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Category Archives: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

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’

Review panel to consider self-regulation of lawyers. THE Scottish Government has announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

The move by Scottish Minsters, coming after discussions with the Law Society of Scotland – is intended to answer concerns  amid rising numbers of complaints about poor legal services and the diminishing status of Scotland’s legal services sector,

However, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the review 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.

Mr 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 caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The review, led by NHS 24 chair Esther Roberton, is intended to make recommendations to modernise laws underpinning the legal profession’s current regulatory system including how complaints are handled.

This follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.

However, doubts about the impartiality of the panel have been raised after the announcement by Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing revealed a top-heavy compliment of figures from the legal establishment who are keen on protecting solicitors’ self regulation against any move to increase consumer protection by way of independent regulation.

The list of panel members includes:

*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 regular 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.

Announcing the review, Legal Affairs Minister Annabel Ewing said: “Members of the public must be able to have confidence in the service they get from their solicitor. While this happens most of the time, I have been listening carefully to concerns that the current regulatory system in Scotland may leave consumers exposed and does not adequately address complaints.”

Speaking yesterday to journalists, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil generally welcomed the review, adding the review remit should also include judges.

Alex Neil said: I hope it produces radical and robust proposals. I also hope it covers the judiciary as well as lawyers.”

Mr Neil also called for greater fairness in the panel’s membership, to include members from outside the legal establishment.

Mr Neil added: I hope the membership of this review panel will be expanded to get a better balance between lawyers and non-lawyers”

The latest move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation of solicitors and advocates comes years after a move in England & Wales to more robust independent regulation of legal services – which has left Scots consumers & clients at a clear disadvantage.

And while clients in the rest of the UK have much more of a chance to obtain redress against legal professionals who consistently provide poor legal services – and see their lawyers named and shamed in public by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman (LeO),

At pains to point out the ‘independent’ nature of the review, the Legal Affairs Minister said: “This independent review will consider what changes may be needed to the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services to protect consumer interests and promote a flourishing legal sector. This includes ensuring that consumers properly understand the options open to them when something goes wrong and that the regulatory framework is proportionate for legal firms. I look forward to receiving its recommendations in due course.”

Chair of the review – Esther Roberton said: “I am delighted to have been asked to undertake this review. Our legal profession and legal services in Scotland are the envy of many around the world. We should be just as ambitious for our system of regulation of legal services. I would hope we can simplify the current complaints process to maximise consumers’ confidence in the system. I look forward to working with the panel members who bring a broad range of experience across a range of sectors.”

However, questions have surfaced over the actual intentions of the review after legal insiders revealed today the proposals only came about after long discussions between the Scottish Government and the Law Society of Scotland – the legal profession’s main lobby group in Scotland who enjoy the greatest benefit of self regulation.

Legal insiders have suggested the review is not widely seen as a serious move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation.

Rather, this third attempt at addressing failures of regulation and poor legal services provided by increasingly less qualified legal representatives is a reaction to the failure of Scotland’s legal services sector to put it’s own house in order amid diminishing business, a reduced client base, rising numbers of complaints.

The latest Government sponsored shot in the arm of lawyers – which one solicitor said this morning “may end up calling for more public cash and an increase in the legal aid budget” – comes on the back of a complete failure to attract international litigants who are wary of entering Scotland’s famously unreliable, expensive and poor legal services market.

Access to justice and legal services in Scotland are internationally well known as being hampered by slow proceedings in courts dubbed “Victorian” and “out of date” by both of Scotland’s recent top judges.

VESTED INTERESTS – Legal Profession welcome their own review:

The SLCC welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs of a review of how best to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling in Scotland.

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson, one of the review panel members, commented “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this review, in line with the manifesto commitment.  We hope our Reimagine Regulation legislative change priorities paper, which we published last year, will be one helpful contribution to the review.  In that paper we looked at some of the innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions, so we are especially delighted to see that expertise represented in the review panel alongside huge knowledge of the legal sector.   We look forward to this range of experience and expertise being shared as part of this process, and a collaborative approach to identifying priorities and opportunities for reform.”

SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge added, “This will be an excellent opportunity for all the key stakeholders involved to come together in supporting the review as it considers the regulatory landscape in order to support growth in the legal services sector and strengthen consumer protection.  Despite many strengths to the current system, the Board of the SLCC believe there are significant opportunities to make regulation more targeted, more effective and more efficient.”

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement today, Tuesday, 25 April, of an independent review of legal services, saying that current legislation governing the legal sector is no longer fit for purpose.

Law Society of Scotland president, Eilidh Wiseman said: “There have been huge changes in the legal market over recent years.  Changing consumer demands and new business structures are transforming the way legal services are being provided.

“This is why we have argued so strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation which covers the regulation of legal services in Scotland.  The main Act of Parliament governing solicitors is more than 35 years old and simply no longer fit for purpose.  We know the processes for legal complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients.  There are gaps in consumer protection, contradictions and loop holes in the law.  This is why change is so desperately needed to allow the legal sector to thrive and ensure robust protections are in place for consumers.

“The Scottish Government’s independent review offers the chance to build a consensus on how reforms should be taken forward.  It is vital for the work of the group to move as quickly as possible so new legislation can be introduced before the Scottish Parliament.”

The Law Society has highlighted its concerns about areas of legal services which remain unregulated in Scotland.

Wiseman said: “One area we will highlight to the review group is the growing level of unregulated legal services where consumers are at risk if something goes wrong. Many people are unaware that some types of legal services are not regulated – for example, receiving employment advice from a non-solicitor.  They may have little or no course of redress if something goes wrong. Consumers deserve the same level of protection whether they choose to go to a solicitor, and are therefore covered by Law Society client protections, or to use another legal services provider.”

Two former Law Society presidents, Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris, will serve on the legal services review panel.

Wiseman said: “I am particularly delighted that Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris will be part of the review group. With their considerable board-level expertise alongside their combined insight and knowledge of the legal sector, they will prove invaluable to the review process. They understand the need for reform and, having both served on regulatory sub-committees, bring a deep commitment to the public interest.”

Christine McLintock, as former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, was responsible for the firm’s in-house legal service, professional risk management and compliance. Christine joined the Law Society’s Council in 2005 and has served on the Society’s Board since its inception in 2009. Prior to that, she was a member of the Strategy and Governance Group and was Convener of the Education and Training Committee, before to serving as President in 2015-16. She is currently part of the team working on the regulation of licensed legal services providers and is Convener of the Law Society’s Public Policy Committee.

Alistair Morris was appointed CEO of Pagan Osborne in 2005, having built extensive expertise in private client work at the firm. He was elected to join the Law Society Council in 1992, becoming one of its longest serving members at 24 years. Alistair also served as a board member between 2009 and 2016, and was Convener of the Guarantee Fund Sub-committee (now Client Protection Fund Sub-committee) prior to his election as President in 2014. Alistair currently sits on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

The Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, has responded to an announcement by the Scottish Government of an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services.

Mr Jackson said: “I welcome that this review is taking place. It is very important that the legal profession retains the confidence of the public. I know that the Faculty of Advocates has earned that confidence, and that this thorough review will demonstrate that an independent referral bar has been, and will continue to be vital in maintaining an effective and fair justice system.

“The Faculty will willingly co-operate fully with the inquiry and I am confident that the considerable experience of the Faculty’s representatives, Laura Dunlop, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, will be of great value.”

Review should include judiciary:

Scotland’s judges have earned themselves widespread criticism and condemnation at Holyrood and from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – after top judges failed to address complaints and become more transparent and accountable like other branches of Government.

Ongoing efforts by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to create a register of judges’ interests have been flustered by two Lord Presidents – Lord Gill & current top judge Lord Carloway.

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – 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.

The current review could include the judiciary in terms of how judges regulate themselves, however the Scottish Parliament should be left to get on with the task of creating a register of judges’ interests – given the five years of work already undertaken by MSPs on the thorny question of judicial declarations.

REVIEW THE REVIEW: Third attempt 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

 

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CASH ADVANCE: QC says ‘Can I have £5k cash on the way to the Law Society?’ – MSP calls for reform of ‘toothless’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as regulator turns blind eye on Advocates cash payments scandal

Failed legal regulator in ‘QC cash scandal’ needs reform – Alex Neil. THE REGULATOR of Scotland’s legal profession has been branded a “toothless waste of time” by an MSP and former Cabinet Minister – after it emerged the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  refused to act against a senior QC named in emails demanding £5,000 cash payments from clients.

Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – has now called for major reform of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after a Sunday Mail investigation revealed the SLCC refused to investigate serious complaints & cash payments involving ‘top’ planning law QC John Campbell (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers.

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Alex Neil said: “These technicalities show the SLCC as it stands is a waste of time. It’s not up to the job and we need major change.”

Mr Neil continued: “Parliament’s justice committee should have an urgent and comprehensive look at this and rewrite the legislation so people have a reasonable time to register legitimate complaints.”

“People need assurance that the legal profession isn’t just looking after itself all the time. People have no confidence in the system.”

Ongoing media scrutiny of Campbell’s demands for cash payments of up to £5,000 at a time are now leading to calls for a wider inquiry into the world of cash payments to QCs, advocates and solicitors.

And today, new material released to journalists include a further email from John Campbell to his clients – in which Campbell demands to pick up another £5,000 in cash – while he is on the way to a meeting at Airdrie Sheriff Court followed by a dinner with the Law Society of Scotland.

The email from John Campbell to his client reads as follows: “A little better information about timing. I am due in Airdrie at 4.30. The meeting is in the Sheriff Court, which closes at 6.30. The Law Society is taking me and a colleague for dinner, but I have no idera where. There isn’t a huge number of restaurants in Airdrie, but we’ll find somewhere. This means I won’t be at Bonkle Road until about 8. Is that OK?”

“I have asked JC for a breakdown of the £5000. I will explain to you how a spec case works. I have checked; both John and I are willing to take on a spec case for Donal, but only if he signs up to it. There will be two conditions; one is that you keep the Edinburgh agent fed and watered, and the second is the size of the uplift at the end of the day, as I explained to you.”

The initials “JC” in the email are thought to refer to John Carruthers – a solicitor advocate who started a company called Oracle Law with Campbell back in the mid 2000’s.

Members of the Faculty of Advocates are forbidden from collecting fees and cash directly from clients, as was reported earlier here Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case linked to serious judicial conflicts of interest.

Advocates who personally collect cash payments from clients are in breach of Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct which states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

The Sunday Mail investigation revealed John Campbell sent emails to clients demanding cash “in any form except beads” to pay for legal services provided to his client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer – Donal Nolan.

Campbell then collected cash stuffed envelopes in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw – which became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Scotland Ltd – who admitted in court their role in dumping contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

Emails from John Campbell QC stated: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet in Dalkeith on TUESDAY morning, when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team” … “Please let me know if it’s OK to meet at the Mulsanne Garage, which is at 137 High Street, and what time would suit you?”

Campbell’s email also revealed members of the legal team – including ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers received payments from the cash.

The ongoing investigation into Craig Murray’s role in the legal team revealed Murray was responsible for two versions of a letter bearing his name as author – which were later used to exonerate John Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Faculty of Advocates.

Craig Murray also claims to be a successful prosecutor for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Asked for comment, a legal observer said he was surprised legal figures would engage in collecting cash payments before going out to dinner with the legal profession’s main lobbying group – the Law Society of Scotland.

The little talked about, but well known world of cash & carry lawyers & QCs – where demands to clients for anything up to £100K in cash are not unheard of – is now thought to be ripe for investigation after lawyers admitted Campbell “became too bold” in looking for money.

However, in order to thwart any references to regulators being drawn into the fray over the cash payments to QC John Campbell, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission backed away from action, citing obscure rules implying notification of the evidence to the SLCC was time-barred.

The SLCC said in it’s determination: “Having considered the complaint in accordance with the 2013 Rules as set out in the attached extract, the SLCC determines that there are no exceptional circumstances in this case which would warrant the complaint being accepted. The SLCC has therefore determined that issue 11 of the complaint be rejected under Section 4(1) of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 as the complaint is time-barred.”

The SLCC was asked for comment on why the regulator has turned a blind eye to Campbell’s cash collections –  however no response has been provided at time of publication.

The Faculty of Advocates were asked the following questions:

* Can the Faculty confirm if it is in receipt of John Campbell’s email demanding £5,000 before he attends a meeting with the Law Society, and does the Faculty have any comment on the content, particularly in the circumstances Mr Campbell is on the way to meet one of the legal profession’s main lobbying and regulatory bodies while demanding a sum of cash from his clients?

The Faculty did not issue a response to this question.

* Can the Faculty also confirm whether or not any action or investigation is being undertaken by the Faculty or SLCC in relation to John Campbell QC and allegations recently made in the press in relation to his collection of large sums of cash?

Again, the Faculty did not respond.

* Finally, can the Faculty confirm if it has reported Mr Campbell to HMRC given the size of the cash payments and clear breach of Faculty rules and obvious ramifications of the scale of such payments in cash?

Again, the Faculty did not issue a response to this question.

Instead, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Advocates said: “The Faculty must, by law, refer any complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who then investigate and decide if further action is to be taken, either by them or by the Faculty. In this case, the SLCC decided that no further action should be taken.”

A response from the Faculty also confirmed the appointment of Charlotte Street Partners – an expensive PR & ‘media management’ company who are now working with the Faculty of Advocates.

Charlotte Street Partners was launched in 2014 by former MSP Andrew Wilson and Malcolm Robertson.

The PR company is chaired by Sir Angus Grossart, and comprises a mixture of journalists and former political spin doctors.

Papers from Companies House on Charlotte Street Partners can be viewed here Companies House – Charlotte Street Partners filing history.

Earlier today, journalists were provided with details of discussions with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which now suggest the SLCC are open to the possibility of considering new or reworded complaints regarding John Campbell QC.

Speaking to journalists this morning, Ms Collins indicated she will be submitting fresh complaints to the SLCC, along with new evidence and will be taking into account the Lord Malcolm ruling on hybrid complaints.

John Campbell QC did not reply to requests for comment.

The Sunday Mail reports:

MSP brands legal watchdog a ‘toothless waste of time’ after top QC avoids censure over cash payments

We told last week how John Campbell QC was paid four sums of £5000 in banknotes – £20,000 in total – during the build-up to a court case.

By Craig McDonald 9 APR 2017 Sunday Mail

An MSP has branded a legal watchdog a “toothless waste of time” after it emerged a leading QC will face no action over cash payments.

Campbell took the payments from client Melanie Collins at her home in Bonkle, Lanarkshire, a hotel, a restaurant and a plot of land.

Despite breaching strict rules on fees and contact with clients, Campbell will not be the subject of disciplinary action.

Melanie, 62, reported her concern over the payments to the Faculty of Advocates and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after the case concluded but was told her complaint was too late.

The bodies said the position would not change despite calls for an investigation.

Melanie’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said last week: “This is a good example of how the SLCC is absolutely toothless.

“The legislation is riddled with loopholes. We need a fundamental, urgent review of the powers and remit of the SLCC.

“If people feel they do not have reasonable forms of redress for what is a legitimate complaint, it brings the whole system into disrepute.

“These technicalities show the SLCC as it stands is a waste of time. It’s not up to the job and we need major change. Parliament’s justice committee should have an urgent and comprehensive look at this and rewrite the legislation so people have a reasonable time to register legitimate complaints.

“People need assurance that the legal profession isn’t just looking after itself all the time. People have no confidence in the system.”

Melanie and partner Donal Nolan said they paid cash after Campbell emailed them saying he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Faculty of Advocates guidelines state: “Counsel should not under any circumstances discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Their ­disciplinary tribunal can hand out fines of up to £15,000. A member can also be suspended or expelled from the faculty.

Melanie said yesterday: “I’m disappointed but not a bit surprised that no action is being taken.

“He clearly broke their rules.”

The payments related to a case involving the couple and a construction firm at the Court of Session in 2013. Judgment was made in early 2014 and Melanie and Donal registered their complaint within days.

An SLCC spokesman said last week: “We can’t disclose information directly to anyone not personally involved in a complaint.”

The Faculty of Advocates said: “We must, by law, refer any complaint to the SLCC, which then investigates and decides if further action is to be taken.

“In this case, the SLCC decided no further action should be taken.”

Campbell, 67, said he did not wish to comment.

CASHING IN – John Campbell QC, Profile:

Year of Call: 1981Year of Silk: 1998 Areas of Practice Commercial, Land & Property, Public Law & Equality

John Campbell called to the Scottish Bar in 1981 and admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1990. His primary practice areas are in Town and Country Planning, Energy and Land and Rural Law. He works all over the UK in Planning matters and also in ADR, particularly Arbitrations. He is extensively consulted by regulatory authorities, councils, members of the public and developers. He is very approachable, and places great emphasis on the value of team work. A specialist in inquiry work, he has conducted many types of statutory and non-statutory inquiry, and has appeared in related judicial reviews and appeals. He has acted as counsel in arbitrations, is qualified to sit as an arbitrator, and teaches and writes on planning and environmental law, and domestic and international arbitration law and practice.

He is a Member of Trinity Chambers, Newcastle, where he holds a Direct Access ticket. He is a Member of the Construction Panel of Experts for the Mersey Gateway Project, acting as a Dispute Review Board for the PPP project for a replacement 1500m six lane toll bridge across the Mersey from Runcorn to Widnes. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and Chairman of the SHBT, Scotland’s largest Building Preservation Trust.

John is rated in Chambers 2015, 2016 & 2017 in the field of Planning and Environment:

General Information: LL.B Edinburgh 1972; Assistant Director of Legal Aid, Hong Kong, 1978; Permanent and Juvenile Magistrate, Hong Kong 1980/1981; Advocate 1981;Barrister at Law Lincoln’s Inn 1990
Silk 1998;”Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas, etc” (Green’s Planning Encyclopaedia)

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

 

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CASHBACK, QC: Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case linked to serious judicial conflicts of interest

John Campbell QC – Faculty rules breached by payments from clients. A MEDIA investigation has revealed a senior Scots Queen’s Counsel who claims to be at the top of his field in Planning law – demanded and collected cash stuffed envelopes from clients involved in a Court of Session case now linked to serious failures of the judiciary to declare conflicts of interest.

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed John Campbell QC (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers – sent emails to his clients demanding the cash be handed over “in any form except beads” to pay for legal services provided to his client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer – Donal Nolan.

Campbell QC then collected the cash stuffed envelopes from clients in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw.

The Branchal site became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Ltd – who later admitted in court they dumped highly contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

John Campbell QC emailed his demands for cash. “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet in Dalkeith on TUESDAY morning, when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team” … “Please let me know if it’s OK to meet at the Mulsanne Garage, which is at 137 High Street, and what time would suit you?”

The reference to the “legal team” within Campbell’s email confirms other legal figures who were part of the same team received payments from the cash collected directly by Campbell.

One member of that team is ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers. Murray has previously refused to answer any questions on his role, or disclose how much cash he received from John Campbell.

Another email from Campbell QC to his clients, seeking another £5K – reads: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John, but I need to collect £5000 from you, in any form (except beads!)”

However, the demands for cash payments by the QC are a direct breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates who forbid their members from demanding cash and bungs for legal services – even though the practice is well known to occur in both criminal and civil cases.

Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Further rules from the Code of Conduct state clearly that fees to QCs and Advocates acting as counsel can only be collected by solicitors, and then paid over to clerks and Faculty Services.

“Normally Counsel’s fees are negotiated between the clerk and the solicitor. All fees should be paid to Counsel’s clerk.”

Additional guidance designed to cover over any direct payments ‘collected’ by Advocates states: “If any fee happens to be paid direct to Counsel, Counsel must account for it forthwith to his or her clerk.”

However, an ongoing investigation into a series of invoices issued by the Faculty of Advocates has since revealed at least one of the invoices – which had no date – was sent to the client’s solicitor.

The move by the Faculty to issue an undated invoice is now subject to allegations this is an attempt to cover up the dates of a cash collections by John Campbell.

It can also be revealed some of the payments to Campbell in cheque form were made out to to Oracle – a firm founded and co-owned by John Campbell QC and John Carruthers.

Mr Campbell and solicitor advocate John Carruthers set up Oracle Chambers in the mid 2000’s in order to create – as they claimed at the time – “a more modern, commercially responsive organisation” than they felt was provided by Faculty Services Ltd, the service company of the Faculty of Advocates.

Former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who is backing his constituents in their quest to obtain justice, has now called for a full probe into the allegations against Campbell.

The Sunday Mail Investigation report on John Campbell QC:

 ‘We gave top QC £5000 cash in an envelope four times’ Couple claim law expert broke guidelines as MSP calls for probe

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 2 APR 2017

A couple claim one of Scotland’s leading QCs breached strict guidelines and asked for legal fees to be paid direct to him in cash.

Melanie Collins and partner Donal Nolan said they made the unusual payment after John Campbell told them he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Melanie said she and a friend met Campbell, who once represented Donald Trump’s Scottish business, in a restaurant in Dalkeith where she handed over the sum in banknotes.

She said she paid the QC – one of Scotland’s top planning law experts – three further sums of £5000 in cash at other meetings.

The method of payment is a breach of strict guidelines issued by the Faculty of Advocates – the ­professional body all advocates and QCs belong to.

The couple’s MSP last week called for a probe into the payments.

Campbell wrote in an email to Melanie on October 10, 2012: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John but I need to collect £5000 from you in any form.”

The man referred to is solicitor advocate John Carruthers, who assisted in the case.

Four days later, Melanie received another email from Campbell which said: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet at Dalkeith on Tuesday morning when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team.”

Melanie, 62, a former land developer, of Bonkle, Lanarkshire, said: “I and a friend met with Mr Campbell at a restaurant in Dalkeith where I gave him an envelope containing £5000.

“There were three other ­occasions when I paid him £5000 cash in envelopes.

“One was at the Dakota hotel in Lanarkshire, one was at my home in Bonkle and one was a site in Cambusnethan in Wishaw relating to the court case. Looking back it might seem odd – but I had never had any dealings with a QC before and just assumed this was the way they worked.

“I paid two further cheques, one to Mr Campbell and one to a law firm, of £5000 and £4000. The total was £29,000.”

The payments related to a civil case Donal initially planned against a construction firm in 2011. The case was heard at the Court of Session in 2013.

Melanie said: “We won the case but were awarded £20,000. Our total legal fees were in the hundreds of thousands.”

She reported the cash payments claims to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2014.

The SLCC said at the time: “The complaint has been considered carefully by the SLCC. It has been decided … will not be investigated as it has not been made within time limits, for the reasons set out in the attached determination.”

The couple’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “All these allegations have to be investigated.

“If there has been malpractice at any stage this has to be dealt with by the appropriate ­authorities. Donal and Melanie’s problem up until now is that they’ve not been listened to when they have made the complaints.”

The SLCC could not be contacted for comment.

The Faculty of Advocates’ guide to conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Their disciplinary tribunal can hand out fines of up to £15,000. A member can also be suspended or expelled from the faculty.

The Faculty of Advocates refused to comment last week.

Campbell, 67, said: “I have no comment to make.”

FEATURE:

John Campbell QC:

The case in which Campbell represented Mr Nolan is that of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd, a high value damages claim in the Court of Session.

A media investigation recently revealed Inner House judge Lord Malcolm (Colin Malcolm Campbell) sat on the case no less than eight times while his son held an interest and represented the defenders – Advance Construction Ltd.

There is no recorded recusal by Lord Malcolm in the case, even though he stood aside during 2012 after he ‘realised’ his son may have been a ‘potential witness’.

Court papers obtained by journalists have since revealed alarming inconsistencies in hearings which cast doubt on the conduct of legal figures in the case – spanning eight Court of Session judges – one (Lord Malcolm) a member of the privy Council, several Sheriffs, high profile QCs and Levy & Mcrae  – the Glasgow law firm now subject to multi million pound writs in connection with the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

At the time the case began, during late 2011, Advance Construction Ltd were represented by a judge – the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson, and the son of a judge – Ewen Campbell – who both worked for Levy & Mcrae.

It was only discovered well into hearings in the case that Ewen Campbell was the son of the judge Lord Malcolm, who sat on the case a total of eight times, and unprecedently returned to the case after stepping aside, to hand over £5K lodged by a third party for an appeal.

And, it can be revealed a recent key ruling in the Court of Session delivered by the same Lord Malcolm – scrapped a 30 year policy of regulating service & conduct complaints against members of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & post 2008 – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The 2016 ruling by Lord Malcolm, reported here: CSIH 71 XA16/15 – appeal against a decision of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently allowed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to scrap 700 complaints against lawyers, advocates and QCs, and shattering the hopes of clients poorly served by their legal representatives.

Among the complaints to be taken advantage of by Lord Malcolm’s ruling and subsequently closed by the SLCC was the complaint against John Campbell QC – which included evidence presented to investigators in relation to Campbell’s demands for cash payments.

The complaint against Campbell also included allegations and evidence in relation the QC’s conduct and service in the proof heard by Commercial judge Lord Woolman.

During the second last day of the proof, Lord Woolman stated the pursuer – Mr Nolan – had a claim as the he had lost the use of his gallop and grazing.

Campbell then acted on his own – and significantly altered Mr Nolan’s claim in the Court of Session – removing Mr Nolan’s £4m head of claim. Unusually, John Campbell also removed a claim for legal and professional expenses.

There is no trace of any legal instruction from Mr Nolan to undertake this course of action in court, nor was there any consultation with Mr Nolan’s solicitor – who would have to had provided Mr Nolan with legal advice in relation to any proposed alteration of the claim by John Campbell QC. Similarly there is no trail of any communications between Mr Nolan’s solicitor, the Edinburgh Agents and Mr Campbell.

When a complaint against John Campbell QC was lodged with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, enquiries established the legal regulator heavily relied on a letter from Craig Murray to exonerate the aging QC.

However, enquiries by journalists have established two versions of Craig Murray’s letter now exist. Both versions of the same letter were used by legal regulators to exonerate Mr Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates.

Refusals by Murray to clarify the two separate versions of his letter have raised questions and concerns over his status as a prosecutor working for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), amid claims he enjoys success prosecuting criminal trials in the High Court of Justiciary.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe has yet to act on the allegations involving Campbell and Murray.

James Wolffe is now caught in a conflict of interest situation given  his role in the matter of the Faculty of Advocate’s investigation of Campbell and their failure to act after evidence of the cash demands were presented during Wolffe’s time as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Investigations into the case are set to continue amid growing calls for a full probe of Mr Campbell’s activities, and demands for Lord Carloway to act to preserve public confidence in the judicial and legal system in relation to decisions taken by members of the judiciary and certain events which took place in the Court of Session.

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

 

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BRIBES’HEAD REVISITED: Second version of Advocate Depute’s letter to legal regulator ‘removed bribe offer’ in evidence considered by Faculty under ex-dean, now Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC

Craig Murray – undated letter removed reference to bribe. DOCUMENTS obtained by the media have revealed two legal regulators acted on significantly different versions of a letter bearing the name of an Advocate who also works as a Prosecutor for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Listed in the Legal 500 Advocate Craig Murray of Compass Chambers– states on his website he represents clients in civil claims. Murray also states he works as an ad hoc Advocate Depute, prosecuting criminal trials for the Crown Office in the High Court of Justiciary.

However, an ongoing media investigation has established Advocate Craig Murray is the author of a letter to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – a letter of which two distinct versions now exist and were considered separately by legal regulators.

The investigation focuses on Murray’s role as Junior Counsel in Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd, and the conduct of legal figures in the case – spanning eight Court of Session judges – one a member of the privy Council, several Sheriffs, high profile QCs and Levy & Mcrae  – the law firm identified in the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

The letter was sent by Mr Murray to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in relation to a complaint against senior QC, John Campbell – who claims to specialise in Planning law.

Crucially, however, a significantly altered version of the letter – still bearing the name of Advocate Craig Murray as the author – removes references to ‘offers of a bribe’ to elected councillors at a Scottish local authority, and detailed references to evidence in a high value civil damages claim in the Court of Session.

Enquiries have now established the version of Murray’s letter to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, on the subject of  found its way to the Faculty of Advocates via the law firm Clyde & Co (formerly, Simpson & Marwick) – who are known to represent members of the legal profession who are subject to complaints, allegations of dishonesty, corruption and negligence claims.

The complaint against John Campbell QC arises from his provision of legal services and representation to former National Hunt jockey & trainer Donal Nolan, who was the pursuer in – Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd – a case which is now likely to be heading to the UK Supreme Court for an appeal.

Questions have now arisen regarding extensive differences between the two versions of the letter, addressed to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Both versions of the same letter bear Craig Murray’s name as author.

Significantly, certain references to allegations of bribery involving employees of a construction company and elected councillors, have been altered in a second version of Mr Murray’s letter – which bears no date.

Advocate Craig Murray’s letter to SLCC (Text marked in pink shows extent of deletions in Faculty’s version). In a letter dated 22 July 2014 to the SLCC, Craig Murray writes: “The most accurate account of Councillor Taggart’s position will be in that statement. My recollection of Ms Moore’s summary is that a person, whose identity was unknown to Mr Taggart, telephoned him about this case and offered a bribe. There was nothing to identify that person or connect that person to the defenders.”

However, the second version of the letter, has the references to bribery removed from the end of the sentence.

The undated letter still bearing Craig Murray’s name and Advocates address, then reads: The most accurate account of Councillor Taggart’s position will be in that statement. My recollection of Ms Moore’s summary is that a person, whose identity was unknown to Mr Taggart, telephoned him about this case. There was nothing to connect that person to the defenders.”

Then, both versions of the letter from Craig Murray to the SLCC continue: “An allegation that the defenders had been involved in bribing an elected public official to commit perjury in court would have been extremely serious. There was no basis upon which an allegation of that sort could have been made by a responsible solicitor or advocate. There could also be no further investigation (particularly in the midst of the proof diet) as it was not known who made the telephone call.”

Councillor John Taggart – who is referred to by Murray, was interviewed late last week.

Councillor Taggart’s role in discovering the dumping of contaminated waste by Advance Construction Ltd, and his further efforts to assist Mr Nolan, and constituents affected by events, was crucial in bringing the case to court and into the public eye.

In discussions with a journalist, Councillor Taggart made clear in his own view, the evidence in relation to the offer of an inducement related to an event occurred at the opening of Calderbridge Primary School (former site of Coltness Primary School), and NOT in a telephone conversation as Mr Murray claimed in his letter to the SLCC.

Further, Councillor Taggart indicated the “person, whose identity was unknown to Mr Taggart” – according to Craig Murray’s statement, had in fact handed his business card to the Councillor during the school opening event.

The Councillor further alluded to the identity of the person as an employee of a main contractor for North Lanarkshire Council.

It has since been established both Advocate Craig Murray, and Fiona Moore of Drummond Miller were present with the Councillor when his precognition of evidence was taken.

Further enquiries by journalists have now revealed the person who allegedly offered the inducement is an employee of a major construction contractor on North Lanarkshire Council’s list of approved contractors.

When it became known the incident involving the inducement was to be used in evidence, the person who approached the councillor left Scotland for Ireland and did not return for a number of months – despite being cited as a witness to attend court to give evidence in the Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd case.

The record later shows – John Campbell QC – failed to call the witness even though the individual alleged to have offered the inducement to the councillor appears on the final witness list for the proof hearing before Lord Woolman in 2014..

If the evidence of bribery had emerged during lines of questioning at the Court of Session, the testimony may well have had a significant impact on the case, and most probably initiated a Police Scotland investigation into the companies involved, and North Lanarkshire Council.

However, Senior Counsel for Mr Nolan – John Campbell QC – chose not to introduce the conversation about the allegations of bribery in court.

Undated & altered version of Advocate Craig Murray’s letter to SLCC. The removal of references to a bribe, and swathes of material removed from the second, ‘undated’ version of Craig Murray’s letter to the SLCC – raises further questions over the written testimony offered by the Advocate & some time Prosecutor to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Curiously, the undated version of Murray’s letter then surfaces at the Faculty of Advocates – who chose to rely on this heavily altered version of Murray’s original letter – in relation to an investigation which ultimately dismissed the complaint against John Campbell QC.

In a letter dated 7 October 2015 from the Faculty of Advocates to Melanie Collins, Iain WF Fergusson QC confirmed the Faculty of Advocates preferred the lesser content of the undated letter to be used in the complaint against the QC.

Fergusson wrote: ”The earlier of your two e-mails refers to two versions of a letter by Mr Craig Murray, Advocate to the SLCC. The committee relied on the undated version of the letter as support for Mr John Campbell QC’s version of events. This has brought to light an administrative error – the version of the letter dated 22 July 2015 was not before the committee when it considered and determined your complaint”

In a letter of 2 May 2016 to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, law firm Clyde & Co – acting as legal agent for John Campbell QC against the complaint attempted to explain the discrepancy between the two versions of Craig Murray’s letter and how the undated version ended up at the Faculty of Advocates.

Anne Kentish, of Clyde & Co wrote: “We have reviewed our files and have ascertained the sequence of events surrounding the letter. When the complaint was originally made against Mr Campbell, we were provided with a copy of the undated version of the letter from Craig Murray to the SLCC. It was provided to us on the basis that it set out the background to the complaint and Mr Murray’s recollection of events.. We did not, at that time appreciate that the letter was in draft. It resembled a file copy letter.”

“When senior counsel for Mr Campbell, Alistair Duncan QC prepared the response to the complaint on behalf of Mr Campbell, he indicated that Mr Murray’s letter to the SLCC should be included in the appendix to the response. When we prepared the appendix, we used the version of the letter that we had within our files which was the undated version. We did not at that time appreciate that the final, dated version, existed.”

“Later that day, Mr Duncan forwarded to us some emails which happened to have the dated version of the letter attached. We understand that Mr Duncan had been provided with the final version of the letter by Mr Murray. Neither we nor Mr Duncan realised that we were working from slightly different versions of the same letter (one being a draft and one being a final version)”

“As soon as we realised a final dated version of the letter existed (the day after the response was submitted to the Faculty) we provided Faculty with the final dated version of the letter and asked it to replace the undated version.”

“Mr Murray has confirmed that the undated version is a draft version of the final version dated 22 July 2014.”

However, the lengthy and laboured explanation from Clyde & Co to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and the email from Iain Fergusson QC are completely at odds with a written explanation provided by Advocate Craig Murray to Mr Nolan’s partner, Ms Collins.

Seeking to explain the situation regarding his letter, an email dated 23 June 2015 from Craig Murray to Mr Nolan’s partner, Melanie Collins, stated the following: “I finished writing this letter on 22 July 2014. I signed it and sent it to the SLCC that day. Copies were also sent to you and to John Campbell QC. I did not submit one to the Faculty of Advocates, nor did any Office-bearer or member of Faculty staff see the letter before it was sent (or for that matter have I passed a copy to any Office-bearer or member of Faculty staff since). I do not know how the Faculty of Advocates came to have a copy of the letter. Could you possibly provide me with a copy of the letter or email from the Faculty of Advocates, enclosing my copy letter?”

“I note that you have provided two copies of the letter. One is dated 22 July 2014 and has page numbers and footnotes. That is the letter I submitted to the SLCC and copied to you. The letter you have labelled 5B has no date, no page numbers and no footnotes. This letter is not in a form which I saved on my computer or sent to anyone else. It appears to have the same content, font and (roughly) layout as the dated version, but I have not checked on a line-by-line basis.”

It is unusual for such material to be made public as papers submitted to the SLCC remain unreleased due to confidentiality rules.

However, the papers have been made available to journalists who are investigating the litigation process of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd – after the case was brought to the attention of MSPs at the Scottish Parliament.

And, given the author of the letter – Craig Murray also works as an ad hoc Advocate Depute prosecutor in Scotland’s courts, there are now concerns over the implications of a Prosecutor being identified in various versions of the same letter, one version of which contains alterations to witness testimony in relation to criminal acts, and references to evidence in what has now become a key case of judicial failures to recuse, and accusations of bias in the courts.

Late last week, the Crown Office was asked for comment on the matter and the impact on Murray’s role as a prosecutor.

Initially, the Crown Office refused to comment, and demanded any request for media reaction be put in the form of a Freedom of Information request.

Pressed on the matter, a spokesperson for the Crown Office then suggested: “..as Mr Murray is not a COPFS employee any request for formal comment in relation to his professional conduct as an Advocate should be submitted to Mr Murray himself, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates or the SLCC. Any allegations of criminal conduct should be raised with Police Service of Scotland.”

However, there are clearly public interest questions in relation to a prosecutor named as the author of a letter where one version, used by a law firm with direct connections to the judiciary – removed evidence in relation to criminal acts and bribery.

The Crown Office was then asked if the Lord Advocate intends to act to protect public confidence in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by ordering an investigation into the use of altered versions of Mr Murray’s letter to the SLCC, and act on the status of Mr Murray as an Advocate Depute.

No reply was received.

However, it has since been established, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates during the sequence of events which saw the Faculty investigation into John Campbell – is the current Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

As part of his current role as Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC now oversees cases Craig Murray prosecutes while acting as an ad hoc Advocate Depute.

Earlier this month, DOI revealed a judge took part in a case on no less than eight occasions, where his son acted as a solicitor for the defenders. No recusal was ever recorded in this case by the judge – Lord Malcolm, who’s son Ewen Campbell had acted for the defenders – Advance Construction Ltd. The article featured here: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders

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

Papers now under consideration by journalists for upcoming publication, are set to reveal allegations a legal team – of which Mr Murray was a member – received disbursements from a senior QC from funds the QC obtained after demanding and personally collecting substantial cash sums of thousands of pounds from clients.

The payments – outwith the normal procedure of paying advocate’s fees via a solicitor and to faculty services – are under investigation by journalists due to concerns in relation to irregularities and potential tax avoidance issues.

Craig Murray was contacted for his comments on material handed to the press.

Craig Murray was asked why there were significant differences between two versions of his letter to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, one dated, the other undated.

Craig Murray refused to comment.

Craig Murray was asked to confirm if his letter was altered by someone other than himself.

Craig Murray refused to comment

Craig Murray was asked if he was aware of Lord Malcolm’s true identity (Colin Malcolm Campbell) and his relationship to solicitor Ewen Campbell, one of the legal agents working for the defenders.

Craig Murray refused to comment.

Lastly, Craig Murray was asked to comment on both versions of the letter he sent to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. He was asked which one he wrote and if he was aware anyone altered the second undated version of his letter.

Craig Murray refused to give any comment.

A billing document from Craig Murray’s Compass Chambers to the client, reveals he was to be paid £800 +VAT per day for proof preparation and £1,250 + VAT per day for Court, which ran to 8 days. A bill was subsequently received from Mr Murray’s stables for around £39,000.

It has since been established, the SLCC relied on the dated version of Murray’s letter, while the Faculty of Advocates relied on the heavily altered undated version of Murray’s letter regarding their consideration of a complaint against John Campbell QC.

Papers obtained from case files and published in this investigation confirm the undated version of Craig Murray’s letter appears to have originated from the Edinburgh law firm – Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick).

The letter from Clyde & Co also confirms the undated version of Murray’s letter was sent to the Faculty of Advocates, on the instructions of Alistair Duncan QC.

Duncan was tasked with defending John Campbell QC in relation to the complaint being considered the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

However, Court papers record the same Alistair Duncan QC – who was now defending John Campbell QC, once appeared for the defenders against Mr Nolan – in the Nolan v Advance Construction case – on 9 November 2011.

Late yesterday, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was provided with the two versions of Craig Murray’s letter, and a copy of a letter from Clyde & Co, admitting their role in providing the second, undated version with alterations to the Faculty of Advocates.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked for a statement on the existence of the two versions of Craig Murray’s letter and what action the regulator intends to take.

The SLCC refused to comment.

However, the SLCC confirmed a meeting had taken place between their Chief Executive – Neil Stevenson – and former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP – who has provided powerful backing for his constituent – Donal Nolan.

A spokesperson for the SLCC said: “I can confirm that a meeting between our CEO and Alex Neil MSP took place.   The meeting was to discuss the SLCC’s process: what powers we have; actions we can take; and what we can’t do.”

The case has now been brought to the attention of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are probing judicial interests, failures of judges to recuse over conflicts of interest, and opposition of Scotland’s current Lord President – Lord Carloway – to calls for the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Had a comprehensive and publicly available register of judicial interests existed at the time of the Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd case, details of judicial links in the register could have prevented injustice in the Nolan case – and many others in the courts – from the very outset.

PROFILE: Craig Murray – Personal Injury specialist & Ad hoc Advocate Depute, of two letters:

Craig Murray – Year called: 2008

Qualifications: LLM in Commercial Law (Distinction),University of Edinburgh Member, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Faculty Scholar, Faculty of Advocates LLM in Human Rights Law, University of Strathclyde, Dip Forensic Medical Sciences, Society of Apothecaries, Dip Legal Practice, University of Edinburgh LLB (Hons), University of Edinburgh.

Craig has a busy defender personal injury practice in the Court of Session, representing insurers and local authorities. A substantial practice part of his practice is in defending fraudulent claims at all levels, in particular employers’ liability cases and road traffic claims.Craig also represents claimants in medical and dental negligence claims.

Craig has been instructed in a number of complex product liability cases, including pharmaceutical cases (Vioxx and Celebrex) and medical products (mesh surgical implants and PIP silicone implants).

Craig has substantial experience in property damage claims and other aspects of reparation.Craig occasionally acts in public law and human rights cases, including judicial review, mental health appeals and immigration.Craig has previously been a tutor on the Diploma in Regulatory Occupational Health & Safety at the University of Warwick and on the Civil Court Practice course at the University of Edinburgh.

Craig was appointed as an Advocate Depute ad hoc in July 2015. He is a member of the Children’s Panel for the Scottish Borders.

Among references to recent cases listed on Craig Murray’s profile is Nolan v. Advance Construction [2014] CSOH 4, a land contamination case in the Commercial Court, with senior counsel.

 

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LEGAL COSTS: Ask your solicitor ten questions about costs before your legal expenses run up thousands in unnecessary work & bills – or result in your lawyer taking your home & savings to pay for it

Questions to ask your solicitor – walk if you don’t like the replies. IN SCOTLAND, there are few, if any non lawyer controlled sources of advice to legal services consumers on how to manage client relationships with solicitors, how to control legal costs, and what to do when something goes wrong and your lawyer rips you off.

Client protection – is a myth. Given three decades of evidence that thousands of clients have been ripped off every year by their once trusted solicitors, the only people who believe a complaints system run by lawyers, managed by lawyers and protected by lawyers –  are fantasists, and the Law Society of Scotland.

There are no background record checks available on Scottish solicitors, and the only ‘help’ on offer to clients when their relationship with their solicitor breaks down – is provided by the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), a regulator backed by the Law Society of Scotland, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland. You get the picture.

However, in England & Wales, the landscape is a little more consumer friendly, with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing a more independent form of advice and help to consumers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also publish complaints and regulatory data on solicitors and law firms – a must have service for anyone considering using a solicitor which does not currently exist in Scotland.

As things currently stand in Scotland – if you are unable to check up on your solicitor’s regulatory history via an independent source, the best advice is to walk away – or what happens next is your own fault.

Self regulation by lawyers, pleas to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament for help will not put right your legal problems or what your solicitor did to you.

A handy guide published by the Legal Ombudsman, reprinted by DOI in this article, gives a list of ten questions consumers and clients of solicitors should ask their legal representatives before taking on representation and expensive legal services.

There are further tips in the full LeO leaflet, so please download it and read thoroughly before engaging legal representation.

This guide was written for the English legal services market, and you may be an English reader, so go right ahead and ask you solicitor these ten basic questions on costs.

However, the same questions apply as much in Scotland as anywhere else –  and anyone using a Scottish solicitor should consider asking these same questions.

If you don’t like the answers you receive, or don’t get any answers at all – then the best consumer advice possible is to protect yourself and walk away.

At the very least, you will have saved yourself hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for something involving a lawyer which may well have ended up going wrong anyway.

Why put yourselves through a five year heartache losing your savings to a lawyer, when ten little questions and answers may save you a whole lot of trouble.

The introduction to the leaflet from the Legal Ombudsman states: “If you use a lawyer, he or she should talk to you about the cost of their services. But you should also understand their charges. We have come up with ten questions to ask your lawyer about the cost of your service. We’ve also included some top tips and explained the terms used to help you get the most from conversations with lawyers about costs.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect your lawyer to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.

Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may affect things too. However, most services are straightforward and your lawyer should give you a clear idea of what you will be charged from the start. Even if things do get complicated, your lawyer should warn you when this happens, so there shouldn’t be any surprises in your final bill.

A lawyer who values good service will happily answer your cost-related questions. Lawyers also have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price.”

Question 1  Will I be charged for a consultation?

Finding the lawyer who is right for you and the service you need is important. A consultation by phone, face-to-face, letter or online can help you make your decision. A lawyer can charge you for a consultation but they should tell you before you book and explain any conditions. For example, they may offer the first 30 minutes free but charge for time above that.

A lawyer should speak to you about costs and provide the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.

If you have a consultation, make the most of the opportunity. Do your research to find the right lawyer – you can check online, talk to friends and family, or speak to consumer organisations to help you make your choice.

Question 2  “How do you cost your service?”

This question can help you shop around to get best value for money. Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service. Understanding why the quotes differ can help you make the right decision. For example, one lawyer may be more experienced or an expert in the area of law your case involves. If you have a complex case, you might think it’s better to pay more as it may improve the outcome and cost you less in the long run. With a fairly simple case you might decide you don’t need that level of expertise, so it may be better value to go with the cheaper estimate.

Experience and skill are just two reasons why costs may differ. There are now more ways than ever to provide a legal service which can have an impact on what you pay. For example, you can now buy services that are phone or web based rather than face-to-face. Providers who offer this type of service may save on rent and backroom costs and might therefore offer a cheaper price to customers. Understanding if this type of service works for you will help you decide if it is, or isn’t, value for money.

Estimates may vary for a whole host of reasons. Ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer so you can pick one that suits you.

Question 3 “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”

Lawyers have different ways of charging and their charging method may also vary according to the service. For example, they may offer a fixed fee for writing a will, but an hourly rate for a probate service (the administration of a will when someone has died). Find out what charging method the lawyer will use and ask them to explain it to you in detail. Questions 4 and 5 help with understanding fixed fee and hourly rate charges.

Conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) are also known as ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. If you lose, you won’t, in general, have to pay your lawyer’s fees, but may need to pay some out of pocket expenses such as barrister’s fees or court fees. You may also be liable to pay some of the other side’s costs but it is possible to get insurance to protect against this. If you win, you will have to pay your lawyer’s fees and in addition there is usually a success fee which is intended to cover the risk that the firm are entering into with this type of agreement. You should in most cases, however, be able to recover your fees (including any success fee) from the other side. If you are thinking about entering into one of these arrangements, make sure you ask detailed questions so that you fully understand the terms and conditions.

Contingency fee agreements are also a type of ‘no win no fee’ agreement. If your lawyer agrees to represent you under a contingency fee agreement — which should not be confused with a conditional fee arrangement – they will be able to claim a percentage of any money they win on your behalf plus expenses. If you lose the case, you won’t be charged a fee, but you might still have to pay other costs (which could include the other side’s legal costs too).

The contingency fee percentage must be agreed in advance. You should also check whether the lawyer will deduct any expenses before they take their contingency fee or after as this can make a significant difference to the amount you finally receive. If the percentage you are asked to pay is very high, you could end up with very little – even if you win.

Question 4 “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover?  Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways. It can be easy to assume that it covers all costs for the service you need. In some cases that may be true, but it may also just refer to the lawyer’s fees. For example, a ‘fixed fee’ in a property case may, or may not, include charges related to searches. Sometimes a lawyer may offer a ‘fixed fee’ for a stage of the case, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking your lawyer exactly what they mean by ‘fixed fee’. It’s not a silly question; the term isn’t self-explanatory.

Lawyers will sometimes give you an estimate of the costs. This isn’t the same as a ‘fixed fee’, so check what your lawyer means. This can be important as sometimes a lawyer may charge a fixed fee for a particular stage but give an estimate for the next stage. If that happens, or you aren’t sure, check what your lawyer means and ask for an estimate for the total cost of the case.

Question 5  “You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. This should compare reasonably with your final bill. If you aren’t sure, then ask your lawyer to give you an estimate for the whole service. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much it will all cost. Ask so you know how certain the estimate is. Having a range of costs might be more helpful than a single number, which could shift up or down. The important thing is to understand how much the total bill could be.

You are entitled to ask the lawyer to set a limit on the costs. This means your lawyer has to check that you are happy to continue if the spend approaches the agreed threshold. Setting a limit can help you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks – check if that’s how your lawyer works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the way they charge.

As with ‘fixed fees’, ask if there are any other costs that won’t be covered in the hourly rate.

Question 6 “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”

There may be circumstances where costs do change. This is most likely if new information or developments make a case more difficult. For example, in a divorce case much is dependent on the other person’s cooperation to resolve it quickly. Even if both people intend to behave amicably, sometimes that resolve breaks down. If your costs look like they are changing, ask your lawyer about it. In general, your lawyer should tell you as soon as they are aware of any changes, but you don’t have to wait to ask for an explanation. Another option is to ask, when you choose your lawyer, if their original estimate is likely to be breached. If you have agreed a spending limit (see question 5), then your lawyer should stop work until you confirm that you want to continue.

If a case gets complicated even a ‘fixed fee’ arrangement can change. Your lawyer should explain when this might happen and also set out the terms and conditions in your client care letter. Make sure you understand and ask if there is a ‘get out’ clause to say if additional costs can be charged.

Remember, you always have options, even in the middle of a legal transaction. If there is a big hike in the costs of using a lawyer, then your lawyer should tell you about them and let you know what your options are. You could use a different specialist who might cost less but take longer, or only use email to contact your lawyer. There might also be some stages in the process that can be missed out. Ask your lawyer how you can work with them to reduce costs.

Question 7 Are there any extra costs?

This really is a catch-all question to help you budget for your service. You are basically asking your lawyer if they have given you all the information they reasonably can to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises in the future. Examples of the sort of information this question might raise are additional costs for things like expert reports (such as from a doctor), or photocopying. Some firms use premium rate phone numbers, which could add unexpected costs to the final amount you spend for your service. Use these examples as a prompt to discuss this issue. Your lawyer should also tell you if you are likely to incur any bank charges. For example, you might need to make a CHAPs payment (same day electronic transfer) which can cost over £20 in a property transaction.

Finally, don’t forget to check if your estimate is inclusive of VAT. Your lawyer should tell you, but check so that you don’t get a higher bill than you’re expecting.

Question 8 “Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?”

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs. There can be some fine-print with different insurance options that you need to understand, so ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are signing up to. Some insurances, like ‘after the event’ or ‘before the event’ insurance, could cover you for some things but not for others. Ask your lawyer for more information.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs. There are different programmes for different types of help but the best known is legal aid, which provides free legal advice from lawyers who are registered with the service. Even if your lawyer isn’t registered to provide legal aid they should tell you about it so you have the option of going to a lawyer who can.

Question 9 “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. You may be asked to pay some money at the start either to cover certain expenses or as an advance payment of fees. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate. Asking the question might help you find a lawyer whose service fits your personal circumstances.

Question 10 “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works. You should not be charged by a lawyer for looking at your complaint – it is very poor service if they do. When you appoint a lawyer they are also obliged to let you know about the Legal Ombudsman who can help you to resolve your complaint if you and your lawyer can’t reach an agreement.

Note – if you disagree with legal bills in Scotland, cases have revealed solicitors often employ threats and legal action for demands to be met within seven days. In some cases solicitors have applied to sequestrate their clients for disagreements on legal bills, and willing, compliant local sheriff courts staffed by familiar clerks and members of the judiciary often grant such orders with little regard for the facts or any representations from clients who question the integrity of legal fees.

SCOTLAND – Consumer protection against rogue solicitors and law firms does not exist.

How bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is  very bad. The Law Society of Scotland is a lobby group for the legal profession which puts lawyers interests first, before clients, the public, or anyone else. Do not expect client protection from a system where lawyers regulate themselves.

Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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NAME & SHAME: Scots consumers denied records checks on lawyers – as Solicitors Regulation Authority propose detailed public register of lawyers in England & Wales

UK Solicitors regulator plans to publish more data on lawyers. A PROPOSAL to publish more detailed information about law firms and solicitors in a public register has been launched by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the body charged with investigating solicitors in England & Wales.

The move to advance consumer protection south of the border by the English legal regulator could help consumers make more informed choices on the use of legal services, and result in a more competitive legal sector with higher standards of service and client care.

However, this is in stark contrast to Scotland, where DOI recently reported on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) who refuse to publish any useable information to Scots consumers which could help clients steer clear from corrupt lawyers and law firms.

The report, available here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings revealed SLCC determination decisions are heavily redacted and only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, leaving Scots consumers at a considerable disadvantage to consumers in England & Wales.

However, and with the advantage of not being held back in the middle ages by the Law Society of Scotland, the England based Solicitors Regulation Authority has launched a discussion paper, “Regulatory data and consumer choice in legal services” exploring what information the SRA could publish through a public register.

The proposed public register already allows consumers to check up on lawyers via the SRA’s Check your solicitor’s record service reported earlier here:  INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England.

The SRA suggests that consumers could benefit from information such as a solicitor’s qualifications or practice restrictions, and complaints data and insurance claims. The SRA also considers what information law firms might want to publish voluntarily, such as quality marks and service prices.

The proposals echo recent calls by the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA), in its interim report on its market study, as well as from the Legal Services Consumers Panel (LSCP), to improve the level of information available for consumers. The SRA agrees that a lack of clear, targeted information means it is difficult for consumers to compare providers and make informed choices. This is dampening competition in the sector.

Better information could help tackle the problem that the legal needs of individuals and small businesses are not being met.

Only one in ten people use a solicitor when they have a legal problem. And legal problems are estimated to cause small businesses almost £10 billion of losses a year, yet 83 percent of the population see legal services as unaffordable.

Greater transparency would also bring legal services more in line with other sectors, such as financial services and energy, where regulators are already making sure consumer-focused information, such as complaints data, is available.

The SRA recognises that there needs to be careful consideration of the implications of publishing more information. Risks to consider include increased burdens on firms and a one-size-fits-all approach working well for some and not others. For example, the needs of corporate clients will be different to those of an individual consumer.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Most people and small businesses are still not accessing legal services. When they do, they are not shopping around. It is unsurprising when the information out there is so limited.

“We want to help consumers, so they are not left making blind choices. Information such as enforcement action, complaints and claims data are exactly the type of things I would want to know when choosing a solicitor.

“We know that the public look to the regulators to provide credible, authoritative, objective information.

“If we get this right, we could help create a more competitive market, where consumers can make better choices and forward-thinking firms thrive. It will also help small businesses access the legal services that could help them succeed and grow.

“Yet we need to think carefully about what we publish and how. More information will not benefit consumers if they find it confusing, hard to access, or it is unhelpful. We have also made good progress on getting rid of unnecessary burdens on firms. We will not ask firms to do more in this area, unless there is a clear benefit.

“This is just the start of a discussion, so we are keen to hear what everyone thinks.”

The SRA has already taken steps to improve the information available to consumers by publishing its law firm search in April. And it already publishes details of enforcement action. Publishing useful data in one place would not only help consumers directly, but indirectly as data re-publishers could use it to develop comparison tools that could help make the market more competitive.

The SRA plans to consult on proposals in this area next year. Its discussion paper can be found at: www.sra.org.uk/choice. Closing date for submissions to the consultation is 26 January 2017 submissions.

SRA law firm search can be found here: www.sra.org.uk/consumers/using-solicitor/law-firm-search/about-search.page

The CMA’s interim report looking at ways to improve competition in legal services by increasing information for consumers is available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-seeks-views-on-ways-to-help-legal-services-customers.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel’s research, “Opening up data in legal services (PDF 36 pages, 625K)

SCOTLAND: Legal Services Consumers held back by Law Society of Scotland & self regulation.

Away from the fantastical claims of the Law Society of Scotland, the oh-so-easy free pr and spin of how the Law Society protects access to justice while offering client protection, the fact is, consumers of legal services in Scotland have no chance whatsoever of selecting a legal representative based on their regulatory history – because the Law Society of Scotland refuse to publish any detailed regulation histories of their members.

Just how bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is very bad. Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

A BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” exposed further weaknesses in the Law Society of Scotland’s system of control freakery self regulation. The BBC programme lifted the lid once more on lawyers investigating their own, how dishonesty plays out at the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, and legal aid fraud.

A recent DOI investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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DISHONESTY RULES: Rogue solicitors guilty of fraud, embezzlement and theft from wills receive soft censures from pro-lawyer Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and courts

Consumers are not protected by lawyers regulating lawyers. SCOTLAND’S legal profession and anyone connected to it – including the judiciary –  often praise the system of self regulation where lawyers look after their own – to the point of taking over and closing any public debate on creating independent regulation of solicitors.

And, of course lawyers will continue to regulate themselves in Scotland – because self regulation is too protected by vested legal interests, because it allows a solicitor to rip off their client, to be judged by his colleagues and to walk away from it, no matter what was done to the client.

Time and again, lawyers look after their own, investigate themselves, appear in front of their friends at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), and, at most, receive a censure, or slap on the wrist from the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the SLCC refuses to identify corrupt lawyers within determination decisions which are only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, featured here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

The SLCC print lists of doctored histories of complaints against lawyers, and then refuse to identify the solicitors who ripped off their clients – how corrupt is that!

Compare this to England & Wales, where decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to identified law firms and names of solicitors can easily be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Striking’s off rarely occur, only as a last resort for the members of Scotland’s legal profession must protect their own.

The slick SSDT website invites you, the public – to have confidence in the ways lawyers look after their own.

Yet in decision after decision, the extent of dishonesty during proceedings renders much of what is published in Tribunal ‘interlocutors’ as clever forgeries of the acts of wilful, determined and well practiced thieves – far more determined than will ever be told in public.

The noticeable lack of action by the SSDT to report solicitors to the Police & Crown Office for prosecution, does, as the years go by, verify the position that the SSDT seeks to protect solicitors from the full weight of criminal law – which applies to everyone else.

However, on that rare occasion where solicitors do appear in court, you just know they are not going to jail.

In a prime example of the above, earlier this week Scotland was meant to weep like a child after the Law Society sought to publicise the fact Paul O’Donnell – a solicitor from the law firm of Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge – had sold his house to repay more than £21,000 he pled guilty to embezzling from the Edinburgh law firm Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge .

O’Donnell, 35, had previously been warned he was facing jail for the embezzlement but the judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe – allowed him to remain free as he had repaid the £21,485 he had obtained dishonestly.

In court –  O’Donnell’s defence lawyer –  Murray Robertson told Sheriff Crowe that his client had sold his house, moved in with relatives, and the money had been repaid to Thorley Stephenson.

Sheriff Crowe was also told O’Donnell had been sequestrated, was declared bankrupt and is no longer practising as a solicitor.

In response, Sheriff Crowe told O’Donnell that cases of this nature usually involved a sentence of imprisonment but, as  O’Donnell had co-operated and admitted his guilt, arranged the sale of his house and returned the money to Thorley Stephenson, Sheriff Crowe avoided sending O’Donnell to jail and instead confined him to his current address from 9pm to 6am for six months.

You may be forgiven for thinking how amazing a lawyer who stole, avoided jail.

However, in the rare occurrences when solicitors do come before our courts, jail is always a last resort for the judge – who are themselves, lawyers.

So, with facts in hand that our courts take a shine to lawyers with tears in their eyes, it should be of little surprise the latest rulings by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal offer mere censures and fines for executry and will fraud, theft and embezzlement – which are crimes to ordinary people in the real world.

Law Society-v-Euan Maxwell Terras

This case involved a solicitor in his writing and executing a Will in which his family were the Primary Beneficiaries. An amazing story, yet only punishment is a fine.

Read the ‘published’ details of the hearing here Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Euan Maxwell Terras

Edinburgh 29 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Euan Maxwell Terras, Sprang Terras, 64 Kyle Street, Ayr; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his acting in the purchase of a property with the ancillary execution of a Minute of Agreement and the drafting of a Will where his son was the residuary beneficiary and found that in doing so (1) he acted in an actual conflict of interest situation in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement where he had a personal and/or financial interest in both; (2) he did not insist that Miss MM consult other solicitors either in the purchase of the property or the execution of the Minute of Agreement when both were actual conflicts of interests; (3) he could not discharge his professional obligations to solely look after the interests of Miss MM both in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement given the actual conflict of interest in both between him and Miss MM; (4) he called into question his personal integrity/independence in taking instructions and/or drafting the second Will which benefitted members of his family and in terms of which they would derive significant benefit; and (5) his advice, given the terms of the draft second Will, was not free from external influence and placed him in a conflict of interest; Censure the Respondent; Fine the Respondent the sum of £8,000 to be forfeit to Her Majesty; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal.

Law Society-v-Philip Simon Hogg

Philip Hogg was one of a two-partner Kirkintilloch firm – Alder Hogg. His co-partner was his twin sister Alison Hazel Margaret Greer. The case relates to massive overcharging of clients. – usually defined as fraud if not involving a solicitor.

The following is for one client: The Interlocutor final amount is that for £129K of legal work they charged £219K for £90K more than they should have. So, for this one client, in relation to Mr A’s executry, it is accepted that £90K was overcharged, however the Tribunal does not explain why a staggering £129K of executry fees was deemed acceptable.

Read the full ‘published’ version of events in this shocking case here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Philip Simon Hogg

Edinburgh 25 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 22 April 2016 as substituted by the Complaint dated 25 August 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Philip Simon Hogg, residing at 9 Crossdykes, Kirkintilloch, as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure in his obligation to see that the firm in which he was a partner complied with the accounts rules, his failure in his duty to supervise the firm’s office manager and cashier, his failure in his duty to take steps to satisfy himself that fees being charged to executries were properly so charged, his failure to see that at all times the sums at credit of the client account exceeded the sums due to the clients and his continuing to draw from the firm while it was being financed by the overcharges to clients; Suspend the Respondent from practice for a period of five years and Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the suspension shall take effect on the date on which these findings are intimated to the Respondent;

Law Society-v-Jane Elizabeth Steer

Elizabeth Steer worked for a Falkirk firm RMS Law. She previously worked for Russell & Aitken and now works for Allan McDougall & Co.

Ms Steer was accused of falsifying an Affidavit.

Affidavits MUST adhere to the following: 1. both parties must be physically present at the signing i.e. the solicitor (notary public) and their client 2.it must be signed at the locus specified in the Affidavit

The affidavit complied with neither of these tests, instead Ms Steer sent it to her client in England to sign and return.

Problems with the affidavit only came to light when the client gave evidence stating that she had not been in Scotland for a while – but when at Avizandum the Sheriff realised that the Affidavit was signed in Scotland at a time when the client swore she was in England.

To make matter worse, Miss Steer also tried to mislead the Law Society during the Investigation. Read the full published Interlocutor here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Jane Elizabeth Steer

Edinburgh 16 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 31 May 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Jane Elizabeth Steer, Messrs Allan McDougall, 3 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of her failure to act with trust and personal integrity in connection with the preparation of an affidavit which she purported to notarise on 29 October 2012, submission to the court for lodging an affidavit which contained false or misleading information on 5 November 2012 and subsequent failure on 29 June 2014 to provide a full and candid explanation to the Law Society in connection with the preparation of the affidavit and its sending to the Secondary Complainer; Censure the Respondent;

And remember, readers – wherever there is dishonesty, there is a Scottish solicitor, and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

THE DISHONESTY FACTOR:

An investigation by BBC Panorama –  Lawyers Behaving Badly – featured the case of John O’Donnell, and went on to reveal the startling differences in how dishonesty in the Scottish legal profession is treated lightly compared to England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Featured in the investigation was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s – who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn’t complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn’t stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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