After two years the SLCC has failed to live up to consumer expectations. AS THE Scottish Legal Complaints Commission prepares to publish its latest annual report, which is expected to show a drop in complaints being investigated by the hapless law complaints quango which has itself, yet to produce any successful prosecutions of ‘crooked lawyers’, it was revealed earlier this week in the Scotsman newspaper the SLCC, which has so far not endeared itself to solicitors or the typical annual roll of thousands of victims of Scotland’s notoriously poor legal services market now faces around 15 legal challenges from the legal profession to its authority in Scotland’s Court of Session.
The SLCC have already lost two court challenges, one brought by a complainant who was awarded rare legal aid to pursue a full court of session appeal, while the other was brought by the Law Society. I reported on both those cases in an earlier articles HERE & HERE. A source close to the law complaints quango claimed earlier this week they expected to lose many more of the court challenges now building up.
While the SLCC has attempted to portray itself as an ‘independent’ regulator of complaints against solicitors, the past two years of its work, and nearly three years of existence have if anything produced a slew of revelations the law complaints quango is more anti-client, or anti-consumer than as it would have us believe, a fearless defender of client’s best interests.
Diary of Injustice reported how SLCC Board members had berated consumers in internal emails. Over the past two years, investigations into the conduct of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s own board members has revealed a culture of hate fuelled remarks directed against consumer groups, clients, while board members openly expressed antipathy & animosity towards claimants to the Law Society of Scotland’s Guarantee Fund, which is one of the areas the SLCC was given a mandate in the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 to oversee, along with the infamous Master Policy, the latter of which was the subject of an independent investigation carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School, who revealed in their final report there were client suicides connected to the Master Policy, information the insurers who run the Master Policy, Marsh, Royal Sun Alliance & others, and Law Society had suppressed.
Master Policy report revealed client deaths covered up by Law Society. You can read more about the University of Manchester’s report on the Master Policy, here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’. However, three years on since the law complaints quango was created in a blaze of publicity to restore public confidence in the handling of complaints against Scottish solicitors and to keep an eye on how clients are compensated for the actions of ‘crooked lawyers’, and over a year on since the SLCC’s own report tied up the Master Policy to deaths, the SLCC is still bogged down in discussing what it should actually be doing with regards to the highly contentions Section 39 of the LPLA Act : Monitoring effectiveness of guarantee funds etc
The latest references in the SLCC’s most recent published board meeting minutes (September 2010), make for further, almost hopeless reading on the subject of monitoring of the Master Policy, where the SLCC’s board were told :
“5.1 Guarantee Fund Research: An update was provided. Members noted the progress being made on procuring a suitable research company.
5.2 Master Policy Research: The approach to information gathering was discussed and the cost implications of this piece of research. Once costings have been attained a further discussion will take place at the next suitable Board meeting. There was wider debate about the direction of the research and the ongoing need for a steering committee separate to the Board and whether the project should report directly to the board via the ICEO. It was agreed that the Chair, AP and ICEO should meet separately to discuss this.”
Taken in terms of what the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s board have achieved so far this year on their monitoring remit, this is indeed a poor state of affairs.
The SLCC’s Board meeting of January 2010 revealed :
“The Chair of the Research Group gave an overview of the paper on Oversight and a brief discussion ensued. It was agreed that the Board would authorise the Chair of the Research Group:
8.1 to instruct Professor Stephen to conduct the necessary statistical analysis of such worthwhile data as is made available to him by the Law Society and Marsh in relation to the two schemes at a cost not exceeding £6k inclusive of VAT;
8.2 and to prepare a tender for the survey research of a stratified sample of claimants and practitioners of each scheme if the Law Society and Marsh confirm in writing that they will assist in the distribution of such questionnaires
In the February 2010 board meeting minutes, the decisions of January had translated into inaction :
“10.3 AP updated all present on the progress of the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund Research. AP is still waiting on a response from the LSS and will ask for a response by the 5th March. “
By March 2010, little further action had taken place, and the SLCC Board meeting heard :
“AP updated the Board on the progress of the research currently being undertaken. The Board expressed increasing frustration at the lack of information being provided by the LSS on the Master Policy. The Board wish to be in a position to complete the research by the end of the financial year.
By May 2010, again, little had changed although the SLCC’s board were told that Marsh were not likely to give any more information on the Master Policy :
“11.1 AP updated Members and reported that research continued to be undertaken in terms of the Master Policy. Members expect to be in a position to complete the research by the end of the financial year.”
By July, 2010, it appears disaster had struck the SLCC’s intentions to do anything with regard to monitoring claims against the Master Policy, with the board meeting of that month hearing :
“5.1 Master Policy and Guarantee Fund: A verbal update was given which touched upon the issues of the time it was taking to obtain information, and the fact that information may never be forthcoming from Marsh as they are under no legal obligation to provide it and because of commercial sensitivity may not be able to provide it. A discussion took place on the merits of splitting the research and Members agreed to separate research in relation to Master Policy and Guarantee fund and press on with research on the Guarantee Fund.”
A legal insider this morning condemned the amount of time the SLCC had wasted over moving on its remit to monitor claims against the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund.
He said : “The SLCC have been around for nearly three years and should have had all this in hand when they opened for business on October 1st 2008. It is ridiculous for the SLCC’s board to sit around discussing what is to be done when we all know what needs to be done, which is a forceful audit of all claims made against the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund.”
A client who has been attempting to make a claim against the Master Policy for over two years said the SLCC were obviously not interested in looking into claims if all they have done in two years is talk about it’.
He said : “I have a pile of letters between the Law Society, Marsh and me which go back over two years yet I am no further forward with my claim and the SLCC have done nothing. Life is clearly cheap at the SLCC when it comes to trying to get them to investigate whether you are going to get your money back after your lawyer has stolen it.”
However, I can reveal today the SLCC have now been invited to monitor at least two claims against the Master Policy, and I will report developments on this at a later date.
SLCC’s Board members quick to claim expenses, not so quick to help consumers. While the SLCC has no explanation for the ongoing difficulties it seems to encounter at every turn in relation to its monitoring role in connection with the Master Policy, the law complaints quango and the Scottish Government have started a recruitment campaign for an extra four board members to ramp up their expense claims to allegedly given the SLCC some ‘consumer credentials’. This latest attempt to dress up the SLCC, dubbed by one MSP as “a front company for the Law Society” will see three non lawyer & one extra lawyer board members being added to the SLCC’s already cumbersome, costly, and very much anti-consumer operation, as I reported earlier this month here : Quangocrats wanted : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission seek ‘non-lawyer’ board members with legal & ‘consumer’ backgrounds at £209+ a day
I doubt stuffing the SLCC’s board with extra quangocrats will do anything to promote the SLCC as a fearless defender of consumers who fall victim to the reliably crooked elements of Scotland’s legal profession, when after nearly three years, nearly half a million pounds in expenses claims, and a consumer attitude which basically stinks, there is really little to show for consumers best interests against rogue solicitors, while the Law Society of Scotland, still very clearly rule the day on complaints, claims, & court cases against the legal profession …