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CASHBACK QC: Legal regulator’s files reveal senior QC reduced claim without instructions, withheld key evidence & witnesses including Cabinet Secretary from Court of Session case

04 May

John Campbell QC – evidence to legal regulator contradicts judge. DOCUMENTS obtained by the media from a legal complaints investigation – reveal a senior QC was unable to produce substantive evidence against allegations he stripped out a £4m head of claim & legal and professional expenses without consulting his client.

The overall tone of responses from John Campbell QC to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) give a series of contradictory accounts to legal regulators of services he provided in a case now linked to serious failings of the judiciary.

In one lengthy explanation Campbell claims he did not act without instruction, however, the senior QC refuses to produce any evidence of said instructions.

In another exchange, the long time QC dismisses the appearance and evidence from a star witness Cabinet Secretary – Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts).

Campbell personally took the top politician’s precognition and had him set to appear on the first day of the proof, then failed to call the Cabinet Secretary in a move now raising serious concerns over the performance of the once ‘top’ rated Planning Law QC.

And, in a bizarre twist to the case the senior QC – now the subject of media coverage – claimed he had no professional relationship with Mr Nolan’s partner – even though evidence has since been published in the press Campbell demanded and obtained cash sums of £5,000 from his client’s partner.

The cash payments sought by John Campbell QC are in breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates – who stipulate fees can only be paid via solicitors to Faculty Services. A full report on Campbell’s cash demands can be read here: Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case

In an attempt to answer allegations he removed a £4m head of claim & legal expenses from the high value damages action in the Court of Session on the last day of proof – the senior Planning Law QC gave the SLCC a laboured account of events without being able to back up his position.

Complaints against Campbell’s reduction of the claim relate to sweeping statements made by Court of Session judge Lord Woolman in his 2014 opinion of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

An evidence review of court documents, including transcripts from the case, and now John Campbell’s response to the SLCC indicate Lord Woolman’s statement – that Nr Nolan “vastly” reduced the claim on his own – is incorrect.

Woolman’s opinion, of 17 January 2014 stated “In the course of the proceedings, Mr Nolan has greatly narrowed his claim. In June 2012, he deleted his conclusion for specific implement. At the close of the proof, he abandoned his claim for lost development value, which he had originally valued at £4 million. He also accepted that some elements of the claim for investigative costs are properly classified as litigation expenses.”

However, and in a move which now discredits key parts of the Woolman opinion – John Campbell failed to produce to legal regulators – any evidence of a consultation with his client or evidence that he obtained proper authorisation to strip out key parts of a £6m damages claim – rendering the judge’s now unfounded statements  worthless.

A study of material from the SLCC complaint file handed to investigators at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals a set of exchanges and written testimony handed to the regulator which show John Campbell QC acted on his own, and without instruction when he removed the £4m head of claim along with legal and professional expenses on the last day of a proof hearing.

The sudden, and unauthorised move by the QC stunned the court and even the judge – who had acknowledged on the preceding day Mr Nolan had a valid claim.

However, Mr Campbell’s own client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer Donal Nolan was kept in the dark by the senior QC and his assistant – Advocate Craig Murray of Compass Chambers.

Responding to allegations Campbell acted on his own, the QC claimed: ”I did not act without instructions. The Court adjourned while I took instructions on this very matter. Mr Nolan was not in attendance.”

“I asked that he be brought to Court. The Court’s Minute of Proceedings discloses that i sought and obtained an adjournment for that purpose. The same day, I wrote a Note for Mr Nolan.”

However, an email presented to the SLCC as part of the complaints file reveals a much different version of events where John Campbell writes in an email to Mr Nolan’s solicitor saying he does not want to see his client.

Campbell’s email to his client’s solicitor reads: “Melanie has given instructions to do without Steven Brown. I am content with those instructions. Craig is getting them in writing and l will write a Note of Advice. You DO NOT need to bring Donal through here this afternoon”

In reality, the ‘instructions’ Mr Campbell referred to in his email – never existed.

Advocate Craig Murray – mentioned in the email and who was serving as Junior Counsel – later denied he ever received any written instructions from Mr Nolan’s partner with regard to dealings with the witness referred to by Campbell.

And despite repeated requests by the pursuer for Mr Campbell and other members of the legal team to produce such written instructions to the SLCC investigation, none were forthcoming.

Campbell’s explanation goes on to say: “I also have a verbatim note of proceedings on that day, taken by junior counsel, which demonstrates quite clearly that I sought and obtained an adjournment to take instructions on this matter, and to have the pursuer himself attend. I can make that verbatim note available if the SLCC wishes to see it …”

However, the additional “verbatim note” referred to by John Campbell – was never produced despite repeated requests.

Campbell further attempted to justify his removal of the £4.1m head of claim.

John Campbell wrote: “Further, the decision to proceed without this part of the claim was fully explained, first to Mrs Collins, and then subsequently to Mr Nolan. It was endorsed by junior counsel, and understood by the solicitors. I am in no doubt at all that it was fully understood by all.”

However, a media investigation and study of the case file has concluded there is NO discoverable trail of consultation or any subsequent written or verbal authorisation for removal of the £4.1m head of claim between the QC, the Edinburgh Agents Drummond Miller, the solicitor in charge of the case or the client – Mr Nolan.

In the same letter to the SLCC, John Campbell attempted to blame the client’s solicitor for a failure to include the words “without prejudice” in a letter to Levy & Mcrae – the defender’s legal agents – even though it was Campbell himself who drafted the letter and had omitted to put in the words now under dispute.

Mr Campbell then claimed he discussed with his client – the possibility of capping the site at Branchal in Wishaw – the same site the defenders had accepted their dumping of the contaminated material had been unlawful.

Capping – a technical term of dealing with dumped material refers to layers of soil placed over the dumped material. However, if the material is contaminated, this method of dealing with hazardous waste renders a site unusable.

An interview with the client – Mr Nolan, has established no such discussion with Mr Campbell on the subject of ‘capping’ ever took place.

And expert testimony seen by reporters has revealed any ‘capping’ of the Branchal site would have rendered it worthless for future development.

In the same response to the SLCC, John Campbell claimed bombshell evidence from a North Lanarkshire Councillor – who alleged bribes or inducements had been offered for him not to give evidence in court – “was in the end irrelevant to the issues which the judge had to determine”.

The Councillor gave a precognition to Campbell’s Junior – Craig Murray of Compass Chambers. Murray is now an ad-hoc Advocate Depute for the Crown Office in the High Court. Also present during the Councillor’s precognition was Fiona Moore – head of litigation for Edinburgh law firm Drummond Miller.

Both Craig Murray and Fiona Moore have been asked questions by the press over their involvement in the case, however both refused to comment.

A full report on Craig Murray’s involvement in the case features here: Second version of Advocate Depute’s letter to legal regulator ‘removed bribe offer’ in evidence considered by Faculty under ex-dean, now Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC

In respect of the evidence relating to bribery, legal insiders speculate if the court had heard the evidence of an attempt to bribe an elected councillor – it is most likely hearings would have been halted while a criminal investigation by Police Scotland took place, along with attendant media interest.

And, a recent press interview with the councillor has since established the offer of an inducement did in fact, take place, naming two individuals connected to companies involved in the court action.

Serious questions remain as to why this evidence relating to bribery was not introduced during the court case, and the motives of Mr Campbell in omitting such headline grabbing material from the court.

One witness who has since spoken to journalists said he felt Mr Campbell had an “alternate agenda” in the lines of questioning he had previously indicated would be asked compared to what questions Campbell eventually asked of witnesses in court..

On the point of calling a star witness in the case – Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP – John Campbell writes “The evidence of Mr Neil MSP was not required. I accept responsibility for not calling him”

However, it is likely the headlines generated by a Scottish Minister with the rank of Alex Neil – who was Cabinet Secretary for Health at the time – would have generated headline attention to his evidence which in turn may have led to developments in the case.

Papers obtained by journalists including a witness list from the case – have now established the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing was to be called as a witness on the first day of the proof in Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

The move to call Mr Neil on the first day gave a clear indication of the importance placed on Mr Neil’s evidence.

However, the Cabinet Minister was kept waiting in the witness room for around four hours by senior counsel John Campbell – to a point where it became clear Mr Neil was not destined to appear that day.

Mr Neil then had to leave the court for a meeting, and was not called again by Campbell QC.

A study of evidence from Mr Campbell’s written explanation to the SLCC clearly indicates the senior QC never had any intention of calling Mr Neil despite all the plans made to do so and the expectation of his client.

Despite Campbell’s claim to the SLCC the evidence of Alex Neil was unimportant and not relevant to the case, it has now emerged John Campbell personally took Alex Neil’s precognition statement – an unusual move but one indicating the emphasis placed on testimony of such a high ranking politician.

Ultimately, the episode involving Mr Neil not being called as a witness could be viewed as symptomatic of John Campbell’s treatment of the case and his client.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, Mr Nolan’s partner has indicated a clear and consistent line of dishonesty ran throughout their dealings with the Senior counsel.

Further material now handed to journalists on the case includes a copy of an audio interview with John Campbell QC, Advocate Craig Murray, Gregpr McPhail, the pursuer’s solicitor and the pursuer’s partner.

The explosive audio recording – in which Campbell admits taking instructions from Ms Collins – even though he claimed to the SLCC he had no professional relationship with her, is set to be submitted to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates in a revamped complaint against the senior QC.

And now, additional material passed to journalists which covers work done by Edinburgh law firm Drummond Miller on behalf of Mr Nolan – raises serious concerns as to their conduct and work carried out on behalf of their client.

In a letter dated 9 October 2014 from Fiona Miller – Head of Litigation for Drummond Miller – to Simpson & Marwick (now Clyde & Co) who were now defending John Campbell QC against the complaints raised in relation to his provision of legal services, Fiona Moore confirms “Many consultations and meetings took place between Mrs Collins and counsel which we [Drummond Miller] were not party to.” – blowing apart claims by Campbell to the SLCC he had no relationship with Ms Collins.

However, Fiona Moore then goes on to state to Simpson & Marwick “I trust this assists and that the complaint is successfully defended. If you require anything further, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

The tone of Fiona Moore’s letter raises serious questions over Drummond Miller’s relationship with their own client, Mr Nolan and the law firm’s apparent willingness to engage in a concerted attempt to thwart investigation of the complaints against the QC.

The firm’s willingness to side with their legal colleague came even though all parties had been aware Campbell was regularly breaking Faculty rules and ostensibly wanted to control the case on his own rather than use proper channels of solicitor, Edinburgh agents to speak to his client.

It has also been pointed out Drummond Miller frequently appear in the Court of Session for clients – and would easily have been aware of the identify of Lord Malcolm, who is reported to have heard the Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd case no less than eight times, while failing to declare a conflict of interest.

Yet when asked questions as to why Drummond Miller did not alert their client – Mr Nolan – to any potential conflict of interest between Lord Malcolm and the solicitor who represented the defenders – his son – Ewen Campbell, Drummond Miller partner Fiona Moore refused to comment.

With the complaints file now being available for study and full publication – there is a possibility of further complaints against Craig Murray and other legal agents involved in the case who sought huge fees and legal aid for their work being made to legal regulators.

A recent attempt to illicit comment from John Campbell QC failed, marking a consistent line of silence from the senior QC in response to questions from the press.

Asked for a comment, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission said it would give no further statement to the press on this case.

The Faculty of Advocates have also refused to speak to the press on Mr Campbell’s actions and their previous investigation which it has since been confirmed relied on a second, highly edited version of written evidence given by fellow Advocate Craig Murray – which Murray now contests ever existed.

Journalists are now studying a series of damning environmental reports from Court of Session papers – which accuse North Lanarkshire Council, and two construction companies – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd and Graham Construction Ltd of being responsible for the dumping of contaminated material at Branchal.

The investigation has so far revealed John Campbell QC had sight of the material but failed to make proper use of the damning reports – raising concerns he was not presenting the full facts of the case as instructed by his client.

The reports – due to be published by the press in full – also raise serious questions about the conduct of Scotland’s environmental regulator – the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – whose failures in this case could not be categorised as ‘accidental’.

“The National” newspaper carried an exclusive investigation into the Nolan V Advance Construction Ltd case, here: Couple’s human rights breach claim raises questions about how judicial conflicts of interest are policed. The newspaper’s investigation revealed there are moves to take an appeal to the UK Supreme Court at a date to be decided.

BURNING QUESTIONS: QC fails to answer queries from Media

The QC at the centre of the cash for services scandal – John Campbell QC has consistently refused to talk to any media.

Campbell’s silence comes after publication of his own communications revealed the senior QC demanded sums of £5,000 at a time be paid to him in cash or cheque form – a breach of the rules as laid down by the Faculty of Advocates.

Journalists put the following questions to the senior QC, however John Campbell failed to reply to all requests for comment.

1. In a letter dated 5th of June 2014 sent to the SLCC you state to the SLCC that you had no professional relationship with Mrs Collins who is Mr Nolan’s partner. Any comment on this?

2. In a letter sent to Simpson Marwick dated 9th of October 2014 from Fiona Moore she states clearly that as you are no doubt aware , the case was in any event being run by Melanie Collins, Mr Nolan’s partner and that it was she who gave all the instructions in the case. This is clearly at odds with what you state to the SLCC. Any comments on this?

3. Returning to your letter to the SLCC you state you did not act without instructions    Who gave you these instructions? Any comment on this?

4. Copy correspondence also received from the instructing solicitor to Ms Collins clearly states no instructions were ever given by him to remove this part of the claim. Drummond Miller also state they gave no instruction to drop any part of this claim. Any comment on this?

5.It is clearly evidenced by court transcripts that Mr Woods of DMHall was only in court to speak to productions D5 and D 10 which were valuations he prepared for the Heritable Creditor the Clydesdale Bank and nothing else. Any comment on this?

6. Again in your letter to the SLCC page 2 you state the decision to proceed without the blight claim was fully explained to Mrs Collins, Mr Nolan and Mr Falls when in fact I have now been passed an audio tape recording where you clearly state you removed this claim yourself without any instructions. Any comment on this?

7. Lastly, the emails you sent to Ms Collins asking for collections of £5k in fees at a time, again you stated you had no professional relationship with Ms Collins yet frequently broke Faculty rules by demanding collection of fees in cash to be provided by her. How can it be you claim no professional relationship with Ms Collins yet seek to engather fees? Any comment?

DO you have a complaint with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or Faculty of Advocates?

What is your experiences of dealing with the SLCC or the Faculty? Has your solicitor, advocate or QC demanded cash payments from you at any stage of a civil or criminal case? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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