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FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day

25 Oct

Court of Session EdinburghScotland’s Court of Session to hear lecturer’s 15 year wait for justice against Motherwell College. IN a fitting tribute to mark the poor state of Scotland’s civil justice system on the European Civil Justice Day held every 25th October, a record breaking personal injury civil damages claim against Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council in the Court of Session which has its origins in the mid 1990’s and last year brought about Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend is now set to be followed by an unprecedented thirteenth year of litigation with further hearings scheduled for 2011 in what some claim is a considerable abuse of the court process & the individual’s right of a fair hearing within a reasonable time as enshrined in Article 6 of European Human Rights laws.

The case in question, M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01) involves a sole party litigant, a former Music lecturer of Motherwell College, pitched against the might of North Lanarkshire Council and their indemnity insurers, Travelers Insurance Co Ltd who are both being represented in court by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick, themselves famed for their representation of solicitors shielded by the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, operated by Marsh to defend against negligence claims raised by clients.

Legal insiders who have attended the court hearings report that Mr Wilson, who has been put in the forced position of having to represent himself after several big name law firms withdrew from his case at the last minute prior to scheduled hearings of the Proof, has also encountered repeated & numerous refusals of ‘expert witnesses’ from Scotland who refuse to assist his case as long as Mr Wilson is unrepresented. Instead, Mr Wilson has been forced abroad to Japan and the United States for supportive expert medical reports, leading to charges many in Scotland’s ‘expert witness’ groups “may have been nobbled or scared off” and will not provide their services to unrepresented party litigants such as Mr Wilson.

According to court documents seen by Diary of Injustice, Mr Wilson was previously represented by the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson, who were appointed by Scotland’s largest teachers & lecturers Union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), who spent tens of thousands of pounds assessing Mr Wilson’s injury as a valid claim, and that it should proceed to court. Amazingly it took the EIS almost three years to lodge the summons against Motherwell College.

Papers studied by legal insiders reporting on the case reveal that Balfour & Manson, after being appointed by the EIS spent a staggering eight years working on Mr Wilson’s injury claim, and then at the last minute, decided to withdraw from acting for their client with only weeks to go before scheduled Proof Hearings in the Court of Session.

Balfour & Manson’s withdrawal from acting for Mr Wilson then became a suspicious pattern followed by further four law firms, including the Glasgow based Harper Macleod also withdrawing at the last minute, some eighteen months after representing Mr Wilson. Harper McLeod claimed they had ‘suddenly discovered’ “a commercial difficulty” in that they had an annual retainer from Motherwell College for several years, and had represented the College in Mr Wilson’s Employment Tribunal hearing over his unfair dismissal, which Mr Wilson won on a unanimous decision. Motherwell College also appealed the Employment Tribunal decision on Mr Wilson’s case and lost again.

A further two legal firms took on Mr Wilson’s case and then were apparently persuaded to drop their client, amazingly even returning fees paid to them for their service.

College's 300K Bully Bill Sunday Mail June 15 2003Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in recent coverage of the case by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won 4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : “He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there .”

During all this time and many forced appearances at the Court of Session as a party litigant, court staff have indicated in comments they believe Mr Wilson’s health has diminished considerably, one insider claiming to Diary of Injustice the former lecturer looked like he had aged 30 years in the last year alone.

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman to hear case in a few weeks time. Hearings on Mr Wilson’s personal injury claim are scheduled to start again in a matter of weeks at the Court of Session under Lord Woolman. Legal insiders say many are now taking a strong interest in the Wilson/NLC case and its final outcome, especially in the wake of the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s recommendations in his Civil Courts Review to reform what he described as Scotland’s “Victorian justice system”, which appears to be so Victorian, cases can float around in the justice system literally for decades with party litigants such as Mr Wilson failing to get anything near approaching “a fair hearing within a reasonable time”.

It is worth noting the solicitors acting for North Lanarkshire Council & Motherwell College, the Edinburgh law firm of Simpson & Marwick in their representation of insurers in connection with claims for asbestos related health diseases attained public notoriety last year in their appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in September 2008, where one of their senior partners, Dr Pamela Abernethy of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers famously argued with MSPs that symptoms of Asbestos contamination were ‘good for people’.

It is also worth noting last year, the Master Policy, of which Simpson & Marwick often act as lead solicitors, often representing fellow solicitors facing negligence claims from clients, was investigated by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School linking the secretive ‘Master Policy’ insurance scheme to the deaths of clients who had attempted to claim damages from ‘crooked lawyers’.

The SLCC’s report on the Master Policy and my earlier coverage on the revelations can be found here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

The report from Scottish Law Reporter on Mr Wilson’s 15 year quest for access to justice in the Scottish Courts follows :

Record 15 year wait for justice approaches for lecturer in Court of Session showdown with former Motherwell college ‘Bully Boss’ principal

Motherwell College's 300K bully bill Sunday Mail 15th June 2003A staggering 15 year wait for Justice by a music lecturer against Motherwell College may see its disgraced former Principal appear in court. FIFTEEN YEARS later in what is Scotland’s longest running civil damages action involving Motherwell College, the disgraced former Principal & CEO of Motherwell College Richard Millham, dubbed the “Bully Boss” by the media due to a string of allegations of bullying involving college lecturers, may be back in the dock soon, this time in Scotland’s Court of Session in a civil damages action claim against Motherwell College, brought by Mr Martin Wilson, a former Music Lecturer at the College.

“Bully Boss” Richard Millham who was alleged in media reports ‘to have targeted Mr Wilson in a strong climate of fear’, was forced to resign after widespread press coverage of the many Employment Tribunal decisions lost by the College under his stewardship – some estimates put the cost of these at a staggering £300,000 pounds of taxpayers money.

One of several staff members who fought back against the bullying culture at Motherwell College was the Music Lecturer Martin Wilson, who has braved the Court of Session as a party litigant in a 15 year attempt to gain justice in his civil damages claim against Motherwell College, who are represented by Simpson & Marwick, who famously argued against the Damages (Asbestos) Bill at the Scottish Parliament, claiming to MSPs asbestos related illnesses were actually good for victims who suffered from ‘pleural plaques’, a condition that forms as a result of exposure to asbestos

From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson’s claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.

Undeterred, the Board of Management of Motherwell College has continued to spend thousands of pounds more of taxpayers money for the last 13 years opposing Mr Wilson’s Personal Injury claim, the longest running civil case of its kind, the new Principal Mr Hugh Logan losing appeals before the FOI Commissioner and the Pensions Ombudsman along the way.

Mr Wilson has still not received his correct ill-health pension entitlement some 15 years after he was injured, all of which adds further substance to Lord Gill’s recent criticisms of the Scottish Civil Justice system as ‘failing society’ and often involving ‘scandalous delays’.

In an age of fairness and public sector cuts it is difficult to imagine how Motherwell College’s obstinacy can be justified. However it might have something to do with the important precedent the case will establish if successful and the attitude of the College’s disgraced insurer Travelers Insurance Co Ltd, who have also been fined hundreds of millions of dollars in connection with workers claims for asbestos injuries, one of many subpoenas alleging it had acted “maliciously” using “fraud, deceit and outright lies,” designing and orchestrating their claims settlement practices to “intentionally delay,” and raising defences that they knew would never succeed in order to settle claims for less money.

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