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Tesco Law swapped for ‘Penman vote fiddle’ as Law Society’s support for legal services bill leads to solicitors civil war over Scots consumers access to justice

26 Mar

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland accused by its own members of not being democratic. SOLICITORS CLIENTS in Scotland have known for years, the Law Society of Scotland are, to put it mildly, a rather undemocratic organisation when it comes to taking into account the views of up to 5000 clients a year in dealing with regulatory issues & complaints against solicitors, with most complaints receiving what is commonly known as the ‘whitewash treatment’, where solicitors facing even the worst complaints would still remain in a job, no matter how severe the offence, or how severe the financial loss to consumers.

However, only now with the advent of a new legal services model for Scotland, where consumers may actually have the right to choose a non-lawyer to represent their legal interests, do solicitors find out the Law Society’s ‘undemocratic streak’ works both ways, after yesterday’s ‘vote nobbling’ of the Special General Meeting called by the Scottish Law Agents Society, where over 3000 ‘proxy votes’ cast by solicitors mainly it would seem, against the Law Society’s support of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, were put aside, because the Law Society knew it would lose the vote. So, its only taken since 1949 .. some sixty years late, for solicitors to come out and call their own governing body undemocratic, and unwilling to listen to its own membership. Well .. all I can say to that is welcome to the real world.

Clients have felt maligned by the the Law Society’s ‘lack of democracy’ for decades under the society’s self regulation of the legal profession, where clients who had the need to complain of poor service or otherwise from their legal representative consistently had their complaints, views, evidence and pleas for help cast aside by Drumsheugh Gardens time after time after time .. a well worn path by the Law Society, and now the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which continues to this day.

Tell me, members of the Scottish legal profession .. where were all your protests when clients suffered a raw deal at the hands of the Law Society ? Is that a pin I hear dropping ?

Seriously, over the years of writing my blog, some solicitors have come to me saying things along the lines of “all this must end”, “self regulation has to go”, “we know we would be better off without the Law Society of Scotland” … but not once have I seen headlines in the newspapers of something along the lines of “Solicitors challenge their own Law Society to give clients greater say over complaints”. If such a move had taken place, believe me, members of the legal profession, you would have had much greater respect from the Scots population many years ago.

Where only now, that certain quarters of the legal profession itself are realising their dominant control of Scotland’s legal services market is threatened, do we see solicitors protesting against their own governing body … not for the best interests of clients (although I’m sure some claim that is exactly what they have in mind) .. moreover the protests are about money, and the loss of it.

Its just not good enough. As solicitors, you all have yourselves to blame for the mess you are in, which ultimately clients will have to pay for.

Decades of confrontation with clients, decades of lies, deceit, decades of arm twisting Members of the Scottish Parliament, and their Members of Parliament at Westminster before them into watering down or killing off proposals to reform regulation of the legal profession, reform of rights of audience, reform of court procedures, reform of civil & criminal law, and now, reform of the public’s access to justice, has given the public a view of the legal profession which will never change .. that of a selfish, manipulative, corrupt, anti-client, anti-consumer monopolistic business who will stop at nothing to protect its own interests.

It could have been so different, if the profession’s membership had listened to its fee paying clients, consumers and well .. common sense, all those years ago, but even now, as solicitors I doubt you are at all interested in the views of the very consumers who pay your way and maintain your existence. When you are, then you can claim you have clients best interests at heart in your accusations against the Law Society … but until then, be honest, its only about money – not the client’s best interests …

However, even in today’s newspapers, the rights of consumers in this debate on legal services, still seem very far away, as the grim reading in today’s papers makes for the chance of passing legislation increasing Scots access to justice, where The Times reports that We got it very wrong, admits Law Society boss as ‘Tesco law’ founders, the Scotsman reporting : Law Society accused of ‘affront to democracy’ as voting postponed and the Herald reports : Blocking ‘Tesco law’ could cost Scotland £500 million, warns law society president

Ian SmartLaw Society’s Ian Smart – no nobbled vote here, its just we knew we’d lose it so we adjourned it ! In a release from the Law Society, its President Ian Smart continued the society’s line on the Legal Services bill, saying : “The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill proposes major changes. There is no disguising that there are differing opinions within the profession on this. However all sides must be happy that there is now a fuller engagement with these issues and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the contributions of the Scottish Law Agents in that process. It was clear that as the debate proceeded today, the two sides may not be as far apart as perceived prior to the meeting. The decision to adjourn was taken in the hope that we might yet reach agreement on a way forward that is acceptable to the vast majority of our membership.”

Clearly the Law Society knew it would lose the vote, so, simple way of dealing with that is to stop the vote. Yes, a good show for democracy there, but as consumers we have all experienced this same policy where the Law Society deals with thorny issues .. simply kill discussion, kill reforms, kill any chance of public debate.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanLaw Society insider James Ness, famed for nobbling a Committee decision to send Borders solicitor Andrew Penman to the SSDT announced the vote would be cancelled. The opposing view from the Scottish Law Agents Society, revealed, amazingly, that James Ness, whom readers may remember, represented Scotland’s most famous crooked lawyer, Andrew Penman, before the Complaints Committee back in 1994 and got him off the hook from some of the most serious complaints imaginable, announced the vote proposed by the SLAS would not go ahead. Well, there’s a surprise ! So the shadow of crooked Borders solicitor Andrew Penman is still playing a hand in obstructing consumer reforms to legal services, and at the same time cancelling a vote by lawyers against their own Law Society of Scotland.

From the Scottish Law Agents Society website : “Deputy Registrar, James Ness announced that the motion to adjourn the meeting, once seconded, would go straight to a vote without need for a direct negative or opportunity for any members to address the motion, either in support or in opposition. Further, the proxy votes would be excluded from the vote so that the motion would be decided by those personally present. A number of points of order were raised from the floor and, while these were courteously answered, matters proceeded as initially ordered by the Deputy Registrar and the whole meeting suddenly disappeared through a sort of metaphorical trapdoor.”

“It had been fairly clear from the outset that, with the Law Society Council in attendance, the number of persons present who opposed the motion substantially outnumbered those who supported it, in the proportion of about 2:1, just as it was also obvious from the the proxy records which had been duly prepared and circulated by the organisers, that the proxies in favour of the motion outnumbered those against, in the proportion of almost 3:1. It was no surprise, therefore, when the option was certain defeat if the issue went to a vote, that those who opposed the motion duly voted for the adjournment of the meeting. This led to some further points of order and indeed to some outspoken adverse criticisms of the process which were finally brought to a conclusion when SLAS President Scanlan delivered a polite acknowledgement and acceptance of the technical correctness of the outcome.”

You can read more about how James Ness aided Mr Penman, blocking his prosecution before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, here : How Law Society’s ‘cancelled’ prosecution of Borders solicitor Andrew Penman ignited moves to reform regulation of Scotland’s crooked lawyers

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government – ever so eager to concede to lawyers demands over consumer rights. Next week, we can expect more arm twisting from the legal profession on the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament, inevitably bringing further concessions on the Legal Services Bill, perhaps watering down completely any chance that Scots will gain the right to choose their own legal representatives from an expanded legal services market, rather than be forced to live under the current regime where the legal profession itself determines who among us has the right to pay through the nose for access to justice …

Is this fair to consumers ? It certainly is not …. but as we see from the vested interests at play here, consumers have little or no voice in this battle over legal services at all, as the legal profession have already secured their political allies, even in the form of the Justice Committee Convener himself, Bill Aitken who, by the sounds of his praise for Douglas Mill and solicitors in general, is apparently dead against any reforms to giving people control over their own legal affairs … perhaps, then, as someone pointed out earlier to me today, the Office of Fair Trading will have to step in and force a change on behalf of Scots consumers, to ensure at least someone, is protecting our interests in this debate on legal services …

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

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