Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to hear petition calling for Law Society to be stripped of its power. LEGISLATION created at Westminster which has given the Law Society of Scotland a right to self-regulate Scotland’s 10,000 plus solicitors for over thirty years, a right which has in the eyes of many been abused to the point the phrase “crooked lawyer” has become common place in Scotland, is now facing a challenge at Holyrood after an online e-petition was filed at the Scottish Parliament calling on MSPs to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and end self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession.
The e-petition, filed by a Mr William Burns which is currently open for signatures until 6th January 2011 calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, end self-regulation, and remove the independence of the legal profession, bringing it onside with true democracy.”
To sign the e-petition and learn more about it’s aims, CLICK HERE. Alternatively you can text ‘421’ and your name to 07537 400395 to add your e-signature to this e-petition. (Texts are charged at your standard network rate. Text signatures will not appear instantly.)
Mr Burns, speaking to Diary of Injustice said today : “Every MSP has been provided free of charge a copy of the book “Legal Hell” by Angus M. Brown, a True Story illustrating how self-regulation is incontrovertibly wide open to corruption. This specific matter of policy and a superabundance of other material were submitted to the Justice 1 Committee of the Scottish Parliament between 22 June 2001 and 17 April 2002 for the “Regulation of the Legal Profession Enquiry” and can be found at: Justice 1 Committee Regulation of the Legal Profession Inquiry.”
Mr Burns continued : “My own submissions can be found at No 19 on the page. Representatives of the Law Society presented their own submissions and were also allowed to make lengthy oral presentations, unlike members of the public, creating an unfair imbalance in their favour. Many members went down various avenues to attain justice, but the common stumbling block is the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which allows the Law Society to protect its members through this self-regulatory legislation.”
A 30 year run of Scots crooked layers may become less frequent if fully independent regulation of Scots legal profession takes place. Any client of a solicitor in Scotland having been put in the unenviable position of having to complain about the legal services provided to them by their legal representatives will be well aware of the problems in trying to pursue complaints against solicitors, while having to deal with the almost unearthly processes employed by the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to defeat the aims of consumers who for the most part, used the services of a solicitor expecting a fair deal and access to justice.
Indeed, many clients have come to realise that using Scottish legal services can mean lengthy waits of years for court appearances, common failures to deal with even the simplest of tasks, and the inevitable ‘padded’ and unexplained huge fee demands of solicitors for very little coherent work carried out on their clients behalf.
Forcing the Scottish Parliament to confront the Law Society’s legislative powerbase, the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which, as many legal insiders admit themselves, allows the Scots legal profession almost a free hand in the world of regulation & political double-dealing, may finally bring changes of increased consumer confidence in what is one of Scotland’s worst performing in terms of public trust, yet highest earning professions which, as the almost compulsory route for access to justice in Scotland, everyone at some stage in their lives must use.
The complaints process operated by both the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC has consistently been described by many involved in it as “Torturous” & “Prejudiced against clients while protective of crooked lawyers”, and the passage in the Scottish Parliament in 2006 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)after a long campaign to reform the legal complaints system, a campaign which involved many consumer campaign groups, organisations, individuals and even the media, has so far done nothing to resolve the intense prejudice consumers & clients face when attempting to secure a fair hearing of complaints they are inevitably forced to make against their solicitor when things go wrong.
The Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 established the Law Society of Scotland in terms of legislation, giving it many controversial powers & duties including representing the interests of its solicitor membership and the interests of the public (& client)in relation to the legal profession.
The 1980 act also empowered the Law Society of Scotland to maintain professional indemnity insurance cover and a ‘guarantee fund’ to ‘protect’ solicitors clients from negligent & crooked lawyers. Both schemes, the first known as the “Master Policy”, an insurance scheme run by brokers Marsh UK and backed by insurers Royal Sun Alliance & others, and the “Guarantee Fund”, an in-house compensation scheme managed by the Law Society itself are ultimately famous for their failures to pay out in most cases where solicitors have either stolen or frittered away their clients finances through theft, or their poor quality of work on their client’s behalf.
The Master Policy itself was the subject of an independent investigation carried out during 2009 by the University of Manchester’s Law School, The investigation’s findings linked the insurance arrangements for protecting crooked lawyers to the deaths of clients, while the Guarantee Fund was revealed as little more than a multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption.
Repealing the 1980 Solicitors Act and the Law Society will bring a fairer deal for public in access to justice & regulation of legal services complaints says petition. The Scottish Parliament’s website gives the following background information in relation to the petition : The action requested in the petition is necessary because, hitherto, decisions have been made by, for example, previous Justice 1 and 2 Committees, loaded in favour of a self-regulated legal profession, detrimental to the best interests of the public. Section 1(3), in particular, of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 epitomises the limitless scope the Law Society has to protect its members at the expense of the public, which states:
The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of the functions [i.e., the promotion of- (a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and (b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession] or the attainment of those objects.?
Section 1 of the Act states, verbatim:
1.–(1) The Law Society of Scotland (referred to in this Act as “the Society”) shall continue to exist and shall exercise the functions conferred upon it by this Act.
(2) The objects of the Society shall include the promotion of
(a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and
(b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession.
(3) The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of these functions or the attainment of those objects.
(4) Schedule 1 shall have effect in relation to the Society.
Schedule 1 of the Act, under the heading “Powers”, at 10 (e) and (f) state, respectively:
The Society may
(e) accept any gift of property for the purposes of the Society;
(f) accept, hold and administer any gift of property or hold as trustees any property for any purpose which the Society consider to be for the benefit of solicitors in Scotland or their dependants or employees or any substantial body of such solicitors or dependants or employees.
The use of the adverb “anything” in Section 1(3) above is not restrictive and does not limit the application or reference of the term and to what extent the Law Society can and does protect its members at the expense of the public. In fact, the Law Society has a vested interest in protecting its members. This creates a conflict of interest between Sections 1(2a) and 1(2b) because, if the Law Society is to choose who to protect, either a fully paid up licence member of the Society, or Joe Bloggs, their loyalty will naturally, and almost invariably, come down in favour of one of their members.
Furthermore, Schedule 1(10) (e) and (f) could reasonably be viewed as an invitation to prosperous solicitors to proffer gifts, monies or properties to the Society in exchange for quid pro quo favours. This additional bond of fellowship between the Society and its membership does nothing for the confidence of an aggrieved client with a justifiable complaint against a solicitor.
The 1980 Act is, therefore, potentially and actually a distinct conflict of interest. The aforementioned Section and Schedule alone leave the 1980 Act wide open to abuse. Self-regulation in any way shape or guise is the pivotal enemy of any true democracy; therefore any civilised society. It is not only undemocratic it is antidemocratic, anti-society and hostile to a public unconversant with all the nuances of our ambiguously cryptic laws.
There have been no Bills passed or laws enacted since 1980 that does anything to remedy this stark conflict of interest and there have been no recent announcements made by the Scottish Government that might have a bearing on our petition.
My advice ? If you have been forced by the actions of your solicitor or your legal representatives to make a complaint to either the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), you may wish to consider signing the petition, and ensure the focus of attention in the debate on self regulation of the legal profession shifts to the legislative power the Law Society of Scotland uses against consumers & clients to preserve itself, preserve its members and preserve its political power to prevent legislative reforms aimed at giving the consumer & client a fair deal.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked for comment on the aims of the petition. A spokesperson said : “The SLCC has no comment to make about this petition as this time.”
No one was available at the Law Society to give comment although a source close to the legal profession said “the Law Society will use any means to fight any attempt to remove its powers of self-regulation.”
A Holyrood insider commenting on the petition said he “could imagine various Directors of the Law Society again preparing their poison pen letters & ‘on the qt’ briefings for MSPs to save their skins once again” which, from my own personal experience with the Petitions Committee is probably what will happen next … so being forewarned, I would advise readers to sign the petition and spread the word !