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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission misled media over taxpayer funding as calls grow for accountability over ‘anti client’ policies

22 Sep

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission were told to hide the fact they receive public funds. Revelations today from interviews with senior legal insiders and documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been ordered around by the Scottish Government and the Law Society on many of its key decisions to-date affecting its consideration of complaints against ‘crooked lawyers, even to the extent the Commission was ordered to publicly conceal the fact it has so far consumed well over £2 million of taxpayers money.

SLCC Public FundingSLCC told the media it was not publicly funded while actually receiving £2 million from the Scottish Government. While minutes obtained from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission show they had deliberately misinformed enquiring newspapers the Commission was not publicly funded, a disclosure received from the Scottish Government admitted that at least £1.7 million of taxpayers money had been lavished on the underperforming law complaints quango up to 29 September 2008, insisting that “…as the budget of up to 2 million at the time was managed by the Scottish Government, there was no need for the SLCC to provide accounting of how this money was spent.”. The documents also contain references to questions asked by MSP William Coffey (SNP) in the Scottish Parliament on the SLCC’s performance, questions which rattled the SLCC’s board members.

A breakdown of the costs of the alleged ‘non existent’ public funding revealed that £608,991 was spent on staff & training, a further £245,165 was spent on furniture, £290,523 went on buying computers & information technology, £122,979 was used up on legal costs, a staggering £370,092 of taxpayers money was spent on rent of the SLCC’s operational base – the Stamp Office at Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, and £72,977 bought advertising for the SLCC. This coming on top of the salaries of up to £100,000 & staggering expenses claims of up to £350 a day for SLCC Board members & officials.

ScottishGovernmentScottish Government civil servants blocked help for consumers with grievances against Law Society. However, a legal insider has today sensationally revealed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was ordered by the Justice Department to conceal the fact it had received public funds to avoid any calls for public accountability over how the money had been spent. Even worse, the insider has also revealed the SLCC’s controversial decision not to look at historical cases of complaints against crooked lawyers & the Law Society of Scotland which occurred before 1st October 2008 actually came about after civil servants at the Scottish Government and Law Society officials apparently insisted that people with long standing claims & complaints “should be brushed aside and given no help by the SLCC.”

The source said : “The funding subject has provoked a number of enquiries from the media on how much public money the commission received after journalists had quoted online sources claiming around 2.5 million had come in from the taxpayer. Orders were given out not to admit to any public funding, and those in the know were told that such enquiries should be rebuffed by stating the SLCC is funded solely by levies from the legal profession itself.”

She went on : “I think the public should also be concerned to hear that decisions such as refusing to look at complaints before 1st October 2008 are linked to the SLCC’s policy of avoiding mention of their public funding, because some felt if the Commission admitted to being publicly funded but had refused to investigate public complaints, there would be calls for accountability. While that may be bad enough, it is also true the proposal not to investigate complaints before October 2008 came from the current Scottish Executive and the Law Society who specifically did not want the Commission to become a gateway to resolving clients cases of long standing grievances against the legal profession.”

“I personally found the momentum & discussions on that subject very bitter. It was clear many who took part in the decision to block the investigation of historical complaints had an axe to grind in preventing the resolution of cases which have haunted us for years. I do not believe this kind of decision would have been taken under the previous administration, who created the legislation and the SLCC in good faith to clear up the problems of poor regulation of solicitors in Scotland past & present.”

A Scottish Government insider today confirmed the running total of taxpayers money thrown at the SLCC was in reality much higher than officials were willing to publicly admit. He alleged the true figure to be in the order of £2.5 million and continuing to rise, given the massive work that civil servants in the Justice Department have had to put in on hundreds of issues which have cropped up since the SLCC officially began its work on 1st October 2008.

He said : “It is shameful to see the SLCC trying to deny the incredible level of financial support they received from the Government. Taxpayers should be up in arms over the public money wasted on the SLCC, especially since the Commission has now had two years worth of complaints levies paid by the legal profession amounting to about £5 million which should enable repayment to the public purse.”

He continued : If the public had a vote on demanding back their money from some underperforming, credibility lacking lawyer complaints quango I’d say you might get a 99.9% ‘Yes’ ! £2 million of public funds spent on mishandling complaints against rogue lawyers could be better used elsewhere in Scotland especially since the economy is so bad and public services are facing cuts.”

A spokesman for one of Scotland’s consumer organisations also waded into the argument over the SLCC’s funding by saying : “Until the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission pay back all the money it received from the taxpayer, which it can certainly now afford to do, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude the SLCC is jointly funded by the taxpayer and legal profession.”

She went on : “However, it is very disturbing to learn that decisions taken by the commission such as their refusal to look at complaints involving legal issues which took place before 1st October 2008 apparently have a party political dimension to them. I can only conclude the present administration has no real wish to see the legal profession cleaned up in any way whatsoever. Consumers should be on their guard against their lack of rights with their errant solicitors and the rather unhelpful SLCC.”

It is of little surprise to me the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has, evidently a policy of dishonesty with the media and the public in all things from its funding to what it can and cannot investigate. So far the SLCC has consistently demonstrated it cannot be trusted to independently investigate complaints against the legal profession, and its attitudes towards the public as I have previously reported can only be described as anti-client, and most definitely, hostile.

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney expected the SLCC would look at historical complaints against the Law Society. At least one voice in the current Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney, has expressed his dismay to constituents over the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s refusal to investigate historical cases of complaints against the legal profession, as Mr Swinney had fully expected the SLCC to address many long standing cases which brought about the Commission’s very existence in the first place. These apparent differences in Ministerial expectations do lead to the feeling there are divisions in the Government on how the SLCC should implement its duties towards the public, and why ‘saving lawyers from complaints’ shouldn’t be such an apparent top priority for some in this administration.

This afternoon, a source close to Mr Swinney expressed anger over the denials the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had made regarding its public funding, which was of course paid out by Mr Swinney in his role as the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Finance Chief.

He said : “Mr Swinney has as you know, written to the SLCC on several occasions taking the view that members of the public are stakeholders in the organisation due in no small part to the huge financial input by the Scottish Government into the SLCC itself. I think it is very deceitful of the SLCC to try to conceal their debt to the public in this regard and I can imagine John will not be impressed with their conduct on this matter.”

“Perhaps as some are already saying it is time for the SLCC to pay the public back for the costs of creating the Commission, which the legal profession brought on itself.”

Giving a taxpayer funded £2 million gift to the Scottish legal profession is bad enough, but then having that gift turned around and used by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to dodge & avoid all the duties expected of it .. well, that in itself shows us there is long way yet to protect consumers from Scotland’s increasing ranks of ‘crooked lawyers’ out to ruin their clients for anything they can get.

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