experiences in Master Policy report brands Law Society of Scotland & its insurers ‘rotten to the core’. The Law Society of Scotland and it’s insurers who handle claims against an ever growing number of ‘crooked lawyers’ have been branded corrupt and dishonest by clients who were interviewed for the completion of ground breaking research published today by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, on the role of the two client compensation schemes operated by the Law Society of Scotland, known as the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund. The report contains highly accurate accounts from victims of crooked lawyers of the torturous and often failed process of trying to make a compensation claim against a ‘crooked lawyer’ who have mishandled clients legal affairs or in a now almost daily event, embezzled clients money.

0048Insurers Marsh & Law Society imposed conditions on SLCC’s research team. However, in a startling revelation which gives an insight into the difficulties the research team faced in compiling the report, legal insiders allege that corruption is so rife in the legal services sector, the Law Society refused to hand over actual copies of the Master Policy to the research team, fearing disclosure of the highly secretive & sensitive documents would cause a rush of bad publicity to the Scots legal profession for its consistent cover up of claims & complaints against highly corrupt law firms and individual solicitors. In response to enquiries, Dr Angela Melville, who interviewed many clients for her final report, confirmed the research team did not receive a copy of the Master Policy, despite requesting it. Instead, a letter from Alistair J Sim, Director of the US Insurer Marsh, who had executives convicted of criminal offences in the United States , attached strict conditions to what little information was disclosed : “Please note that the consent of Marsh and Royal & Sun Alliance plc to the production of the enclosed documents is condition on the research team agreeing not to quote from the documents, or any part of them, whether text or figures, in the report to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

“The documents which are produced are confidential and are commercially sensitive. They are provided to the research team only and neither the documents nor copies should be provided to any other party nor should the content of the documents be disclosed to anyone outside the research team. At the conclusion of the research project, the documents should be returned with confirmation that foregoing conditions have been complied with and that no copies have been retained. If the research team is unable to agree to the foregoing conditions, the documents should be returned along with confirmation that no copies have been retained.”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine attacked ‘conditions imposed by Law Society on research’. Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC condemned the Law Society’s insurance brokers, Marsh for not handing over necessary documents which the SLCC itself will need for its ‘monitoring role’ if that is to be achieved successfully under its legislative powers. Jane Irvine said : “The research is unique as it is the first to examine how the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund function but we are very disappointed that conditions imposed on the data delivered by the Law Society of Scotland’s broker, proved unacceptable and the transparency of operation, which is key for all users, is not apparent.”

The Law Society of Scotland today issued a statement confirming the conditions of secrecy imposed on the independent research team, claiming “During the course of this research, representatives of the Law Society were interviewed and various Master Policy documents were supplied to the researchers. Some of the information was commercially sensitive and confidential so the researchers were asked not to share it with other parties and that copies were not made or kept.”. Surely such levels of secrecy imposed on independent investigations only serve to preserve the corruption which necessitated the investigation in the first place.

A legal insider who was briefed on the interviews taking place alleged the Law Society attempted to control what was said by the solicitors to the research team, claiming : “Anything to do with the Master Policy or the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society wants to control, to the point of rigging the results. Because this was an independent research team they couldn’t control what was being reported by way of interviews from members of the public, but they did ensure they had a firm grip on what solicitors said and what information was released from the Law Society itself.”

You can read Dr Melville & Professor Stephen’s report on the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, HERE

Page 23Report reveals Law Society Chief Kenneth Pritchard, now a Sheriff blocked a client’s access to justice. The highly controversial research report contains direct references to evidence revealed by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney in the Scottish Parliament’s debating chamber, showing the most senior officials of the Law Society of Scotland, including a serving Sheriff, Kenneth Pritchard, intervened in claims against corrupt lawyers, ordering solicitors & legal firms to drop courtroom litigation against colleagues in the legal profession who had negligently handled clients affairs, in some cases losing (or taking) millions of pounds of clients money for themselves. John Swinney said in Parliament : “I can also cite to you extracts from a petition that was made to the Court of Session for Judicial Review, in which there is a quote from a letter from a Mr Pritchard who was the Secretary of the Law Society of Scotland in which he writes to a firm of solicitors: “I am anxious that you should protect your back in this matter, because every solicitor who has acted for this particular person has ended up with a claim against them.’ You will appreciate that this is a private and confidential letter, not to be shown to Mr Macintyre, the sole purpose of which is to give what I hope is helpful advice to protect both you and your firm”.

John SwinneyJohn Swinney’s revelations broke open the corruption at the Law Society of Scotland and insurance companies connected with the Master Policy. Mr Swinney concluded his statement by saying “So really quite active encouragement from an official of the Law Society of Scotland for a practitioner not to act and deliver legal representation to an individual concerned.”. Mr Swinney said he had no comment to make on the matter today, but Government insiders said the Cabinet Secretary “was satisfied the information he had revealed was accurate and that it clearly contradicted the Law Society’s version of events on Master Policy claims to the Justice 2 Committee & the Scottish Parliament.”

Policy is to protect both says Law Society - Kenneth PritchardFormer Law Chief Kenneth Pritchard claimed Master Policy protected solicitors & clients alike. While the ex Law Society chief, now Sheriff Kenneth Pritchard claimed that Master Policy protected both clients & solicitors, as I reported earlier HERE , the SLCC’s report issued today makes a nonsense of Mr Pritchard’s claims and the Law Society of Scotland’s continued policy of promoting the Master Policy as the “ultimate in consumer protection”. Dr Melville & Professor Stephen’s report reveals a much different picture of the motives of the Master Policy, clearly showing it exists to protect solicitors, no matter how corrupt they have become or what damage they have done to unsuspecting and overly trusting clients. An excerpt from the report issued today reads : “What is striking is that there is no mention of protection of interests of solicitors’ clients in Section 44 of the Solicitors Scotland Act 1980. Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms.”

My own case, involving the complaint against crooked lawyer Andrew Penman, is reported in the research as follows : “Not content with slowing my case and claim against the solicitor, the Law Society of Scotland… directly intervened in my claim by letter and instructed my solicitor… not to take instructions from me… The Law Society, not content with intervening with my solicitors directly, proceeded to obstruct and cancel my Civil Legal Aid I had been trying to obtain for my case.” You can read more on that HERE.

The findings concluded that clients of lawyers are left out in the cold, despite the Law Society of Scotland today continuing its claims that the Master Policy and the Guarantee Fund offers “unrivalled consumer protection. Clients of solicitors would now do well to consider their positions where what may appear to be a trusting relationship with their legal agent could break down in a calamitous manner at any second, From the report : “The overall impression given to the public seems to be that the Master Policy protects the interests of legal services clients, when, in fact, it protects the interests of solicitors.”

Also contained in the report are fairly typical experiences of clients who find out they have been the victim of a ‘crooked lawyer’ but who then find it difficult to gain fair hearings of their complaints or claims : “The first step for most claimants was to try and resolve the case by speaking to the most senior partner in the firm. None of the claimants that we spoke to felt that the firm made any effort to address their concerns. Instead, they all described being met by partners who were aggressive, and this attitude also appeared to add to their sense of shock.”

One reported experience of a client who made a complaint against their solicitor : “So I phoned up the senior partner of the firm. He then started up investigations, and I made an appointment to see the senior partner. When I went in to see the senior partner, after having a brief conversation with him, he looked at me across the desk, and he sat back in his chair, and he folded his arms, and he said “I’m now your opponent.”

Clients of solicitors would now do well to consider their positions where what may appear to be a trusting relationship with their legal agent could break down in a calamitous manner at any second, rendering the one trusted solicitor an opponent who will stop at nothing to ruin their once so admiring client.

Another report of a client who found the Law Society constantly delaying their claim against a crooked lawyer, in an experience common to many clients, is highlighted in the following manner : “Additionally, from the time my claim was made, the Law Society of Scotland, who were still considering complaints made against the solicitor… constantly halted their investigations, putting forward excuses they could not investigate matters while I was raising a claim for negligence against the Master Policy. This stop-start investigation policy continued for well over a year and it was obvious there was an intentional go-slow on the part of the Law Society of Scotland in their investigations to prevent me from obtaining evidence from their investigations to put into my claim to the Master Policy against the solicitor.”

Debating chamberMSPs at the Scottish Parliament are also accused of failing to help constituents who get into difficulties with the legal profession. Members of the public interviewed by the research team also criticised politicians and consumer groups for not doing enough against a very strong legal profession, when even the most horrific cases of client abuse by lawyers went unresolved : “These claimants explained that after discovering that the legal system was not necessarily going to provide a route to justice, that they had attempted to try other avenues to get their cases resolved. They had campaigned for their cause to various consumer interest groups, had approached their MSPs, participated in Government inquiries, turned to the newspaper, and yet they felt that these efforts had met with little avail. For some, this failure provided further evidence of the deep ‘corruption’ and influence of the Law Society.”

SLCCThe Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was condemned by members of the public in the report as just another Law Society. Unsurprisingly, people who were interviewed by the research team felt the SLCC was of no help to them, reported in an excerpt here : “The SLCC is made up of people with jobs connected to the ‘Law Society Inc.’. It is not independent. That is what we wanted. The Law Society is a law unto their own, they are protected. And the SLCC is part of that. The new SLCC won’t help me… From October to now, how they exercise their remit, there is a cosy relationship between the SLCC and the Law Society… They are supposed to be at arm’s length. But documents released under FOI, these documents show that they aren’t.”

Eileen MastermanSLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman. The SLCC’s Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, commented on the research saying : “The research is very much exploratory and this is due to the short time-span and the small number of claimants and solicitors it was possible to interview. The research is a useful first step in providing the SLCC with a meaningful insight into the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund and how it can affect complainers. Members of the SLCC Board will now benefit from this important first-stage research which will develop our role overseeing the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund.”

The research team conclude their report by stating : “ What has clearly come through these interviews has been the very divergent views of solicitors and claimants/consumer groups as to the primary function of the Master Policy. The former tend to see it as simply a professional negligence insurance designed to protect individual members of the profession. The latter see that its primary purpose should be to protect the public against incompetent members of the profession. Whilst these are not incompatible aims we have come to the view that the rhetoric of the Law Society of Scotland encourages the latter perception but practice is more inclined to the former. In other jurisdictions there is a more explicit statement that it is the former.”

“Those claimants to whom we spoke were very much of the opinion that it was difficult to establish liability of a solicitor for professional negligence. It would be desirable to test this claim by looking at the record of the Master Policy in terms of claims and compensation paid. Data which would have allowed us to do this was requested from the Law Society of Scotland but was only made available the day before this Report was due to be submitted. Furthermore the Law Society of Scotland and Marsh put conditions on the use of the data in this Report which were unacceptable to us and to the Chief Executive of SLCC.”

“We would recommend that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission undertake a longer term research project which will allow researchers to examine the experiences of a representative sample of claimants and solicitors as well as analyse data on claims provided by the Master Policy’s broker under reasonable conditions of use.”

So, now what ? Will the SLCC actually do something for people who have had their claims destroyed by the Master Policy ‘protection racket’ ? Will SLCC members such as Margaret Scanlan who it was revealed, tagged claimants to the Guarantee Fund as “chancers” learn that just because victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ try to claim compensation for their stolen funds does not necessarily make everyone a chancer ?

Well, for now, it appears the SLCC will do nothing .. and wont even seek a copy of the Master Policy itself, so there is much more campaigning to be done on these issues to ensure that cases involving claims, and also complaints against crooked lawyers, are considered and regulated properly by a wholly independent organisation free of any involvement with the legal profession .. and that is most certainly not, the SLCC.

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