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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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SPEAK UP IN PRIVATE, M’LUD: Terse exchanges between Scotland’s top cop & judge on Police corruption claims saw Chief Constable slapped down amid accusations of interfering with the role of the judiciary

Top cop cannot interfere with judiciary – Sheriff AN EXCHANGE of letters between the Chief Constable of Police Scotland and a Sheriff Principal relating to comments made by a Sheriff of ‘endemic’ Police corruption during a criminal trial of a Police Officer – reveal Scotland’s top cop said the Sheriff should have raised his concerns in private instead of airing such matters in open court.

The case, reported earlier last month by the media HERE saw the Chief Constable accused of trying to interfere with the role of Sheriffs after the top cop expressed his anger at a sheriff who suggested a cover-up culture might exist within his force.

In a letter to Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart – Sheriff Dickson’s boss, Sir Stephen House wrote: “I was extremely disappointed that, in the context of this case, Sheriff Dickson was quoted publicly inferring that there is a perceived widespread culture of corruption and cover-ups, to protect fellow officers, within Police Scotland. I vehemently reject any assertion that this case is somehow the tip of an iceberg which needs to be “stamped out” to prevent a “corrupt force” Public confidence and satisfaction in Police Scotland remains high, and unsubstantiated comments from an influential member of the judiciary are extremely damaging .”

The Chief Constable then went on to suggest it would have been better for Sheriff Dickson to raise his concerns in secret, rather than in court.

Sir Stephen House told Sheriff Principal Lockhart: “If Sheriff Dickson had concerns based on specific cases and evidence, I would have expected him to raise these with, either directly or via yourself, in confidence, rather than read about these via sensationalised media reporting.”

Clearly, aggrieved at the situation, the Chief Constable then sent a flurry of press cuttings to Sheriff Principal Lockhart, along with an offer to meet to discuss the situation.

Responding to the criticisms, Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart told the Chief Constable members of the judiciary are entitled to make comment on cases before them, and the offer to meet was refused.

Full text of letters between top cop & sheriff released by Judicial Office. Sheriff Principal Lockhart told Chief Constable House: “Assuming that the press reports are accurate, in my view Sheriff Dickson was entitled to draw from the facts before him that this cover-up may not have been a one-off incident. The off-duty detective who saw McKiliion, apparently under the influence, driving away from a supermarket, deliberately chose not to state his name or job when she called the incident in, as she thought it would not be dealt with appropriately. She was clearly right to do so, in this case. The lead investigating officer recognised McKiliion, chose not to breathalyse him, and radioed his control room to say there was no-one at the house. He then said to his younger colleague “You don’t want to grass on another cop or you will have no future in the police.” His colleague felt intimidated.”

“Taken together, this is ample evidence to support the Sheriffs remarks. He expressed concern that this might not be a one-off instance. He said “there may be (emphasis mine) a perceived culture that police officers are willing to prevent the arrest and prosecution of a colleague.” He said that if such a culture exists, it required to be stamped out. In my view his remarks were neither ‘sweeping’ nor ‘unsubstantiated’. They were carefully phrased expressions of concern, justified by the evidence in the case before him.”

“Moreover, Sheriff Dickson was commenting in his capacity as a judge on evidence led before him, in a case likely to raise considerable public concern. This he was entitled to right, and a duty, to state them, in order that public confidence in the judicial system is not further damaged. To suggest otherwise fails to recognise the role of the judiciary. The integrity of the police force is not merely a matter of concern to senior police officers but to us all.”

“For these reasons, as Sheriff Principal I do not propose to take any action in this case. However, I think it is important that the Lord President is aware of this exchange of correspondence and I am accordingly forwarding a copy to him.”

Whether the Lord President at the time – Lord Brian Gill – took any further action on the matter, is unknown.

However, during his time as Lord President, Lord Gill was prone to issue guidance and edicts if matters concerning the judiciary boiled over into the media – therefore it would be surprising if Scotland’s top judge at the time gave no input on this affair.

Ironically, the Police Officer who was the subject of the heated exchange had his conviction quashed last week on appeal.

David Carmichael was originally sentenced to seven months in prison for wilful neglect of duty after a court heard claims he deliberately lied to protect a fellow officer from being investigated for allegations of drink driving.

Former Strathclyde police constable Carmichael had been freed on interim liberation pending an appeal against his conviction and the jail sentence imposed on him.

Sheriff Dickson prepared a report for judges at the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh posing the question whether on the facts found in the case was he entitled to convict.

Lord Drummond Young, sitting with Lady Clark of Calton and Sheriff Principal Ian Abercrombie QC, ruled that the answer was in the negative.

The senior judge said they would give reasons in writing for the decision later.

Carmichael’s counsel, Gordon Jackson QC, said: “This appellant was convicted of a common law offence of neglect of his duty as a police officer.”

Mr Jackson said the alleged failure fell into three parts – failure to make full and proper inquiry, failure to follow a procedure requiring a person to reveal who was driver of a car and a false report.

The senior counsel said: “That would be a matter of police discipline but would not be neglect of his duty.”

While the events are now well documented, Justice Diary has published the correspondence between the Chief Constable & the Judiciary in full which was released by the Judicial Office in response to Freedom of Information Requests – given the content of the communications is in keeping with the public’s right to know, and the current debate on role of the judiciary along with judicial transparency & accountability.

 

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