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English, Scots Law Societies ‘team up’ in legal moves against “Solicitors from Hell” in bid to stop Legal Ombudsman ‘Naming & Shaming’ crooked lawyers

06 Sep

Legal OmbudsmanEngland & Wales’ Legal Ombudsman may be REAL TARGET of lawyers legal action against naming & shaming website. LEGAL ACTION by English solicitors & the Law Society of England & Wales against SOLICITORS FROM HELL, the English based website which names & shames ‘crooked lawyers’ from all over the UK may, according to senior legal figures in Scotland, have an ulterior motive of attempting to ‘scare off’ the English law complaints regulator, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) from its stated wish to identify solicitors & law firms in complaints decisions & statistics which are expected to be published in the not too distant future by the LeO after it’s plans received the support of consumers & Government in a long running consultation.

solicitors-from-hellLegal action against Solicitors from Hell is being used by Law Society to prevent LeO’s official naming & shaming of crooked lawyers. The claim was made by a senior insider at the Law Society of Scotland, who, according to information provided to Diary of Injustice, are alleged to be secretly supporting legal moves by the Law Society of England & Wales to remove the Solicitors from Hell website from the internet, out of fear the trend to name & shame crooked lawyers MAY SPREAD TO SCOTLAND if consumers in England & Wales establish access to names & identities of solicitors & law firms via the LeO’s plans, which are supported by many consumer groups, the OFT and the UK Government.

Information seen but not in the possession of Diary of Injustice appears to establish multiple bodies representing the legal profession in different parts of the UK including Scotland have discussed and now appear to have agreed to ‘team up’ to use the law “and any other means possible” to censor forms of online criticism of the legal profession & public debate forums started up by aggrieved clients of crooked lawyers who feel or whose experiences show members of the public cannot get a fair hearing of their complaints against the legal profession.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland is worried naming & shaming of crooked lawyers will damage lawyers businesses & political influence. In one of multiple references to the legal action taking place in the English courts against the “Solicitors from Hell” website, an official at the Law Society of Scotland states his fears that if consumers in England & Wales gain access to the identities of solicitors and the terms of complaints made against them, it will only be a matter of time before consumer organisations call for the same policy to be established in Scotland a duty which would fall to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Another official spoke of concerns that if names of poorly performing solicitors were made publicly available in Scotland it would weaken the legal profession’s image, influence in public life and damage the profession’s business model.

However, another official at the Law Society of Scotland discounts the fear the SLCC will ever name solicitors who are subject to complaints in Scotland, pointing to multiple Court of Session appeals against the SLCC taken out by solicitors & even the Law Society of Scotland itself which have left the SLCC “timid”. He went onto brand the SLCC as “weak” and “easily controlled”, claiming as long as the current format of regulation of complaints against solicitors exists in Scotland, “there is no danger of naming & shaming taking place in the Scottish legal services market”.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, asked for its input, refused to comment on whether it would ever identify crooked lawyers & law firms in Scotland, however a former insider who left the hapless law complaints quango branded the SLCC “an ongoing train wreck”, saying : ”The SLCC has no credibility as a regulator and is not worthy of any public trust.”

Today, a Scottish solicitor branded the Law Society of England & Wales legal action against “Solicitors from Hell” as “daft”, claiming “The coverage caused by the English Law Society’s hammer & tongs approach to online consumer criticism of the legal profession will backfire spectacularly”

He went onto say : “At some point the legal profession whether in Scotland or in England is going to have to accept clients of legal services have the same right as anyone else to speak about how good or bad their solicitor did the work and how much it cost. The same kind of information is available online for just about every other sector of business and even public services. For solicitors to use the courts to suppress this kind of information looks more like censorship and will do nothing to bring back business to law firms.”

SLCC MacAskillEasily led : SLCC tamed, Scottish Govt will apparently block any moves to name & shame crooked lawyers in Scotland. In further references to the debate on the possibility of naming & shaming crooked lawyers in Scotland, another insider at the Law Society of Scotland claimed the Scottish Government had already indicated it would not give the SLCC any new powers to identify solicitors & law firms in complaints investigations, citing all information gathered by the SLCC in the course of its duties was considered to be confidential under the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. The Law Society insider appeared to indicate he had been given guarantees from the Scottish Government no amendments to the LPLA Act would be implemented unless the Law Society of Scotland specifically agreed to their terms.

The Scottish Government did not reply to enquiries.

During discussions in Scotland of the Law Society of England & Wales case against Solicitors from hell, one Law Society official revealed he had been informed elements of the legal profession in England & Wales had sought Counsel’s opinion “as a standby” on possible legal action against the Legal Ombudsman in a bid to prevent the LeO going ahead with its plans to identify solicitors & law firms who are subject of complaints investigations or determinations made by the LeO.

A legal insider confirmed the discussions, claiming both the Law Societies of Scotland, and England & Wales were hoping any successful legal action against the Solicitors From Hell website would scare off the Legal Ombudsman from publishing names of solicitors & law firms connected to complaints.

The possibility of an ECHR challenge by English solicitors against the LeO over naming & shaming, follows a similar ECHR legal threat against the LPLA Act (Scotland) 2007, issued by one time Law Society of Scotland Chief Executive Douglas Mill who gained a legal opinion from LibDem Peer Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC in 2006 it was against the human rights of a lawyer to have anyone other than a lawyer regulate complaints against lawyers.

Douglas Mill 4You Tub’bed : Douglas Mill, former Chief Executive Law Society of Scotland. Mill’s legal challenge against the LPLA Bill & the Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive & Scottish Parliament was widely reported in the media but did not proceed to court. However, certain changes were made to the LPLA Bill as it passed Holyrood vote in December 2006, which weakened it’s impact on regulation of the legal profession in Scotland. In January 2008, Douglas Mill was forced to announce his registration from the Law Society of Scotland after video footage of a confrontation with the now Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney over claims Mill & others had interfered in claims to the Master Policy, was posted to video sharing website You Tube in late December 2007.

In stark comparison to the lack of debate of naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scots consumer circles and the refusals from the Scottish Government & SLCC to publish detailed complaints statistics & investigations identifying crooked lawyers & law firms in Scotland, the plans by the Legal Ombudsman to identify solicitors & law firms in complaints determinations have gained significant support of many consumer organisations and even the Government, as I reported in an earlier article, here : Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now

Which logoConsumer group Which? were asked for their comments on the LeO’s plans to identify crooked lawyers in England & Wales. A spokesperson for Which? said : “Which? strongly supports the principle of the LeO publishing complaints data under a strict and published policy , including in some circumstances the name of the law firm concerned. We set out our position in our response to the LeO consultation (page 51: opening up regulatory data)) pointing out that it is the expectation of Government that complaints handling bodies are as transparent as possible.”

Asked for their comment on allegations the legal action against Solicitors from Hell was part of a plan by the Law Society of England & Wales to prevent the Legal Ombudsman from naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, the Which? spokesperson said : “The action being taken against Solicitors from Hell by the Law Society is partly due, in our view, to the fact that LeO does not yet publish complaints data. We consider it far more sensible that complaints data is published under a clear policy framework by an ombudsman scheme. Given this, we would find it regretful if any legal action were to be brought against the LeO by the legal profession in England & Wales if “naming & shaming” is to be adopted by the LeO as a future policy.”

Legal Services Consumer PanelSpeaking on the LeO’s plans to publish complaints data & the identities of law firms who perform poorly for clients, Elisabeth Davies, Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), said : “Research shows that UK consumers are now leaving well over 100 million comments online every year about their experience with businesses across the economy. Lawyers cannot escape this welcome emergence of consumer power, but instead should seek and then use such feedback to improve the service they offer.

She continued : “The courts will decide the fate of the Solicitors From Hell website. However, such websites fill a vacuum that exists because official complaints data about lawyers is not publically available to help consumers identify good quality lawyers. The Panel will continue to push the Legal Ombudsman to name those law firms who regularly provide poor service.”

Asked whether the Legal Services Consumer Panel was concerned the current crop of court cases & action against “Solicitors from Hell” was designed to scare off the Legal Ombudsman from publishing complaints information identifying solicitors & law firms, a spokesperson for the LSCP said : “The Legal Services Act gives the OLC powers to name lawyers so it is difficult to see the grounds for legal action. It is also official Government policy for ombudsman to open up complaint data to consumers, including in legal services – see p34 of this link

The Law Society of England & Wales were asked for their input & comment, however no response was received.

Clearly naming & shaming is good for consumers in England & Wales, and therefore should be just as good for consumers of legal services in Scotland. CONTACT YOUR MSP TODAY to support the introduction of naming & shaming of crooked law firms & solicitors in Scotland so all consumers can be protected from the rogue elements of Scotland’s legal services market.

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