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The Scheme : Law Society’s new regulation committee pitches old joke of ‘lay membership’ as more ‘slaps on the wrist’ for crooked lawyers expected

07 Jun

Law Society of ScotlandOld Joke returns : Law Society indulges in spin on lay membership as yet another new beginning for regulation.  THE latest attempt by the Law Society of Scotland to deal with the issue of regulation of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt legal services market as yet another regulation committee was revealed yesterday with the announcement of yet more lay members and another regulatory committee to comply with the laughably lax regulatory requirements of the Scottish Government’s Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, the half hearted & much interfered with attempt to comply with recommendations by the Office of Fair Trading to open up Scotland’s closed shop solicitor dominated legal services market.

The ‘duties’ of this new regulatory committee, with yet more lay members, those oh-so-honourable lay members who allow the Law Society to justify its continued stranglehold over the regulation & lack of protection of Scots consumers who are duped, fleeced, ripped-off and ruined by their legal representatives on a daily basis, are contained in Section 133 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, which reads like a criminal’s recipe for money complaints laundering & regulation dodging.

However, the Law Society’s not-so-shiny-or-new regulatory committee has its roots mired in controversy, double dealing & threats against the legislation which created it, all culminating in a significant climb-down by the Scottish Government on its proposals to specify the number of lay members on the Law Society’s ruling Council as I reported  here : Scottish Government back down on lay appointments to Law Society Council as lawyers interests threaten to break pro-consumer legal services bill

Fergus EwingEmbarrassing forced retreat by Scottish Government Minister after Law Society threats over council & committee make-up. Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s now former Minister for Communities & Safety appeared at a Law Society ‘road show’ last year to announce to angry solicitors their beloved ‘Council of the Law Society of Scotland’ would remain a lawyer-only club, making the following announcement :“The power of Scottish Ministers to make regulations specifying the proportion of lay members and the criteria for selection was intended as a fall-back, only to be used in the unlikely event that there would be a need to resolve any disagreements regarding the proportion of lay members.”

Mr Ewing continued : “Following representations from the Law Society of Scotland, in which it re-affirmed its commitment to lay appointments, I no longer consider it necessary for Scottish Ministers to have this fall-back power. Therefore, I intend to bring forward an amendment at Stage 2 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to delete section 92(4), (5) and (6) of the Bill.”

A solicitor attending the Law Society road show branded Mr Ewing’s appearance & speech as “comical”, saying the Minister appeared at the show like a schoolboy awaiting corporal punishment. A video of Mr Ewing’s speech briefly published by the Law Society was quickly taken down as some indicated it looked too embarrassing for Mr Ewing, who has since been replaced in his role by Roseanna Cunningham.

The Law Society of Scotland issued a Press Release, promoting its latest committee abortion creation as “a significant step for the Society” yet lay members have populate much of the Law Society of Scotland’s committee structure, and as the records show, have simply acted as a rubber stamp for the Society’s wishes & determined effort to undermine any legal reforms which intend to place consumer protection over the vested interests of the legal profession and self regulation.

The Law Society today claimed : “The new committee will work independently from the Society’s Council on regulatory matters, with all of the Society’s current regulatory sub-committees now reporting to it. “

Cameron Ritchie, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The calibre of those applying to join the regulatory committee was extremely high and we were struck by the range and depth of talent of applicants and the enthusiasm they displayed for the work of the Society.

Mr Ritchie continued : “The appointment of the committee is a significant step for the Society as we move towards new types of legal services businesses becoming a reality. The Society is continuing to develop a regulatory framework for Licensed Legal Services Providers which will be as rigorous as that for solicitors, and the committee will have an important role to play as we move forwards.”

The committee members, who include non-solicitors from a wide range of backgrounds including education, the medical sector, surveying and accountancy, will choose a lay convener from amongst the five non-solicitor members. Solicitors Alison Atack, Frank MacAuley, Jane MacEachran and Alistair Morris will be joined by the five new lay members. A further solicitor appointment will also be made. The lay members of the regulatory committee are: chartered surveyor James Allan, head teacher Carole Ford, Professor Kay Hampton, chartered accountant Alan Plumtree and Elaine Tait, chief executive of Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

The Law Society of Scotland refused to release any photographs of its latest lay Committee Members, in keeping with it’s tradition of keeping Scots consumers in the dark over who exactly decides on complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’. Clearly however this is wrong. Consumers, clients of solicitors and the public have a right to know exactly who it is who sits on these Law Society of Scotland committees.

These people, along with those who sit on the board of the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are making anonymous, unaccountable decisions which affect the lives of anyone using legal services. Those individuals or groups who make these decisions on the quality of legal services which affect the lives of ordinary people and solicitors alike, should be identifiable by a current photograph if their positions are in any way connected with consumer protection or regulation.

As a journalist and a law reform campaigner, I always wonder about the motives & make up of such people who clamour to join an organisation such as the Law Society of Scotland which is already known to have threatened the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament with legal action if it did not get its way, has interfered with litigants legal aid applications, undermined consumer protection & client rights, personally targeted critics & litigants pursuing ‘crooked lawyers’ through the courts, has whispered in the ears of judges to influence verdicts in civil cases, has regularly provided false information to newspapers, has been linked to & covered up the deaths of its members clients and has within its ranks, officials who have used connections with Police forces to intimidate clients who dared complain against solicitors.

Indeed, what motives & what kind of person would clamour to join such an organisation and such a scheme aimed at ensuring solicitors sleep soundly at night while clients rot in ruin ?

An official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said today : “The latest Law Society attempt to control regulation through yet another committee will not change the circumstances of consumers who face historically prejudiced self regulation by the legal profession”.

A client turned campaigner whose bitter experiences with the Law Society became part of the SLCC’s 2009 report on the Master Policy said  : “The committee lay membership at the Law Society of Scotland has proved time and again it is a sham. It does nothing to enhance consumer protection or give clients a fair hearing against solicitors who have the Legal Defence Union standing by their side while the complainant remains unrepresented.”

The backgrounds of those the Law Society of Scotland consider to be “lay people” :

James Allan (East Lothian – Surveyor) – Chartered Surveyor. Honorary Secretary of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors from 2004 to 2010.  Former Chairman of the Institution’s Nominations Committee Independent Adjudicator and Mediator in many construction disputes.

Carole Ford (Glasgow – Education) – Head Teacher, Kilmarnock Academy.  Current Council Member for the General Teaching Council Scotland as well as current Convener of Disciplinary Sub-Committee of the Council Scotland.  Former President of Schools Leaders Scotland.  Board member of Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Professor Kay Hampton (Glasgow – Higher Education) – Emeritus Professor in Community and Race Relations at Glasgow Caledonian University. Commissioner to the Scottish Human Rights Commission.  Member of Children’s Panel in Glasgow.  Former Commissioner of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.  Former Chair, Deputy Chair and Commissioner, Scotland and UK for the Commission for Racial Equality.  Former Chair and UK Board Member for the Community Fund, Lottery Fund.

Alan Plumtree (Dunblane – Accountancy) – Chartered Accountant.  Current Partner in the firm of French Duncan LLP.  Former Senior Audit Partner and member of that firm’s Management Committee.  Extensive involvement with the Committees of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland including the Practitioner Certification Committee, Regulation and Compliance Board, Professional Standards Liaison Committee and Examination Board.

Elaine Tait (Kinross – Medical) – Chief Executive of Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE).  Quality Assurance Partner of the General Medical Council (GMC).  Member of the Royal College’s Lay Advisory Committee.  Former Reporter for the Society for the Client Relations Committee as well as a member of the Client Relations Committee as well as a member of a Client Relations Committee.  Also member of the Society’s Professional Conduct Committee as well as the Shadow Regulatory Committee.

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