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Scots to be ‘kept in dark’ on details of crooked lawyers while Legal Ombudsman’s ‘naming & shaming’ policy ‘will protect’ consumers in England & Wales

10 Nov

Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales to name & shame crooked lawyers while Scots consumers left in the dark over Scots legal profession’s villains. NAMING & SHAMING CROOKED LAWYERS is to go ahead in England & Wales in 2012 after a decision stating It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances was announced earlier this week by the Office for Legal Complaints which oversees the Legal Ombudsman (LeO). The widely welcomed move for consumers of legal services in England & Wales comes after several consultations held by the Legal Ombudsman over plans to identify law firms & lawyers who let down their clients, moves which were supported by consumer organisations such as Which?, the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), academics & UK Government Ministers.

SLCCScotland’s legal regulator the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has no plans to name & shame crooked lawyers. However, here in Scotland, there are currently NO PLANS by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to identify the serial crooked lawyers & law firms who do business in the Scottish legal system. The SLCC has previously claimed all complaints must be treated confidentially, however critics & consumer advocates feel the SLCC’s confidentiality policy exists simply to protect lawyers, ensuring that consumers are not able to find out just how crooked some lawyers & law firms in Scotland really are.

While Scots consumers are to be left in the dark over how crooked their lawyers really are, the Legal Ombudsman’s office has moved ahead on the matter, issuing a Press Release Naming Lawyers – Protecting Consumers (pdf), in which it stated : “It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances. That’s the decision of the Office for Legal Complaints which oversees the Legal Ombudsman.The Ombudsman has dealt with some seventy-thousand calls about the legal profession in the last year. From 2012, information about complaints resolved by an Ombudsman decision will be available to the public.”

Firms and individual lawyers will be named where there is a pattern of complaints or when it is in the public interest to do so.  The move is in response to issues raised by lawyers, consumers, Ministers and others who took part in the year-long consultation on the subject.

Elizabeth FranceElizabeth France, Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints. Commenting on the decision to allow the Legal Ombudsman to name & shame failing lawyers & law firms, Elizabeth France Chair of the Office for Legal Complaints said : “We consider we have struck a balance between protecting consumers and encouraging an independent and strong legal profession. Every day we know most lawyers do a good job for their clients – but there are some who simply don’t. That’s why it’s in the profession’s interest to make sure all who provide services to consumers are doing so effectively.”

Every three months the Legal Ombudsman will also publish lawyers’ names and firms involved in all complaints that have been resolved by a formal Ombudsman decision. This means that examples of good practice as well as bad will be there for all to see.

Ed Davey Consumer MinisterConsumer Minister Ed Davey MP. Commenting on the move, Ed Davey MP, the Consumer Minister said : “I am pleased that the Legal Ombudsman has decided to publish this data. This will make the legal profession stronger, improve service standards and consumers will be better protected as a result. As the Government set out in our consumer empowerment strategy, Better Choices, Better Deals, we are keen to see more information such as this being made available by ombudsmen and regulators.This will enable consumers to be armed with the best possible information before purchasing goods or services.”

Legal Services Consumer PanelLegal Services Consumer Panel Chief hails naming & shaming as ‘great success’. The decision has also been welcomed by consumer groups including the Legal Services Consumer Panel. The Panel’s Chair, Elisabeth Davies said : “This is great news for consumers who tell us they feel in the dark when trying to find a good lawyer. Today’s announcement means there will no longer be a hiding place for the minority in the profession who provide a poor service and fail to put things right. People use legal services at critical moments in their lives and it is entirely appropriate that those who provide these services are held accountable if they get things wrong.”

Which logoWhich? also supported the decision to identify poorly performing solicitors. Asked for comment on the decision to name & shame rogue solicitors, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said : “The Legal Ombudsman has made the right decision to publish the names of lawyers who give poor service. People will finally be able to make an informed choice about which lawyer they use, and can avoid those lawyers that fail consumers.”

The Law Society of Scotland are firmly against naming & shaming crooked lawyers in Scotland. In stark comparison to the moves in England & Wales to allow consumers to find out more about their lawyers and especially the ones who continually let down their clients, Diary of Injustice can confirm that Scots consumers are for now, to be left out of sharing the benefits of increased information about members of the Scottish legal profession who fall foul of complaints. With the Law Society of Scotland FIRMLY AGAINST any move to publicly identify the corrupt element of its members, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and Scottish Government have so far REFUSED to back moves which would see Scots given the same information to be made available in England & Wales which would enable clients to better decide which law firm or lawyer in Scotland is honest enough to handle their legal interests.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who are reluctant to name & shame crooked lawyers. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has previously argued it cannot name & shame any crooked lawyers in Scotland because of the terms of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which direct that all complaints matters and information arising from complaints are to be confidential. The 2007 Act also criminalises any leaks of information from the SLCC with harsh penalties for those within the organisation who whistle-blow on the SLCC’s numerous & now famous anti-client policies. The SLCC were asked for comment however none was provided at time of publication.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has been asked to allow naming & shaming of Scotland’s crooked lawyers. Today, the Scottish Government & Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill have been invited to allow naming & shaming of rogue law firms & lawyers in Scotland with a request to amend any parts of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 and any other relevant legislation which the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and Scotland’s legal profession at large have been using as an excuse to avoid the issue of naming & shaming the many serial crooked lawyers who crop up on a continual basis in complaint after complaint.

It is most certainly in the public interest Scots consumers of legal services have at the very lest the same rights & entitlements of their counterparts in England & Wales where such information as is to be published by the Legal Ombudsman in the rest of the UK should also be published relevant to all those solicitors & legal professionals operating in the Scottish legal services market.

Diary of Injustice has previously reported on naming & shaming crooked lawyers here :  Naming & shaming crooked lawyers – The story so far

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