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Information Commissioner investigates ‘anonymous threats’ claims at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after law quango refuse FOI requests

20 Aug

Kevin Dunion FOI CommissionerScotland’s Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion investigates Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claims of ‘anonymous’ threats. CLAIMS OF ANONYMOUS THREATS allegedly directed to members of staff and other individuals connected to the controversial law complaints regulator, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are to be investigated by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, after the SLCC refused to provide Mr Dunion’s office and journalists making Freedom of Information requests on the subject with any evidence to support the claims, which legal insiders today commented, if accurate, should also be investigated by the Police.

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission claimed they had received ‘anonymous’ threats. The now suspect claims of ‘anonymous threats’ were made by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to the Information Commissioner’s office on two separate occasions in response to investigations being carried out by Mr Dunion’s staff into the SLCC’s refusal to disclose controversial evidence in response to Freedom of Information requests, evidence which included senior SLCC board members lambasting consumers over their input into an investigation into the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy, an investigation which linked financial claims of negligence against ‘crooked lawyers’ to the suicides of clients, an issue long kept secret by the Scottish legal profession.

Decision 89-2010 SLCC evidence of threats not provided to information commissionerMaster Policy secrecy : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission attempted to thwart disclosure & publication of key evidence of Master Policy Research by making unsupported allegations of threats received. In a decision earlier this year (Decision 89/2010), relating to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its handling of FOI requests for information connected with the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy, now known to have caused deaths among consumers, the Information Commissioner Mr Kevin Dunion stated : “The SLCC submitted that disclosure of such information would impact upon the physical or mental health of the individuals concerned as anonymous threats had been received by individuals and other individuals connected to the SLCC. However, the Commissioner has not received any evidence of such threats to people such as the individuals in question.”

The effect of Mr Dunion’s decision regarding the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and their refusal to hand over key documents, can be read in an earlier report, here : FOI Chief Dunion orders Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to release board member’s anti-client jibes, Master Policy study details

Audit & Finance Committee montageThe Scottish Legal Complaints Commission faced a further investigation after it chose to censor FOI disclosures to specific journalists amid fears of media attention. In a subsequent investigation carried out by the Information Commissioner, Mr Kevin Dunion into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s censorship of its board minutes in reposes to Freedom of Information requests from certain journalists, the SLCC made additional claims it had received ‘anonymous threats’, apparently hoping this would be enough to prevent an order for disclosure. The FOI Commissioner again reported that no evidence had been produced by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to back up its claims.

Decision 101-2010 - SLCC allegations of threats received evidence not provided to information commissionerClaims of more ‘anonymous threats’ were made by the SLCC during a second investigation by the FOI Commissioner. Mr Dunion, in a second decision involving the SLCC and its selective censorship of its own board minutes (Decision 101/2010) commented on the additional claims made by the SLCC of ‘anonymous threats’, saying: “The SLCC submitted that disclosure of such information would impact upon the physical or mental health of the individuals concerned as anonymous threats had been received by members of staff and other individuals connected to the SLCC. The SLCC also referred to threats made to other bodies. 56. The Commissioner notes that the individuals in question here are not employees of the SLCC and do not work in SLCC buildings. While he recognises that some of the individuals whose details have been withheld are connected to bodies to which threats have been made, he considers that the profile and role of those individuals is such that their relationship with the SLCC is likely to be public knowledge. The Commissioner cannot therefore accept that the disclosing their names from the minutes is likely to endanger, or will endanger, their health and safety in terms of section 39(1) of FOISA.”

“57. In most other cases, the individuals are not connected to such bodies. The Commissioner has not been provided with any evidence of danger, or likelihood of danger, to the health or safety these third parties, and cannot accept that section 39(1) applies to this information.”

A legal insider commented on the claims of ‘anonymous threats’ made by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, saying he believed the SLCC were making spurious claims in order to excuse deficiencies within their operations which could be revealed by Freedom of Information.

He said : “If there is no evidence produced by the SLCC of these actual threats, which, given their alleged very serious nature I would have expected to have been reported to Police, then it is highly likely in my opinion the SLCC are seeking to abuse Freedom of Information legislation, in terms of their own handling of FOI requests and their input into investigations carried out by the Information Commissioner himself.”

He continued : “In the circumstances, where it appears the SLCC made their claim to the Information Commissioner in the hope it would influence the outcome of his investigation, I would urge Mr Dunion to establish whether there is any truth to the SLCC’s claims it’s staff or staff from other bodies it referred to have been threatened.”

It has been known for public bodies to claim the mental welfare & health of their staff would be threatened if, for example, information on expenses claims were released as a result of Freedom of Information legislation, but here we have a key public body involved in the regulation of complaints against the legal profession claiming it has received ‘anonymous threats’. Clearly there is a significant public interest in this case to establish whether there is any truth to the SLCC’s claims and if true, have the issues been thoroughly investigated by the authorities and the required action taken.

If however, there is no truth to the allegations, we are left with the only possibly conclusion in that the SLCC presented false information to the Information Commissioner, a matter which would clearly reflect on the SLCC’s credibility and the individual who signed off on the claims to the Information Commissioner.

Scottish GovernmentThe Scottish Government refused to back the SLCC over ‘anonymous threats’ claims to the Information Commissioner. The Scottish Government, asked for a comment on the situation, apparently refusing to support the SLCC’s claims, stated : “‘The SLCC has been established as an independent body to oversee complaints against the legal profession. Having established the SLCC as an independent body, it would be wholly inappropriate for Ministers to provide a running commentary on issues concerning it.”

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refused to make any comment on the matter or offer any statement to support their claims now being investigated by the FOI Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.

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