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Protection Racket : SLCC’s ‘whitewash’ investigation of Law Society of Scotland’s conduct complaint process ends in failure to publish full report

10 Apr

SLCCSLCC’s Investigation into Law Society’s conduct complaints system ends up in missing final report. AN INVESTIGATION carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) into the Law Society of Scotland’s Conduct Complaints Process under powers the Society itself helped to frame in the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which created the SLCC has unsurprisingly resulted in the board of the hapless anti-client law complaints quango claiming it could take “reasonable assurance” in the Law Society’s overall complaints handling system, despite the fact the Law Society, SLCC and several solicitors continue to be locked in expensive courtroom battles in Scotland’s Court of Session over which of the two regulators has jurisdiction in complaints investigations.

Curiously however, while the announcement from the SLCC claimed the Law Society’s “processes, procedures and controls under review could benefit from a number of improvements”, no full report on the actual review has been made available to the public or media, and neither has any final report been published on the SLCC’s website, leading to concerns from some campaigners the SLCC and Law Society are operating on a closed shop loop, branded this morning by one Glasgow based campaigner as a “lawyer’s merry go round cover up society which does nothing for transparency or openness”.

The announcement from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, states that in November 2011 the SLCC concluded a review of the Law Society of Scotland’s Conduct Complaint Process under its powers set out in section 36(5) of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. The review concluded that the SLCC Board could take ‘reasonable assurance’ in the Law Society’s overall complaints handling system but recognised that the processes, procedures and controls under review could benefit from a number of improvements.

While the SLCC has decided not to publish any report or details of how the review took place, a brief set of recommendations were published on the SLCC’s website, stating :

*Policies and procedures, including the Complaints Investigation procedures manual, should be finalised.
*Defined timescales and Key Performance Indicators should be established.
*An effective version control system should be implemented for key documents.
*The quality assurance process should be formalised and reviews documented.
*Management information on complaints could be refined, including the use of trend analysis.

The SLCC’s announcement went onto state “These findings have been discussed with the Law Society of Scotland which has accepted the overall finding of ‘reasonable assurance’ and the recommendations in relation to complaints handling. These will be monitored by the SLCC in terms of its on-going oversight role and some will form the subject of future reviews.”

However, no reports of discussions between the Law Society & SLCC have been published on the SLCC’s website, possibly due to claims from Commission insiders there have been “difficult moments” between the regulators during the review, and alleged insistence from the Law Society of Scotland the SLCC should not publish ‘certain material’ gathered during the review.

No one from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has issued any further comment on the review of the Law Society’s Conduct Complaints Process, and no statement has been issued by the Law Society of Scotland, leading observers to conclude the SLCC’s review was not a happy affair, leading in turn to the lack of published material on conclusion of the ‘independent’ law quango’s investigation of the Law Society’s conduct complaints system.

While the SLCC appear to have held back from criticising the Law Society over its closed shop complaints procedures, Court of Session judge Lord Carloway did not mince his words, claiming an opinion issued at the Court of Session last week the Law Society’s complaints procedures were failing to protect the public, after it emerged the Law Society had taken over a year to send a misconduct complaint to the SLCC about a case where Greenock solicitor William Murnin was alleged to have a “potential” £232,000 deficit in his firm’s client accounts.

Diary of Injustice reported on judge’s criticisms of the Law Society & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission last week, here : Law Society, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission criticised by judge over failures, delays investigating solicitor’s £232K client fund deficit case

The full opinion of Lord Carloway can be read here : OPINION OF THE COURT delivered by LORD CARLOWAY in the appeal by WILLIAM MURNIN Appellant; against (First) THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION; and (Second) THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND Respondents:

While neither the Law Society of Scotland or Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were able to explain to the court the year long delay in the Law Society’s reporting of the complaint to the SLCC, claims emerged last week from legal insiders ‘“there were negotiations going on between the Law Society & ‘representatives’ of Mr Murnin between January & June of 2011” a pattern reminiscent of previous cases where solicitors have asked their colleagues, and solicitors working for the Legal Defence Union to intervene in complaints investigations and secretly bargain away any disciplinary action or overt publicity which may impact on their professional livelihoods. The allegations, put to one Law Society insider, have not been refuted.

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