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SCROOGE’D : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission buries ‘bad news’ annual report at Christmas, again refuses to release ‘compensation to clients’ data

07 Dec

SLCC montageBah, Humbug ! MacAskill’s Scottish Legal Complaints Commission intends to bury its bad news annual report on the run up to Christmas. CHRISTMAS is a good time to bury bad news and the many ghosts of Christmas past, especially if the bad news happens to come from Scotland’s regulator of complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’, the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) who, after a series of unexplained delays, are expected to publish their latest annual report on or after 20 December 2011 in the hope of quietly burying its consistently poor performance as Scotland’s legal watchdog which has so far not recommended the prosecution of one single crooked lawyer in what is approaching a very long four years since being created in 2008.

And in an attempt to keep the public from knowing just how bad the SLCC have performed, the SLCC has today REFUSED a SECOND Freedom of Information request to release information & figures on exactly how much money the SLCC have awarded over the last three years to clients who have suffered financially at the hands of their legal representatives. Since the SLCC came into being in 2008, it has NEVER published any data or information on how much compensation it has awarded clients who raised complaints about their solicitors.

SLCC refusal of compensation amount awards FOIThe SLCC’s second letter refusing to disclose the compensation amounts awarded to victims of crooked lawyers states : “I confirm the SLCC holds the information that you have requested. The SLCC endeavours to release as much information as possible. However, it has decided that the information you have requested is exempt from disclosure under the exemption found in Section 27 (1)(a)(i) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

The information you have requested is intended to be included in the SLCC’s annual report, which at the time of writing this letter is excepted to be published within 12 weeks. The SLCC has considered whether to withhold the information is reasonable and decided that it is because it will enable us to publish the information in context and in conjunction with other information about complaints.

The SLCC accepts that the information is of interest to the public but in the context of this decision has considered whether its release at this time, in advance of the publication of its annual report is in the Public Interest as set out in the Information Commissioner’s guidance. The SLCC’s view is that the arguments for withholding under section 27 outweigh those for releasing it.

1. The information requested is pertinent to the public in that it gives an indication of the effectiveness of the SLCC and information to both complainers and practitioners about outcomes of complaints. It would be argued that publishing this information as soon as possible is in the public interest for this reason.

2. The SLCC has a wider duty to report on complaints about the legal profession. Putting information in an appropriate context and publishing it in conjunction with other information to add meaning and value to it is an essential part of that reporting. Releasing the information as requested would not enable that to happen.

3. The SLCC has a statutory duty to lay its annual report before Parliament.  It is in the public interest that this is complete and appropriately quality controlled. Release of discrete sets of data in advance of publication would not support that.

I appreciate that in response to your earlier FOISA request of 5 July 2011, we had detailed our expectation that out annual report would be published within 12 weeks of your request. While this was our intention, we unfortunately experienced production related delays. Considering this delay, we have approached your request afresh in light of the above guidance along with our present confidence that we should be in a position to release our annual report within the next six weeks. We have also gone on to consider whether we should release the information anyway. Our decision is that section 27(1) should still apply and the information be withheld for all the reasons stated in this letter.

This is the SECOND FOI request for information on actual compensation figures paid out to clients who complained about their lawyers, with the first request, in July being refused by the SLCC’s Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew as a “vexatious request”, to which Scotland’s Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion found the SLCC had failed to handle correctly. 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

TODAY, an insider close to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s Board has revealed the SLCC HAD NEVER INTENDED to publish information on compensation paid out to clients until Diary of Injustice had raised the matter in FOI requests to the SLCC. The insider claimed the FOI requests, coverage of the issue on Diary of Injustice, a “rather nasty, bitter discussion between board members relating to Mr Cherbi’s investigations (which I have been told of) and Mr Dunion’s own investigation as a result of this journalist’s request to Mr Dunion’s office on the matter, have collectively FORCED the SLCC into a reluctantly taken decision to eventually publish the compensation data.

The insider said : “The levels of compensation paid out to consumers is on the low side and the SLCC never expected to be asked about it. However because the information was requested via Freedom of Information, it was down to playing a waiting game to structure the data in such a way any criticism over the low value of awards will be curtailed by other issues in the Annual Report.”

He continued : “To put it bluntly, the SLCC abused Freedom of Information legislation to cover up the compensation figures it will find embarrassing given the amount of money spent on the SLCC and public expectations of a better complaints service than was provided by the Law Society of Scotland.”

The SLCC has the power in Section 56 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 to award up to £5,000 to complainers who are directly been affected as a result of the solicitor’s misconduct (as a result of a conduct complaint) or up to £20,000 for complainers who  have been directly affected by the inadequate professional services provided by their solicitor (in the case of a service complaint). The compensation awards in all instances are at the direction of the SLCC to be paid by the solicitor who is the subject of the complaint.

Earlier in October of this year, Diary of Injustice revealed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were awarding victims of crooked lawyers as little as TEN POUNDS, after their lives had been shattered by the actions of their legal representatives. The article can be read here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to publish details of ‘loose change’ client compensation as board & staff live it up on YOUR millions

As revealed on Diary of Injustice on Monday of this week, the SLCC’s Board have authorised their Investigations Manager to produce a report on the levels of compensation paid to clients after a discussion took place at the SLCC’s October board meeting. However it was revealed in the discussions that solicitors & clients had in some cases not accepted the levels of compensation awarded by the SLCC.

The minute of the SLCC’s October 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.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created as a result of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, and brought into being by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in 2007 spent TWO MILLOIN POUNDS of taxpayers money on the hapless law complaints quango. Mr MacAskill went onto handpick a collection of quangocrats, ex Police Officers & lawyers to fill the SLCC’s board who have to-date claimed somewhere in the region of over HALF A MILLION POUNDS in expenses claims yet the SLCC has by its own admission only upheld one single complaint against an unidentified solicitor

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