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A FINE MESS: Complaints cost Scottish lawyers £1K a day in £365K ‘anonymous’ fines & compensation as regulator refuses to identify rogue solicitors & law firms

24 Dec

Fined by them & do it again – regulator fails to name rogue lawyers. THE CHANCES are – if you have ever been fined in a Scottish court – your identity, address, picture, date of birth, much of your life – private, criminal, or otherwise, and even perhaps a strand of your DNA will make it to a Crown Office Press Release to boost their ‘seasonally adjusted’ conviction rates.

However, if you are a member of the Law Society of Scotland, fear not. For solicitors who end up facing fines, compensation orders and fee reductions ordered by Scotland’s ‘independent’ regulator of complaints about lawyers – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – not one rogue solicitor or law firm fined by the SLCC has been named in the past six years since it began investigating complaints in 2008. Not one.

In fact, you stand a better chance of finding out if there is a re-housed spy, mafia supergrass or a serial abuser – living in a safe house in your neighbourhood – than you do finding out the name of a lawyer fined by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for ripping off other clients.

This year, the SLCC 2014 Annual Report chose to highlight awards of a ‘whopping’ £365,000 in compensation & fee reductions for clients of dodgy Scottish solicitors – yet, again, not one solicitor fined in connection with a complaint – is named.

The rising fee reductions & compensation orders are good, but the lack of names are not. The suspicions are –  the numbers of ‘repeat offenders’ – lawyers who end up being fined for the same thing, the same complaints, over & over – are starting to mount.

But, let’s put this £365,000 gained for ‘complainers’ by the SLCC into a little more perspective.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created in 2008 with over £2million of public cash from the Scottish Government. £2 million of yours – in their tummy. Nice – for them.

And, SLCC board members make tidy expenses claims of £150K or more each year since 2008. Nice again – for them. Get the picture? Right. It’s a quango. With lots of money – Your money.

Since 2008, the SLCC has cost around £2.7m – £3million a year to run. Making a total cost of operating the SLCC since 2008 now at around £20million – including that £2million public cash splurge from the Scottish Government.

And – where does this £3million annual complaints levy come from ? It comes from a complaints levy paid by solicitors- who – naturally – recover the money via hikes in client fees.

That’s right. You pay for the SLCC. And, you pay a lot for the SLCC.

You pay so much, some clients have found their legal fees doubled, trebled, even quadrupled to pay for the SLCC.

The complaints levy is only £324 or so a year – however, it is well known in the profession many solicitors recover the levy at least twice, three times or more – per client – from you.

£324 … the price of a half decent widescreen telly …easy to slip that one into your legal bill, and again, and again, and again.

And, there is another problem. A bigger problem. Did you guess correctly ?

Shocker – Rogue solicitors who are found out and told by the SLCC to reduce fees or pay compensation – are recovering their losses by overcharging legal fees to other clients. Now that’s what anyone might call a racket.

There is no escaping a fact – the legislation which created the SLCC – the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – created a multi million pound money monster – much worse than any honey monster.

And what success stories do the SLCC have to tell us about in their annual report. Very few. Actually, hardly any. For fear of identifying someone no doubt.

And what failures do the SLCC have to tell us about in their annual report. None. A little here and there, a reach out to advocates, a tinkering with the edges – otherwise known as “window dressing”.

But, most importantly – not one rogue lawyer or law firm named or shamed since 2008. Imagine that. Around one thousand complaints a year, every year, for six years, and not one lawyer named. Amazing. How did that happen ?

If the Police on £1.2billion a year, or the Lord Advocate & Crown Office on £107million a year stuck to those rules, there would never be any convictions, no one would ever know who was a criminal, and Bambi would wake you up in the morning, accompanied by Thumper the bunny.

So here we have a quandary – from the regulator that once dished out the price of a fish supper as compensation to one victim, to this year’s claim of £365K in compensation & fee reductions, not one corrupt solicitor or law firm who ripped off a client in the past six years has ever been identified.

So, you know what that means, right?

Your own solicitor – yes, that trusty, honest lawyer you handed over all your legal affairs to – may have already been fined by the SLCC for ripping off another client for the very same task you are asking them to perform, at an impending huge cost to yourself.

Your lawyer might actually be under investigation by the SLCC at the very same time you are in their office chatting away about your case – and, you don’t even know it. And you will never know it. Never. Not as long as a lawyer can move a monkey puzzle tree around a garden and get someone else to pay for it.

Your solicitor is not required to admit anything to you about their complaints history, and the ‘independent’ SLCC certainly wont tell you – they have rules they must keep all complaints confidential, and cannot dare tell the public the name of serial rogue lawyers for fear of having the entire weight of Scotland’s £1 billion pound publicly subsidised legal profession sit on it’s head. Lawyers, saw to that.

The SLCC does have its fans, of course. Lawyers. Lawyers love the SLCC. Why wouldn’t they? It’s the Law Society in disguise.

Even lawyers who pose as [now sacked] Scottish Ministers – loved the SLCC so much, they appeared at the Scottish Parliament – claiming they were reforming the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – by giving corrupt lawyers the right to complain about complaints. Only in Scotland.

Here’s former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill giving his take on the SLCC’s form of regulation and his take on the definition of a ‘reform’. It’s great. Well, not really.

Kenny MacAskill evidence to Justice Committee Scottish Parliament 5th August 2014 SLCC Rules change

Although the now sacked Mr MacAskill – argued a range of consumer groups took part in the modification of the SLCC’s rules, suspiciously, none showed up at Holyrood to back him up. Neither were they called to appear before MSPs and face some questions.

Scotland’s top judge, who must also approve any changes to the legislation which governs the SLCC, also did not appear at the Justice Committee. By watching the video clip – you can see why no one else showed up. Anyway, who exactly speaks up for lawyers and sings their praises in public? That’s right – more lawyers.

As for those ‘reforms’, legal observers expect little change to the current way in which a mainly lawyer orientated regulator investigates complaints against other lawyers.

And, how independent or impartial is the SLCC? Well, in a previous investigation by Diary of Injustice – it was revealed much of the SLCC’s staff are qualified solicitors or have served at the Law Society of Scotland.

The SLCC disclosed material via Freedom of Information legislation indicating:  15 members of staff qualified as solicitors, 5 members of staff held a previous position at the Law Society of Scotland, 8 members of staff held a previous position at a law firm and 5 members of staff have held previous positions at a law firm and Law Society of Scotland.

Admit it, people – You just cant get more pro-lawyer than that.

Oh yes … Season’s Greetings from Diary of Injustice. And – Do yourself a favour in 2015 – Look after your own instead of looking after a lawyer. Your family, your pets, along with Bambi  and Thumper will thank you all the more for it.

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