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Poisoned Chalice : MacAskill forced to parachute Government’s own lawyer onto Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after Advocates shun job offer

11 Feb

MacAskill tight lippedHumiliation for Justice Secretary MacAskill in latest SLCC appointments round as no one applies for lawyer position. KENNY MACASKILL, Scotland’s Justice Secretary and the controversial anti-consumer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) were both left in a humiliating position of being forced to beg Richard Keen QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates for help in finding a suitable recruit to fill a ‘lawyer-only’ position at the ‘independent’ law complaints regulator, the SLCC, after documents published today reveal not one single member of the entire Scottish legal profession applied for one of four newly created & lavishly paid positions on the SLCC’s board.

The lack of any candidates subsequently forced the Scottish Government to appoint its own standing Junior Counsel to the advertised position at the SLCC, in what some say amounted to a face saving exercise for the Justice Secretary.

The humiliating lack of interest from Scotland’s 460 or so Advocates in the latest recruitment drive for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s already lawyer-heavy board was revealed in documents obtained through Freedom of Information legislation which show only one Advocate ‘was identified’ by the Scottish Government’s own recruitment team for the ‘lawyer-only’ position, after no one else from the Faculty of Advocates applied to join the infamously anti-client, anti-consumer SLCC.

The sole ‘identified’ Advocate whose name was entered into the recruitment process was later named by the Justice Secretary as the well known Maurice O’Carroll, who happens to be the Scottish Government’s own standing Junior Counsel.

Scottish Government officials were forced to write to Faculty of Advocates after no one came forward to join the SLCC’s board. According to papers released in response to a Freedom of Information request to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Scotland (OCPAS), a recruitment panel chaired by Colin McKay, the Scottish Government’s Head of Legal Services Division, encountered difficulties in its stated mission to “identify specific advocates that they could approach” to fill the lawyer-only board appointment, forcing Mr McKay to write directly to the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates himself, Richard Keen QC “for his help in encouraging applications” to join the SLCC. However, it appears the Scottish Government’s plea to the Faculty fell on deaf ears, and not one Advocate came forward to join the frequent flyers from the legal profession who are already rooted on the SLCC’s board.

The lack of interest from advocates in joining the SLCC became such a humiliation, the Scottish Government were forced to ask for an exception to the code of public appointments. An email from the Scottish Government to OCPAS, obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information request read : “The panel interviewed the candidate and considered them suitable for appointment. The Lord President has now confirmed that he is content to accept the Panel’s assessment that the candidate is appointed.“We confirm that the current SLCC lawyer round resulted in there being a lack of choice to fill the lawyer member position on the Board. A low response was not unexpected as the applicants for this appointment must be a advocate practising in Scotland and therefore the pool of candidates is very small. The appointing Minister [Kenny MacAskill] was informed of the situation and gave his approval for the appointment round to continue. I therefore request an exception to the Code to allow us to proceed with the round on that basis.”

Humiliation for MacAskill as “no Ministerial choice being achieved” in SLCC’s lawyer-only board member recruitment process. The OCPAS assessor who sat in on the Scottish Government’s recruitment process reported to her superiors, stating : “This appointment was for a lawyer member with the person specification requiring applicants to be an Advocate practicing in Scotland. This appointment was part of an appointment round also appointing non lawyer members but it was able to proceed on a separate timetable resulting in a much shorter timescale being achieved. This was achieved primarily because of the limited field of potential applicants and the targeted advertising and short application form used.”

“Historically it has been difficult for the Commission to attract Advocates to these appointments. The targeted advertising and short application form may have contributed to the outcome of an appointable candidate being recommended albeit with no Ministerial choice being achieved.”

The Justice Secretary chose to omit any reference to the lack of interest in joining the SLCC, and simply, announced Mr O’Carroll’s appointment in a quietly issued press release, stating : “Mr O’Carroll has extensive and varied advocacy experience. His breadth of experience and professional standing will complement and strengthen the current Board. This appointment will run for five years from a date which has still to be confirmed but likely to be sometime around March. This post is part-time and attracts a remuneration of £212 per day for a time commitment of up to six days per month.”

A senior source within the Scottish Government’s Justice Department speaking earlier this week to Diary of Injustice said : “This has been a face saving exercise for the Justice Secretary. If Mr O’Carroll had not been parachuted into the appointments process, there would have been no takers for the poisoned chalice of a position on the board of the SLCC.”

SLCC jobsThe SLCC announced in November it was looking for four ‘Frequent Flyers” to join its board : High Salaries & little work as a sweetener. The latest recruitment round for adding four additional “frequent flyers” to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s board, where expenses claims are lavish, and work is minimal, were split into three positions earmarked for ‘non-lawyers’ with “consumer backgrounds” and one lawyer member’ who was “required to be a practising advocate”. I reported on the recruitment announcement in an earlier article of November 2010, here : Quangocrats wanted : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission seek ‘non-lawyer’ board members with legal & ‘consumer’ backgrounds at £209+ a day

Solicitors were apparently excluded from the latest ‘lawyer-only’ board member position because the SLCC felt it looked like there were too many solicitors, former solicitors & even non-practicing solicitors on its board already, namely Professor Alan Paterson OBE, FRSE, David Smith, Margaret Scanlan OBE & David Chaplin.

It is also noteworthy that much of the SLCC’s current staff who actually handle the complaints work, migrated over from the Law Society of Scotland’s Client Relations Office, itself which has been the focus of well founded accusations of corrupt self-regulation of solicitors and regular cover ups to protect ‘crooked lawyers’ from complaints lodged by financially ruined clients.

It will be interesting to see exactly who qualifies for the SLCC’s three new ‘non-lawyer’ positions, as the current crop of ‘non-lawyer’ board members comprises two ex-senior Police Officers, a member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and a Doctor with several other quango positions including one at the Accounts Commission for Scotland. More details on the SLCC’s board members and their numerous positions can be found in an earlier article, here : More ‘jobs for the boys’ than action on ‘crooked lawyers’ : What it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

A legal insider speaking to Diary of Injustice this morning indicated observers of the SLCC may not be in for too much of a surprise in who will be appointed by the Justice Secretary to the three ‘non-lawyer’ positions currently on offer at £209+ per day along with additional expenses, for as little as six days work per month and lasting five years.

It is also worth bearing in mind that work is not a problem at the SLCC, as there isn’t much to do, which I revealed last month, here : ‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s 2010 annual report

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailThe new quangocrats will have a chance to work with existing SLCC Board members already featured in newspapers for being ‘on the razzle’. The recruitment advertisement from the Scottish Government stated : “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 Scottish Government issued a statement in response to queries from Diary of Injustice about the latest failed SLCC appointments round. Their spokesperson said : “Mr O’Carroll was appointed following an open and transparent recruitment process regulated by the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments.”

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a brief statement, saying : “All Members of the SLCC Board are Ministerial public appointments and are made in accordance with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland’s Code of Practice.”

Neither the SLCC nor the Scottish Government commented on allegations Mr O’Carroll ‘was volunteered for the appointment’, or revelations not one Advocate applied for the position other than one of the Government’s own lawyers.

Given the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has only upheld one single complaint against an unknown solicitor or law firm in the past three years, I doubt the level of work will be much of a problem for any of the new recruits to the SLCC’s Board. Readers can find out just how effective the SLCC has been since it came into being, in my coverage of its 2010 annual report, revealed last month, here : ‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s 2010 annual report

My earlier coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its much less than expected performance as a regulator of complaints against Scotland’s legal profession, can be read here : The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – The story so far

Background to new ‘lawyer board member’ of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission :

Maurice O'CarrollMaurice O’Carroll, appointed to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Mr O’Carroll is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh who was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1995. Prior to being called to the Bar Mr O’Carroll worked in Brussels for three years, initially with the European Commission and then with a commercial law firm specialising in international trade. Since 2002 he has been ad hoc Advocate Depute for the Crown Office and Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Government since 2003. He has a range of experience which includes planning inquiry work, public and administrative law, conducting employment tribunals and employment appeals tribunals, Inner House experience and providing opinions in relation to each of these areas.

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