FOI battle reveals LOADSAMONEY for law firms at the SLCC while little or nothing has been paid to clients ripped off by crooked lawyers. FIGURES DISCLOSED after a Freedom of Information battle with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) over requests to find out how much the SLCC has paid for hospitality, have revealed the anti-client law complaints quango which claims to ‘independently’ regulate Scotland’s legal services market has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants & on law firms, one of which is linked to one of its own Board members. In one year alone, 2010-2011 the legal costs of the SLCC rocketed to a staggering £215,871 on legal advice from Edinburgh law firms Anderson Strathern (£69,675), and Shepherd & Wedderburn (£146,196), linked to one of the SLCC’s own Board members, David Smith, (husband of Court of Session judge Lady Smith), who retired from Shepherd & Wedderburn in 2008 to join the SLCC’s Board on a daily renumeration package of £212 A DAY plus other expenses.
However, while the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is apparently keen to throw a significant proportion of its annual income on ‘legal advice’ to battle appeals by the legal profession against its remit to investigate crooked lawyers, the SLCC’s Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew has angrily REFUSED to disclose any figures on how much money the SLCC has awarded victims of crooked solicitors who have had their finances completely WIPED OUT by corrupt lawyers brought to the attention of the SLCC.
Diary of Injustice has reported on the battle to force the SLCC to release figures on compensation paid to clients ruined by their lawyers in an earlier article here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to publish details of ‘loose change’ client compensation as board & staff live it up on YOUR millions and in that report, it was revealed one of the paltry awards of compensation handed out to one client whose life suffered as a result of their solicitor’s actions was a shocking measly £10.
In response to Freedom of Information requests seeking information on the true levels of compensation paid out to clients of rogue solicitors, the SLCC refused to disclose ANY details of the amounts of funds which have been awarded to consumers who made complaints to the regulator about their solicitors, arguing they were not required to disclose the information as it was going to be published within twelve weeks of the Freedom of Information request being made, which was in mid July. The SLCC’s Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew also branded the requests “vexatious” in an attempt to thwart any release of the sensitive figures, rumoured to be PENNIES compared to the scale of the financial damage done to clients by their legal representatives who turned out to be corrupt.
Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion was asked to look at the SLCC’s refusal to hand over the information. Mr Dunion’s decision stated : Following an investigation, during which the SLCC withdrew its reliance upon section 14(1), the Commissioner found that the SLCC had failed to deal with Mr Cherbi’s requests for information in accordance with Part 1 of FOISA, on the basis that Mr Cherbi’s requests were not vexatious in terms of section 14(1). The full decision by Mr Dunion can be read here Decision 219/2011, however as the second week of December 2011 approaches, no annual report has been released by the SLCC and neither has any information on how much money it has handed out to people who have had their lives all but ruined by their lawyers after legal cases turned sour.
The only public reference the SLCC has made to compensation paid out to clients of rogue solicitors came in a note in its heavily censored October Board meeting, where the minute of the meeting stated : There was some debate around the levels of compensation recommended at Investigation stage and the levels of compensation awarded at Determination stage. It was agreed that the Investigations Manager would provide a report on compensation/abatement recommended and rewarded. The report should include any comments from the Practitioner and Complainer as to why they are not accepting proposed settlements. The target date of this report being completed is laughably listed in the October board minutes as February 2012.
A source close to the SLCC has admitted to Diary of Injustice the issue of compensation paid to clients is only now being discussed because it has been raised in Freedom of Information requests & investigations. However while it remains the SLCC has steadfastly REFUSED to release any figures on how much compensation it has handed out to clients who fell victim to corrupt solicitors, the battle over the FOI requests did force the early publication of the vast expenditures of the SLCC in other areas such as on consultants, fees for legal advice and hospitality, as part of the requirements of the much welcomed Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, which was introduced on 28 May 2009 by John Swinney MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and voted into law by msps at the Scottish Parliament last year.
John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Sustainable Growth introduced a new law bringing some much needed transparency to public bodies who are seemingly on the take. The Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 implements wide-ranging reforms to the public bodies landscape in Scotland. It abolishes a number of bodies which are no longer necessary; provides order-making powers which enable Scottish Ministers to bring forward further proposals to improve public function and remove or reduce burdens; imposes new duties of openness and transparency on the Scottish Government and public bodies; establishes Creative Scotland as the new single national body for the arts, culture and creative industries; reforms and streamlines the bodies responsible for health, social work and social care scrutiny; and puts in place improvements to the arrangements for scrutiny and complaints handling.
Details of the SLCC’s expenditure to comply with the new law brought in by the Scottish Government are listed below, published ONLY AFTER Freedom of Information requests were made for the information this year by this journalist : CLIENT MONEY FUNDS LUXURIES, PR, CONSULTANTS & LEGAL ADVICE FOR SCOTLAND’S WHITE ELEPHANT LAW REGULATOR THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION :
Annual Expenditure 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011 disclosed under the Public Services Reform (Scotland ) Act Public Relations CAB Exhibition Costs £836, SCVO Exhibition Costs £1,020, Meltwater News UK Media Monitoring Service £9,392, Newspaper Licensing Agency Media Monitoring Service £315, McCallum Media Monitoring Media Monitoring Service £719, George Nicol Graphics Annual Report £8,718, Minuteman Press Annual Report £601, Holyrood Communications Advertising £969, Devlin Photography Photography £319, Yell Advertising £9,602 ,Total £32,491 Overseas Travel NIL Hospitality and Entertainment Marks and Spencer Catering for Meetings and Events £969, One World Shop Supply of Fairtrade Tea/Coffee £742, Other Local Suppliers Catering for Meetings and Events etc £1,759, Total £3,470 External Consultancy Wildcat One HR Consultancy £16,816, CA Consulting Production of Employee Handbook £15,677, Scott Moncrieff Internal Audit Services £12,516, Audit Scotland External Audit Fees £13,034, RSM Tenon VAT Advice £9,400, Julie Murphy Accountancy Service £5,103, Insight Training Database Development £3,868, University of Manchester Legal Research £5,464, Progressive Partnership Legal Research £5,155, Survey Monkey Survey Costs £200, Total £87,233 Payments in excess of £25,000 Threadneedle Property Unit Trust Rent and Service Charges (paid quarterly) £248,214, Shepherd and Wedderburn Legal Advice June 2011 (also included below) £25,277 Suppliers paid in excess of £25,000 City of Edinburgh Council Business Rates (paid monthly) £55,476, Scottish Government SCOTS Lite IT Support and Maintenance (paid quarterly) £58,453, Hays Specialist Recruitment Recruitment Costs 2010/11 £26,535, Anderson Strathern Various Expert Advice £69,675, Shepherd and Wedderburn Various Expert Advice £146,196.
It should be noted the SLCC’s annual accounts of 2010 reported the SLCC claimed to have spent £57K in 2009 and £87K in 2010 on legal fees so adding in the latest figures available shows the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has spent at least £359,871 on lawyers, and those figures do not include its formation year of 2008 where the SCLC received TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money to establish itself as Scotland’s worst regulator of legal services ever, even perhaps worse than the Law Society of Scotland, but then again, as many have now found out, the SLCC is simply the Law Society of Scotland in all but name.
So, the question remains, how much compensation has been paid out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to clients who have been financially ruined by their lawyers and what do those clients feel about what they received in return for what their lawyers did to them?