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Fresh appointments sleaze at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as FOIs reveal judicial protests against independent oversight of board member recruitment

27 Jul

SLCCFresh appointments row at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as legal establishment attempts to control selection process. Serious concerns on the independence of the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have been expressed by both clients & consumer groups after the release of documents today showing that a Judge serving on the panel which appointed the SLCC’s current board members protested to the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, over the involvement of Scotland’s independent appointments regulator OCPAS – The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland.

Lord Wheatley & Kenny MacAskillLord Wheatley protested to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill over problems with the SLCC’s appointments process. The judge in question, Lord Wheatley, himself a member of the Judicial Appointments Board Judicial Appointments Board, and also a member of the Privy Council alleged in letters to the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, released today under FOI, that the involvement of ‘outsiders’ on the SLCC’s appointments process “was constitutionally unsound in a mature democracy” and even went onto accuse the appointments regulator OCPAS as ‘being a judge in its own cause’ –something the legal establishment seems to have a habit of doing without too much concern !

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionTransparency is seemingly not a good thing when it comes to revealing the backgrounds of those appointed to ‘independently’ handle complaints against Scottish lawyers. Lord Wheatley felt that the role of Scotland’s independent appointments Commissioner was improper during the appointment of the initial batch of board members to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, appointments which saw mostly lawyers, ex lawyers, and ex Police appointed to the new law complaints body which was promised to better handle complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’ but which has degenerated into farce, scandal and openly expressed prejudice against consumers who dare raise complaints against Scotland’s legal profession.

I reported on the first round of appointments to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission here : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry however, strangely, the letters released now under Freedom of Information legislation were not released at the time despite FOI requests … and when I went on to investigate further, the Justice Secretary tried to gag the appointments regulator from releasing information on the matter last year, which I reported here : Justice Secretary MacAskill fails in ‘gag attempt’ of Appointments Chief over quango jobs for lawyers sleaze

Lord Wheatley to MacAskillLord Wheatley in his letter of protest to the Justice Secretary said : “I was astonished to find the OCPAS Assessor was to take part in the decision-making process itself. I considered that this was seriously inappropriate, but in the circumstances the only realistic course was to continue with the process on the basis that I could explain my concerns to you when it was completed. I believe that I discussed this issue thoroughly and openly with the other members of the panel at all times. He went on : “My Worry can be simply expressed. It is wholly inappropriate, and constitutionally unsound in a mature democracy, for an organisation such as OCPAS to validate a decision-making process in which it elects to take part. Among other things, OCPAS serves the invaluable role of overseeing that the exercise of making public appointments is properly carried out. it can hardly claim that it is in a position to make an independent assessment of such a process when the organisation involves itself in the making of such appointments. Being a judge in your own cause has long been regarded as inconsistent with, and alien to, fundamental democratic principles.”

OCPAS to Lord WheatleyAppointments Commissioner’s office replied to Lord Wheatley’s protests, attempting to allay the judge’s ‘misgivings’. The sharp protests of Lord Wheatley to Justice Secretary MacAskill drew a response direct from the Appointments Commissioner’s office, defending the role of independent assessors in the appointments process in their reply to Lord Wheatley stating : “It is the Commissioner’s current view that there are sufficient checks and balances in the system, such as external audit of the process, to ensure that the nature and extent of that involvement continues to be recognised as appropriate and valuable to other participants in the process.”

Lord Wheatley to OCPASLord Wheatley revealed in his reply to the Appointments Commissioner, that he had not been briefed on appointments code by the Scottish Government. The reply from the Appointments Commissioner’s office led to a further reply from Lord Wheatley, who climbed down somewhat from his initial protests to the Justice Secretary, but the judge revealed he had amazingly not been briefed on the code of conduct for appointments nor supplied with a copy of it from the Scottish Government, despite Mr MacAskill appointing him to the selection panel for the SLCC’s first round of appointments !

SLCC appointments scandal 'humiliation' for Justice Secretary as MacAskill forced to abandon new lay member recruitmentDiary of Injustice reported on latest SLCC appointments scandal in early July. As I revealed a few weeks ago, the SLCC was hit with a new appointments scandal this year, after one of the current lay members on its board decided to step down, forcing a new appointments round, which was started in early February 2009. However, the new appointments round was quickly cancelled in April after reports in the media of scandals involving SLCC board members and officials who had sought to exclude consumer groups & law reform campaigners from consultations and investigations into issues such as the Law Society’s infamously corrupt Master Insurance Policy & the mired-in-fraud ‘Guarantee Fund’, two compensation schemes touted by the Law Society itself as being the “ultimate in consumer protection” but which in reality are little more than heavily corrupt schemes run by the Law Society itself to protect crooked lawyers rather than compensating clients.

I reported on the results of the research into the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund in the following two articles : ‘Ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers & Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Jane IrvineSLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine ‘wanted independent appointments assessor off her interview panel’ However, the protests against the independent assessors taking part in the SLCC’s appointments process di dnot stop with Lord Wheatley, as further documents released through Freedom of Information legislation today show amazingly the SLCC’s Chairman, Jane Irvine, also protested against the involvement of independent assessors to the now cancelled 2009 round of appointments, citing apparent conflicts of interest in the role of independent assessors which seem rather mild compared to the conflicts of interests most of those currently working at the SLCC have themselves, coming mostly from backgrounds associated or linked with the legal profession in one way or another.

Jane Irvine to Justice Dept protesting OCPAS SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine ‘keen on having senior member of the legal profession on appointments panel’. In emails released, Jane Irvine states to the Justice Department : “You asked me just to let you have a note of why we would prefer not to have an OCPAS representative on the interview panel. As we discussed the primary reason is that of conflict. I state immediately we recognize and respect OCPAS’s oversight role. We no that our appointments will be subject to scrutiny. We think OCPAS can comment independently on the process, but not if they are part of it as part of the interview panel. Put simply either they are in oversight or participation mode. We do not think that they can do both and think their value here is in oversight mode.” Jane Irvine went on : “In addition as you know I am very keen we have a senior member of the legal profession on the panel and like your suggestion of a senior member from a consumer advice/representation body if we are aiming to recruit someone from a regulatory/consumer advice background.”

A spokesman for a consumer organisation expressed shock after reading the released papers from the SLCC. She said : “Clearly there is a strong indication in the papers released under FOI that the appointments process for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is a mess. I do not see any benefit to transparency in throwing off the independent assessors who are there to safeguard the public interest in appointments to public bodies such as the SLCC.”

She went on : “Clearly there has been an organised attempt from the very beginning to undermine the independence of the SLCC as it was initially promised in the LPLA Act by what can only be described as resistance from the legal establishment to the concept of any outside scrutiny of the SLCC’s operations, even it seems in the appointments stage of placing people onto the SLCC whom the legal profession clearly want to have there without too much fuss.”

OCPAS warn Justice Dept over oversight roleAppointments Commissioner’s office warned the Justice Department the independent assessor would still intervene if appointments code not complied with. In a round of further correspondence released through FOI, the Appointments Commissioner’s office reported it had discussed the matter with the SLCC’s Chair, Ms Irvine, but while agreeing that the assigned OCPAS appointments assessor “would play the usual role in the appointments process, with the assessor contributing as a selection panel member to the panel’s collective decision”, OCPAS apparently conceded to the wishes of the SLCC and the Law Society, saying the assessor “will not ask questions at the interview but will instead observe and take notes on the interview process.” However, the Appointments Commissioner’s office warned the Justice Department that “If the OA believes during interviews that the code is not being complied with, for example if they believe that a candidate has not been questioned on the same areas as other candidates or a candidate is questioned inappropriately, our expectation is that the OA will intervene immediately.”

You can read the complete FOI releases from the Office of the Commissioner for Appointments in Scotland HERE and the Scottish Government’s FOI release on the SLCC’s now cancelled appointments round HERE

A legal insider after reading the latest Freedom of Information releases on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission branded the commission “worthless” and “a fit up for consumers with problem solicitors”.

So we are left with the feeling that little changes in the legal world, when it comes to regulating the legal profession and handling clients complaints against crooked solicitors. The Law Society have always stated they wish to retain full control of regulation, and that wish is certainly evident in every facet of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, from the appointment of its board members, to senior staff, to its policy on complaints from members of the public, which for the main seem in their results to be little more than a reflection of the Law Society’s policies of whitewashing complaints against solicitors, no matter how bad they are.

While the SLCC Chair, and senior judges are quick to protest over alleged conflicts of interest relating to the independent appointments regulators, where it seems a little transparency is unwelcomed if it doesn’t come from within the legal world itself, there is not one protest in sight from those very same people over the level of injustice their colleagues in the legal profession are causing to members of the public, some of whom have committed suicide over the way they have been treated by the likes of the Law Society and thoroughly corrupt lawyers.

In the circumstances, one can easily conclude the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is unfit for purpose, and is definitely not to be trusted by the public in its current format.

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