Rosemary Agnew, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission tipped for FOI anti-secrecy role. ROSEMARY AGNEW the current Chief Executive of the under achieving, anti-consumer law complaints quango, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which has today been named along with other Scottish public bodies in a Hall of Shame of organisations including the Scottish Government, Police, quangos & local authorities which deliberately mishandle Freedom of Information requests & disclosures, is reported to be tipped in the secret race to replace current Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion who leaves office in February 2012.
However, it can also be revealed today Ms Agnew in her capacity as SLCC Chief Executive has been rebuked by the current Information Commissioner, Mr Dunion on at least FIVE OCCASIONS for failures in handling FOI disclosures, one of which included the withholding of sensitive compensation payments data during the period Ms Agnew was actually being interviewed for the post of FOI Commissioner by Scottish Parliament officials.
The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) which itself has been responsible for many controversial decisions including the runaway construction budget of the Scottish Parliament itself, topping half a billion pounds of taxpayers money, is rumoured to be at the point of recommending Ms Agnew’s appointment to the post of FOI Commissioner to msps in the next few days. Yet so far, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even Ms Agnew herself have all refused detailed comment on the seemingly controversial appointment, which was revealed today in the Daily Record newspaper.
Asked about the rumoured controversial recommendation of Ms Agnew to fill the FOI Commissioner role, a Scottish Parliament spokesman simply said : “We expect to be in a position to confirm the nominee to Parliament early in the new year, ahead of Kevin Dunion’s departure in February.”
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were contacted for comment and asked : “Does the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have any comment on reports its Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew is to be recommended to msps to replace the current Scottish Information Commissioner Mr Kevin Dunion upon his demit of office in February of this year, and what Ms Agnew’s appointment to the post (if confirmed by msps) will mean for freedom of information requests to the SLCC.”
A further question was put to the SLCC : “Does the SLCC have any comment on how the SLCC will cope with having to recruit a third Chief Executive in four years to the SLCC and the impact on the Commission’s role of having three Chief Executives since 2008 ?“
The SLCC issued a blunt “no comment” to both questions.
Speaking to Diary of Injustice this morning, a legal insider said he was horrified someone with a record of refusing FOI requests could be appointed to the role of Scotland’s FOI Commissioner.
He said : “Unless Ms Agnew has significantly changed her attitudes towards FOI, I doubt a candidate with at least five rebukes for handling FOI requests who is coming from an organisation which has a history of waging a war of attrition against Freedom of Information laws, can fulfil the requirement for maintaining & strengthening Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland.”
A leading political observer, commenting on the SPCB’s appointment agreed it looked like the Scottish Parliament were about to choose someone who might not continue Mr Dunion’s work of expanding & upholding Freedom of Information compliance in Scotland.
Ms Agnew’s suitability for the role of FOI Commissioner has also been questioned today after it was claimed decisions taken by her in her role as Chief Executive of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission to refuse to monitor consumers individual claims made against the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy which have left some clients penniless, in a state of financial ruin and facing years of hardship, ill health and hounding by firms of crooked lawyers. The claims were made by clients who have approached the SLCC to request the law complaints quango monitor individual claims made against the Master Policy after being financially ruined by “crooked lawyers” & corrupt Scottish law firms who took their clients for a ride through the courts system.
The SLCC has powers to monitor the Master Policy under Section 39 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 although its staff & board have sought on several occasions to loosely interpreted the terms of the law in an apparent attempt to avoid becoming involved in matters which have already led to confrontation between the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland & Marsh UK, the UK subsidiary of the convicted US Insurers Marsh McLennan Companies who are brokers of the Master Policy which is backed by insurers such as Royal Sun Alliance PLC.
Letter reveals SLCC’s latest Chief Executive told client they will not monitor claims made against crooked lawyers. In a letter released to Diary of Injustice, the SLCC’s Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew refused to become involved in monitoring claims to the Master Policy. Ms Agnew wrote : “..it is not within the SLCC’s remit to monitor individual claims made under the Master Policy. Under the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (Section 39), the SLCC may monitor the overall effectiveness of guarantee funds, etc and professional indemnity arrangements put in place by the Law Society of Scotland for its members (ie the Master Policy). This power does not extend to our active involvement in the way in which individual indemnity claims are being dealt with by the insurers.”
A succession of additional letters from Ms Agnew to claimants have been released to Diary of Injustice, showing Ms Agnew refused requests by beleaguered clients to monitor their claims to the Master Policy.
Speaking at the time of Ms Agnew’s blunt refusals to monitor claims to the Master Policy, Consumer Focus Scotland sided with clients, and supported calls for consumers to be able to submit concerns about the Master Policy on their cases directly to the SLCC. A spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland said : “After concerns were raised with the SCC (Scottish Consumer Council) regarding the operation of the master policy, the SCC argued that the SLCC should be given power to monitor the effectiveness of the master policy in the Legal Services and Legal Profession (Scotland) Act 2007, and we were very pleased when this was included.”
The spokesperson continued : “It has always been our understanding that the intention behind section 39 of the Act was that the SLCC would monitor the overall effectiveness of the operation of the Master Policy, rather than monitoring individual claims. It does seem to us, however, that in order to monitor the overall effectiveness of the Master Policy, the SLCC must be able to consider evidence about the way in which individual claims to the Policy have been handled. It is therefore important that consumers are able to submit concerns about the way their claim has been handled to the SLCC, to assist the SLCC to undertake this function effectively.”
Ms Agnew’s refusal to involve the SLCC in actively monitoring individual claims to the Master Policy has come of something as a shock to many legal observers, who keenly anticipated the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission would end the world of corruption surrounding damages claims made against rogue solicitors & law firms by financially ruined clients, particularly after an independent report commissioned by the SLCC found the Law Society of Scotland & the Master Policy insurers had covered up the fact clients had committed suicide after being let down by law firms who were supposedly representing their claims against the Master Policy in the Court of Session, itself well known as a cosy lawyer only club unwilling to rule against the profession. Diary of Injustice reported on the report into the Master Policy here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’
A solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice this afternoon said “The SLCC lacked any credibility on the news it was about to lose yet another Chief Executive.” He went onto claim the SLCC “has little consumer confidence, is not trusted by the legal profession, appears to hold no continuity and should be scrapped.”
BACKGROUND : ROSEMARY AGNEW, SLCC CHIEF EXECUTIVE
Rosemary Agnew is the SLCC’s second Chief Executive in three years. Ms Agnew took on the role after a short recruitment phase to replace the SLCC’s first Chief Executive Eileen Masterman who resigned after a bitter exchange with Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney over issues involving meetings the SLCC held in connection with the Master Policy.
Ironically, one of Rosemary Agnew’s key refusals to disclose information to the public was information and discussions surrounding the SECRET SUBSTANTIAL PAY-OFF negotiated by lawyers acting for former SLCC CEO Eileen Masterman and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The secret payoff was also backed by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and Scottish Ministers also refused to disclose the amount paid to Ms Masterman. Diary of Injustice reported on the secret pay-off scandal in an earlier article here : HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers
SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman (foreground) received Scottish Government approved pay off after lawyers intervened says auditor report. RUMOURS that Eileen Masterman, the former Chief Executive of the much derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), received a SUBSTANTIAL PAY OFF after she resigned on grounds of “ill health”, after serving less than SEVEN MONTHS in the £80,000 a year, £1,350 plus, a week job have now been confirmed with the publication of a “Key Memorandum Issues” document prepared for the SLCC by the Edinburgh offices of auditors Grant Thornton. Grant Thornton were called in to replace the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) as the SLCC’s auditors, after SLAB were abruptly sacked from their auditing role by the SLCC’s board in 2009 after much bickering over the Legal Aid Board’s scrutiny of the failed law complaints quango.
Today’s Daily Record report :
Jan 9 2012 Exclusive by Chris Musson
THE public bodies who fought tooth-and-nail to keep secrets from you are today exposed by the Record. The Government, police forces, councils and taxpayer-funded quangos all flouted anti-secrecy laws by knocking back legitimate Freedom of Information requests. They were forced to back down by Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s first Information Commissioner, who ruled in favour of the public 359 times since the new rules came into force in January 2005.
The worst offenders were the Scottish Government, who wrongly refused to disclose information 78 times over the last seven years. However, they also received the highest number of requests of any public body. Second on the league of shame were Edinburgh City Council, with 22 decisions against them. Third were Glasgow City Council with 17 decisions fully in favour of applicants, and fourth were Scottish Water with 15.
Among legitimate requests knocked back were details on the numbers of sex offenders in various areas – with Strathclyde Police, Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary all falling foul. Surgical mortality rates were also wrongly withheld by the NHS, as were details of public payments to firms of private consultants.
Dunion and his office made 1336 decisions to December 14, 2011. As well as the 359 fully in favour of the person appealing a refusal, 450 were partly in their favour.
A person who gets knocked back for an FoI request must first appeal to the public body before going to the Information Commissioner. It is time-consuming, meaning many members of the public give up, even if they have a good case.
But public bodies often fight to the bitter end, despite decisions being overturned by the Information Commissioner. Public bodies’ disregard for the laws is still widespread seven years on – and even appears to be growing. Last year saw the highest total for successful appeals by the public – on 85 occasions.
Dunion, who grew up in Fife and Clackmannanshire and was the rector of St Andrews University until 2011, steps down next month from the post of Information Commissioner he has held since 2003. Tomorrow, he will present a special report to the Scottish Parliament on his time in the job, and will urge the Government to “safeguard and strengthen” openness from public bodies.
Yesterday, he told the Record he was confident Scotland had “made a success” of freedom of information since 2005. He added said: “Public awareness of Freedom of Information is at an all-time high. Public authorities are responding to requests and information is being disclosed which would otherwise have remained secret. “We know much more about contracts and expenses, deaths in hospitals and local crime rates because of FoI. “Of course, there are disputes and failings which is why the free right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner is so important.”
He said most appeals were from members of the public, adding: “In the majority of my decisions I have found, at least in part, that the appeal was justified.”
TIP FORCED TO DISCLOSE
A WOMAN tipped to be Scotland’s new anti-secrecy tsar has had a string of rulings made against her by the man she could replace.
Rosemary Agnew, who heads the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, is one of six people interviewed to be the next Information Commissioner. But Kevin Dunion has slapped down the SLCC eight times – five since Agnew took over as Chief Executive in October 2010.
Legal Reform campaigner Peter Cherbi, who had several requests knocked back by the SLCC, cast doubt over her suitability. He said : “How someone like that could be put in charge of openness is beyond me, unless they want to shut down openness and accountability.”
Agnew did not respond to requests for a comment.