FOI legislation shines a much needed light into murky world of gifts for law complaints regulator. THE use of Freedom of Information legislation and its application to scrutinise the duties & somewhat abysmal performance of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has finally forced the notoriously anti-client law complaints quango to publish its register of gifts & hospitality, some three years and several scandals since the SLCC was created in 2008 at huge public expense of TWO MILLION POUNDS to deal with complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’.
While a steady stream of gifts & hospitality flowed into the SLCC, the organisation’s latest annual report for 2010-2011 revealed in three years,it had only upheld one single complaint while sending most others back to the Law Society of Scotland. Earlier this year, the SLCC announced yet another cut in the complaints levy, effectively gifting a whopping ONE MILLION POUNDS back to the legal profession after the quango revealed it had at one point, a £1.8 million cash surplus in its bank accounts.
An SLCC insider speaking to Diary of Injustice said the organisation had decided to throw in the towel and publish its Hospitality registers after receiving several Freedom of Information requests from the media & individuals over the past three years which asked questions on undisclosed links & Hospitality between law firms and the SLCC’s Board members & staff. The SLCC on the other hand, claimed the move was a result of its commitment “to the principles of openness and transparency”, however legal observers view this as a victory for Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland.
The move was confirmed by the SLCC’s response to a Freedom of Information request earlier this week in which the SLCC indicated its hospitality registers would now be published on its website at the following link : SLCC Gifts & Hospitality Registers with updates to be applied quarterly.
The Hospitality Club : More gifts than complaints findings at Scotland’s law complaints quango. The SLCC’s registers of gifts & hospitality contains items such as invitations to dinners, drinks parties, lectures events and other gifts offered by several personalities from Scotland’s legal world including past Law Society Presidents Ian Smart & Jamie Millar, law firms such as Pagan Osborne, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Anderson Strathern, Beveridge & Kellas SSC, auditors KPMG & Deloitte, consumer organisations Consumer Focus Scotland & Which?, the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland, the Medical Protection Society, the Administrative Justice & Tribunals Council Scottish Committee (AJTC), Scottish Government & others. While some members of staff are identified, others apparently are not, leaving a degree of suspicion over who attended some of the events such as law lectures at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
A full summary of the SLCC’s Hospitality Register from 2008 to the publication date of this article can be viewed online here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission hospitality & gifts 2008-early 2011
A legal insider commenting on the register this morning said : “Perhaps the SLCC should focus on some of the duties the public expected it to be getting on with now such as monitoring the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund rather than going to dinners & parties with members of the legal profession.”
The insider also noted some of the law firms mentioned in the SLCC’s now published hospitality register had been identified in serious complaints made by clients against their provision of legal services, and one firm of auditors appearing in the hospitality register has been identified in a long running scandal currently dragging on in the Court of Session which has also been brought to the attention of the SLCC by way of a complaint involving a law firm which the Law Society of Scotland have apparently purposely delayed consideration of for several years.
SLCC resisted Freedom of Information requests to reveal secret payoff for SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman (pictured in foreground). While this is a small victory for Freedom of Information & a small degree of openness in the world of regulation of the legal profession, readers may wish to note the SLCC has stubbornly refused to disclose what is rumoured to be a massive payout to former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman, who remained in her £1350 a week position at the law complaints quango’s lavish Edinburgh offices for just over six months before quitting allegedly on grounds of ‘ill health’.
More about the SLCC’s refusal to hand over any details of the secret Masterman Payoff, which was secretly passed by the Scottish Government, can be found here : HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers
Diary of Injustice revealed how members of the public had been shut out of the SLCC’s latest research into the Law Society of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt Master Policy, when heavily censored documents were released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in response to Freedom of Information requests for details of the latest Master Policy research project.
The censored documents released by the SLCC revealed Marsh UK, a subsidiary of the Marsh McLennan Companies, the US insurers convicted of criminal charges several years ago, had been entrusted to hand out questionnaires to selected individuals it would be hoped would give the Master Policy a more favourable write up than those in the Manchester University of Law School’s 2009 report, which liked the Master Policy to : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’