Scottish Legal Complaints Commission seek new non-lawyer board members for window dressing exercise. THE USUAL SUSPECTS, quangocrats, & other ‘regular-appointees-on-the-Government-circuit’ will today be rubbing their hands at the prospect of yet another publicly appointed position of £209+ per day to add to their growing list of jobs as it was revealed the Scottish Government announced they are seeking an additional three ‘non’-lawyer’ board members to fill positions on the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and one further lawyer member appointment. These latest appointments to the SLCC board will be made in early 2011 by Scottish Ministers in consultation with Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton.
Curiously, the latest attempt by the Scottish Government to ‘enhance’ the consumer credentials of the notoriously anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission requires the three new non-lawyer positions be filled by persons who specialise in, among other things “consumer advocacy”, “consumer rights” and “consumer needs” – three very distinct areas the SLCC and its board members have worked 100% against since it was created in early 2008.
Scotland’s top judge Lord Hamilton will have final say-so over SLCC’s new ‘non-lawyer’ appointees. While the recruitment drive appears to focus on consumer credentials, there is also a requirement for applicants to have a background in legal education and complaints handling, the provision of advice to members of the public on or in relation to such matters, the practice and provision of legal education and training, civil or criminal proceedings, court procedures and practice generally, the practice and provision of other legal services, and the monitoring of legal services. The successful candidates will only be appointed by Scottish Ministers after consultations with Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, who is in charge of the entire Scottish courts system.
Scottish Government amended complaints law to bolster SLCC’s board with additional quangocrats. The increase in the non-lawyer compliment of the SLCC’s board has been brought about after the Scottish Government brought in a specific amendment to the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 to expand the SLCC’s board non-lawyer complement. The apparently little publicised amendment states : “This Order makes certain changes to the number and composition of the membership of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The number of members (other than the chairing member) is increased from 8 to 11 (article 2(a)). This increase is made up of an increase in the number of non-lawyer members (other than the chairing member) from 4 to 6 (article 2(b)) and an increase in the number of lawyer members from 4 to 5 (article 2(c)).”
The latest quangocrats will have a chance to work with existing SLCC Board members already featured in the newspapers for being less than consumer friendly. The recruitment advertisement from the Scottish Government states : “The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) requires 3 non lawyer members to become part of their Board with effect from February 2011. The successful candidates will be appointed by Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session.As a non lawyer member you will have the ability to apply objective and impartial judgement to the resolution of disputes, have the ability to offer guidance on one or more of the following Commission activities: regulation, consumer rights, consumer advocacy, consumer needs and have the ability to contribute to an effective team.”
The advertisement continues : “The SLCC was established by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. The main functions of the Commission are to resolve complaints alleging inadequate professional service or negligence by legal practitioners, to refer complaints which allege professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct to the relevant professional body and to promote good practice in complaints handling.”
Becoming an SLCC board member brings quango style expenses claims. Successful apologists, spivs & already employed quangocrats applicants can hope to receive remuneration of the order of : £209 per day. Travel and subsistence costs and reasonable receipted childcare and dependent carer expenses directly related to the Commission’s work will be reimbursed. Term of appointment: 5 years. Time commitment: Up to 6 days per month. Around one third of the time spent on the work of the Board and two thirds on complaints. Location of meetings: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, The Stamp Office, 10-14 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh EH1 3EG. The closing date for applications is 29 November 2010, the Application Form & Guidance Pack may be of interest to those many clients who have already been maligned & victimised by the SLCC in dealings with complaints against the legal profession.
SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine claims in recruitment drive complaints quango has commitment & high standards ! A letter from the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine, included in the guidance pack states : “The Board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is committed to resolving complaints and ensuring high standards of regulation of the Scottish legal profession are maintained. We work with our operational team to make that happen.As Chair of the Board I need new Board members who are committed to public service and willing to devote time and energy to both the governance and complaints handling roles that Board members engage in. Both roles are intellectually stimulating. The SLCC is still a relatively new body and we have much to learn and develop. The roles are also absorbing and enjoyable, as we work with a lively and committed operational team and sophisticated stakeholders.”
While the SLCC boast of commitment to public service, papers disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation revealed its top board members engaged in bitter insults against consumers. While the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine claimed in her letter, the Scottish Legal Complaint Commission is committed to resolving complaints and ensuring high standards of regulation of the legal profession, earlier coverage of the SLCC’s board’s bitter attitudes towards consumers revealed its senior members, David Smith (husband of Court of Session judge Lady Smith), and well known Glasgow solicitor & SLCC Board member Margaret Scandal branded clients as, among other insults “frequent flyers” & “chancers” to name but a few incidents. Further investigative reports revealed SLCC board members refused to deal with consumer groups, engaging in bitter hate fuelled email exchanges over the exclusion of consumer interest organisations.
A legal source said today he was concerned over the wording of the requirements of the new appointees, pointing out the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had never been designed to be a regulator with a remit on consumer rights or solicitor’s rights and pointed out the SLCC claims to be ‘a neutral body and operates independently of the legal profession’. He went onto say the new non-lawyer appointments may provoke a legal challenge on the basis the advertised requirements may violate solicitors right to a fair hearing under Article 6 of ECHR legislation.
He said : “I find it very odd the Scottish Government resorts to amending legislation without any substantial consultation to increase the SLCC’s compliment of board members with a specific remit on consumer rights where it was clearly never intended in the original legislation the SLCC would have any remit on solicitors rights, consumer rights or consumer advocacy.”
He continued : “The SLCC was intended to provide the profession & clients with a neutral, fair and independent regulator of complaints against the legal profession. Clearly these new appointments will create an imbalance at the SLCC where the interests of the profession, who are forced to pay for the SLCC’s extravagant upkeep, may receive less of a fair hearing with a board which will be heavily weighted against solicitors. I believe these new appointments could be open to challenge under Human Rights legislation.”
Another solicitor, speaking late this morning said : “This alarming move, which I have only heard of today, appears to be a window dressing exercise to appease the consumer lobby. There has been little debate within the profession to alter the SLCC’s role in such a radical manner and I believe this to be totally wrong, particularly considering we as solicitors are being forced to pay for it while it appears we have little say in how the SLCC is run.”
In response to solicitors claims they new arrangements would be weighted against the legal profession, a Scottish Government Spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is confident that there is appropriate balance, with the rights of solicitors maintained.”
An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations commented today the SLCC’s moves to attract individuals with consumer credentials was not what it seemed and urged consumers to be wary, pointing out previous SLCC decisions regarded as highly anti-consumer, notably where the SLCC decided to refuse to investigate any historical complaints before it began its work on 1st October 2008.
She said : “These appointments are not to be confused with lay appointments. As I understand matters, the SLCC are hoping to attract people with a legal background who may also have already served on consumer bodies, probably in the knowledge once they are appointed they will no longer be able to criticise the SLCC’s conduct towards consumer complaints or how the SLCC functions as a regulator. Consumers should beware of a false sense of security being projected by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in these new appointments.”
As I was asked today whether I might apply, for my own part, I will certainly not. I view the SLCC’s latest attempt to bolster its already non-existent consumer credentials as being too little too late. The SLCC have never been and will never be anything other than, as one MSP put it, ”a front company for the Law Society of Scotland”, no matter who serves on it.
To be part of something lesser, the SLCC, which has proved itself to be nothing more than an anti-consumer puppet of prejudiced self regulation would be an insult to the thousands of victims who have gone before, & continue to be left behind in the wake of the scores of Andrew Penmans, John G O’Donnells and the infamous many of Scotland’s bests-to-be-avoided legal profession, protected in their positions by the ‘World’s worst regulator‘ – the Law Society of Scotland.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked today for comment on the recruitment and also the prospect of any challenge from the legal profession over the apparent new ‘consumer oriented’ course of the SLCC. So far no reply has been received from the SLCC.