Holyrood’s Justice Committee voted through latest Law Society edicts on Legal Services Bill. THE ROAD TO RUIN for Scots wider choice of access to justice provided by the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, took a step closer this week as the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee voted through the latest series of Law Society led re-writes of what is now becoming a decidedly consumer unfriendly piece of legislation, with MSPs voting through little publicised amendments put forward by the Law Society itself which will force any non-Law Society controlled legal service provider in the new expanded legal services market forced to contribute to, and access the existing Law Society controlled & administered Guarantee Fund, with any individual claim on the fund to be capped at £1.25 million.
Fergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety & the Justice Dept couldn’t come up with independent ideas, was forced back to the Law Society Guarantee Fund. The Scottish Government’s Fergus Ewing proposed the Law Society wish to control & administer all claims by consumers against their legal representatives with the following amendment during this week’s Justice Committee session on the Legal Services Bill, saying : “Although there may be differences in nuance among us, the political view—indeed, the external view—is clearly that there must be a guarantee fund. In the absence of the ability to fund us in other directions, with insurance underwriters unable to provide some form of insurance cover—apart from anything else, the ability to insure against one’s own fraud indicates a fairly novel approach to life—there is no apparent answer apart from the utilisation, to some extent, of the Law Society guarantee fund as it exists at the moment.”
Mr Ewing continued : “For its part, the Law Society has expressed some unease about the purpose behind amendment 210 and the related amendments. It seems that, if the Law Society fund must be utilised in providing what we all agree is necessary protection to the consumer, it should have some input to regulation of individuals who have the potential to have a negative impact on the operation of that fund.”
“I hope that the matter might be agreed further down the road. However, having considered the matter at considerable length, I do not see any way round it. We must have the appropriate protection in place, and I can come up with no reasonable solution other than the Law Society fund. At the same time, I recognise the Law Society’s anxieties and concerns that we could have an influx into the profession, which could, in certain circumstances—although there is no need to exaggerate the argument—result in the fund being left vulnerable if the Law Society did not have the power to regulate in that respect.”
The Scottish Government – so much money, so many civil servants, still couldn’t come up with consumer protection measures for an independent Legal Services Guarantee Fund. So, the Scottish Government have basically admitted they are so stupid, have such lack of foresight, they cannot come up with an independent compensation scheme to protect consumers of legal services in Scotland under the new arrangements proposed in their own Legal Services Bill, and are therefore forced to run back to the oh-so-open arms of the Law Society of Scotland for help. Pathetic. Especially pathetic considering the Guarantee Fund is, as I reported earlier : Law Society’s ‘Guarantee Fund’ for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption. In fact, the Guarantee Fund, contrary to Mr Ewing’s understanding of reality, is in such poor state it has never guaranteed anything, and with so many reports coming into this blog of failed Guarantee Fund claims, I issued an ADVISORY for clients to protect their funds from their solicitor’s dishonesty by immediately withdrawing any funds held by their solicitors.
You can read the Justice Committee’s debate on the Legal Services Bill, along with the vote to force all consumers through the Law Society controlled Guarantee Fund, here : Legal Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2
Legal insiders & law reform campaigners have all criticised the Justice Committee’s vote, along with the Scottish Government’s failure to put in place non Law Society controlled consumer compensation arrangements, rather than forcing people though the notoriously corrupt Guarantee Fund operated by the Law Society which allegedly pays out if solicitors or their staff have been ‘dishonest’. Many of those clients who attempt to claim against the Guarantee Fund usually fail, ensuring total financial loss for clients when their solicitors misappropriate funds.
An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations, who have made many recommendations on client protection against poor or dishonest solicitors called the Justice Committee’s vote on the Guarantee Fund issue “a poor day for consumer protection against dishonest lawyers” and also went onto accuse the Scottish Government of incompetence in not coming up with independently run compensation schemes to cover the ever rising levels of dishonesty & fraud in the Scottish legal services market.
She said : “For the Legal Services Bill to force consumers who fall victim to dishonesty by a legal services provider to have to claim against the Law Society controlled Guarantee Fund is a recipe for disaster. This move shows how little the Scottish Government has thought through what should have been reforms to access to justice for the benefit of consumers. For MSPs to vote through such a proposal, shows us how little they understand about the realities of attempting to make a claim against the Guarantee Fund.”
She continued : “It is well known clients who are forced to claim against the Guarantee Fund for dishonesty encounter just as many problems as those who attempt to claim against the Law Society’s Master policy for compensation due to solicitors negligence. With the Law Society in control of the Guarantee Fund, preferring to shift many claims which should fall into the category of dishonesty to the even more difficult category of negligence, there is in reality little chance of consumers ever seeing their money again, while the solicitor stood accused of dishonesty or negligence usually continues in business unaffected by what they have done.”
A Justice Department insider asked why the Government was not able to come up with an alternative independent solution for consumer compensation arrangements simply replied : “The Law Society don’t want an independently operated or policed compensation scheme, so consumers wont get it.”
A client who has attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund for the loss of £135,000 as a result of his solicitors ‘dishonesty’ which occurred four years ago said : “The Guarantee Fund is corrupt. The Law Society keep delaying my claim to make sure I don’t get a penny. If any of these stupid msps at the Parliament had their money stolen by a lawyer and had tried to claim against the Guarantee Fund they would know exactly what goes on. They are just taking the Law Society’s orders passing this caper which will make sure no one gets a penny when their lawyer, non-lawyer or whoever is doing their legal work runs off with the money. I’m disgusted at them.”
Solicitor John G O’Donnell faced over 21 client claims for negligence & more of dishonesty – the Law Society worked to kill off all the claims. Don’t think it could happen to you ? With solicitors & law firms running out of cash to keep their business afloat, embezzlement of client funds has become a common occurrence as the recession bites and legal business falters along with all other areas of the economy so be warned, your once friendly solicitor wont think twice about using any monies held on your behalf for their own ends and when clients eventually discover what happened to their money, a tear filled dash to the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (who after two years are still not in a position to ‘monitor’ claims to the Guarantee Fund) will not secure one penny in repayment.
The Law Society are happy MSPs voted through continued Law Society control over compensation claims. Not surprisingly, the Law Society of Scotland are very happy the Scottish Government proposed their idea to force all non-lawyers & entrants into the Scottish legal services market to pay into the Society controlled Guarantee Fund, while also capping claims at a set limit of £1.25 million. The developments, have been ‘welcomed’ in the most recent media release from the Law Society of Scotland on the Legal Services Bill, where its latest President, Jamie Millar said :“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Justice Committee and the government to further discussions on the compensation fund arrangements. It’s an important and complicated issue and the Society is committed to help find a solution which will meet the needs of traditional law firms and new licensed providers and also protect consumers.”
Clearly the Law Society is very good at pulling the strings of our gutless politicians … the Law Society speaks, and MSPs vote “Yes” – no consumers are safe with these kinds of arrangements in place …
John Swinney’s confrontation with former Law Society chief revealed the Law Society refuses to compensate victims of crooked lawyers and will target clients who dare. Perhaps if the Scottish Parliament had bothered asking people who had attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund or Master Policy for their views, and granted victims an audience to appear before the Justice Committee to tell of their experiences & be questioned on what happened, MSPs would have been more wiser to the dangers of attaching any credibility to the Law Society’s policy on claims against its members, as was revealed by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney, who in opposition revealed a very different side to claims against dishonest & crooked lawyers when he confronted the now former Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill over the Law Society’s policy to defeat claims made against crooked lawyers. You can watch the video of John Swinney’s confrontation with Douglas Mill, which led to Mr Mill’s resignation as Law Society Chief Executive, here : John Swinney v Douglas Mill on corruption in claims at the Law Society
The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill originated from a ‘supercomplaint’ filed by consumer organisation Which? to the Office of Fair Trading in 2007, alleging lack of competition in Scotland’s solicitor only dominated legal services market. The Law Society of Scotland initially rejected the OFT’s call for an investigation into the Scottish lawyer monopolised legal services market.
The SNP controlled Scottish Government joined the Law Society and initially rejected any idea of legal services reform then, after the legal profession decided it would be better to take the issue and control it themselves, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill ‘changed his mind’ and the Legal Profession Bill was created, but was renamed as the Scottish Government felt it sounded more like a protectionist bill to maintain the Law Society of Scotland’s grip over access to legal services in Scotland, hence the change of title to what its present identity, the Legal Services Bill.
The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill has been re-written by the Law Society, through the Scottish Government to ensure the legal profession, represented by the Law Society retains its dominance in the Scottish legal services market. As things stand with the current amendments, and more to come, there will be little actual benefit to Scots with this bill, certainly with the Law Society remaining in charge, and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission being about as much help as a dead duck house, I see no gains for consumers of legal services, no gains for access to justice in Scotland, not at least, until someone has the decency to remove the Law Society’s power of regulation over Scotland’s increasingly dishonest legal profession …
Where are you, Which? and the OFT ? … Scots consumers are getting a raw deal here while the legal profession co opts the reforms you both asked for … how about speaking up rather than allowing the unelected Law Society of Scotland to dictate how Scots should access justice & legal services ….