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The Crooked & The Crooked : Scottish solicitors claim banks & financial services ‘are historically too crooked’ to own Scots law firms

slasBanks are too crooked to own law firms, FSA is rubbish at regulation, say Scottish Law Agents Society. BIZARRE CLAIMS that High Street Banks and other ‘Financial Service Providers’ are TOO CROOKED to hold majority ownership in equally crooked Scottish law firms have emerged today in a response from the Scottish Law Agents Society to a Scottish Government consultation on proposed changes to the ownership of law firms as laid down in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, passed last year by the Scottish Parliament only after a raft of changes & amendments had been ordered by the Law Society to water down the Scottish Government’s initial proposals to expand Scotland’s closed shop legal industry.

The Scottish Government consultation on which categories of regulated professionals other than solicitors should qualify to meet the 51% ownership requirement in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 has caused fierce bickering within the Scottish legal profession over their decades old control of Scotland notorious closed shop solicitor dominated legal profession where members of the public who require access to justice or the courts are forced to go solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Today, amid the fears of lawyers the financial industry will come into Scotland’s legal profession and scoop up law firms, or even open their own and bring much needed competition into the legal services marketplace where solicitors have got used to charging sky high fees for doing very little work on behalf of their clients, the Scottish Law Agents Society issued a series of damning accusations against the financial services sector, essentially claiming financial services providers are historically too corrupt to own a majority stake in a Scottish law firm.

In a response to the Scottish Government consultation, the Scottish Law Agents Society claimed : “The financial services industry over the last 30 years does not inspire confidence in the professional standards in the industry. There have been widespread scandals with the mis-selling of endowment policies, personal pension plans, home income plans, precipice bonds and other structured investment products. Currently there is a further scandal with the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.”

The same is true of the legal profession in Scotland. Solicitors have spent decades mis-selling legal services to clients who end up paying extortionate fees for useless and often unsuccessful litigation.

The response from SLAS continued : “The key to each of these scandals is the selling of the products. Notwithstanding the veneer of professionalism the old adage that financial products are sold and not bought remains true. The whole culture of financial services remains one of sales rather than the provision of professional services where the professional puts the interests of the client ahead of his own interests. The regulatory scheme which has applied since the Financial Services Act 1986 has done little to curb this culture.”

While it is true regulation may well have done little to curb bad practice in the financial services sector, it is equally true regulation in the legal services sector, provided in Scotland by the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal & last but not least, the Faculty of Advocates, has collectively done little or nothing to curb the incessant corruption, client rip offs, negligence, dishonesty and bad service which continues to plague Scotland’s legal services sector today.

The statement from SLAS also attacked the Financial Services Authority, claiming : “The present regulator of financial services is the FSA and, despite its wide ranging powers, the provisions of the Legal Services (S) Act 2010 with tests of fit to own and fit to manage are not sufficiently robust to allow us to have confidence that the public would be protected from a sales culture approach which could lead to the mis-selling of legal services.”

It should be noted the response from the Scottish Law Agents Society fail to contain any references to many Scots law firms who are themselves caught up in similar scandals of mis-selling of mortgages & financial products and even legal services to clients who are then forced to lodge complaints with the Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Unsurprisingly the Law Society & SLCC are reported to be ignoring such complaints.

While SLAS went onto cover themselves by stating : “It would degrade significantly the intended benefits of the Act and indeed the rationale for liberalising the provision of legal services if regulated professions were restricted only to those of Solicitor and Accountant”. Although it would require approved regulators to evolve and enforce robust “fitness for involvement” tests, it would be inconsistent with the purpose of the Act to deny the opportunity to participate in the provision of legal services to other regulated professionals.” the response indicated they would be happy to form “associations between solicitors and surveyors or indeed any regulated profession as defined in Article 3 of European Directive 2005/36 with one exception“, that exception being the Financial Services Industry.

I am not surprised solicitors are happy to form associations with the likes of surveyors.

Law firms forming associations with surveyors is something I’ve seen first hand in Edinburgh and particularly in the Scottish Borders, usually ending up in a very corrupt arrangement where surveyors dish out fraudulent valuations to house buyers or sellers or solicitors on behalf of executry estates of deceased clients, resulting in one particular case I remember where a single solicitor ended up owning twelve properties, some purchased through middle men after it took years to sell particular properties of deceased clients which ended up being sold in some cases for a quarter of their value during the property value boom between 2000 – 2008.

The response from the Scottish Law Agents Society also came down hard on will writers & confirmation agents, stating : “Will Writers and Confirmation Agents are not professionals. At present they require no proper education and training. The qualifications needed to do that work properly requires the same training that solicitors receive. A full training in and understanding of the law on all aspects of property law, succession, taxation etc, are required to offer proper advice. It is obvious that no one should offer services in Will writing and Confirmation without current practising solicitors trained in that area.”

SLAS continued : “Furthermore we note that there are no adequate mechanisms for consumer complaints to be made and investigated free of cost to the consumer and no evidence of adequate professional standards or disciplinary procedures. There is evidence of widespread consumer detriment in the quality of services provided and in the marketing practices of will writers.”

Clearly standards must be kept, but with the ever increasing amount of fraud by solicitors against executries & wills in Scotland, reaching into the tens of millions of pounds each year or by some estimates much more, I hardly think trusting regulation of the legal services market to the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and the remains of the current self-regulation of solicitors gang, including the SLCC, will do anything to improve regulation, increase public confidence or increase consumer protection in Scotland’s best-to-be-avoided legal services marketplace, even after terms of the much-watered-down Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 takes hold.

The Scottish Government were asked to comment on the SLAS response and their accusations against the Financial sector. A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 will modernise the Scottish legal profession, and will offer firms of every size the flexibility to adopt a business model that works for them and their clients. It will give Scottish firms greater opportunities, within a robust regulatory system, to expand and compete effectively, both within and outwith Scotland.”

“The consultation in question sought views on those who should be permitted to own a majority or controlling share in the new licensed legal services providers. All responses will be analysed and considered along with other evidence before a decision is taken. A report on the consultation will be prepared in due course, and will be available on the Scottish Government website.”

We are therefore left to ask ourselves as consumers of legal services, are banks & financial services providers too crooked to own outright a law firm, or is it just these law firms are themselves too crooked to want anyone else to own them or compete in their markets ?

Judge for yourselves on the evidence aplenty already reported on Diary of Injustice, although you may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion neither of the professions can really be trusted with our financial or our legal & justice needs.

 

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‘Choice’ but not as we know it : Legal Services Bill passed, Scots access to justice remains mostly under Law Society’s control

Debating chamberScottish Parliament passed Legal Services Bill, doing no particular favours for consumers. THE Legal Services Bill was finally passed by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament late yesterday afternoon after what can only be described as a round of ‘buy one amendment get one free’ set of deals between the Scottish Government & Law Society of Scotland ensuring consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s legal services marketplace will for the most part, remain out of reach of Scots consumers.

The Law Society are happy as are most of the big law firms in Scotland who supported the bill, happy their fiefdom of the Scottish legal services market has been preserved once again, and ‘meddling outsiders’ kept out of Scotland’s multi billion pound racket legal business. As for the Consumer bodies, well, most of them are just having to put a brave face on things and say they ‘welcome’ the bill which we all know is a mere shadow of England’s soon to come into force Clementi proposals and the Which? supercomplaint which began the whole Legal Services Bill process in Scotland.

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunity Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, said the bill would deliver benefits to lawyers & clients, after being forced by the Law Society to amend access to justice plans. The Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing commenting on the passage of the bill through the Scottish Parliament said: “The passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill today is good news for our businesses and consumers. At the heart of this Bill is a desire to modernise the profession. It presents greater opportunities, in a regulated framework, for firms of all sizes to be more competitive and to devise a business model which suits them and their clients.”

He ended by saying : “The Bill will deliver clear benefits for the legal profession and consumers.”

The Law Society’s media release reflected the profession’s welcome relief their cash registers will still be ringing up huge charges & fees to clients for some of the western world’s worst quality legal services. The Law Society were quick to gloat their amendments, forced on the weak SNP minority controlled Scottish Executive “meant the ‘Tesco law’ option, which would have allowed 100% of non-solicitor ownership of a law firm, was ruled out for Scotland.”

The Law Society release went onto triumphantly announce : “The legislation will for the first time allow non-solicitors to set up in partnership with solicitors to provide legal services in Scotland. The Bill, as passed, will mean solicitors and other regulated professionals must still have a majority share of at least 51% in any new legal services business, with the remaining 49% open to other external investors.”

jamie_millarJamie Millar, president of the Law Society whose own law firm Lindsays is linked to a dishonest firm of Borders solicitors, said: “I am pleased that MSPs have voted to approve this legislation. These changes will broaden access to legal services and allow the Scottish legal profession to remain competitive against a challenging economic backdrop and in an increasingly international, competitive market. At the same time, the Bill continues to protect the principles and core values that underpin the Scottish legal profession.”

He continued : “There has been much debate, both within and outwith the legal profession, on this Bill and its provisions to allow solicitors to enter into practice with non-solicitors. However, it is now important to move forward and ensure these changes work in practice within the strongest possible regulatory framework. The Society intends to work with government to enhance the provision of legal services and access to justice for people in Scotland.”

One client who has been involved in a bitter 5 year battle with the Law Society and has faced problems in securing legal representation after several law firms dumped him over a case involving a complaint regarding his original solicitor’s embezzlement of over £60,000 from the sale of land scoffed at Mr Millar’s statement.

He said “What principles and core values of the legal profession is Mr Millar talking about ? I know of one solicitor who is a cocaine user, another who is a convicted paedophile, another who was charged with raping & assaulting his own wife, and another who has defrauded over 15 clients of several million pounds yet each of these crooks are still practising law in Scotland.”

He continued : “Mr Millar and his colleagues are talking a lot of rubbish when they talk about values of the legal profession and access to justice. There are no values and there is no access to justice. People should wake up to realise their solicitors and those in charge of regulating them are not be as clean as they claim to be.”

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s Director, Marieke Dwarshuis commented in a statement on the Legal Services Bill vote, saying : “We are delighted that Parliament has voted in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice. We have long argued that these changes are in the interest of consumers and are pleased that today’s vote will pave the way for the development of a legal services market which better meets the needs of the public.”

Ms Dwarshuis continued : “We recognise that there are many who remain sceptical about the benefits the Bill will bring about, but are confident that in time, most will come to accept that the legislation will be effective for both users of legal services and the legal profession.”

Which logoWhich? also ‘welcomed’ the Legal Services Bill. A spokesperson for Which?, whose supercomplaint began the Legal Services Bill’s peculiarly Scottish journey, in comparison to the much easier and stronger pro-consumer friendly Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales, said : “We are delighted to welcome the Bill which will improve legal services for the public in Scotland.”

Doubtless however, some at Which? must be feeling a touch put out over the way the Law Society of Scotland so easily butchered their proposals for free market competition in legal services, as what was passed yesterday in the Scottish Parliament clearly puts Scots consumers on a less choice, less protected, lower standard of service footing than consumers in England & Wales.

The Office of Fair Trading, who issued a report calling for changes to Scotland’s closed shop legal services market has issued no press release or comment.

I could easily write something along the lines of … I find it hard to believe the Law Society were able to amend the bill, bully the Scottish Government to introduce amendments, call in msps for ‘personal briefings’, suggesting they follow the profession’s line to “avoid trouble further down the line”, ensure consumers or anyone with an actual experience of how legal services are provided were not allowed to testify in public to the Justice Committee … but there wouldn’t be much point, as what some might find hard to believe, happened, and I covered it as the Legal Services Bill progressed through Holyrood, here : Legal Services Bill – How Scotland’s legal profession avoided giving consumers wider access to justice

In my opinion, the whole debate on the Legal Services Bill can be summed up in one short television appearance between Mike Dailly & former Law Society President Ian Smart. It really was nothing more than a battle for market share and power between factions of the legal profession … nothing really to do with consumers at all. You can watch the video of Ian Smart & Mike Dailly slogging it out on live television here : Law Society President Ian Smart v Govan Centre’s Mike Dailly on Legal Services Bill reforms. There would have also been a good video clip of Fergus Ewing caving into solicitors during a Law Society meeting, however the Law Society pulled the clip from their own website for reasons unknown – or perhaps so the public couldn’t see how easy it is for the legal profession to influence an elected politician.

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

I’d be happy if someone could prove me wrong – quote me an example if you can .. however the odds are stacked against consumer rights taking precedence over the legal profession in Scotland and every single piece of legislation, order or amendment passed by the Scottish Parliament concerning legal services or regulation of our country’s legal system since the Scottish Parliament came into existence in 1997 leaves the consumer interest far behind that of the legal profession – even the Legal profession & Legal aid Scotland Act 2007, passed in a similar blaze of glory, gory & Law Society sponsored resistance at Holyrood, which as we all now know has ended up a brutalised, watered down, now almost useless piece of legislation in terms of consumer protection from Scotland’s historically poor quality legal services market.

If anything can be learned from the way the Scottish Parliament handled the Legal Services Bill I’d say its this – collectively, msps in the Scottish Parliament cannot be trusted to pass a piece of legislation involving the legal system which puts the rights of ordinary members of the public over & above the interests of the legal profession. Its as simple as that. There is no other conclusion someone outside the Scots legal system’s bubble can reach on the available evidence.

It is with some irony that on the same day England & Wales placed the consumers interests first, moving to fully independent regulation of their legal services market, Scotland took a backward step which will see the Law Society of Scotland ultimately appointed by the current SNP controlled Scottish Executive as an “approved regulator” to wipe the floor with consumer complaints against legal services once again.

On this note, consumers in Scotland who actually value what they have left in their lives, what they have worked for, what they own, what assets they have, might wish to consider using legal services in England if at all possible because at least consumers might have better protection from independent regulation in the form of the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, which at least so far, appears to be a world of difference from any Scottish solution born from the Law Society of Scotland’s grip over Scots legal reform …

 

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Scottish Parliament urged by Consumer bodies ‘to put public interest first’ in Legal Services Bill vote & reject Law Society ‘anti-consumer-choice’ amendments

Debating chamberHolyrood will debate & vote on the Legal Services Bill on Wednesday 6th October 2010. CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS in Scotland & across the UK have today urged the Scottish Parliament’s MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Legal Services Bill, and to reject amendments mostly demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & the legal profession’s current roll of vested interests that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market, the aims of which are to expand Scots consumers access to justice & quality legal services as is being implemented in England & Wales through equivalent UK legislation.

As I reported earlier today, the Legal Services Bill originates from proposals originally put forward by UK consumer organisation Which? and the Office of Fair Trading’s subsequent recommendations to break open the monopolistic Scottish legal services market which has long been dominated by solicitors & advocates. The Law Society of Scotland has continually demanded changes to the legislation which would hand control of the legal services market back to the Society as an ‘approved regulator’, which I reported on earlier, HERE

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland urges MSPs to pass the Legal Services Bill and reject amendments from ‘vested interests’. Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3, Marieke Dwarshuis, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: “Throughout the Parliament’s consideration of this Bill, the arguments in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice have often been overshadowed by the interests of the legal profession.

Mr Dwarshuis continued : “We are confident that the alternative business structures the Bill will permit legal firms to pursue will support the development of a more open, innovative and competitive legal services market in Scotland, which better meets the needs of those using legal services. The Bill will also increase access to justice, by allowing advice agencies to employ solicitors directly, and will protect consumers who use currently unregulated will writing services.

Mr Dwarshuis concluded urging MSPs to pass the bill, saying : “For these reasons we are urging MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Bill, and to reject amendments that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market.”

Which logoWhich? began the road to legal services reform in Scotland with their supercomplaint to the OFT over Law Society monopoly of the Scots closed shop legal services market. Consumer group Which? who were responsible for the supercomplaint to the Office of Fair Trading which began the long process to overhaul competition in the Scottish legal services marketplace also issued a plea to the Scottish Parliament ahead of its vote tomorrow, its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, commenting : “Since the launch of our supercomplaint in May 2007, Which? has campaigned for the opening up of legal services to provide more competition and better services for the public in Scotland. Too often the debate has been dominated by the interests of the legal profession when it should have been about the best interests of the public.

Mr Vicary-Smith urged MSPS to put the interests of the public first, saying : “The Legal Services Bill debate tomorrow must be about the public deserving and receiving the best and most effective provision of legal services for the future. That cannot happen without the legal profession being allowed to modernise. ‘We urge MSPs to put the interest of the public first and vote through the Legal Services Bill.”

Consumer Focus Scotland also issued a statement on their view regarding ‘approved regulators’ which are to be appointed by the Scottish Government to regulate current & new entrants to the expanded legal services market if the bill becomes law.

The unwelcome prospect of the Law Society of Scotland being made an ‘approved regulator’, has caused many (including myself) to suspect having the Law Society again regulate complaints involving legal services will bring the same infamous historical problems regarding regulation & consumer protection against poor legal services in Scotland as Scots consumers have always had to bear when attempting to gain a fair hearing of complaints against the legal profession.

A spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland gave its view on approved regulators :

“The key principle that must underpin the bill is that users of legal services must have the same level of protection whatever legal services provider they use. We believe it is crucial that all regulators of legal services apply high standards of regulation. For example, we are pleased that a policy of proactive regulation is to be adopted for licensed legal services providers. It is in the interests of consumers that regular checks are undertaken to ensure licensed providers are acting in a way which is compatible with the regulatory objectives, rather than waiting until a consumer has been adversely affected before taking action. We believe the principle of proactive regulation should also be applied to regulation of traditional forms of practice to ensure consumers can be confident of the consistency of approach to the regulation of legal services, whatever type of provider they access.”

“As regards any specific potential regulators, we did not support the inclusion of section 7(4)(a)(i) of the Bill, which allows authorisation to act as a regulator of licensed legal services providers to be awarded without limit of time. We believe it is necessary to have in place a robust procedure to review the authorisation of a regulator of licensed legal services, including reviewing how their regulatory scheme adheres to and applies the regulatory objectives and obligations.”

“We were disappointed that the Bill does not contain provision for establishing an advisory panel to advise Ministers on applications for authorisation to act as an approved regulator and to keep the regulatory framework under review. We stated in our response to the ‘Wider Choice and Better Protection’ consultation that establishing an advisory panel was a necessary safeguard, given the potential for a regulatory body to have the dual or multiple responsibilities for regulating a licensed legal services provider, regulating individual professionals and promoting the interests of the public and the profession. Such a panel could also play an important role in monitoring the regulator body’s performance against the regulatory objectives. We suggested that as with the Consumer Panel in England and Wales, this panel should be made up entirely of non-lawyers and should include representation of the consumer interest.”

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports listed below or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

Readers can view my report of the Law Society of Scotland’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament, here : Little mention of consumer protection for Scots as Law Society give evidence to Holyrood on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of the OFT & Which? testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : OFT & Which? call for independent regulation of lawyers as Justice Committee hears evidence on Legal Services Bill

Earlier coverage of the Faculty of Advocates, Society of Solicitor Advocates & Professor Alan Paterson’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Holyrood’s Justice Committee hears of doubts & criticisms from Law Professor & Faculty of Advocates on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of Consumer Focus Scotland & the UNITE union’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Legal Services Bill : Consumer Focus & UNITE union differ over access to justice proposals as ‘Tesco Law’ comes under the Holyrood microscope

You can read my full coverage of the progress of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far and decide for yourselves how much the Scottish Government’s proposals for improving access to justice will really improve YOUR access to justice.

Consumers will benefit to a degree if the Legal Services Bill is passed and will benefit a whole lot more if many of the amendments demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & vested interests are rejected …. indeed .. MSPs should put the public interest first during tomorrow’s vote on the Legal Services Bill.

 

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Christmas for Crooked Lawyers : Law Society of Scotland say ‘make us approved regulator’ and we will continue to protect dishonest solicitors who rip-off clients

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991Expect more of these as Law Society of Scotland’s campaign to be sole regulator of legal services in Scotland begins. CHRISTMAS FOR CROOKED SCOTS LAWYERS is apparently just around the corner as the Law Society of Scotland today step up their ‘public offensive’ in the media to ensure the Scottish Government appoints the infamously anti-client lawyers-regulating-lawyers body as one of, or perhaps the sole ‘approved regulator’ of all legal related services in Scotland, after the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill clears the Scottish Parliament. The move, if allowed to happen could, according to consumer sources ensure dark decades ahead for ever growing numbers of Scots consumers who end up being ripped off by their poorly regulated solicitors.

The Legal Services Bill proposes a system of licensed legal service providers, overseen by regulators approved and licensed by the Scottish Government, an idea which came about from the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation euphemistically titled : Wider choice and better protection: A consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland. This consultation came in response to a ‘supercomplaint’ filed by consumer organisation Which? to the Office of Fair Trading in 2007, alleging lack of competition in Scotland’s solicitor only dominated legal services market.

Applications for the position of “approved regulator” do not appear at this late stage of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the bill to include any bodies other than the Law Society of Scotland, which would spell double disaster for consumer protection and the now forlorn hopes of the Office of Fair Trading to inject a degree of consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s monopolistic legal services market, currently under the control of Law Society member law firms.

The Scottish Government’s consultation did mention the OFT’s ‘concerns’ over the Law Society continuing to maintain its regulatory role, stating : “The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), amongst others, has expressed concerns about the regulatory and representative roles of the Society. Its view is that, in the interests of consumer protection, there should be a clear separation of the regulatory function from the responsibilities for representing and promoting the interests of the profession. It is argued that, for a profession that places emphasis on the avoidance of conflicts of interest (of even the appearance of such), undertaking both roles creates such a conflict.”

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government decided against independent regulation of legal services market, preferring to hand it over to Law Society. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have, however, brushed these concerns aside, and legal insiders close to the Justice Committee and the Scottish Government have indicated there is a will “to simply hand the matter over to the Law Society and let them get on with it”. Scots consumers should be in no doubt at all the Legal Services Bill in its current form, tweaked & twittered by the Law Society beyond all recognition from the aims of the OFT & the Which? “supercomplaint”, will definitely not bring wider choice or any “better protection” from Scotland’s traditionally poorly regulated, poor quality & extortionately expensive legal services market.

Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland are now promoting their regulation skills & Guarantee Fund to gain approved status for expanded legal services market. Undaunted by facts, history, and copious media coverage over the years of crooked lawyers ‘getting away with it’, the Law Society of Scotland are pressing ahead with their campaign to be confirmed by the Scottish Government as the approved regulator, touting their current regulatory regime as “rigorous”, and almost laughably describing the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund as “one of the jewels in the crown of their system to protect those who have lost money because of dishonest solicitors”.

In reality, the Law Society’s deceptively titled Guarantee Fund does not live up to its title, preferring to throw out, stall, or kill off most claims made against dishonest solicitors. I reported more on the actual workings of the Guarantee Fund in March 2009, here : Law Society’s ‘Guarantee Fund’ for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption. During my reporting on the Guarantee Fund last March, so many emails & cases came in regarding clients difficulties with the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society’s supposed ‘jewel in the crown’, I issued an ADVISORY for clients to protect their funds from the lack of protection offered by the Guarantee Fund itself.

While the Guarantee Fund does all it can to avoid paying out compensation for clients money taken by dishonest solicitors, the fund also operates a policy of shifting the goal posts on whether claims qualify for its own Guarantee Fund requirements, or should be sent to the equally disingenuous “Master Policy”, the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, linked by an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School to suicides of clients who had attempted to claim damages against ‘crooked lawyers’.

One client who attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund for an amount of over £118,000 which had been embezzled by his solicitor, found his claim shifted back & forth between the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy over six times, and has still not received any compensation for the money his solicitor stole from him, after over six years from making the original claim. Does that sound like “consumer protection” ? I think not …

It will also come as no surprise to readers virtually all claims against the Master Policy are also delayed, shifted between it & the Guarantee Fund, or more likely closed down by the Law Society and its insurers, Royal Sun Alliance & Marsh.

SLCC report headerReport into Master Policy revealed Law Society concealed information on client suicides. The University of Manchester’s REPORT into the Master Policy found that claimants “described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants.”

The Manchester University report concluded, “Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms.”

Asked why the Scottish Parliament’s current Justice Committee, chaired by the Conservative’s Bill Aitken MSP, had pointedly REFUSED to call members of the public who had actual experience of making claims to the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, a source close to the Committee said “What do you expect ? The Committee simply don’t want to hear it, and the Law Society doesn’t want such testimony from aggrieved consumers entering into the Legal Services Bill equation which might raise the same kinds of questions & problems that arose in the LPLA Bill.”

Clearly the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are not one bit interested in the actual experiences of those who have attempted to claim compensation against either the Guarantee Fund or the Master Policy, as a vote taken by the Justice Committee and the Scottish Parliament will, just as the Law Society hoped, force anyone in Scotland making a claim against a dishonest lawyer to go through the Guarantee Fund’s abhorrent procedures, as I reported earlier in June, here : Legal Services Bill vote by MSPs will force all victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ to use Law Society’s corrupt ‘claims dodging’ Guarantee Fund

The Scottish Government have also chose the ‘appease the aggressor’ approach, caving into the Law Society on several key consumer protection planks of the Legal Services Bill, which now appears to be little more than a self congratulatory belated birthday present for the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland’s current President, Jamie Millar said in a Press Release : “The Society has sought to ensure that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill sets out robust regulatory objectives to make sure that those providing legal services are regulated according to a strict code of conduct and professional principles to ensure that the public interest remains at the heart of legal services provision in Scotland.”

Nonsense. The Law Society’s regulation of legal services in Scotland to this date has always proved the public interest and certainly the client’s best interests remain the last issue to be considered when dealing with regulation.

An official from one of Scotland’s law reform campaign groups said this morning : “Bringing in the Law Society of Scotland as an approved regulator or perhaps, if the Law Society has its way, the only approved regulator will do nothing to enhance consumer protection against rogue elements of the legal services market should the bill become law and we will be still taking about crooked lawyers and poor regulation by the Law Society ten years from now. It will be like Christmas for crooked lawyers.”

Christmas for Crooked Lawyers indeed .. if the Law Society of Scotland remain regulator of legal services ….

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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Holyrood’s Justice Committee votes against majority non-lawyer ownership of law firms, saves investors from funding Scots legal world’s organised crime gangs

Justice CommitteeScottish Parliament’s Justice Committee voted against non-lawyer ownership of law firms. INVESTORS can breathe a sigh of relief at the result of a vote at the latest Justice Committee hearing of the Scottish Government’s beleaguered Legal Services Bill, where last Tuesday, MSPs voted through an amendment written by the Law Society Scottish Government to restrict non-lawyer ownership of Scottish law firms to 49%, throwing out the Scottish Government’s initial proposals that non-lawyers could end up owning 100% of law firms if the ‘alternative business structures’ as originally proposed in the Legal Services Bill had become law.

The problem with the original proposal, allowing non-lawyers to invest or even totally own a Scots law firm raised the question who would actually want to buy in to any Scottish law firm with the kind of poor regulatory & client treatment record which is so typical of providers of legal services in Scotland’s currently solicitor only dominated legal services market ?

Who for instance, would want to invest in a law firm with over thirty partners which is currently facing 21 separate complaints investigations (5 of those involving embezzlement of client funds), 20 negligence claims, 9 claims against the Guarantee Fund & 2 criminal investigations ?

Luckily for the law firm in the above typical example, and noting many others have similarly poor complaints records, they wouldn’t have to disclose such information to potential investors and of course, the Law Society of Scotland would never volunteer such detailed information which may slightly discourage any investors with an ounce of common sense from touching a Scottish law firm with a barge pole …

This is certainly one vote on the Legal Services Bill which may well end up saving outside investors a lot of money, as most Scots law firms are seen as poorly performing & untrustworthy, holding among the worst rates of client complaints & consumer dissatisfaction in the modern world, where it has become more the norm than the exception for clients to be ripped off after engaging the services of even the most famous law firms in Scotland’s legal services marketplace today.

The Justice Committee’s latest stage two debate on the Legal Services Bill, during which several amendments were debated as well as the non-lawyer ownership issue (Amendment 317), can be read in full here : Legal Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2

robert_brownRobert Brown MSP (LibDem) voted in favour of restricting outside control of Scots law firms. Robert Brown, speaking in favour of Amendment 317, put forward by the Law Society to restrict outside ownership of law firms said : “Amendment 317 is designed to ensure that there is a majority holding in the hands of solicitors or other regulated professionals. It is the compromise position that was debated and supported by the Law Society of Scotland. I hope that it has the merit both of being reasonable and, as the convener indicated, of being common ground on which the profession can regroup, to some extent.”

Mr Brown continued : “I do not pretend that it is the perfect solution—there are issues with all the potential solutions—but it provides further protection against outside control, which is, rightly, of concern to many solicitors. Last week we debated issues relating to the rights of minority investors. It is certainly the case that influence is as relevant as control. Nevertheless, amendment 317 would put a brake on the extent to which law firms can be taken over by outside interests. The committee should apply that brake.”

I for one am certainly in agreement with Mr Brown on this issue. Unsuspecting members of the public & potential investors must be protected from pumping their money into some law firms whose business models border (or even surpass) that of organised crime. Perhaps an amendment should be raised prohibiting law firms from accepting any outside capital investment, thus saving a lot of people from a severely dodgy investment in very dodgy law firms …

Fergus EwingFergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety argued in favour of external ownership of law firms. The Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, once again apparently standing in for the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who has all but disappeared from the Legal Services Bill debate put forward the Scottish Government’s view, claiming the Legal Services Bill would usher in effective regulation : “I emphasise that the bill contains a particularly Scottish solution. It is important that we have a robust regulatory regime. I can recall having been involved in debating no more robust regulatory regime as a member of the Parliament for the past decade. That regime will also be obtained at virtually no expense to the taxpayer. That contrasts with the position down south, where the Legal Services Board’s implementation costs to 31 December 2009 were £4.58 million and its budget for running costs in its first full year, which began in April 2010, is £4.74 million. Similar costs here would not be as high as that, but would be comparable.”

Mr Ewing, you must be kidding. Regulation without expense to the taxpayer ? Even the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received a whopping £2million from the taxpayer, effectively a public gift to the legal profession which your Ministerial colleagues now refuse to talk about or demand returned to help protect public services now on the verge of being slashed due to the UK’s budget deficit.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are anti-client when regulating complaints against lawyers. Robust regulation of the legal profession in Scotland is simply not possible, as all reforms to regulation to the present date have been compromised by the Law Society and so willingly voted through by politicians in the Scottish Parliament. The new broom of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has become little more than the anti-client front organisation for the Law Society of Scotland and rogue lawyers the Law Society always wanted it to be, leaving the reforms of the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007 firmly in the rubbish bin. The same is already happening with the Scottish Government’s plans for a ‘robust regulatory regime’ for the Legal Services Bill which has been steadily re-written by the legal profession itself.

Without much surprise, the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the Justice Committee’s vote to retain Law Society member majority ownership of law firms, thus ensuring the society’s continued influence & control over consumers choice of legal services in Scotland.

Jamie Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “A number of key amendments were debated today and I am very pleased that the committee has agreed that there should be a majority ownership of new legal services providers by solicitors and other regulated professionals. It’s clear that MSPs on the committee have listened carefully to the issues and concerns raised by the profession and others, particularly those about external ownership, and what has been agreed today is very much in accordance with the Society’s own policy on ABS ownership.”

Lord Hamilton judicialThe Lord President Lord Hamilton is once again ‘a buffer’ between the Government & legal profession to maintain lawyers independence (from independent accountability). Mr Millar also said that the Society was pleased that the role Lord President of the Court of Session was to be enhanced and that his consent would be required in the appointment of approved regulators. He echoed the comments of Robert Brown MSP who said the role of the Lord President was an important ‘constitutional buffer’ (in other words, a well practiced drain-blocker, immovable by any means in existence) between the government and the legal profession and necessary to preserve the independence of the profession.

With the dreaded inclusion of the Lord President in all of this, at the behest of the Law Society of course, lets hope the Lord President doesn’t take 40 years to come to a decision (as he did with McKenzie Friends) on whether approved regulators (the Law Society of Scotland being the only ones applying) are functioning properly or not – and since the Law Society hasn’t managed to regulate the legal profession properly in the past 60 years, we doubtless can expect a continuance of the Law Society of Scotland’s style of crooked self-regulation when or if the Legal Services Bill manages to pass into law.

So, obviously the Law Society is pleased with it’s re-write of the Legal Services Bill after all that fuss & pantomime between so-called ‘factions’ of the Scots legal profession wanting to break away if they didn’t get their way … and then getting themselves elected to the Law Society’s ruling council after things went their way ….

My advice to consumers ?

The Legal Services Bill as it is being re-written by the Law Society of Scotland, will not benefit consumers of legal services in Scotland one bit, so much that now, some of the consumer organisations which are responsible for the Legal Services Bill’s very existence, now choose not to issue comment on its progress nor have those same consumer organisations chose to campaign against any of the Law Society sponsored re-writes of the Legal Services Bill, which was initially claimed would bring free choice of legal services to consumers in Scotland.

Clearly, for honest, dependable legal services, consumers are going to have to look elsewhere, as the Scottish legal profession under the regulation of the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC couldn’t be trusted with an exploded oil well, which I’m sure they would argue was nothing to do with them as similarly appears to be the case in each of the 5000 complaints & grievances filed or expressed by clients against solicitors & advocates each year in Scotland.

My advice to investors looking at putting their money into Scottish law firms ?

Take your investments elsewhere ! There are billions more opportunities and safer havens around the world for your money than investing in Scots law firms with poor regulator records who would much rather dance the tune of the Law Society of Scotland than give you a good, stable, dependable return on your investment. You would be well advised to avoid investing in what many corporate & private clients of Scots law firms, through their own bitter experiences of using solicitors in Scotland dub ‘the organised crime of the Scottish legal services market’.

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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‘Anti-consumer theatre’ goes on as lawyers narrowly vote through Law Society support for ‘Tesco Law’ Legal Services Bill proposals

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland saw close vote. The Law Society of Scotland has managed to survive to fight another day (for now) after 2,245 of its solicitor members voted to support the Society’s ‘current policy’ of supporting the Scottish Government’s Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which aims to bring wider consumer access to justice in Scotland by introducing non-lawyers into the legal services market, while also allowing the current crop of law firms to seek outside capital & investors for their businesses.

Ian SmartLaw Society President Ian Smart. Ian Smart, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said in a Press Release : “The narrowness of the result clearly illustrates just how the issue has brought out widely divergent views across the profession. While there have been a few heated remarks on the wider fringes of the debate, I believe that the vast majority of solicitors still wish to try and find a united way forward. These results will therefore inform the ongoing policy debate which will also continue both in private and reconvened special general meeting later this month.

He continued : “There are, I believe, already areas of consensus on some models of ABS but more work still requires to be done to find an overall solution to what is, undoubtedly, one of the most important issues faced by the Society in my more than 30 years of professional life. Trying to find an agreement will continue to be the number one priority of all of us within the leadership of the Society.”

This is how the vote actually turned out on the referendum on Alternative Business Structures :

Question 1 : “Do you support in principle the introduction of Alternative Business Structures (“ABSs”) to Scotland as long as there are appropriate safeguards to protect the core values of the legal profession and there is an equivalence of regulation between ABSs and traditional firms ?”

In response to the first referendum question 2,245 solicitors voted in favour of the introduction of alternative business structures, as long as there are appropriate safeguards, while 2,221 voted against.

Scottish GovernmentVote by lawyers is seen as attempt to gain more concessions against consumer choice of legal services from Scottish Government. While the Law Society narrowly secured the vote, it did so on the basis there will be more concessions from the Scottish Government on the Legal Services Bill, more concessions which will effectively translate into a watering down of the proposals not only on the ‘safeguards over who owns law firms’ issue, which according to one senior Government insider “is really a bit of a smoke screen by solicitors who actually want the issue of non-lawyer entrants into the Scottish legal services market scaled back”, thus restricting wider consumer choice before it is even enabled.

Question 2 : “In the event that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill enabling ABSs to operate as Licensed Providers is passed into law, should the Law Society of Scotland apply to be a Regulator of such Licensed Providers?

On the second question, according to the Law Society, a decisive 81% of votes were in favour of the Society applying to be a regulator of ABSs if they are introduced.

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991Allowing Law Society to continue regulating legal services would leave clients facing ‘same old crooked regulator of same old crooked lawyers’. Unsurprisingly, while the vote on the first question of safeguards over non-lawyers owning legal firms was narrow, the second vote on ensuring the Law Society of Scotland will be ‘apply’ to be the Scottish Government’s ‘approved regulator’ of new non-lawyer entrants into the legal services market passed by a significant margin, leaving the prospect for Scottish consumers the Law Society of Scotland, that failed, notoriously corrupt self regulator of solicitors who have whitewashed tens of thousands of complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’ over the years, will again be the first stop for any poor client who finds themselves in difficulty at the hands of one of the new style non-lawyer legal firms to emerge if the Legal Services Bill passes the Scottish Parliament.

If only consumers & clients could have a referendum, without any interference from the legal profession itself, what would we say about the situation of having to use the same anti-client Law Society of Scotland to investigate complaints against non-lawyer legal firms ?

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations condemned the whole affair as “nothing more than a piece of anti consumer theatre staged by the legal profession to blackmail the Scottish Government into watering down the plans for wider consumer access to justice”.

While some solicitors leading the fight against the Law Society’s ‘public’ stance over the Legal Services Bill have claimed the vote was ‘nobbled’, the problems for the Society are not over yet as the Special General Meeting, originally called for by the Scottish Law Agents Society, adjourned mid-vote at its first hearing at Murrayfield, is now to go ahead once more on 16 April 2010 at 10am at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh. Consumers obviously not invited …

To some spectators, the squabble between factions of the legal profession over the Legal Services Bill may seem as an internal affair, however the passage of the bill will, or at least, should, usher in greater choice of legal services for Scotland’s consumers, who have long been held hostage by the solicitors who dominate Scotland’s closed shop legal services market, forcing anyone who requires access to justice to use a Law Society member solicitor, as there has been no alternative to that arrangement to-date.

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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Solicitors war against Legal Services Bill reforms reveals campaigning Glasgow lawyer holds position on Financial Services ‘consumer’ panel

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland members ‘in state of civil war’ over access to justice reforms. As the debate heats up over the Scottish Government’s plans for legal services reform, the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly, who is seen by many solicitors as ‘leading the fight’ by some law firms to persuade the Law Society of Scotland to block the passage of the Scottish Government’s Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which aims to promote & widen consumer access to justice & legal services,  also holds a position on a ‘consumer lobby quango’ known as the Financial Services Consumer Panel, which ‘advises & challenges’ the Financial Services Authority on policy matters, to ensure the FSA takes into account the consumer interest.

Mike Dailly FSCP pageThe Financial Services Consumer Panel profile page for Mr Dailly lists the following details : “Mike is Principal Solicitor and Director of Govan Law Centre, Glasgow, one of the largest community based law centres in the UK. He is a Member of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s Poverty Advisory Group, Legal Advisor to the UK Sustainable Home Ownership Partnership, and a Member of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland’s Advisory Panel. He has over 15 years post-qualified experience as a practising civil court solicitor in Scotland with experience in using the law to protect consumers’ rights and tackle social disadvantage. Mike has European and international law experience, and has several academic publications to his credit. He also acted, from 2005-2008, as the solicitor to the UK unfair bank charges campaign.”

“Mike joined the Panel to bring to it a fresh consumer law perspective. He wants to ensure that the existing regulatory frameworks works as well as possible, while identifying areas of legal or operational practice that could be improved or strengthened for UK consumers. Mike sees membership of the Consumer Panel as providing an exciting opportunity to support the regulatory work of the FSA by constructing careful and persuasive legal arguments. He is particularly interested in preventative and self-help solutions, and a rights-based approach to ensure that consumers get a fair deal when it comes to money matters.”

The Financial Services Consumer Panel were asked for comment on whether they felt Mr Dailly’s stance against the pro-consumer reforms of the Legal Services Bill, was a potential conflict of interest in terms of the aims of the FSCP.

A spokeswoman for the Financial Services Consumer Panel said : “Mike sits on the Panel as an individual consumer advising the FSA on the regulation of financial services. Like all members of the Panel he has specific expertise – in this case being a lawyer – and he also has personal opinions. We are aware of his stance in relation to the Scottish Legal Services Bill and see no conflict of interest.”

While the Financial Services Consumer Panel apparently support Mr Dailly’s stance against the Scottish Government’s plans to widen public access to justice & legal services in Scotland, through the Legal Services Bill, known to some as ‘Tesco Law’, the aims of the lobby group and its members seem to be at odds with other quarters of the UK consumer lobby, where, for example, the highly influential Which? consumer group, and Consumer Focus Scotland have expressed full support for the Legal Services Bill, which itself came about after Which? launched a “supercomplaint” to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on the state of Scotland’s closed shop legal services market, chiefly dominated by solicitors & the Law Society of Scotland.

Upon investigation of the Which? “supercomplaint”, the OFT concluded there were failings in Scottish consumers being able to access legal services at their own choice, going onto recommend the Scottish Government address the issue without delay. The OFT’s response to the Which? super complaint can be viewed here : OFT response to super-complaint.

The Scottish Consumer Council, now renamed Consumer Focus Scotland, issued its response to the OFT’s consideration of the Which? super complaint, broadly supporting the moves to open up Scotland’s legal services market. The SCC’s reply to the OFT can be viewed HERE and you can read more about all this in an earlier article, here : Holyrood’s Justice Committee offers ‘cautious support’ for Legal Services Bill reforms, as lawyers fight to hold back Scots wider access to justice

One might be left wondering why a lawyer who sits on a consumer lobby panel which didn’t say too much about the much similar Legal Services Act 2007 coming into force in England & Wales, now thinks we Scots should not have the same wide choice & access to legal services as our English cousins will soon enjoy, since the Legal Services Act 2007 has already come into force south of the border.

Mr Dailly, keen to ensure the Law Society of Scotland will drop its support for the Legal Services Bill, has set up a weblog called “Justice for Scotland” to organise his campaign for a “NO NO” vote to the planned Law Society referendum on the Legal Services Bill, to be held on 16 April 2010 at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh, a referendum which was originally called by the Scottish Law Agents Society, and which no consumers are invited to watch take place. The hostility by some quarters of the legal profession against the Legal Services Bill, has apparently caught the Scottish Government off guard, resulting in yet another defence of the planned legal services reforming legislation by Fergus Ewing.

Click to view Mike Dailly & Ian Smart debate solicitors best interests in a consumer world :

Some of the arguments being presented by the legal profession against the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill range from Ministerial interference in the Law Society’s Council appointments, to the possibility that crooks may end up owning legal firms.

Well, since we already have reached & passed the stage where crooks & criminals own and work in law firms (The Law Society’s own Chief Accountant Leslie Cumming found that out to his cost in 2006), that only leaves the Ministerial interference excuse, which was swiftly dealt with by an even swifter climb-down from Fergus Ewing on that very issue as I reported in an earlier article here : Scottish Government back down on lay appointments to Law Society Council as lawyers interests threaten to break pro-consumer legal services bill

If Scotland were to get the same entitlements as consumers in England & Wales, we as consumers could end up being able to buy cheaper legal services from non-lawyer owned companies such as Banks, supermarkets or financial specialists, instead of having to use the same old law firms who invariably end up making a mess of their client’s cases while ensuring they charge huge fee demands for negligent, poor, or even non existent legal work, with many of these same Scottish law firms generating up to 5000 consumer complaints a year, many left unresolved, or even whitewashed by the Law Society of Scotland.

If the current legal services market in Scotland can only offer lack of choice, poor quality yet expensive legal services, wholesale regulatory failure, and little respect of the fee paying client, why should we as consumers be forced to use it ?

Its time for change. I would encourage all consumers to support the Legal Services Bill by contacting your MSP at the Scottish Parliament, expressing your opinions on whether you feel Scots should be given wider access to justice & wider choice of legal services as surely everyone is entitled.

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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