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LOOK AFTER THE LAWYERS: Law Society proposals to pro-lawyer legal review seek to reclaim control of regulation & complaints, appoint ‘window dressing’ ombudsman & criminalise ‘misuse’ of the word “lawyer”

Law Society proposal retakes control of regulating lawyers. AMID a series of failures by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to clean up poor standards of legal services and deal with complaints against solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland are proposing the return of control of regulation to the legal profession.

Earlier this week, and with sights set firmly on retaking control of the floundering SLCC,- the Law Society of Scotland submitted a series of proposals for ‘reforming regulation’ to the ‘independent’ review of legal services regulation – set up by the Scottish Government last year.

The move by the Law Society of Scotland comes amid a string of court setbacks for the SLCC involving Law Society backed challenges to the single regulator’s authority to hold solicitors to account for dishonesty, poor standards of legal service, overcharging & asset stripping of clients on an industrial scale.

However, the Scottish Government backed legal review group now hearing the Law Society’s proposals – was actually created in consultation with the Law Society itself, and is comprised of pro-lawyer decision makers from the world of ‘public appointments’ along with lawyers & advocates from the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates & Crown Office.

The ‘independent’ review panel – complete with an ‘independent’ chair are:  Christine McLintock – immediate past president Law Society of Scotland, Alistair Morris – chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland), Laura Dunlop QC – Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates), Derek Ogg QC – MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates), Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Prof Lorne Crerar – chairman, Harper Macleod LLP, Prof Russel Griggs – chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group.

There is one sole ‘consumer representative’ on the review panel, listed as – Trisha McAuley OBE – independent consumer expert

Now, eager to wrestle power back from the SLCC on dealing with client complaints & consistent media coverage of woefully poor regulation of lawyers, the Law Society of Scotland has told the Scottish Government’s lawyer dominated review group that the current regulatory framework is “in drastic need of modernisation” and is “no longer fit for purpose”.

One of the key proposals from the Law Society, calls for the creation of yet another ‘independent legal role’ which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was created by the Scotitsh Government in 2008, with this year marking it’s tenth year in the role of single regulator of the legal profession.

However, the single regulation model has cost the Scots public dear – with the legal regulator burning through £30 million in complaints levies from solicitors – which are recovered from huge hikes in legal fees to clients.

The newly proposed role of Ombudsman – harking back to the vile days of the “Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman” would in practice – have to be filled by a person who is approved by the Law Society of Scotland and other vested legal interests.

The comparison with the former SLSO – which lacked any real powers and frequently backed away from holding the Law Society to account for mistakes, would render the newly proposed Ombudsman position of little real use to consumers, and more of a rubber stamp to lawyers eager to look after their colleagues in the face of complaints investigations.

The Law Society is also calling for the term “lawyer” to be protected in law –  in the same way the title “solicitor” is – where currently, it is a criminal offence for anybody to pretend to be a solicitor.

The move comes in the face of increased competition in business from companies & individuals who can call themselves a “lawyer” but are not qualified to the point of being a solicitor.

However, there are a number of cases were suspended or struck off solicitors have, or currently are still using the term “solicitor” to con unsuspecting members of the public out of tens of thousands of pounds of legal fees – including legal aid – yet the Law Society and SLCC have taken no action against these “solicitors” who still claim to be on the solicitors roll.

A press release from the Law Society of Scotland claims the wide-ranging reforms it has submitted, on behalf of it’s own members, will allow it to keep pace with global developments within the sector and improve consumer protection.

However, over the ten years since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission came into being, at a cost of around £30 million pounds in complaints levies recouped from hikes in legal fees to clients, the SLCC, Law Society and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal have all miserably failed to protect consumers from rogues in the legal profession who are the cause of over 1000 complaints every year to legal regulators.

The latest proposals from the Law Society – which in actuality seek to retake control of regulation – set out a series of recommendations in its submission to an independent review of legal services regulation which lawyers claim include expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services, regulating firms operating beyond Scotland and overhauling the legal complaints system, which it says is overly complex, expensive and lacks proper oversight.

The recommendations by the Law Society to the legal review panel whose members were approved by the Law Society, include:

  • expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services
  • better regulation of legal firms as entities in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to better protect consumers
  • new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing
  • widening the Law Society’s membership to improve standards amongst other legal professionals
  • protection of the term ‘lawyer’ to mean those who are legally trained and are regulated

Graham Matthews, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The Scottish legal sector is highly successful. It provides for over 20,000 high quality jobs and generates over £1.2 billion for the Scottish economy annually. However we have long argued for the need for reform to the current patchwork of regulation that governs legal services in Scotland.

“There has been enormous change within the sector in recent years and the current system – some of which is almost 40 years old – is struggling to meet the demands of today’s fast-changing legal market. That’s why we have called for completely new, flexible legislation which will allow much needed reforms and ensure we have a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose, addresses the challenges of modern legal practice – from cross-border working to technological advances enabling AI legal advice – and which puts protecting consumers at its core over the long term.

“We believe the scale of the changes needed justifies a new, single piece of enabling and permissible legislation that can adapt to changes within the sector over the next four decades and beyond. Any new prescriptive legislation, or simply making further amendments to existing legislation will quickly be outdated.”

The Law Society is seeking the ability to regulate law firms operating beyond Scotland and to strengthen its regulation of firms as entities, as well as its individual solicitor members.

Mr Matthews said: “There is a strong economic case for the Law Society being able to seek to become a regulator of legal services beyond Scotland, as having a single regulatory model for cross-border firms could make Scotland a more attractive jurisdiction for a firm to base its operations. Additionally, as firms must meet robust financial compliance and new anti-money laundering requirements are due to come into effect in June, it makes sense to extend the regulatory regime on a firm-wide basis to help improve consumer protection.”

Mr Matthews added that new legislation should encompass the unregulated legal advice sector.

He said: “No one knows the full scale of the unregulated legal sector, but many consumers who believe that they have obtained advice from a qualified, regulated legal professional only find out they have no recourse to redress when things go wrong. As we look to the future, there is no doubt that technological advances will mean increasing use of artificial intelligence in delivering legal services around the globe and it’s our view that any new regulatory framework must be flexible enough to make provision for this.”

In its submission, the Law Society has criticised the current legal complaints system as being complex and confusing and has called for the creation of an independent legal ombuds which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Unlike the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, the professional bodies for Scottish solicitors and advocates, which are overseen by the SLCC, there is nothing in law to stipulate oversight of the SLCC itself.

Mr Matthews said: “We want to streamline the complaints system, which for many is slow and overly bureaucratic, and have recommended that while the SLCC would continue to handle service complaints and the Law Society would continue to deal with all matters of professional discipline of Scottish solicitors, a key difference would be to allow either organisation to receive complaints and pass on those relevant to the other body to create a simpler, speedier and more cost effective process.

“Another critical improvement would be to introduce proper oversight of the SLCC. While the SLCC must submit its draft budget to the Scottish Parliament each year and ministers can make recommendations, they do not actually have the power to interfere with its budget or operation. This has led to significant, above-inflation hikes in the annual levy on Scottish solicitors for the past two years. Having an independent ombudsman would also simplify the appeals process and make it much less costly than the current process of taking appeals to the Court of Session.”

Summary of recommendations

  • The repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and those parts of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which relate to the regulation of legal services and for the introduction of new enabling and permissible legislation for the regulation of legal services in Scotland and the Scottish solicitor profession, with the flexibility to move with the times and which allows for proactive regulation to ensure consumer protections remain robust.
  • Amending those sections of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 which relate to the regulation of legal services and the Scottish solicitor profession to address the difficulties in interpretation and application.
  • A new regulatory framework allowing for the flexibility for the Society to seek approval from the Legal Services Board to be an authorised regulator for those multi-national practices operating in Scotland. 
  • That any new regulatory framework makes provision for the regulation of legal services provided remotely by artificial intelligence.
  • Retaining an independent professional body for the regulation and professional support of the Scottish solicitor profession.
  • Retaining a separate and independent discipline tribunal for decisions in serious cases of professional misconduct.
  • That all legal service providers providing services direct to the consumer be regulated, strengthening consumer protections and enhancing consumer confidence in the Scottish legal sector.
  • That the term ‘lawyer’ be a protected term, in the same way as solicitor, and only those able to demonstrate recognised legal qualifications, and who are regulated, are permitted to use the term.
  • That primary legislation provides the permissible powers for the Law Society of Scotland to extend entity regulation to those firms wholly owned by solicitors.
  • That a new system for dealing with complaints about legal services and solicitors is introduced, recognising the paramount aim to protect consumers whilst allowing the Society to continue to deal with the professional discipline of its members, and adopting relevant processes to make the system speedy, effective and efficient whilst recognising the differences between consumer redress and professional discipline.
  • That primary legislation provides for the permissible power for the Law Society of Scotland to open up membership to non-solicitors.

In the Law Society of Scotland’s Public Relations  strategy to retake control of complaints – Leading Legal Excellence, the legal profession sets out their ambition to secure what they call a modern, flexible and enabling legislative framework.

The Law Society Press Release also states: “Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It’s increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“That is why we believe new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive.”

REGULATION REVIEW:

An independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017.

The purpose of the review will be to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.  The review is intended to ensure a proportionate approach to regulation that supports growth in the legal services sector.  It should also place consumer interests firmly at the heart of any system of regulation, including the competitive provision of legal services.  The review will focus on the current regulatory framework, the complaints and redress process for providers of legal services including solicitors and advocates, and ongoing market issues such as investigating the benefits of regulating firms as well as individual solicitors.

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services – unmasked as a lawyer dominated pro-self regulation panel – can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

The panel members who make up the so-called ‘independent’ review of legal services include:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

* The current Chief Executive of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission;

* An outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman widely criticised for ineptitude;

* The current chair of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) – who struck off only six solicitors last year;

* The chair of a law firm whose partners have regularly appeared before the SSDT;

* A QC from an advocates stable where colleagues have been linked to a cash payments scandal;

* A former Crown Office Prosecutor & QC linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

More recently, MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee were subject to calls to delay their investigation of petitions calling for fully independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland.

Proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an ‘independent’ review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers – before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

However, when the Scottish Government created the ‘independent’ review last April, 2017, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges – and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

And, in a case related to significant failures of legal regulation, Alex Neil  branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal – which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

Video footage of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations on proposals submitted by the public to reform regulation of legal services in Scotland, can be viewed here:

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

A full report on recent submissions to the Public Petitions Committee can be found here: LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services

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TRIBUNAL INTERESTS: As MSPs consider way forward for Judicial Interests Register, calls grow to include wealthy, well connected Tribunal members as Lord Carloway appoints 28 Tribunal judges

Tribunals – dominated by wealthy, powerful individuals & professional groups. AMID recent moves in a Scottish Parliament investigation considering a way forward for judges to register their interests, an ongoing media probe of individuals and professional groups who dominate tribunals has revealed ties between tribunal judges and solicitors found guilty of professional misconduct.

In one case, an employment tribunal judge who has featured in several controversial tribunal decisions has been found to have links to a lawyer found guilty of  professional misconduct by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

The lawyer, who escaped penalty was found guilty by the SSDT in respect of misleading the Royal Bank of Scotland as to the purpose of obtaining loan funds from the Bank on the basis that they were required to purchase a property in Scotland when the truth was that they were required to purchase a property in an EU country.

The solicitor involved in the deception case , and now linked to the Employment tribunal judge – advertises himself as an “employment law specialist”.

In a further case currently being probed by the media, a second tribunal judge has been found to have links to an Edinburgh law firm accused of embezzling tens of thousands of pounds from client accounts, in a complaint which is currently under investigation by legal regulators.

The two cases of potential conflicts of interest for Tribunal judges, and emerging cases of other conflicts of interest at tribunals come as the Judicial Office announced in January the appointment of twenty eight Tribunal judges – without any declarations of interest or background.

Earlier this month, the Judicial Office announced the appointment of fourteen new Employment Judges to the panel of judges of Employment Tribunals (Scotland).

By virtue of the power conferred upon the Lord President by regulation 8 of the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013, Lord Carloway appointed Claire Marie McManus, Muriel Robison and Mark David Whitcombe as salaried Employment Judges.

Ms McManus and Ms Robison were appointed with effect from 1 January 2018, while Mr Whitcombe’s appointment will take effect from 5 March 2018.

The Lord President has also appointed the following 11 persons as Employment Judges on a fee-paid basis, for the five-year period from 15 January 2018 until 15 January 2023: Neil Antony Buzzard, Sally Emma Cowen, David William Hoey, Amanda Crawford Jones, Paul Dominic McMahon, Roderick Murdoch McPherson, Declan John O’Dempsey, Peter George O’Donnell, Melanie Jane Sangster, Michelle Diane Sutherland, Giles Ian Woolfson

A further round of appointments of Pensions Tribunal judges was made earlier today, revealing another fourteen new members have been appointed by Lord Carloway to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal for Scotland.

The Lord President appointed David McNaughtan, advocate; Robert Milligan QC; David Short, solicitor; and Nick Gardiner, advocate, as Legal Members.

Lord Carloway has also appointed the following persons to the tribunal: Service Members: Col. Stuart Campbell, Lt. Col. William Lindsay, Col. Pat Wellington, Ft.-Lt. Lee Bryden

Medical Members: General Medical: Dr. James O’Neill, Dr. Richard Hardie, Dr. Taru Patel

Psychiatric: Dr. Tim Dalkin, Dr. Paul Cavanagh, Dr. Ross Hamilton

The appointments came into effect on 11 January 2018 under the powers conferred upon the Lord President by paragraph 2 of the Schedule to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943.

The selection process for both round of appointments followed a closed-doors recruitment exercise calling for applications from suitably qualified individuals who wished to be considered for appointment.

Currently, not one member of any tribunal is required to declare their interests in a published register of interests – despite their position as a judge, deciding on cases before them where they could have a vested interest in the outcome.

a call has been made for all tribunal members to declare and register their interests.

The manner in which tribunals are created and governed in Scotland, is a familiar model of professionals within the same groups and spheres of influence – awarding jobs to colleagues, the favoured, and vested interests.

A no expenses spared approach for tribunal members who tow the line is often the case, enhanced with office accommodation such as the new tribunals centre being created in Glasgow at 3 Atlantic Quay, a high-quality office development close to the River Clyde in the centre of the city.

In October 2017, the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) confirmed they and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have decided to rationalise their accommodation and move jointly into the new centre – which is being rented out at nearly £2million a year from the Moorfield Group and partners Resonance Capital.

The moves planned to start next year will also mean that accommodation is ready for the tribunals that are going to be devolved to the SCTS.

Members of tribunals are recruited by the Judicial Appointments Board (JAB) during appointments rounds regularly held to fill vacancies in the murky world of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Judiciary of Scotland.

Applicants face interviews from their peers across the legal, professional, charitable and public service world & industries awash with public cash, junkets, charity interests, coaching, arbitration & consultancy profits.

Successful candidates are subsequently appointed by Scottish Ministers.

An example of a recent appointments round run by the Judicial Appointments Board saw 30 new Legal Members and 19 Ordinary Members appointed by the Scottish Ministers to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and assigned to the Housing and Property Chamber by the President of Scottish Tribunals, Lady Smith.

A full report on the earlier appointments round can be found here: TRIBUNAL REGISTER: Calls for transparency as legal & wealthy, well connected interests dominate Tribunals system membership – Register of Recusals & Interests should be extended to cover all Tribunals in Scotland.

Coverage of recent calls to create a full register of interests for all tribunal members can be found in an earlier report here: TRIBUNAL INTERESTS: Calls for wealthy, well connected interests & professions who dominate tribunals & appeals system to be brought into line with transparency & declarations in published register of interests

The National reported on the issue of creating a register of interests for tribunal members in October 2017:

Call for change to tribunals – Legal campaigner says recusal register myst be extended

Martin Hannan Journalist 14 October 2017 The National

THE man who is leading the transparency campaign for Scotland’s judges to register their interests now says the idea should be extended to everyone who sits on a public tribunal.

Peter Cherbi will shortly pass the five-year mark in his campaign via the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee for there to be a judicial register of interests, similar to those registers already in existence to which all elected politicians and police officers must conform.

The register proposal has been strongly resisted by senior judges and other top lawyers, but is supported by politicians from all parties – the Petitions Committee has taken considerable amounts of evidence and is due to debate the plan again shortly.

Now Cherbi, who is well-known in Scottish legal circles for his blogging and campaigning for reform of the Scots law system, says that tribunal members should also have to declare their interests.

Under the present system of appointments to tribunals it is up to members themselves to declare an interest if, for example, they have personal relationships with those appearing before them, and step aside from a case – known as recusal.

There has been considerable re-organisation of the tribunal system in Scotland since the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 simplified the statutory framework.

The First-tier Tribunal is organised into a series of chambers. From December 1, 2016, the Housing and Property Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Home Owner and Housing Panel and the Private Rented Housing Panel.

From April 24 this year, the Tax Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Tax Tribunals for Scotland.

The Upper Tribunal hears appeals from the First-tier Tribunals and the head of the whole system is Scotland’s most senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, with the Rt Hon Lady Smith as president of the Scottish Tribunals.

Others tribunals include the Mental Health Tribunal, the Additional Support Needs Tribunal, the Council Tax Reduction Review Panel and the Lands Tribunal. More tribunals will come with greater devolved powers but employment tribunals are still under the control of the Westminster Government.

Cherbi says all such public tribunals should be open and transparent about their members’ interests and points out that there is no register of recusals for any of the tribunals.

He said: “As should the judiciary now declare their interests in a publicly available register, members of tribunals who are engaged in the business of judging others should declare their full interests and any instances of recusals in a publicly available register.

“The business of judging others – for it surely has become a business over the years – must now be subject to the same public expectation of transparency and accountability as tribunals apply to those appearing before them.

“The public, the media and our democratically elected politicians in our Parliament, as well as those who are judged, have the right to view, be informed about, and inspect those who judge society with unchallenged power in equal light.

“And this is not just about Scottish Tribunals. Take for instance DLA appeals and PIP appeals. The tribunal structure which covers those are riven with huge, wealthy interests, yet there is no register and no ability for those appearing before them to inspect those who sit in judgement upon their claims.

“I looked at a Department of Work and Pensions Tribunal comprising a surgeon, a lawyer and a ‘disabled’ tribunal member – accumulated wealth between the three, their partners and businesses and properties totalled well into the millions, yet claimants, some with no limbs who are struggling to claim an extra £30 a month, get knocked back while tribunal members are paid expenses and remuneration and we know nothing of it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We consider that a specific register of interests is not needed. Existing safeguards, including the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Interests and the system of complaints against the judiciary, are sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary in Scotland.”

YOUR TRIBUNAL: A publicly funded adversarial environment full of vested interests:

Next year, tribunals will move to an expensive new home in the centre of Glasgow.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) are to rationalise accommodation in Glasgow and the new Tribunals Centre will be located at 3 Atlantic Quay.

The SCTS claim the 34 hearing rooms for cases to be heard, the design of the centre will provide excellent facilities for all tribunal users, and specific  support for young users with additional support needs.  Additionally, the centre will provide facilities for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence to both Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court.

During 2018, the SCTS-supported Housing and Property and Health and Education Tribunal Chambers will move into the new Centre. The HMCTS-operated social security tribunal will move at a similar time with other tribunals HMCTS services to follow at a later date.

The SCTS provides support to many of Scotland’s devolved tribunals and is making preparations for the future transfer of the UK reserved tribunals operations in Scotland, currently provided by HMCTS.

If you have any experience before any of these Tribunals, or information in relation to cases, Diary of Injustice journalists would like to hear about it. All information and sources will be treated in strict confidence, contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

 

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REGISTER, THE SIXTH: Holyrood probe on calls for a register of judges’ interests will enter SIXTH YEAR with 23rd Petitions Committee hearing to decide on way forward for publicly available judicial transparency register in Scotland

Holyrood probe on judicial interests enters sixth year. A FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – will now enter an unprecedented SIXTH YEAR – after a private meeting decided to carry forward  proposals for judicial transparency into 2018.

At a meeting of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on Thursday 21 December 2017, the judicial transparency petition was scheduled as the last item – to be debated in private  – as MSPs looked for a way forward on the cross party supported proposals.

However, MSPs did not conclude on a way forward at that meeting, and decided to take forward the petition into next year for further scrutiny and consideration.

The proposal – to create a register of judicial interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, was originally filed with the Scottish Parliament in 2012.

The  latest move by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee to look for a way forward – comes after the petition secured powerful backing of former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP).

In an interview with The National newspaper, and a posting on Mr Neil’s Facebook page, Alex Neil said : “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.”

Alex Neil added: ““There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

The latest developments – in the 22nd hearing of Petition PE1458 on calls to create a register of judges’ interests – comes after MSPs previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, including a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2017.

The judicial interests petition – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1450 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

Video footage of the short hearing prior to MSPs debating the judicial interests register proposals in private, follows:

Register of Judicial Interests PE 1458 Public Petitions Committee 21 December 2017

A brief report from the Public Petitions Committee on the meeting reports the decision as follows:

Consideration of a continued petition (in private): The Committee considered a draft letter on PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on Register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to consider a further draft letter at a future meeting.

Journalists involved in the petition expressed their thanks to members of the Public Petitions Committee for keeping the debate open and welcomed the continued public & parliamentary debate on the judicial register – which continues to bring in key intelligence on judicial interests & cases where serious conflicts of interest have been ignored in both criminal and civil cases in Scotland’s courts.

JUDICIAL REGISTER MUST GO FORWARD:

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor as JCR – Gillian Thompson.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013, giving early backing to the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported  the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Scottish Parliament move forward on FIVE YEAR judicial interests probe as Ex-Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil calls on MSPs to create legislation for a register of judges’ interests

Petitions Committee moves forward on judicial register. A COMMITTEE of MSPs conducting a FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – have decided to move ahead on proposals requiring judges to declare their interests in a publicly available register.

The move by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee who met on Thursday 7 December to look for a way forward – comes after the petition secured powerful backing of former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP).

In an interview with The National newspaper, and a posting on Mr Neil’s Facebook page, Alex Neil said : “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.”

Alex Neil added: ““There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

The Public Petitions Committee have now decided to consider the position in private at a later meeting – and formulate letters to Lord Carloway and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson which will be published in due course.

During the short hearing last Thursday, Deputy Convener Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP) who is known to support the petition, commented: “..we must move forward. We have been considering the petition for five years and Mr Cherbi’s latest submission shows a degree of frustration, which I share.”

The published decision states: PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on Register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to consider a letter to the Lord President and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in private at a future meeting.”

The latest developments in the 22nd hearing of Petition PE1458 on calls to create a register of judges’ interests comes after MSPs previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, including a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2017.

The judicial interests petition – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1450 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

A report on the Public Petitions Committee meeting of 7 December 2017 & video coverage follows:

Register of Judicial Interests – Petition PE 1458 Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 7 December 2017

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener: The fourth and final item today is consideration of five continued petitions. The first petition for consideration under this item is PE1458, from Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

We last considered the petition in June, when we took evidence from Lord Carloway, the Lord President. We agreed to reflect on that evidence and we have a briefing note that summarises the issues that came up in that evidence session. We also have two submissions from the petitioner that convey his response to the evidence and provide information about additional developments in relation to the recusal of judges.

As members are aware, the petition has been under consideration for five years and we have a good understanding of the arguments for and against the introduction of a register of interests for judges. There has been some movement on that.

Do members have any comments on what we should do next?

Angus MacDonald: As you say, convener, the petition has been on-going for five years. It is worth noting that it was originally based on the consideration of the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill in New Zealand, which was dropped after we started to take evidence on Peter Cherbi’s petition.

We have taken extensive evidence on the petition over the past five years, including from the former Lord President, Lord Gill, the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, as well as the former Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson. We appreciate the time that they have all given to the committee.

The petition has already secured a result, to the extent that there is more transparency because judicial recusals are now published, which did not happen previously. It is worth pointing out that that still does not happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We should be proud that the petition has achieved that.

However, I note that the petitioner has suggested that we take evidence from Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, as well as from the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer. It would stretch the bounds of the petition to take evidence from Baroness Hale, as the petition urges the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests in Scotland. I am not sure that our remit extends to the UK Supreme Court. Mr Cherbi should perhaps take that aspect of the matter to the UK Parliament Petitions Committee, which may have the remit.

The Convener: I sense that we have agreement to the approach outlined by Angus MacDonald, which is not to take further evidence, but to bring together our conclusions and write to the Scottish Government, recognising that there has been some progress. Do we agree to draft a letter on our conclusions in private, although the final letter will be in the public domain?

Members indicated agreement.

Angus MacDonald: I agree, but we must move forward. We have been considering the petition for five years and Mr Cherbi’s latest submission shows a degree of frustration, which I share.

The Convener: We understand that, but there should also be recognition of the fact that there has been some progress.

Do members agree to send the letter to the Lord President as well as the cabinet secretary?

Members indicated agreement.

The National reported on the latest developments and support from former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP:

Call for Scottish judges to register interests gets backing from MSP

Martin Hannan Journalist 7th December 2017

A PETITION calling for judges to openly register their financial and other interests has received its biggest boost to date.

Five years to the day after it was lodged at the Scottish Parliament, former minister Alex Neil MSP will today call on Holyrood’s Petitions Committee to start the process of bringing a Bill before Parliament.

The transparency petition was lodged by legal affairs journalist and campaigner Peter Cherbi on December 7 2012, and it will be considered again today — the 22nd time it has gone in front of the Holyrood committee.

The SNP’s Alex Neil has followed the petition with interest and has actively campaigned for the judicial register of interests to be introduced.

He told The National yesterday: “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.

“There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

Both Lord Carloway and Lord Gill, the current and former Lord Presidents of the Court of Session respectively — the senior judge position in Scotland — have opposed such a register of interests.

At least two High Court judges — Lord Carloway and Lady Smith — already declare their interests because they are members of the board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service.

They did so for the first time last month, along with Sheriff Duncan L Murray, after a Freedom of Information request.

Welcoming Alex Neil’s intervention, Cherbi said: “For five years, the Scottish Parliament has considered a petition calling for a register of judicial interests.

“In this time, the petition has generated more than 62 submissions of evidence, 21 committee hearings, a private meeting between MSPs and a top judge, 15 speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate, and two appearances by judicial investigators — who both support the petition.

“In two of those meetings, two top judges were left grasping at straws when asked why the judiciary should be above public expectations of transparency.

“This proposal to create a register of interests for judges applies the same level of transparency to the judiciary which already exists in other parts of the justice system such as the police, prosecutors and court administration and will bring judges into line with all others in public life who are required to register their interests.

“Along the way, the petition has gained wide cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, wide support in the media, and the invaluable and fantastic support of two judicial complaints reviewers — Moi Ali, and Gillian Thompson.

“There is significant public interest in this petition going ahead into legislation, and if the Lord President is still against the idea of judges declaring their interests, our sovereign Parliament must act and set in law what the public expect — that judges register their interests.”

A further report from the National featured developments from the hearing and the decision to move ahead on the petition:

Committee nears decision on register of interests for judges five years after petition

Martin Hannan Journalist 9th December 2017

A PETITION to the Scottish Parliament calling for judges and sheriffs to publicly register their interests seems to be nearing a successful outcome – five years after it was submitted.

The Public Petitions Committee has agreed to finalise its conclusions on the list of signatories submitted in December 2012 by legal campaigner and journalist Peter Cherbi.

The Holyrood committee agreed to consider those conclusions in private at a future meeting before writing to Scotland’s senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, as well Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

Committee convener Johann Lamont said members would be aware the petition had been under consideration for five years and they had a “good understanding” of the arguments for and against a register.

Angus MacDonald, SNP MSP for Falkirk East, called for a “move forward” and told the committee: “This petition has been ongoing for five years to this date exactly. It’s fair to say we have taken extensive evidence on this petition over the last five years, not least from the former Lord President Lord Gill and the current Lord President Lord Carloway, as well as judicial complaints reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson.

“It’s fair to say this petition has already secured a result, to the extent that there is now more transparency, with the publication of judicial recusals [judges excusing themselves from a case due to conflict of interest] which didn’t happen before, and it’s worth pointing out that this still doesn’t happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so Mr Cherbi should be proud that his petition has achieved that.”

Cherbi told The National: “It has taken five years for the petition to travel through 22 committee hearings and a full debate in 2014 – during which it was evident from the 15 speeches by MSPs that cross-party support exists for the creation of a register of judicial interests.

“The case has been made for judicial disclosures – there is no rational case against it – now it is time for Holyrood to legislate to require judges to register their interests. What struck me during the public debate and contact with people was that many thought judges already declared their interests and published their recusals.

“People I talked with over the course of these five years were genuinely shocked when they found out the judiciary did neither, instead preferring to duck and dive behind oaths and guidelines the judiciary wrote and approved themselves.

“The public are entitled to expect the highest standards of transparency from all those in public life, and the judiciary are no different.

“Judges must face up to the fact that those who hold the power to take away freedoms, to change or alter the lives of others, to overturn legislation from our elected parliaments – and to do all this without any reasonable scrutiny – must now be brought up to the same, or higher, levels of transparency and accountability as the public expect of those in public life, the justice system, and government.

“Perhaps the move to open up scrutiny of a very closed shop judiciary will also lead to the opening up of judicial appointments and an increased role for the Scottish Parliament in hearing in public from those who want to become members of the judiciary.”

JUDICIAL REGISTER MUST GO FORWARD:

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor as JCR – Gillian Thompson.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013, giving early backing to the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported  the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

 

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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Calls to invite Supreme Court President Lady Hale to Holyrood for evidence on judicial interests register – as Judicial Office concede on addition of 500 Justices of the Peace to recusals register & publication of tribunal recusals

MSPs hear calls to invite UKSC President Lady Hale to Holyrood. A FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary has received further submissions – calling for MSPs to invite Baroness Hale to give evidence at Holyrood.

Calls for Lady Hale – President of the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) – to be invited to appear before the Scottish Parliament – come on the back of evidence presented to MSPs on the lack of transparency relating to recusals in UK’s top court – which also serves Scotland as the court of last resort.

While courts in Scotland now publish details of judicial recusals – where judges stand down from cases due to a conflict of interest – the UK Supreme Court has refused to take on this extra transparency measure.

Transparency campaigners cite the Supreme Court’s refusal to publish recusals as creating an imbalance in transparency with a court based in London which Scots based litigants & accused persons must still rely on for a right of appeal.

Submissions filed with the Scottish Parliaments Public Petitions Committee also urge MSPs to quiz Lady Hale on the current stance of the UK’s top court on declarations of judicial interests in a publicly available register – a move currently opposed by the Supreme Court according to policy currently posted on the UKSC’s website.

A supplementary submission lodged earlier this week also reveals major concessions from the Judicial Office for Scotland after discussions between the petitioner and the Head of Strategy and Governance at the Judicial Office.

MSPs have been made aware an agreement has been reached where up to five hundred Justices of the Peace are now to be included in the Register of Judicial Recusals – created by ex Lord President Brian Gill in February 2014 – in response to meetings with MSPs on Petition PE1458.

However, the submission asks MSPs to seek answers on why Justices of the Peace – who comprise the bulk of Scotland’s judiciary – were excluded from the recusals register when it was set up in April 2014.

An additional concession from the Judicial Office passed to MSPs also reveals that recusals which take place on the many tribunals under the wing of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS). will be published at a date yet to be decided.

MSPs have also been asked to consider calling Ian Gordon – the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), who took over from Gillian Thompson and hear his views on declarations of judicial interests.

Both previous Judicial Complaints Reviewers – including well known transparency campaigner Moi Ali – fully support the petition calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests in Scotland.

A full report on Moi Ali’s evidence to MSPs and support for proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests is reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Meanwhile it can be revealed written evidence of failures to declare interests at the UK’s top court has been passed to journalists and MSPs for study.

The material, identifies a judge who took part in a case in the Court of Session on multiple occasions who then took a seat on the Supreme Court – and knocked back an appeal from the same case he had ruled on, without declaring any former interest in the case after blocking the route of appeal.

Later today, members of the Scottish Parliaments Public Petitions Committee will consider the request to call Lady Hale and obtain more answers on judicial recusals.

UK SUPREME COURT: MOST POWERFUL, NOW LEAST TRANSPARENT:

The current stance of the UK Supreme Court has previously been used by judges in Scotland to avoid creating a register of judicial interests in response to the cross party supported petition still under investigation at the Scottish Parliament.

UK Supreme Court on declarations of judicial interests statement:

Background: Prior to the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the highest court in the UK was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The members of the Committee were Lords of Appeal in Ordinary appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. Although those appointments gave them full voting and other rights in the House of Lords, the Law Lords had for some years voluntarily excluded themselves from participating in the legislative work of the House. Notwithstanding that, they were bound by the rules of the House and provided entries for the House of Lords Register of Interests.


On the creation of the Supreme Court the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became Justices of the Supreme Court. They retain their titles as Peers of the Realm, but are excluded by statute from sitting or voting in the House, for so long as they remain in office as Justices of the Supreme Court. As such, they are treated as Peers on leave of absence; and do not have entries in the House of Lords Register of Interests. Historical information remains accessible via the House of Lords website.

Other judges in the UK, such as the judges of the Court of Appeal and the High Court in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, and the Court of Session in Scotland, do not have a Register of Interests. Instead they are under a duty to declare any interest where a case comes before them where this is or might be thought to be the case.

Current position:  Against this background the Justices have decided that it would not be appropriate or indeed feasible for them to have a comprehensive Register of Interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them. To draw up a Register of Interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the Justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal Code of Conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the UKSC website.

In addition all the Justices have taken the Judicial Oath – and they all took it again on 1 October 2009 – which obliges them to “do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this Realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will”; and, as is already the practice with all other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves from sitting in that case – whether a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.

The latest submissions filed with the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in relation to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary are reprinted below:

PE1458/IIII: Petitioner submission of 4 September 2017

I would like to draw to the attention of members the appointment of Baroness Hale as President of the UK Supreme Court, which also serves as the most senior court in the UK for appeals from Scotland.

Noting Baroness Hale’s recent comments in relation to the appointment of judges (Let ministers pick judges, says Supreme Court chief Baroness Hale, The Times, 23 August 2017) and other matters, I request Baroness Hale be invited to give evidence before the Petitions Committee.

As the President of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale will be able to give a substantive account of why UKSC Judges no longer consider they require to adhere to the expectation of completing a register of interests as they did pre-UKSC days as Law Lords in the House of Lords.

Members may also wish to raise questions to Baroness Hale on the disparity of judicial transparency between Scotland and UKSC on judicial recusals, where as members are aware, the Judiciary of Scotland now list details of recusals, compared to the UKSC in London – where this information has not yet been made available to all UK users of the Supreme Court.

The position of the UKSC on the current lack of a register of judicial interests has entered Committee discussions on numerous occasions, and in evidence. Lady Hale’s appointment as President would be a significant opportunity for this Committee to hear from the top UKSC judge on a court which also serves the interests of Scotland.

Lord Carloway evidence to Petitions Committee 29 June 2017: In response to evidence given by Lord Carloway to members I note Lord Carloway claims the creation of a register of interests would deter recruitment of candidates to become judges.

In no other walk of life including politics – does the existence of a register of interests deter recruitment of individuals to a profession or industry. A register of interests is designed to promote accountability and transparency. If someone were to be deterred from a job due to the existence of a register of interests there would quite properly be questions on why transparency would hinder someone from applying for a position of such authority, power – and – responsibility to serve the community.

Lord Carloway stated the critical distinction for judges in this case is that the judiciary require to be independent of any form of government – a point no one or this petition is questioning.

However, and to quote Scotland’s first JCR Moi Ali in a letter to the Petitions Committee of 23 April 2014 “The position of the judiciary is incredibly powerful. They have the power to take away people’s assets, to separate families, to lock people away for years. Some of these people will not have committed a crime.”

To add to Ms Ali’s comments, members will be aware a decision by the judiciary can effectively revoke an item of legislation created by the Scottish Parliament, or the House of Commons if a legal challenge in court to a law is successful. Examples of such cases – including HMA V Cadder – have occurred over recent years, requiring emergency legislation to address issues of successful judicial challenges.

One branch of the Executive which can overturn legislation from another branch, or our elected Parliaments, clearly requires the same implementation of transparency as the other.

In light of the judiciary’s position as the most powerful branch of the Executive – and their considerable effect on public life, policy and legislation, an equivalent, or even greater level of transparency is required to be applied to the judiciary by way of creating a register of judicial interests.

In his evidence, Lord Carloway goes on to claim a register of judicial interests should only be created if the judiciary detect corruption within it’s own ranks.

This is not a credible position in terms of public expectation of transparency in 2017.

Registers of interest exist to ensure transparency and accountability in public life and there is now clearly a requirement for members of the judiciary to declare their interests as practiced by all others in public life.

In conclusion of Lord Carloway’s evidence, I note the Lord President was unable to provide a single legitimate example of harm caused to the judiciary by the creation of a register of interests, nor one single reason why the judiciary should be exempt from the same levels of public transparency which rightly apply to everyone else.

There is cross party backing for the creation of a register of judicial interests, as has already been demonstrated at Holyrood during the motion debate of October 2014, and widespread support in the media and public, and from both Judicial Complaints Reviewers for judges to be required to declare their interests.

Creating a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary is the right thing to do.

Members will also be aware of the appointment of a new Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Mr Ian Gordon, formerly the Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland.

Mr Gordon’s appointment, along with concerns from the outgoing JCR Gillian Thompson, and calls for a review of the role and powers of the JCR – were reported in the Sunday Herald (Calls for more funding as new judicial watchdog appointed, Sunday Herald, 15 August 2017).

As Mr Gordon is well versed in standards, and public expectation of transparency, I ask the Committee call Mr Gordon to give evidence on his experience in relation to standards in public life, and any thoughts he may have as the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer – with regards to the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Members may also wish to note the retiring JCR – Gillian Thompson who gave evidence to the Committee in July 2015 has published information in her 2014/15 annual report in relation to her continued support for this petition, which available on the JCR’s website here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer Annual Report 2014-2015

All annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer including those from Moi Ali, are available here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Annual Reports

In light of the progress on this petition, public interest, and public debate, I would like to encourage this Committee to begin discussions with other Committees to determine which is the best way to advance this petition forward.

There is now five years of work, from MSPs, Public Petitions Committee members past & present, PPC clerks, two Judicial Complaints Reviewers, Parliamentarians from other iurisdictions, legal academics, submissions from members of the public, wide support in the media and across the spectrum of politics & public for the implementation of a register of judicial interests.

This team effort should rightly culminate in what will be a significant gain for the justice system, judiciary and courts – in terms of transparency and accountability, and a gain for this Parliament in creating the legislation to bring about such judicial transparency, and increase public confidence in our courts.

Finally, as Lord Carloway raised the subject of problems in judicial recruitment if a register is created, I urge the Committee write to the Sheriff’s Association, the Scottish Justices Association, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates on this particular subject, seeking their views in writing, so these issues can become a matter of public record in this debate.

PE1458/JJJ: Submission from the Petitioner, 29 November 2017

A further development of interest to members with regards to the Register of Judicial Recusals – created by former Lord President Lord Brian Gill as a result of this petition in April 2014.

During the creation of the Register of Judicial Recusals in 2014, some 400 plus members of the judiciary – Justices of the Peace – were excluded from the register for no apparent reason.

Recent communications with the Judicial Office and further media interest in the petition[has prompted the Judicial Office to finally include Justices of the Peace in the Register of Judicial Recusals – with a start date of January 2018.

This follows an earlier development after Lord Carloway gave his evidence to the Committee, where the Judicial Office agreed to publish a wider range of details regarding judicial recusals, A copy of the revised recusal form for members of the Judiciary has been provided by the Judicial Office and is submitted for members interest.

Additional enquiries with the Judicial Office and further media interest on the issue of Tribunals which come under the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) and Judicial Office jurisdiction has produced a further result in the Judicial Office agreeing to publish a register of Tribunal recusals.

I urge members to seek clarification from the Judicial Office and Lord President on why Justices of the Peace, who now comprise around 500 members of the judiciary in Scotland, were excluded from the recusals register until now – as their omission from the recusals register has left a distorted picture of judicial recusals in Scotland.

Since my earlier submission of 4 September, the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service has published their Annual Report, which contains a Register of Interests for SCTS Board members, including several members of the judiciary, available here: Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Annual Report 2016-2017

While the register exists for a handful of judges who sit on the SCTS Board – including Lord Carloway, and does include further detail on some financial holdings of the judiciary, as provided by the Judicial Office SCTS Board shareholdings register – there is clearly a format by which this same register, with enhanced requirements of disclosure as appear in other jurisdictions, could be applied to all members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Finally, I wish to draw attention to members of the status of the Norwegian Register of Judicial Interests, which is a very comprehensive register, and could well be used as a template for a similar register of judicial interests in Scotland.

The Norwegian register of judicial interests is available here: Norway – Register of Judicial Interests. I urge members to contact Norway’s judiciary to seek comments on their register of judicial interests, and if necessary invite evidence on Norway’s implementation of such a register and how it impacts on judicial transparency.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

 

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CRY WOLFFE: Judicial Office hit with new conflict of interest claims as Court of Session papers reveal £9 million damages claim against Chief Constable & Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC was set to be heard by the Lord Advocate’s wife – Judge Lady Wolffe

Court details reveal judge scheduled to hear case against her own husband. SCOTLAND’S judiciary are facing fresh allegations of conflict of interest after it emerged a multi million pound damages claim against the Lord Advocate and Scotland’s Chief Constable for wrongful arrest and financial damages – was set to be heard by a judge who is the wife of the Lord Advocate.

The NINE million pound damages claim against Scotland’s top cop and top prosecutor has been lodged by David Whitehouse – a former administrator at Rangers FC – who is seeking financial damages from Police Scotland’s Philip Gormley and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

A copy of the Court Rolls handed to the media at the time reveal Lady Sarah Wolffe QC – an outer house senator of the Court of Session – was scheduled to hear the case involving the claim involving the Lord Advocate – her own husband – A295/16 David Whitehouse (represented by Urquharts) v Liam Murphy &c (represented by Ledingham Chambers for SGLD – Scottish Government Legal Directorate) – on November 15 2017.

Liam Murphy is currently listed as a Crown Office Procurator Fiscal on “Specialist Casework”.

However, Lady Wolffe appears to have been removed from the hearing, with no official comment from the Judicial Office or Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

Claims have since been made Lady Wolffe was suddenly dropped from the hearing when it ‘emerged at the last minute’ her husband – Lord Advocate James Wolffe – was involved in the case.

A report from a source claims a second Court of Session Judge – Lady Wise QC – was then scheduled to hear the case.

However, the silent replacement of Lady Wolffe with Lady Wise – has now raised serious questions as to why there are no references to any note of recusal made by Lady Wolffe – who clearly had a conflict of interest in the case given one of the core participants in the action is her own husband – the Lord Advocate.

The case then takes another turn after media reports of the hearing on Wednesday 15 November reveal a third judge – Lord Arthurson QC – eventually heard the case, and has since arranged for a four day hearing for legal arguments.

The background to the civil damages claim stems from when David Whitehouse and Paul Clark were appointed to the former Rangers Football Club PLC in 2012 after owner Craig Whyte declared the business insolvent.

The Duff and Phelps administrators faced a failed prosecution bid by the Crown Office in relation to the collapse of the Ibrox oldco, while Mr Whyte was found not guilty of fraudulently acquiring the club during a trial in June.

The charges against David Whitehouse and his colleague Paul Clark were later dropped.

Both PoliceScotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley and Lord Advocate James Wolffe claim police and prosecutors acted in accordance with correct legal procedure.

Yet questions remain on how the Crown Office acted in this case, and many others where prosecutions which ultimately collapse, appear to be based on flimsy or even non-existent or unprovable evidence.

Police arrested and charged Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark during the investigation into businessman Craig Whyte’s takeover of the club in 2011. Charges were dropped following a court hearing before judge Lord Bannatyne in June 2016.

Lawyers acting for Mr Whitehouse claimed their client was “unlawfully detained” by detectives in November 2014. They also said that throughout the period of detention, there was no reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Whitehouse had broken the law.

Mr Whitehouse also claimed that police obtained evidence without following proper legal procedure. An indictment against Mr Whitehouse was issued without any “evidential basis”, his lawyers said.

It is also claimed the actions of police and prosecutors are said to have damaged Mr Whitehouse’ reputation of being a first-class financial professional and led to a £1.75m loss in earnings.

A legal document states: “He lost income, in particular his entitlement to bonus payments and future earnings. His reputation was severely damaged.”

At the hearing on Wednesday 15 November  – originally scheduled to be heard by Lady Wolffe –  lawyers acting for Mr Whitehouse appeared during a short procedural hearing where it also emerged Mr Whitehouse’s colleague Mr Clark is also suing the chief constable and Lord Advocate.

At the hearing, Court of Session outer house Judge Lord Arthurson arranged for a four-day hearing into the legal issues surrounding the case to take place at a later date.

Given the similarities of the two claims, lawyers are now examining whether the two actions should be rolled into a single case.

The case has emerged from the circumstances surrounding Mr Whyte’s takeover of Rangers in 2011. Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark worked for Duff & Phelps and were appointed as administrators of the club in February 2012. Four months later, the company’s business and assets were sold to a consortium led by Charles Green for £5.5m.

Mr Whitehouse believes that his human rights were breached as a consequence of the actions of the police and prosecutors.

The chief constable and the Lord Advocate claim that police and prosecutors acted in accordance with correct legal procedure.

Lawyers acting for the top cop & Lord Advocate claim that Mr Whitehouse’s human rights were not breached and that he did not suffer any loss or injury as a consequence of the actions taken by the police and prosecutors.

Lawyers acting for the Chief Constable & Lord Advocate also claim should be dismissed because the Lord Advocate is exempt from civil action from people who were the subject of a legal investigation.

However, the use of the Lord Advocate’s immunity from civil action – in times where the Crown Office have often been found to have got things wrong in court, or have acted improperly during investigations and the application of criminal charges, should now come under increased external scrutiny and ultimately be withdrawn from legislation.

The Judicial Office, and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service have both refused to issue any further comment or statement on this case, despite the Judicial Office informing journalists a statement would be issued, over two weeks ago.

However, questions remain as to why no recusal has been posted by the Judicial Office with regards to Lady Wolffe stepping aside from the case.

Clearly, had a register of judicial interests existed in a form currently being studied by MSPs of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, incidences such as these could be avoided.

Lady Wolffe Biography:

The Hon Lady Wolffe was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Courts in March 2014.

Lady Wolffe qualified as a solicitor in 1992 and worked at the Bank of Scotland legal department from 1992 to 1993. She called to the bar in 1994 and until 2008 practised as a junior counsel, mainly in commercial and public law. From 1996 until 2008 she was also standing junior counsel to the Department of Trade and Industry and its successor departments. Since 2007 she has been an ad hoc advocate depute. She was appointed QC in 2008. As senior counsel she has practised mainly in commercial and public law. She was a member of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the Faculty of Advocates 2005-2008 and has been a member of the Police Appeals Tribunal since 2013. Mrs Wolffe emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1987.

Crown Office Specialist Casework Function:

The Crown Office Specialist Casework Function – currently led by Deputy Crown Agent: Lindsey Miller – comprises a number of specialist units involved in the delivery of case preparation and the provision of  other legal services in support of COPFS core functions where the nature, size and/or complexity of the case or subject matter means that it is most effectively dealt with within Specialist Casework. This Function is managed nationally by Liam Murphy, Procurator Fiscal Specialist Casework, but delivered from various locations throughout Scotland.

The Specialist Casework units are:

  • Appeals
  • Criminal Allegations against the Police
  • Health and Safety Crime (including the Helicopter Incident Investigation Team)
  • International Co-operation Unit
  • Proceeds of Crime Unit
  • Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit   (including Road Traffic Fatalities Unit)
  • Serious and Organised Crime  (including Counter-Terrorism and Economic Crime)
  • Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit

The Civil Recovery Unit also sits within Specialist Casework.

The Specialist Casework and the High Court Functions together are known as Serious Casework.

 

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LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services

Ministers, lawyers & legal regulator seek Holyrood probe delay. A PROPOSAL before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland – has received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an ‘independent’ review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers – before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

A letter from the SLCC states: “The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.”

However, in reality the issues raised by the SLCC in a report titled “Reimagine Regulation” do little for consumer protection, leaving complaints and investigations firmly in the hands of lawyers, as was reported last year, here: ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors’ self regulation & complaints system

Meanwhile, representations from the Scottish Government, and an unsigned letter from the Chair of a lawyer dominated review panel – are careful not to demand outright, but infer MSPs halt their consideration of calls to scrap the historically biased system of self regulation of lawyers in Scotland.

The latest submissions from the three pro-lawyer groups come in the wake of a call for evidence by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee on two public petitions seeking to replace self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland with fully independent regulation of legal services – as occurs in England & Wales.

In September, MSPs called for views on bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK – where a much greater independent level of legal regulation exists compared to the current Law Society of Scotland & SLCC pro-lawyer regulation model.

Petition 1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

Petition 1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Ombudsman, Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges – and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

In another development, Alex Neil recently branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal – which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

During the debate on the two petitions – on 21 September – members of the Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

It is also open for anyone else to put their views to the Petitions Committee on these petitions, or for constituents to request their MSPs submit material on their constituents behalf.

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

The Convener: The next two new petitions are PE1660 by Bill Tait and PE1661 by Melanie Collins, both of which raise similar issues in relation to the current system for complaints about legal services in Scotland. Members have a copy of the petitions and the respective SPICe briefings.

PE1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. PE1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Ombudsman, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, all of which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action on the petition?

Michelle Ballantyne: First of all, I note that there is a review under way. However, although it was launched in April, it is not due to report until the end of next year, which seems an awfully long time.

I am concerned about a turkeys voting for Christmas arrangement with regard to oversight of this matter. There needs to be some clear water between lawyers and those who review them, and this feels a bit close for comfort. We should check where the review is going and what it is looking at, because if it has been launched, the question is whether we need to be doing something parallel alongside it.

Angus MacDonald: Both petitions are extremely timely. Bill Tait and Melanie Collins have highlighted serious issues with regard to the legal profession and the way in which the SLCC operates in respect of complaints. I agree with Melanie Collins that there is a strong argument in favour of creating a new independent regulator of legal services, and I agree with Bill Tait’s call to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

In recent years, we have seen a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland over the operation of the complaints system. I am sure that I was not the only MSP to receive representations from the Law Society earlier this year, stating frustration and disappointment at the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. It also stated that the complaints system was slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the right time to look at this issue.

As Michelle Ballantyne has mentioned, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that the current process for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor is too slow and complex, so I was certainly pleased to see the Scottish Government launch its independent review of the regulation. However, I take on board Michelle Ballantyne’s point about the review not being due to report back until the end of 2018; the period seems quite lengthy, but clearly, we can contact the Government for clarification. Given the similarity of the two petitions, there is a strong argument for joining them together to help move them forward.

The Convener: First of all, does the committee agree to join the petitions together? It seems to me that they deal with the same issues.

Members indicated agreement.

Brian Whittle: Am I correct in thinking that the Law Society called for a change and was rebuffed?

Angus MacDonald: I am not entirely sure—it certainly was not happy.

Rona Mackay: It was about the levy. It was not happy with some of the SLCC’s operation, but, as far as I am aware, it has not formally called for a change.

Brian Whittle: I thought that it was investigating this very point and was rebuffed. I might be wrong.

The Convener: It would be worth getting it clear in our own heads where all of this stands. We can obviously ask for that information.

The suggestion is that we write to the Scottish Government about the review’s timescale and remit, and I think that we should write to the relevant stakeholder bodies to ask about what issues they have. It does not feel that long since the legislation was passed, so it would be a natural time to look at and reflect on whether it has been effective and what the alternatives might be. My sense is that, when the legislation went through Parliament, we wrestled with the options—it did not go through without debate. Perhaps we should look at whether this is a bedding-in issue or an actual structural problem and whether, as the petitioner suggests, the issue needs to be revisited and a different kind of regulatory body put in place.

I think that we have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Citizens Advice Scotland was mentioned, as was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Are there any others?

Angus MacDonald: Would it be worth contacting the Judicial Complaints Reviewer? Although it deals with judicial complaints, as per the title, it would be good to get its view, if it has one. Of course, it is not compelled to reply.

The Convener: Do we agree to deal with both petitions in that way?

Members indicated agreement.

The latest submissions from the Scottish Government, the Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are reprinted below:

PE1660/E & PE1661/E Scottish Government submission of 6 November 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on petition PE1660 by Bill Tait with regards to the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and petition PE1661 by Melanie Collins regarding amending the regulation of the complaints about the legal profession.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services, announced in April 2017, has been set up to look into these matters and that we understand that the chair, Esther Roberton, will be responding to the committee separately.

The chair is due to report to Ministers by the end of July 2018 and will include the review findings around the complaints handling system.

PE1660/D & PE1661/D Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services submission of 23 October 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on the calls from Bill Tait to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and from Melanie Collins to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017. I chair the review and my deadline to report to Ministers is by the end of July 2018.

As described in the remit for the review, which is broad, its purpose is to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. We are committed to ensuring that our recommendations focus on consumers, providers of legal services and the market place for legal services in Scotland. The time is right to appraise the regulatory system, which last saw substantial changes as a consequence of the 2010 Act, and which the current regulators and others agree is ready for review.

The panel, made up of individuals with experience in legal services, consumer interests, regulatory systems, and complaints systems have met five times to date.

Gathering evidence from a full range of stakeholders with an interest in our work is crucial to help inform our findings. This includes professional bodies, regulators, consumer bodies, a wide range of providers of legal services, business organisations and others. Stakeholder events will take place in November-December, with a formal call for evidence launching at the turn of the year.

The review is also considering relevant information such as regulation in other sectors and in legal services regulatory systems from other parts of the world, and has commissioned a specific study into unregulated legal services.

I have copied this letter to the Justice Committee and am happy to provide further updates if either committee wishes those in due course.

PE1660/C & PE1661/C Submission from Scottish Legal Complaints Commission of 31 October 2017

Thank you for your letter of 26 September about the Petitions Committee on 21 September about petitions PE1660 (Bill Tait) and PE1661 (Melanie Collins) relating to regulation and complaints in legal services.

We spoke on 27 October. For some reason, which neither of us could identify, we had not received the original letter, although had been expecting it and indeed had emailed on 10 October to ask if we were to receive such a letter. We’re very grateful, therefore, that you allowed us a short extension to respond.

We agree there is a strong case for reform in some areas, we have actively lobbied for this, and we’re confident the current Independent review of the regulation of legal services will address matters.

In this letter the SLCC sets out our general position on reform first, which significantly pre-dates the petitions, and then addresses some specific issues raised in the petitions.

THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is the independent gateway for all complaints about solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys. We have experience of handling over 10,000 complaints, and last year alone awarded consumer redress over £324,000. An independent Consumer Panel also helps guide our work.

For a two-page summary of our work, and its impact on consumers see: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/media/69464/annual review.pdf

OUR PROPOSALS FOR REFORM

The SLCC has actively called for radical change to the regulation of the sector. In July 2016 we published our paper #ReimagineRegulation, which is available on our website: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/reimagine-regulation.aspx. A detailed set of supporting appendices provide, among other things, a history of the Scottish Parliament’s involvement in these issues since the parliament’s creation.

We hope this is of assistance to the Committee.

The SLCC robustly highlighted key areas for change which we believe could deliver better results for the sector and for the consumer:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

Up to four statutory bodies can be involved in a single case, causing duplication and delay. We provide a visual representation of the ‘customer journey’ to highlight the current problems.

2. Reducing statutory detail that focuses on processes, not outcomes for people

Complex and inflexible processes have lost sight of the principles of better regulation and distracted from a focus on the outcomes for the public and sector.

3. Ensuring that when redress is awarded the client receives it

In too many cases redress is awarded but failings in the current system mean the complainer does not receive it, undermining confidence in the system.

4. Targeting risk, and not seeing all legal services as the same

For example, conveyancing is a major driver of all regulatory costs across more than one statutory body – how do we either better support, or more proportionately regulate, in that area to reduce this consumer detriment?

5. Embedding the consumer principles

Professional voices in debates in regulation are always informed, strong, and well resourced. We need to understand consumer’s need, and hear their voice, if regulation is to be credible.

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

Modern regulation is about identifying and targeting risk, and creating proportionate and agile structures to tackle issues in fast moving markets. 10 years after our establishment we too often find it is the same basic issues causing problems with consumers, with little done (it being outwith the SLCC’s remit) to tackle the root cause.

SPECIFIC ISSUES RAISED IN THE PETITIONS

A key question is raised about a single regulator, or at least complaints body, and the SLCC believe this merits serious consideration. The cost and confusion caused by four different bodies, for a sector of only 11,000 professionals, is an issue in its own right.

Even if a single body is not eventually possible, debating that model will more sharply focus the discussion on the core purpose and aims of regulation in the sector, and the key mechanism to reduce risk and support a sustainable market, rather than starting discussion from the perspective of the current fragmented roles and responsibilities.

The SLCC also agrees oversight issues need considered. At the moment there is a fractured framework. For example, whilst the SLCC is overseen by an independent Board of Commissioners appointed by government, is subject to Freedom of Information, and comes within the remit of Audit Scotland, not every organisation involved in regulation is currently so transparent, nor under such financial scrutiny. At the moment no bodies, including the SLCC, come under the best practice promoted by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. As we continue the journey of the modernisation of legal regulation a single approach to oversight, with consistent minimum legislative requirements, would be a positive outcome.

Several statutory levies are payable by lawyers, and the value of the fees, and the balance of spending between regulatory and representative functions, should be considered in the round. None of the bodies currently involved have their budgets approved by parliament. In all governance matters legislation is balancing the need for regulation independent from government with what are appropriate governance structures. As with many issues raised, this may be best looked at in the round, as from the lawyer and consumer perspective it is the total cost of regulation which is key.

The SLCC had already raised concern at the only route of appeal being to the Court of Session. This point was made in our paper last year about reform, and we believe the legislation should be amended to allow a more proportionate mechanism. This is part of reducing the current complaints maze, so there is a single investigation, and single set of decisions, and a single appeal.

The SLCC supports the emphasis placed on independent regulation. We believe expert input into regulation is absolutely essential, and that a regulator must be credible to the profession as well as the public. However, the best model for delivering this has been contentious in previous parliamentary debates. The overwhelming trend in UK terms for regulation has been around an ongoing journey from self-regulation to independent regulation (for example, only today, joint work has been published by the four UK health departments on the evolution of governance in the regulation of health professionals:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/promoting-professionalism-reforming- regulation para 4.18 onwards). These petitions highlight that this is likely to be the expectation of the public.

In all of this public and consumer voices are vital. There is a deeply worrying lack of independent research into consumer needs and detriments in Scotland in the legal sector. The SLCC’s Consumer Panel has been instrumental in flagging this in recent years. However, the government’s own previous review of legal regulation in 2006 had raised this as a concern, and the situation has, if anything, deteriorated further since then (for example with Consumer Focus Scotland no longer in existence and doing work in this field). A top priority should be the creation of a better evidence base from those who use services, alongside the professional voices.

Ignoring those consumer voices has consequences, and this is relevant to one specific issue raised in this petition. In debating the legislation that led to the creation of the SLCC consumer groups valued transparency, and that the SLCC should be able to publish decisions about complaints. However, after extensive lobbying by other interests a decision was made that not only would the outcome of complaints not be published, but that a new criminal offence would be created for any divulgence of information, an offence so wide that it covers even confirming if a complaint has been received. This is out of step with other professions and sectors, and other jurisdictions, where there is more discretion to publish when there is public interest. The SLCC understands the frustration of complainers, but must abide by the current legislative framework. As with most issues covered in the petition, we had raised this ourselves last year in our paper on reform.

LEVY

We noted in the discussion within the committee mention of our consultation on the levy for solicitors last year (the fees all solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys need to pay each year, set to cover the cost of processing complaints).

Although in past years the SLCC had managed to reduce the levy, a significant increase was proposed last year. This was driven by a number of factors, the two biggest of which were a rise in complaints and a judicial review, and 17 appeals to the Court of Session, launched by the Law Society of Scotland.

The rise in complaints had been steep, with a 12% increase in complaints against solicitors within 12 months. This has now been followed in the subsequent year by a further 2% rise, and current predictions are that complaint numbers are continuing to increase. We recognise paying the cost of complaints is not popular with any sector, and as a member led organisation the Law Society would always challenge costs, but a more positive debate would have focussed on how to tackle the common cause of complaints and reduce harm to the public.

In terms of the number of litigations by the professional body, we were pleased to win the ‘test case’, and to have the court confirm SLCC had been acting in a way consistent with ‘good public administration’. We had publicly warned these litigations would cause cost, delay and worry to complainers and practitioners, and were unnecessary, as proved to be the case. We were disappointed that in their lobbying against the levy the Law Society did not mention its own actions were one of the big drivers of cost.

CONCLUSION

I hope our #ReimagineRegulation paper displays a body which is not only ‘up for’ change, but actively trying to stimulate a debate about how parliament, government, consumers and the profession can work together to create a better system in Scotland.

The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC appendices to our main paper

SLCC Annual Review 2017

LAWYERS REVIEW THEIR OWN REGULATION: Third attempt by SCottish Government at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

The latest review of the way lawyers regulate themselves marks the third attempt at addressing problems created by Scotland’s pro-lawyer system of self regulation, where lawyers write the rules, and look after their own.

In 2001, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 1 Committee, under the Convenership of Christine Grahame MSP, met to consider evidence in relation to calls to reform regulation of the legal profession.

The inquiry, gained by the late, widely respected MSP, Phil Gallie, heard evidence in relation to how complaints were investigated by the legal profession.

However, Mr Gallie was replaced by Lord James Douglas Hamilton, and the Committee eventually concluded not to amend how the Law Society regulated Scottish solicitors.

A second, more substantive attempt to reform regulation of the legal profession came about in 2006, with the Scottish Parliament’s then Justice 2 Committee taking on consideration of the proposed Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in 2007.

The LPLA Act led to the creation of the now widely derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – once touted as an ‘independent’ solution to handing complaints against solicitors and advocates.

A mere nine years after the creation of the SLCC in 2008, the badly run legal quango, often itself the subject of scandal, charges of incompetence and downright bias – has become as much a threat to consumer protection as the Law Society itself was in the days when complaints were handled at the Law Society’s former HQ in Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh.

Regulating the legal profession: Usual suspects selected by legal profession to carry out independent review on regulation of solicitors:

The independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland is expected to consult widely with stakeholders and report to Scottish ministers by the end of 2018.

The independent chair of the review is Esther Roberton, current chair of NHS 24. Ms Roberton has extensive senior leadership experience in the NHS and other areas of public life.  She is also currently a board member of the Scottish Ambulance Service (2014-18).  She was chair of SACRO (2010-2014) and until recently also sat on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Audit and Risk Committee (COPFS ARC).

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

•      Christine McLintock – immediate past president Law Society of Scotland
•      Alistair Morris – chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland)
•      Laura Dunlop QC – Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Derek Ogg QC – MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
•      Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal
•      Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board
•      Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
•      Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland
•      Prof Lorne Crerar – chairman, Harper Macleod LLP
•     Prof Russel Griggs – chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group
•     Trisha McAuley OBE – independent consumer expert

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services – unmasked as a lawyer dominated pro-self regulation panel – can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

 

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