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CRIME ON,CROWN: Historical Abuse probe dropped as Crown Office forced to pay £10K to law firm Clyde & Co – after judge suspends Police search warrant to obtain evidence relating to accusations against ‘influential’ clients

Crown Office paid £10K to law firm subject of Police raid. SCOTLAND’S Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has been forced to pay £10K public cash in legal and ‘other fees’ to a law firm representing a ‘important client’ in relation to a botched search blocked by a judge.

The payment of £10,021.38 to Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) was revealed by prosecutors in response to a Freedom of Information request amid ongoing media enquiries which have now established any possible criminal prosecution in connection with the allegations of abuse is “dead in the water”.

The events surrounding the search warrant occurred last summer, in which Police Officers obtained a search warrant to raid the premises of Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co, in relation to material officers believed the firm held relating to evidence of historical sexual abuse of minors.

A search warrant issued by a Sheriff upon an application from the Crown Office to raid the law firm, resulting in two police officers attending the offices of Clyde & Co at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, at 10am on 22 July 2016 with a search warrant to obtain the evidence.

However, a stand off ensued while Clyde & Co applied to the court for a judge to revoke the search warrant.

The search warrant was subsequently revoked blocked by senior judge Lord Brodie after counsel for Clyde & Co claimed legal professional privilege was attached to the alleged evidence of abuse.

While the Crown Office have now admitted they were required to pay legal & other fees to Clyde & Co, prosecutors refused to divulge any further information on the case, citing the information was held as part of a criminal investigation – which has now been dropped.

Christine Lazzarin for the Crown Office stated in the FOI response: “Firstly I should clarify that a Bill of Suspension hearing emanates from criminal proceedings and any correspondence held between COPFS, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS), Police Scotland and Clyde & Co in relation to this hearing is exempt.”

“By way of explanation, this correspondence is held by a Scottish Public Authority, namely the Procurator Fiscal, for the purposes of an investigation which the Procurator Fiscal had a duty to conduct to ascertain whether a person should be prosecuted for an offence and it is therefore exempt from release in terms of Section 34(1)(a)(i) of FOISA.”

“This is not an absolute exemption and I have therefore considered whether the public interest favours disclosure of the information, notwithstanding the exemption.”

“Whilst I appreciate that there is a great deal of information in relation to the hearing publically accessible on the SCTS web-site, I consider that there is a strong public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of correspondence in connection with allegations of criminality and consequently the Bill of Suspension hearing.”

“The confidentiality of such information ensures that the agencies involved in the criminal justice process can report to the Procurator Fiscal in a manner which is free and frank and for this reason I consider that the public interest favours upholding the exemption.”

“You have also asked for information about fees, costs, legal expenses or other funds paid by COPFS to SCTS and Clyde & Co. I can advise that COPFS paid a total of £10,021.38 in fees, and other legal costs to Clyde & Co after the hearing.”

Further enquiries into the case by the media have now established the investigation into the case of alleged abuse has now been dropped – with legal insiders at the Crown Office blaming the Crown Office handling of the search warrant, and the effect of Lord Brodie’s order cancelling the search warrant.

Legal sources have also speculated Police Scotland may have been forced to pay the same law firm – Clyde & Co – for their actions in seeking to serve the warrant and obtain the alleged evidence of abuse.

During the Financial year 2016 to 2017, a mysteriously large sum of public cash – £213,933.24 was paid to Clyde & Co by Police Scotland according to figures obtained in a recent media investigation into Police payments to law firms, reported in more detail here: Concerns on Public Bodies Legal Fees spending as figures reveal Scottish Police Authority fork out over £1m in legal fees, Police Scotland spend at least £1.3 million on external lawyers

However, faced with further searching enquiries, Police Scotland have point blank refused to disclose any further information about their payments to Clyde & Co and other law firms.

While the Crown Office have now dropped a prosecution in relation to the alleged abuse, the media are eager to speak to anyone involved in the investigation, or the victims themselves, who can if they wish come forward to DOI, by way of contacting the blog at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

This latest floundered investigation into what is alleged to be an influential figure in relation to historical abuse crimes – is another blow for the failing leadership of the Crown Office – under current Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC & Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo (sister of Glasgow solicitor & former Law Society of Scotland President – Austin Lafferty)

Last month, it was revealed the Crown Office has given jobs – without interview – to relatives of high ranking Crown Office staff, who then went on to be charged with drug dealing offences – information which came to light in an ongoing investigation into Prosecutors interests and a secret Crown Office register of interests, reported in more detail here: DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

The Sunday Mail newspaper reported the payments from the Crown Office to Clyde & Co here:

Court chiefs fork out £10k to law firm after botched raid in abuse probe

‘Standards were not met’ when cops turned up with a warrant at Clyde and Co’s Edinburgh office and tried to seize ‘privileged and confidential’ material.

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 8 OCT 2017

Prosecutors have paid £10,000 to a law firm after a botched raid on their offices.

Police wanted to seize files from Clyde and Co lawyers that they believed related to an abuse investigation.

But the firm objected, stating the material was “privileged and confidential”.

Despite this, two officers turned up at the firm’s Edinburgh branch with a search warrant in July last year. The warrant was eventually blocked after a court hearing.

Judge Lord Brodie later ruled “standards were not met” regarding prosecutors’ handling of the case.

The Crown Office have now paid £10,021 in legal fees and costs to Clyde and Co.

Detective Constable Nicola Gow called Clyde and Co by phone on July 7 last year to tell the firm they had information in their files that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry.

Graeme Watson, a partner, told her he would check what information he could provide but that “client files were privileged and confidential”.

Gow said she would discuss it with her superior officer but told the firm “a search warrant might be sought”.

Watson wrote to the sheriff clerk in Edinburgh stating the files were covered by the “Data Protection Act, confidentiality and agent-client privilege”.

Two police officers turned up at the firm’s building in the city’s Albany Street with a warrant at 10am on July 22.

Clyde and Co went to court to have it blocked. In his judgment, Lord Brodie found the procurator fiscal’s actions in applying for the warrant “to have been oppressive”.

He said the wording was “misleading, if not simply inaccurate” and “requisite standards were not met”.

The Crown Office said last week: “We note the terms of Lord Brodie’s decision. The Lord Advocate has taken steps to ensure there will be no repeat of this situation.”

Police Scotland said: “As this is a matter for the Crown Office, it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”

Clyde and Co declined to comment.

POLICE STAND OFF AS JUDGE BLOCKS SEARCH WARRANT:

A full report on the opinion by Lord Brodie and his revocation of the Police Scotland search warrant was published by Scottish Law Reporter here: Police raid on Edinburgh law firm halted by judge – Lord Brodie hits out at Crown search warrant tactics against Clyde & Co over historic sex crimes investigation

An excerpt from the Bill of Suspension, signed by Lord Brodie in relation to the search warrant follows:

NOTE BY LORD BRODIE in BILL OF SUSPENSION by CLYDE AND CO (SCOTLAND) LLP Complainers;

against THE PROCURATOR FISCAL, EDINBURGH Respondent:

Complainers:  Smith QC; Clyde & Co

Respondent:  No appearance (Crown Office did not appear at hearing)

22 July 2016

[1]        The complainers in this bill of suspension are a limited liability partnership, being solicitors with a place of business at Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. The respondent is the Procurator Fiscal, Edinburgh. The complainers seek suspension of a search warrant granted by the sheriff at Edinburgh on the application of the respondent, dated 21 July 2016 and timed at 1537 hours (“the search warrant”). The application which came before me, on 22 July 2016 not long before 1700 hours in chambers, was for interim suspension of the warrant. As at that time the bill had not been warranted for service. Having heard Mr  Smith on behalf of the complainers, I adjourned in order to allow my clerk to advise Crown Office that the application had been presented and to invite the attendance of an advocate depute to represent the respondent. That invitation was made by telephone at a little after 1700 hours. It was not taken up. Having heard Mr Smith further, I suspended the search warrant ad interim, granted warrant for service of the bill and continued the matter to a date to be fixed.

[2]        The circumstances in which that application was made, as I understood them from what appeared in the bill, in two telephone attendance notes and the explanation provided by Mr Andrew Smith QC, who was accompanied and instructed by Mr Graeme Watson, Solicitor Advocate, a partner in the complainers, are as follows.

[3]        A client of the complainers is S.  The complainers have acted for S in relation to claims for damages against it by individuals on the basis of its vicarious liability for alleged acts which occurred at a particular location, L.  These claims have been discontinued on account of an acceptance that any claims were time-barred. It is averred by the complainers that in course of taking instructions from representatives of S these representatives “disclosed certain matters and were provided with advice… which advice and information being disclosed was privileged.” As I understood matters, the complainers retain in their possession documents and files, both paper and digital, generated in the course of acting for S which include information and advice in respect of which S, whose specific instructions have been taken on the point, asserts legal privilege.

[4]        On 7 July 2016 Detective Constable Nicola Gow contacted the complainers by telephone. She spoke to Mr Watson. There were at least three telephone calls between DC Gow and Mr Watson on that day. I was shown copies of Mr Watson’s telephone attendance notes. DC Gow indicated that she was aware that the complainers held certain information in their client files for S that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry which was currently being undertaken.  She already had copies of some documents but wished to obtain originals of these (including what she described as “originals” of unsigned statements held digitally), the litigation files and such other documents which were in the possession of the complainers. Mr Watson advised that the complainers would check what information they had access to with a view to establishing its whereabouts and what might be capable of being produced. Mr Watson indicated that the client files were privileged and confidential. Mr Watson advised that in the event of him receiving instructions to do so, he was willing to excise from the file certain material in order to assist the police inquiry. DC Gow suggested that they might arrange a time to look at the files together. Mr Watson said that he would need to take instructions on that proposal but that a provisional date for such a joint consideration of the files could be arranged. DC Gow indicated that she would discuss matters with her superior officer but that a search warrant might be sought.

[5]        On 11 July 2016, in anticipation that an application for a warrant might be made, Mr Watson, on behalf of S wrote to the Sheriff Clerk in Edinburgh requesting that the Sheriff Clerk contact the complainers in the event of any application to the sheriff with a view to S being represented at any hearing before the sheriff. Mr Watson explained in that letter that the complainers and S had provided such assistance to Police Scotland as they could within the confines of the Data Protection Act 1998, confidentiality and agent-client privilege. The letter included the sentence: “In our submission it would be oppressive and prejudicial for a warrant to be granted without first hearing from [S].” No reply has been received to that letter.

[6]        Subsequent to the conversations between Mr Watson and DC Gow and prior to 22 July 2016 neither the police, the respondent nor any other representative of the Crown contacted the complainers in relation to recovery of documents held by the complainers.

[7]        At about 1000 hours on 22 July 2016 two police officers attended at the offices of the complainers at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, claiming to be in possession of the search warrant which they proposed to execute. Initially they were reluctant to allow Mr Watson to read the search warrant and then they were reluctant to allow him to copy it. Once Mr Watson had succeeded in persuading the police officers to allow him to read and copy the search warrant he was able to ascertain that it had been granted at common law in terms of the crave of a petition at the instance of the respondent in these terms:

“to any Constable of Police Service of Scotland and/or members of staff from the Scottish Police Authority or any other Officer of Law with such assistance as they may deem necessary, to enter and search the offices, out buildings and storage facilities of Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh and to be at liberty to secure and take possession of any papers relating to L whether in electronic or paper format, and any other evidence which may be material to the investigation into the alleged abuse at L held by said Clyde & Co, whether in a computer system or otherwise.”

Insofar as material to the issues raised in the bill, the averments in the petition were as follows:

“[S] have provided copies of documents referring to a code of conduct for staff … a punishment book, lists … statements, including what purports to be a statement taken from [a named person] and signed by her …

[S] have indicated that the originals of these documents are held by their legal representatives, Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. A request has been made to have these documents released to Police Scotland, however, the solicitor has refused to release these documents, citing reasons of client confidentiality.

The solicitor has indicated that they will provide the originals of the documents already provided in copy format only.

“There are reasonable grounds for believing that evidence material to the investigation … is found within the documents being withheld by the solicitor.  The solicitor has indicated to an officer of Police Scotland that there are two boxes of papers and electronic records relating to [L].”

The full note by Lord Brodie – which was published three months after the events of the search warrant took place, can be found here: COPFS Bill of Suspension – Clyde & Co – Lord Brodie

It is also worth noting the Scottish Government have recently announced the scrapping of time bar on historical sexual abuse cases, as the case referred to Lord Brodie does contain references to claims in relation to allegations of abuse becoming time barred.

The Scottish Government announcement on scrapping time bar for claims in relation to historical sexual abuse states the following:

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 is a piece of legislation which changes the rules around the time limits within which you can make a claim for compensation in the civil courts. Usually you have to make your claim within three years of the injury, or (if it is later) three years from your sixteenth birthday.

This change will mean that there will no longer be a time bar on childhood abuse claims in the civil courts. (It applies to abuse of a person under the age of 18.) There will no longer be a requirement to make a claim within the three years or to ask the court to use its discretion to allow the case to go ahead after that period.

The law usually prevents claims being taken to court more than once. The Act makes a limited change to this for childhood abuse claims. If you took a claim to court before the Act became law, but lost because of the time bar, the Act means that you should not be prevented from taking another claim to court.

This change is in relation to the three year limitation period, which is relevant to abuse that took place on or after 26 September 1964.

The commencement of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 means survivors of child abuse no longer face the ‘time-bar’ that requires personal injury actions for civil damages to be made within three years of the related incident.

Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing, who took the legislation through Parliament, said the move was an important part of wider Scottish Government action to support survivors of childhood abuse.

Ms Ewing said: “Child abuse is the most horrific betrayal of our young people and, even where such crimes were committed decades ago, we will do all we can to help survivors get the justice they deserve. Police Scotland and the Crown continue to work tirelessly to bring perpetrators to justice through our criminal courts. And, while it may not be the right way forward for all, survivors may now be considering the option of accessing justice through the civil courts.

“This legal milestone would not have happened but for the courage of many adult survivors whose persistence and dedication have shone a light on the dark realities of child abuse. Through their brave testimonies they have made clear the great hurt and damage caused by the very individuals and institutions who should have cared for them.

“Alongside our national survivor support fund, the establishment of the independent public Inquiry into in-care childhood abuse, and the current consultation on a potential financial redress scheme, this removal of the civil time-bar underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring Scotland is beginning to make amends for the grave failings of the past.”

Welcoming the introduction of the Act, Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The abolishment of the time bar is the result of many years of successful campaigning by survivors. It is a welcome addition to the package of effective reparation as outlined in the Action Plan on Justice for victims of Historic Abuse of Children in Care.”

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

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DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

COPFS secret register contains links to judges, crime & business. AN INVESTIGATION has revealed Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) are blocking the publication of a staff register of interests – over fears it will reveal close relationships between prosecutors & judges, suspended solicitors, staff with criminal convictions including drugs crimes, and links to organised crime and sectarian behaviour.

The secret COPFS register of interests only received public acknowledgement of its existence – after the Scottish Information Commissioner became involved over refusals by Scotland’s top law officers to publish the information similarly disclosed in other registers of interest held by public bodies – including Police.

The issue came to light when journalists examined discussions between the Crown Office and the Scottish Parliament over a call for the Lord Advocate to submit evidence on Crown Office employees register of interests.

However, the Crown Office bluntly refused to provide any evidence or testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who have been investigating proposals to require Scottish judges to declare their interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Senior figures at COPFS put a secrecy block on publication of their own register of interest after journalists uncovered a host of conflicts of interest by COPFS staff, including links to disgraced solicitors and suspended judges, unrecorded meetings with Ministers and members of the judiciary, business connections and interests of COPFS staff and dumbed down criminal convictions of prosecutors still working for the Crown Office.

And the Crown Office block on publication remains in force today – after over two years of refusal to disclose the information in response to Freedom of Information requests.

When journalists approached the Scottish Information Commissioner for assistance, the SIC made enquiries of the Crown Office to be told “As you have noted, our original response indicated that in our view no application could be made to the Commissioner. COPFS considered that section 48(c) of FOISA applied as the information requested is held by the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland. You have now asked us for our views on why we consider that to be the case.”

“I can confirm that COPFS holds a Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff. The Register is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making. The register of interests is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case. Given the register is held on this basis, we consider that the information is held by the Lord Advocate in his capacity as the Head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland.”

 Scottish information Commissioner files released on discussions with COPFS Register of Interests.

However, the enquiries and media interest prompted the Crown Office to acknowledge publicly for the first time the register of interests existed.

The Crown Office statement to the SIC in a letter dated further revealed: “Coincidentally, this issue has recently been considered by the COPFS Executive Board and a decision has been taken that the register should not published. To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act.”

“We intend, however, to provide a public statement of explanation about why we do not publish details of the Register of Interests on our website within the next 6 weeks and I will ensure that you are provided with a link to this when it is published.”

However, tt can now be revealed COPFS feared the register would also reveal close links between Advocate Deputes who prosecute criminals in court – and their spouses and partners who work in the Scottish Courts and some who serve on the judicial benches.

Discussions took place with regard to media enquiries , and fears were raised if the public and persons in court found out of  personal and family links between prosecutors and the judiciary, there could be questions over impartiality.

One such example of a Prosecutor with family in the judiciary is that of Advocate Depute Murdoch MacTaggart – who prosecuted the longest fraud trial in UK history in the case of Edwin & Lorraine McLaren – in connection with their sell your house & rent it back property scheme. MacTaggart was married to a Sheriff – Mhairi McTaggart.

There are a number of other personal relationships between prosecutors, crown office staff, the legal profession and judiciary – some of whom have appeared in and on both sides of the court together during  criminal trials – without any questions being raised on impartiality.

It is very clear COPFS felt the disclosure of personal and family relationships between prosecutors and judges may cause problems in a number of previous and ongoing trials.

However, the personal relationships between COPFS and others may be of lesser importance than prosecutors & COPFS staff business interests, which are significant and wide ranging, in a similar nature to what has recently been disclosed by Police Scotland, more on which is available here: POLICE REGISTER: ‘First responder’ Police Officers transparency in cops business interests register

However, in the case of COPFS employees & prosecutors business interests, there exists significant;y more potential for conflict of interest in court.

And, it can also be disclosed a number of COPFS employees relatives and direct family appear to be working in highly paid positions in other public bodies, the Scottish Government and organisations within the justice system  including the courts – some of whom secured jobs without interview.

Enquiries in relation to the work histories of several Crown Office employees also reveals some Prosecutors and Advocate Deputes may also be exposed to questions over their links to law firms alleged to have committed significant fraud  with legal aid cash and embezzlement of client funds.

In a further investigation linked to the long running McLaren fraud trial, COPFS refused to respond to queries in relation to the status of any proceedings against a suspended lawyer – Karen MacTaggart – who was suspended as a solicitor from April 2014, according to a notice issued in the Gazette.

Karen MacTaggart is the sister of a Crown Office Advocate Depute – Murdoch MacTaggart.

The Crown Office was approached for an explanation on this but refused to respond.

The investigation has also revealed further concerns at the Crown Office – over fears publication of their Register of Interests would expose details of serving employees criminal convictions on everything from common assault, to perverting the course of justice, and dealing of Class A drugs including Cocaine – to COPFS colleagues and members of the public.

A further block on publication of the COPFS register of interests came about after members of IT staff at the Crown Office became embroiled in a scandal involving anti-catholic sectarian behaviour

One COPFS employee was sacked and another quit after an investigation was launched into alleged sectarian comments made on an internal messaging system.

Shocked staff blew the whistle on their colleagues after spotting the anti-catholic remarks & comments on their computer screens, and following an internal probe, the men were found to have breached strict rules on bullying, harassment and discrimination.

As a result, one worker has been sacked and another has resigned, and a third, who had a senior managerial role, was given a final written warning.

The male members of staff who made the comments worked in the IT department of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Ballater Street, Glasgow, close to the city’s sheriff court. It is also understood that a second IT manager was moved to another department after the probe was completed.

An investigation was first launched after two Catholic staff members complained that sectarian hate comments had been posted by the three men but the resulting inquiry failed to find evidence to substantiate the claims – even though other members of COPFS saw the actual comments.

None of the COPFS staff involved in the sectarian probe have been named by prosecutors, however the names have now been passed to journalists who are looking further at the case.

Another reason for the Crown Office to refuse publication of it’s own register of interests hit the headlines in March 2016, when the Sunday Mail newspaper reported that the then Lord Advocate’s brother was at the centre of a probe into financial dealings – reported here: Revealed: Lord Advocate’s brother Iain Mulholland at centre of dirty money probe after arranging £550k mortgage for rogue lapdance tycoon

Iain Mulholland, the younger brother of Scotland’s top prosecutor who announced he was standing down last week, helped prepare paperwork that secured businessman Steven MacDonald a huge loan now being probed by the Crown Office.

Prosecutors hunting assets linked to organised crime claim MacDonald conned bank bosses into lending him enough cash to buy his Diamond Dolls strip club.

They claim the businessman lied on a mortgage application to get a £552,000 cash injection from the Bank of Scotland to purchase the property in Glasgow city centre.

Mortgage broker Iain Mulholland arranged MacDonald’s loan application through his First to Mortgage firm.

The 48-year-old fixed the loan that is now the focus of a major investigation by the Civil Recovery Unit (CRU) – investigators at the Crown Office, led by his brother, who seize dirty money, property and other assets linked to organised crime.

In another case referred to within COPFS circles amid media queries on the secret register of interests – concerns were raised after a senior female member of staff was discovered to be involved in a relationship with an underworld figure accused of supplying guns and drugs.

There were fears information was being provided to the crook – which may have impacted on a now collapsed prosecution against several gangsters.

And in another development, information has come to light regarding the status of a Grade 6 Manager at the Crown Office, and the employment of his relative who was later charged with drug dealing.

The COPFS Manager’s step-son – who worked part time in the NHS – and has a direct relative working in the same organisation –  was handed a lucrative Crown Office job with access to sensitive information – without even an interview.

The individual – identified as Mr Peter Murphy –  worked at the Crown Office for around two years and was then arrested, apparently, on a Petition Warrant relating to the supply of Class A drugs.

Murphy’s employment at COPFS included access to sensitive information and systems which contained files relating to drug dealers within the city.

Sources said “It was presumed that given the quantity of drugs involved the case would be prosecuted at the High Court” – however no trace of any trial has been discovered and, allegedly, the Crown Office drug dealer received a community disposal at Sheriff Court level.

COPFS staff suspect the watered down and preferential treatment of the COPFS drug dealer was a result of information provided to the police or the Fiscal reducing the charges.

After the incident, Peter Murphy was allowed to resign from the Crown Office, rather than be sacked.

However, investigations around the case first revealed in the Scottish Sun during 2016 in reports of drug dealing at the Crown Office case – has since established Mr Murphy’s identity as the COPFS employee charged with drug offences.

The Crown Office has refused to answer further questions on this case, however, records show Mr Murphy’s step father – John Tannahill – a Grade 6 Manager – has worked at the Crown Office since October 2002.

John Tannahill currently occupies the positions of Head of COPFS Police Reform Team and Process Review Team and Major Incident Co-ordinator, Chair, Judicial Panel Scottish Football Association – according to Mr Tannahill’s Linkedin page.

Further internal discussions on the publication of the register reveal senior legal figures concerns that their own staff may be identified as members of organisations condemned for associations with the far right and racism if the Crown Office register becomes public.

There are now calls to make the Crown Office Register of Interests a polished document, to enable court users and legal representatives have access to the information in relation to Prosecutors interests.

However, the Crown Office has refused to issue any further comment on the content of their register of interests other than a brief online reference to it’s existence, which was only published after discussions with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Crown Office Register of Interests

The Civil Service Code, which applies to all civil servants, requires that they should not put themselves in a position where duty and private interests conflict, nor make use of their official position to further those interests.
As a public servant, an employee has a particular duty to ensure that their public position is not, and raises no reasonable suspicion of being, abused in their own personal interest.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service holds a formal Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff.

The Interests are defined as:

Business interests (including directorships) not only of the employee but also  close family members

Shareholdings or other securities/financial interest which the employee or members of their close family hold

Any political interest or interest/membership in an organisation, club or society where there is the potential for a conflict of interest to arise as a result of official position

It is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making.

It is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case.

The Register is not published.

To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

It is worth noting while the Lord Advocate is determined to withhold the information contained in the COPFS register of interests from public scrutiny, the Crown Office itself believe members of their own staff are not honest in their own declarations and entries in the register.

And, in a number of trials, prosecutors and COPFS staff have been switched around at the last minute after failing to declare interests which could have potentially harmed criminal trials.

While the Crown Office would only issue the above statement online in relation to it’s secret Register of Interests – the evidence now in the public domain in relation to serious conflicts of interest held by prosecutors, personal links to the judiciary, businesses who themselves have contracts within the justice system, and other more serious issues including jobs handed out to family members – make the case for publication much stronger.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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SILENCERS IN COURT: ‘Guns & Ammo’ rife in Scotland’s legal elite – Police Scotland disclose firearms ownership of judges, sheriffs, lawyers, advocates, QCs & Crown Office prosecutors

Scots legal elite firearms ownership revealed. AN INVESTIGATION into firearms ownership among Scotland’s legal fraternity – has revealed widespread firearms and weapons throughout the ranks of solicitors, advocates, prosecutors and the judiciary who run Scotland’s legal system and the courts.

And, it can be revealed – 295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors collectively own more guns in their private collections than even Police Officers – as information now released by Police Scotland reveals 1,079 firearms, shotguns & air weapons in the hands of the legal fraternity – compared to 1,043 firearms and shotguns owned by 327 Police Officers.

The investigation was triggered by a recent case involving firearms offences committed by the Solicitor General For Scotland – Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) who was convicted and find £1,000 for breaches of the Firearms Act 1968 after he pleaded guilty by letter to the charge at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 1 March 2017.

Keen, who once headed a failed legal challenge against the Scottish Government over legislation to speed up pay-outs to asbestos sufferers –  was charged after police investigating a break-in at his Edinburgh home found that a 12-bore shotgun had been ‘left outside a secure cabinet’ while Lord Keen and his wife ‘were away on holiday’.

Lord Keen’s conviction for firearms offences, and the widespread ownership of firearms – including handguns – by members of Scotland’s legal fraternity – has drawn interest in the use of guns by Scotland’s wealthy legal establishment – who are known to favour the hunting & shooting set lifestyle with participation at shooting events at home and abroad.

And these are no ordinary weapons owned by Scotland’s legal elite.

Shotguns popular with Scotland’s legal eagles – range from the relatively inexpensive to more costly ‘over & under’ & ‘side by side’ barrelled Browning, Beretta, matched pairs of expensive Purdeys and other expensive brands such as Holland & Holland, Army & Navy, and in the case of the Solicitor General for Scotland – a Stephen Grant 12 bore shotgun – which can sell for over £6,000.

Data seen by journalists also reveal ornate ‘Damascus’ etched barrelled weapons, expensive side-lock action shotguns, semi automatic weapons, and presentation piece quality shotguns, well out of reach of most shooting enthusiasts.

In relation to firearms, the legal establishment is similarly tooled up in numbers and quality of guns – ranging from handguns – and smaller .22 and .243 calibre rifles to high calibre firearms purposely designed for deer stalking.

Among the more lethal stocks of weapons owned by the legal fraternity are – according to firearms insiders – double ‘express’ (two barrelled) rifles – primarily designed for ‘taking down’ much larger beasts such as lions, rhino and even elephants.

And, the ownership of silencers for firearms among Scotland’s legal elite – is much more widespread than originally thought.

However, it can be revealed members of the legal fraternity own only 57 silencers for their ‘registered’ firearms – compared with a staggering 216 silencers owned by Police Officers –  disclosed in part one of the firearms investigation revealing Police gun ownership.

Information obtained during the investigation has now been clarified by Police Scotland, who disclosed some details in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Police Scotland has revealed 8 Sheriffs and 8 Judges hold a selection of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

Of the 8 certificates held by Sheriffs, 1 is for firearms, 5 are for shotguns and 2 are for air weapons are held by currently serving Sheriffs, totalling 2 firearms and 10 shotguns.

A further 8 senior ranking judges own a similar mixture of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

In relation to the eight certificate held by judges, 1 is for firearms, 3 are for shotguns, and 3 are for air weapons, totalling 2 firearms and 5 shotguns.

Curiously – while Police Scotland readily disclosed information in relation to members of the judiciary owning firearms – the Judiciary of Scotland said in response to an FOI request that no member of the judiciary has declared any ownership of firearms or shotguns to either the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) or the Judicial Office.

The Judicial Office also refused to answer questions on judges’ membership of any hunting or shooting clubs or associations, participation in hunting trips including deerstalking and other firearms related activities within the UK or overseas.

While the judiciary remained tight-lipped on their stack of firearms & shotguns, Police Scotland has also released details on the firearms ownership of Scotland’s legal profession, where paralegals, solicitors, barristers, advocates, QCs and even prosecutors own over a thousand firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

The SHOGUN firearms database used by Police Scotland revealed the following:

4 paralegal certificate holders – hold 3 shotgun certificates and 2 air weapons certificates, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

6 barrister certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 4 shotgun certificates and 2 Air weapons certificates – holding between them 9 firearms with a further 3 silencers (sound moderators) and a total of 23 shotguns.

8 QC certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 8 shotgun certificates and two air weapons certificates – holding 6 firearms along with 2 silencers, and a total of 31 shotguns.

18 Advocate certificate holders – hold 4 firearms certificates, 18 shotgun certificates and 7 air weapons certificates – holding 9 firearms along with 3 silencers, and a total of 26 shotguns.

40 lawyer certificate holders – hold 12 firearms certificates, 25 shotgun certificates and 18 air weapons certificates – holding 55 firearms with 18 silencers and a total of 96 shotguns.

199 solicitor certificate holders – hold 51 firearms certificates, 146 shotgun certificates and 60 air weapons certificates – holding 100 firearms with 31 silencers, and a total of 393 shotguns.

Two court officer certificate holders – hold one firearms certificate and one shotgun certificate. Only one single firearm held is listed in this category.

Police Scotland also disclosed two Crown Office prosecutors of Procurator Fiscal rank hold 2 shotgun certificates, holding three shotguns in total.

It was not possible for Police Scotland to disclose further details of COPFS employees firearms, shotgun or air weapons usage, however it is known COPFS employees ownership of, and involvement with firearms shotguns and other weapons does exist = and to a more significant level than quoted in the Police Scotland FOI response.

Police Scotland also disclosed firearms ownership among Scotland’s political classes at Holyrood.

3 MSP certificate holders – hold 3 firearms certificates, 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificates – holding 9 firearms with 3 silencers, and – Police Scotland claim – a total of 24 shotguns according to the FOI disclosure.

One Scottish Government Minister holds 1 shotgun certificate – and is in possession of 3 shotguns.

A further 3 “Members of Parliament” certificate holders – hold 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificate, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

And one “Parliamentarian” holds a single shotgun certificate, and is in possession of 8 shotguns.

Police Scotland said it could not provide details of Scottish Government employees due to deficiencies in the SHOGUN database which allows some firearms owners to dodge having their ownership of weapons included in national statistics.

Police Scotland said “SHOGUN does not hold the individual employer details related to an individual certificate holder. The application form 201 requires a work address and contact but work address details are not searchable on the SHOGUN system. Searching occupations which include the word ‘government’ includes local government employees, government inspectors, government officers and investigators. The parameters of the search therefore cannot provide the details required.”

While the figures released by Police Scotland pertain only to numbers of weapons – rather than types and their potency by way of calibre – enquiries by journalists have since established Scotland’s legal elite enjoy generous permissions to hold, and purchase – significant quantities of ammunition for firearms and shotguns – with figures of thousands of rounds kept by certain members of the legal fraternity being commonplace.

Commenting on the information released by Police Scotland, a firearms specialist who did not wish to be named said that while some of the certificate holders may be members of gun clubs and ‘shoot at paper targets’ , it was his understanding most of the weapons held by persons he knew to be members of the legal fraternity – are used for hunting purposes.

There are also claims the figures of firearms and gun ownership among Scotland’s legal establishment may be much higher than stated in the Police Scotland Freedom of Information disclosure – as various weapons such as antique powder propellant type pistols, muskets and rifles are among items thought to be owned by lawyers and others in the legal fraternity – and are often not registered despite some requirements to do so.

The sometimes murky origins of the firearms & shotguns owned by the legal fraternity in Scotland are also drawing curiosity – after a legal source gave an account to journalists in relation to how two expensive shotguns including their leather cases and a set of valuable fishing rods & equipment ended up in the hands of a solicitor after he allegedly took the items from the estate of a deceased client to be valued.

The items were never handed back to the family of the deceased nor were they included in any account of assets of the deceased’s estate.

The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) could not be reached for a statement on their members ownership and usage of firearms and shotguns.

‘KEEN SHOT’ TOP LAW OFFICER CAUGHT WITH HIS GUNS OUT:

IN March 2017, Lord Keen of Elie – the UK government’s most senior adviser on Scots law – was fined £1,000 after admitting a firearms offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen QC pleaded guilty – by letter – to breaching section two of the Firearms Act 1968 by ‘failing to secure a shotgun’.

Police investigating a ‘break-in’ at one of Mr Keen’s properties – a house in Edinburgh – found that the weapon had been left outside a secure cabinet.

Lord Keen, a former chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, was made a life peer in 2015. He did not appear when the case called at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March 2017, choosing to plead guilty by letter – thus avoiding a court appearance.

The presiding judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe said: “I do take into account Mr Keen’s previous good record and the fact that he admitted his guilt at the outset.

“Nevertheless to hold a firearms certificate is a privilege and there are very strict conditions which have to be adhered to to prevent such weapons falling into the wrong hands.

“There was a potential risk with the shotgun not in the secure cabinet as laid down by the regulations.”

The court heard the offence came to light when Police Officers were called to a break-in at one of Lord Keen’s properties – an address on Ann Street in Edinburgh – on Hogmanay last year. The court was told Lord Keen and his wife were away on holiday.

Officers searching the property ‘found’ a 12 bore Stephen Grant shotgun in a basement out of its secure cabinet.

Solicitor advocate Simon Catto, representing Lord Keen – told Edinburgh Sheriff Court his client had been out shooting on 27 December.

Mr Catto added on returning home his client had taken the gun to the basement intending to clean it, but had then “forgotten about it through his own carelessness” before leaving on holiday the following day.

Mr Catto said Lord Keen had contacted Police himself on Hogmanay after receiving a mobile phone alert that his alarm system had been triggered.

While the upper floors of the property had been ransacked, the burglars had not entered the basement area, he said.

Mr Catto said: “He’s a keen shot, he shoots approximately 10 times per year.

“He has been a shotgun enthusiast for around 25 years and has held a firearms certificate. He is therefore fully aware of what’s expected and required of him in terms of the certificate.

“He accepts on this occasion he fell below that.”

An investigation of gun ownership in the ranks of Police Officers can be found here: GUNS OF THE LAW: Police Scotland files release details of officers private gun ownership – shotguns, rifles & silencers, Cops also declare recovery of 30 handguns

 

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SECRETS, M’LORD: The QC, the footballer and the Lord Advocate who blocked a rape prosecution – and was later appointed as a judge by Lord President Lord Carloway

Crown Office refuse to release discussions on blocked rape case. A LORD ADVOCATE who aligned himself with rape awareness groups & Scotland’s current top judge to demand politicians remove a miscarriage of justice safeguard from the legal system – blocked the prosecution of a footballer for rape after contact with the accused’s QC.

Former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland was in charge of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) as Scotland’s top prosecutor at the time allegations of rape were raised against footballer David Goodwillie by victim Denise Clair in January 2011.

As Lord Advocate, Mulholland held the last say in authorising a prosecution or deciding to block further action.

The Crown Office decided not to prosecute David Goodwillie and his co- accused, David Robertson – a decision which occurred after contact between Paul McBride QC & the Crown Office – and according to sources – Mulholland.

The revelation of contact between Goodwillie’s lawyer – Paul McBride QC and prosecutors – came following a Freedom of Information request by the Sunday Mail newspaper, in which the Crown Office confirmed contact took place.

The Sunday Mail featured a report on the Crown’s decision to withhold details of communications between McBride and the Crown Office.

Mystery calls between rapist footballer David Goodwillie’s lawyer and court bosses revealed

The Crown Office said: “We do hold some records of telephone discussion between the late Paul McBride and staff at Crown Office”

However, officials at the £113m a year Crown Office refused to release further details on the conversations with the now deceased Paul McBride, stating to do so “would inhibit legal opinions or advice expressed in future”.

Denise fought a five-year battle for justice which this year saw the Court of Session rule she had been raped by footballers Goodwillie and co-accused David Robertson.

The 30-year-old originally sought £500,000 in compensation, but damages were later agreed at £100,000 in the civil action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

In late January, Lord Armstrong ruled Goodwillie – the former Scotland international footballer and his ex-teammate David Robertson were rapists.

The judge ordered Goodwillie & Robertson to pay £100,000 damages in what was the first civil rape case of its kind in Scotland – coming after Mulholland blocked all attempts to charge Goodwillie & Robertson who would have had to face a criminal trial if the prosecution had not been blocked by the then Lord Advocate.

As of date of publication of this article, Goodwillie is appealing the ruling.

The mother-of-one maintained she was incapable of giving free agreement to sex because of her alcohol consumption, but Goodwillie, 27, who now plays with Plymouth Argyle, and Robertson claimed the incident had been consensual.

Lord Armstrong, said: “Having carefully examined and scrutinised the whole evidence in the case, I find the evidence of the pursuer (the woman) to be cogent, persuasive and compelling.”

Lord Armstrong said: “In the result, therefore, I find that in the early hours of Sunday 2 January 2011, at the flat in Greig Crescent, Armadale, both defenders (the footballers) took advantage of the pursuer when she was vulnerable through an excessive intake of alcohol and, because her cognitive functioning and decision-making processes were so impaired, was incapable of giving meaningful consent; and that they each raped her.”

The judge said he found neither Goodwillie – who also played for Aberdeen and Blackburn Rovers – or Robertson to be credible or reliable on the issue of whether they had a reasonable or honest belief that she was consenting.

He rejected evidence relied on by the players that Ms Clair was not particularly affected by alcohol and was no more drunk than anyone else in the company they had been in that night.

Lord Armstrong said that prior to the incident the victim – Ms Clair – had enjoyed life, but her life changed following the decision not to proceed with a prosecution.

Lord Armstrong said: “She found that decision difficult to understand and had felt that she had not been believed.”

The judge added: “She felt that her life had been destroyed by something which had happened although, because of her lack of memory, she was not fully aware of what it was that had caused that effect.”

The Crown Office said it stood by its previous decision not to prosecute the footballers – a decision taken during the tenure of Frank Mulholland as Lord Advocate – which is now subject to calls for a full inquiry.

A Crown Office spokesman who refused to be identified said: “As Lord Armstrong stated in his judgement, the standard of proof to be satisfied was that of the balance of probabilities which is a less onerous requirement than the standard in criminal cases, which is beyond reasonable doubt.

“Further, there is no requirement of corroboration in civil cases unlike in criminal cases.

“This case was looked at very carefully by Crown counsel who concluded that there was insufficient evidence in law to raise criminal proceedings. As a result no proceedings were instructed.”

Lord Mulholland now sits on the bench of the Court of Session after having been made a judge by by anti-corroboration co-campaigner Lord Carloway – Scotland’s current Lord President & Lord Justice General.

Lord Mulholland as he is now known – blocked a prosecution of Goodwillie and his co-accused David Robertson for rape – after he gave evidence at Holyrood in November 2013 – demanding msps on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee agree to his plans to scrap corroboration – a safeguard against injustice – which Mulholland ironically claimed blocked the prosecution of rape cases.

Video footage of Frank Mulholland’s evidence to MSPs urging they repeal corroboration – to enable him to prosecute rape offenders, can be viewed here:

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland evidence to MSPs on removal of corroboration from Scot’s Law – Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 20 November 2013

Mulholland also blocked criminal charges against the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which ran out of control in December 2014 killing six people in the centre of Glasgow while injuring 15 others.

Lord Mulholland recently featured in an investigation into judicial use of taxpayers cash to find overseas trips & junkets. Mulholland took a £1,200 trip to the European Court in Luxembourg for three days funded by public cash.

TAX FIDDLE DEAL DEATH – Frank Mulholland’s Crown Office headline appetite for VAT tax carousel case ended in death of top QC:

A case disastrously gone wrong for the headline craving Crown Office under Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – was a secret deal to bring back alleged tax cheat Imran Hussain from Pakistan.

To this day, Mr Hussain stands accused of a £300million VAT Carousel Fraud.

A media investigation coupled with Freedom of Information probes revealed secret discussions had taken place between Paul McBride QC and Mulholland’s Crown Office – over a move which would have seen the then Lord Advocate grab credit for prosecuting and convicting what is thought to be Scotland’s highest ever value fraud case.

In a Freedom of Information response, the Crown Office admitted to holding one ‘single email’, in which McBride had made contact with Lindsay Miller – who was the then head of the Serious Organised Crime Division in the Crown Office.

It was the same Lindsay Miller who responded to the FOI requests from journalists.

Commenting on Lindsay Miller’s response to the FOI request, a COPFS review undertaken by Gertie Wallace, the head of the Criminal Justice and Disclosure Team at the time said:

“In the reply from Lindsey Miller, Head of Serious and Organised Crime Division on 4 May you were advised that information held by COPFS was contained in one email indicating Mr McBride made contact with the Head of the Serious Organised Crime Division in COPFS on 16 January 2012 regarding a Mr Hussein.”

“The reference to Mr McBride’s contact with Mrs Miller is contained in an email between COPFS and Crown Prosecution Service dated 16 January 2012. There is no further information held by COPFS regarding contact between the late Mr McBride and COPFS regarding his client Mr Hussein.”

“I understand that information held about Mr McBride’s contact with Mrs Miller about Mr Hussein has also been provided to you following your request for information dated 6 June seeking documents and discussions on correspondence between Crown Office and Crown Prosecution Service between Paul McBride and COPFS, to which you have now received a reply dated 14 June from Mrs Miller.”

A Sunday Mail investigation uncovered deal between Crown Office & McBride to bring tax cheat back to Scotland:

DEAL ME IM: £300m tax dodge fugitive launches bid to return to Scotland

Imran “Immy” Hussain, 34, has been on the run from HMRC investigators for eleven years over a VAT scam in which he allegedly stole £300million from UK taxpayers.

It is understood that top QC Paul McBride, 47, met fugitive Hussain during the trip to Pakistan where he died in March 2012.

Prior to McBride flying to Pakistan, he met and discussed the case with Crown Office staff including Mulholland.

However, the secret between the Crown Office, McBride and involvement of the Inland Revenue went wrong – after McBride died of a heart attack while in Pakistan to meet Immy Hussain to discuss a secret deal allegedly involving a trial and what the Crown may ask for on sentencing.

Media reports at the time in 2012 quoted a friend of Mr Hussain, saying “He wants to come home – but not to spend 20 years in a cell.”

“His preferred outcome [believed to have been the deal on the table from COPFS] would be to hand over a large amount of his money and do a light sentence – that way, the authorities could say justice has been done and point to the cash seizure as a success.”

It was also reported at the time – McBride told a friend that he was going to Lahore to meet a wealthy client wanted for a major fraud in the UK.

Legal sources and friends of the lawyer, who was found dead in his room at the Pearl Continental Hotel, believe he met Hussain.

McBride travelled to Pakistan with solicitor Aamer Anwar – who said the lawyers attended a wedding during their stay.

Hussain had been living the high-life in Dubai, where he owned two luxury houses, a fleet of cars and a yacht. He also travelled to Europe by private jet.

He spent fortunes on wild parties and thought nothing of buying Rolex watches for his pals.

But he was forced to leave the desert kingdom when HMRC investigators were sent to track him down.

Hussain, from Newton Mearns, Glasgow, had already been in contact with HMRC about a possible deal.

Sources have described communication between Hussain and HMRC as “very sensitive”.

One legal source said: “Paul was in Pakistan in his professional capacity as an advocate.

“He was there to meet a Scottish Asian who is wanted for VAT fraud and wants to come back to Scotland.

“His contacts at the Crown Office were at the highest level and he operated and negotiated at such a level.”

Another associate of Hussain said: “Things got a lot more difficult for him when he had to leave Dubai. He realised that HMRC weren’t going to give up on him and he has now been in Pakistan for the last couple of years.”

Hussain is suspected of heading a Europe-wide operation who set up hundreds of bogus firms linked to VAT fraud, also known as carousel fraud. Gangs claim back VAT on goods they say were imported and then exported.

But the goods – usually small but high-value items such as computer chips and mobile phones – never existed.

In an astonishing turn of events caused by the death in Pakistan of Paul McBride – while he was there at the behest of the Lord Advocate – Frank Mulholland and many others from the world of politics including First Minister Alex Salmond, and figures from the legal establishment attended Paul McBride’s funeral held at (name the church) in wherever during the year.

Previous articles on the Crown Office and Lord Advocate Mulholland’s exit from COPFS,  can be found here: PASS THE CROWN: As one Lord Advocate exits, another is set to take charge of Scotland’s ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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CASH IN THE CROWN: Forget millions on bonuses, mortgages, junkets & dodgy prosecutions – Holyrood Crown Office probe raises concerns, recommends changes for £113m ‘under-resourced’ & untrustworthy Prosecution service

Scots Prosecutors ‘getting by’ on £113m a year. SCOTLAND’S PROSECUTORS are “just about managing” on £113million a year of taxpayers cash – according to a report produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee of the ‘Role and Purpose of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

During the ‘bombshell’ inquiry into the Crown Office – an organisation once dubbed ‘the most corrupt institution in Scotland’ by a Cabinet minister – the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard claims COPFS staff suffered from shortage of resources,weak morale – including more than average levels of sick leave, claims of overwork.

MSPs also heard grips from the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC and his team over the level of public cash thrown at the infamous Edinburgh based Crown Office which now stands at a whopping £112.5million a year – according to figures in the Scottish Government’s own budget for 2016.

The report – into the ‘crime fighting’ Crown Office – which refused to prosecute the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which left six people dead and injured 15 others in the centre of Glasgow – concludes: “On the whole, the public should have confidence that it is a rigorous and fair prosecutor. “However, the service remains under considerable pressure. There can be no room for complacency.”

The Committee’s inquiry also identified room for improvement in a number of Crown Office functions, including the support given to victims and witnesses – who are often poorly treated by COPFS staff.

However – during 2014 it was reported a senior manager in the Crown Office was suspended after openly criticising the treatment of crime victims.

John Fox, 47, made postings on an internal staff forum accusing his bosses of putting victims of domestic violence at risk. His criticism emerged days after the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed how victims of crime felt betrayed by Scotland’s justice system and were demanding reforms.

Mr Fox was formerly in charge of the 100-strong Victim Information and Advice Service (VIA), responsible for helping to improve services to crime victims and their families across Scotland. One of their tasks is to inform victims of domestic violence about the release from custody of the person charged with attacking them.

In some cases, victims of crime and witness have since alleged Crown Office employees told outright lies.

And, a recent investigation by the media reported key Crown Office employees hold secret criminal convictions for serious offences. The investigation, assisted by documents obtained by Freedom of Information legislation published here: Prosecutors own crime gang revealed  also found some victims and witnesses to crime had been threatened by Crown Office prosecutors and staff.

In a period of just two years – from November 2013 to November 2015 – the Crown Office admitted it retained records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs and offences against the police; data protection offences and an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The Holyrood enquiry was apparently not handed any of this information. The inquiry did not take  steps to act upon it and quiz COPFS representatives, despite reports being available in the media  and to the inquiry – for some time.

Much of the inquiry’s focus on staff morale heard claims the Crown Office was underfunded and overworked, however figures revealed in a Freedom of Information request for the immediate three years after the collapse of several high street banks & huge cuts to public services – revealed successive Lord Advocates have spent over £572,307,16 on paying supposedly hard up staff everything from mortgages, relocation, rental costs and even phone bills, council tax and personal legal bills.

During financial year 2008/2009, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 32 employees were: £212,500.76.
During financial year 2009/2010, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 38  employees were £242,586.59.
During financial year 2010/2011, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  26 employees were £117,220.14.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a whopping £137,744.43 spent on further staff perks and junkets in 2014-2016. The FOI revealed:

During financial year 2011/2012, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 16 employees were £85,513.21.
During financial year 2012/2013,payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to   8 employees were £38,711.35.
During financial year 2013/2014, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  5 employees were £13,519.87.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a further £28,090 spent on further staff mortgages, rent , phone bills, legal bills and other perks and junkets in 2014-2016. However, these figures are now thought to be in dispute – and of a much higher sum than was originally quoted by the Crown Office. Nevertheless the FOI revealed:

Payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages, for COPFS staff including Procurators Fiscal from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, were made by 33  COPFS employees, totalling an extra £28,090.

A separate Freedom of Information request revealed the hard-up Crown Office media unit spent over £376,168.06 in one year alone on media relations – this despite the Lord Advocate’s staff of 6 full time media staff and one part time employee – operating a policy of “no comment” to journalists – who are in increasing numbers of cases told to put their request for comment in a Freedom of Information request.

And, an investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established the Lord Advocate had authorised massive bonuses for Crown Office staff who pocketed bonus payments of more than £580,000 in just two years.

Figures released via Freedom of Information requests revealed 419 COPFS employees shared payouts totalling £326,844 in 2009-2010, while 518 COPFS staff were handed £253,330 for 2010-11.

In 2009-2010, eight employees of the Crown Office received Bonuses of up to £20,000 while a further 15 COPFS employees received bonuses of up to £8,000.

In the same year up to 200 members of staff received bonus pay-outs of up to £500 while a further 200 COPFS employees were paid bonuses of up to £1000 each.

And, an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper revealed supposedly hard up Crown Office staff were travelling to international destinations all bankrolled by taxpayers cash.

The allegedly hard up Crown Office spent more than £57,000 of taxpayers’ cash last year alone flying staff across the globe. Hong Kong, Mauritius, Taiwan and New York were among 15 exotic destinations visited by Crown Office employees. And since 2012, they have taken off on a total of 109 international flights to places like South Africa, Australia and Malta.

The Crown, led by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, racked up £29,504 on 39 international flights to meetings and conferences last year and £27,603 on 143 domestic trips.The number of overseas flights has remained fairly steady over three years at 36, 34 then 39. But domestic flights have increased sharply from 97 to 131, then 143 last year.

Amsterdam was the most common destination, with 30 trips since 2012. The Dutch city is a major travel hub and close to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Flights to Washington DC and Malta were in connection with the ongoing probe into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

While the information has been available in the public arena for some time, COPFS representatives appearing in front of the Justice Committee did not face any lines of questioning of the massive cash spends on personal junkets, mortgages, rent and other bills accumulated by staff who managed to have them all paid off by taxpayers.

The Justice Committee also had to make do without attendance of Scotland’s top judge and other members of the judiciary after Lord Carloway issued a letter to all branches level of the judiciary informing them of his decision to refuse to give evidence to the Justice Committee’s probe into the Crown Office.

Lord Carloway  – who earns £222,862 a year for his role as Lord President & Lord Justice General – said the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) should give evidence to the Justice Committee, rather than individual members of the judiciary – even retired ones

Carloway’s letter went out to every high court judge, the Sheriffs’ Association and the Scottish Justices Association (SJA) – which represents Justices of the Peace.

After Lord Carloway’s decision to refuse to attend the Justice Committee was made known – the SJA pulled out of its scheduled appearance in front of MSPs.

The report found that Scotland’s public prosecutor is coping in its core role of steering trials through the courts to an appropriate outcome, but the level of adjournments and postponements is unacceptably high and inadequate communication is a key problem.

It recommends that the COPFS develop more efficient and effective ways to update people whose attendance is no longer required at a trial.

It also says the COPFS should consider concerns raised about the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.”

Ms Mitchell continued: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better serve justice and the public. This report, its findings on the service’s strengths and weaknesses, and its recommendations are a considered, cross-party view following six months of work. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish Government. There is no room for complacency, and the committee will be keeping close watch on developments.”

Justice Committee report – Role and Purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Focussing on areas of Crown Office operation, the following excerpts are reproduced from the Committee’s final report:

Digital strategy

110. The “vision” of the Digital Strategy, published in 2014, is “to have modern, user-focused justice systems which use digital justice technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost”. It is estimated by the Scottish Government that full implementation of the strategy across the entire justice sector (including the administrative and civil spheres) could save some £20-25 million per annum. The strategy sets out three objectives—

allow people and businesses to access the right information at the right time, principally by expanding online the amount of available information about the justice system. This objective also includes a commitment, by the end of 2017, to enable victims of crime to track their case online;

fully digitised justice systems;

make data work for us, ie collect and use data including stakeholder feedback to develop a more efficient and responsive justice system.

111. It is the second of these objectives that appears to have most potential to unlock efficiencies in the prosecution system, particularly in tandem with complementary reforms envisaged under the Evidence and Procedure Review. It includes plans for—

a “digital evidence vault” enabling the secure storage of all digital evidence in civil and criminal cases;

greatly increased use of live video links to reduce the need for accused, victims and witnesses to have to come to court in all instances;

the serving of more court documentation (eg arrest warrants) digitally; and

disclosure by the COPFS of all evidence to defence agents electronically.

112. The strategy also envisages the police being equipped with body-worn cameras and the integration of all legacy force ICT services within Police Scotland. The Committee notes the potential impact of these objectives on the prosecution of crimes, although they are not within the direct remit of this inquiry. Scrutiny of these issues is within the current work programme of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

and on

Evidence and Procedure Review

113. Lord Carloway’s March 2015 Evidence and Procedure Review concluded that the conduct of criminal trials needs to change because the process had not kept pace with entry into a digital age. The main recommendations related to—

child and vulnerable witnesses: as much as possible, taking evidence from them should be removed from the courtroom setting;

digital evidence: audio and video witness statements should ordinarily be admissible. This was seen as paving the way for the elimination of written witness statements, in most cases, in the future;

modernising criminal trial procedures: in essence, shifting the weight of trial preparation to earlier in the process, in part through greater judicial case management. Trial dates should only be fixed when it is clear that the case will be ready to run on the relevant date.

114. This was followed by a February 2016 “next steps” paper, setting out proposals on which the SCTS is currently working.158 These are intended to build on Lord Carloway’s three main recommendations and to align with relevant objectives in the digital strategy. The overall vision is of a more streamlined criminal justice system, with far less evidence having to be led in the courtroom.

115. As set out in the preceding section, the Lord Advocate and Crown Agent both indicated the COPFS’s readiness for reform, and said they saw real opportunities for progress, particularly in relation to the work of the Evidence and Procedure Review.The Crown Agent said the goal was to crystallise as much evidence as possible in advance of the actual trial.160 Amongst other things, this would greatly reduce the need for witnesses to attend trials – and the non-attendance of witnesses is one of the main causes of churn.

116. The Cabinet Secretary also set out his strong support for the Review. However, he referred in addition to a need for a “cultural change” on the part of all stakeholders if the full benefits of the Review were to be realised. He indicated that legislation would be required at some point to implement elements of the Review.

and on ‘Specialist Prosecutions’ MSPs heard evidence from a former COPFS Prosecutor 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.

Specialist prosecutions

167. The Committee sought views on whether the COPFS had the appropriate skillsets it needed to carry out its prosecutorial role. This includes prosecuting the wide range of different crimes that the COPFS may encounter, ranging from historic child sexual abuse to corporate accounting fraud. As noted elsewhere in the report, the COPFS has moved towards greater specialisation in recent years, setting up offices dealing with sexual offences, serious and organised crime, and international cooperation, amongst others. The Committee notes that, in a relatively small jurisdiction such as Scotland, there are limits to this approach. There may be some types of case that only come before the criminal courts a handful of times in a few years, but which are of a particular complexity. It is hard to build up specialist expertise in such cases. Derek Ogg QC, a former head of the COPFS sexual offences unit told the Committee that, if there is considered to be a lack of in-house specialism to prosecute particularly complex crimes coming before the High Court, this could be addressed by borrowing that expertise; recruiting “locum” advocates depute with experience in that field for the duration of the case.

168. Some submissions expressed the view that the COPFS did not always have the specialist skillsets needed to prosecute certain types of crime as effectively as it should, for instance corporate or regulatory offences.HM Revenue and Customs gave positive evidence about its working relationship with the COPFS in the prosecution of crimes in which it was involved, although it indicated that the COPFS’s relative under-resourcing in some areas, for instance technology, sometimes put it under strain.

Centralised policy-making and local autonomy

184. The COPFS is a national service aspiring to achieve consistently high standards across Scotland. It is in the public interest that both accused and victims should expect the same professional standard of prosecution wherever their case calls. There was a consensus in evidence that the COPFS has become a more centralised organisation in recent years. Some evidence broadly welcomed this, but the Committee also heard views that this process had gone too far; to the point where it was impacting negatively on the COPFS’s effectiveness as a public prosecutor. Whether the COPFS was striking the right balance between pursuing centrally driven policies and letting local prosecutors take their own decisions emerged as one of the key themes of the inquiry.

Specialisation and central case-marking

185. A closely related issue is that of specialisation. In effect, specialisation is a form of centralisation, as it means that a small group of specialist prosecutors will tend to determine national approach to prosecuting particular crimes wherever they occur.

186. Specialisation has included the setting up a case-marking unit around 15 years ago. Local fiscals no longer mark cases at the initial stage of the prosecution. Instead, there are two centres – at Paisley and Stirling – where practically all cases are now marked. As the Committee understands it, the case marking process may involve not only a determination as to whether or not a case should be prosecuted, but further instructions on how to handle the case, for instance whether to accept plea bargains and, if so, on what basis.

Other types of specialisation

187. The setting up of a national sexual crimes unit at the COPFS in 2009 was welcomed by many stakeholders. They thought it had led to such cases (which now constitute around 70% of all High Court cases) being better handled at least at a strategic and policy level, with the views and interests of victims and their advocates better taken account of. This was the view of organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. Susan Gallagher of Victim Support Scotland told the Committee that her organisation’s experience of centralisation – or specialisation – as it applied to victims was largely positive; it was when the Victim Information and Advice service had become more decentralised that inconsistency had crept back in.As noted above, the setting up of a specialist wildlife crime unit was also welcomed by stakeholders as having helped professionalise the COPFS’s approach to these offences.

Views from COPFS representatives

199. The FDA, representing fiscals, took a balanced view of the move towards a more centralised and more specialist service in recent year, recognising that it had its advantages and disadvantages. However, it was overall considered to have been positive. In relation to case-marking, the union’s Rachael Weir told the Committee that she considered it had been beneficial because it had led to greater specialist expertise in case marking being built up.

200. As noted elsewhere in the report, the Lord Advocate publicly affirmed his confidence in COPFS staff as the organisation’s “greatest asset” and expressed his “absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country”. However, the COPFS also made clear in its evidence to the Committee that one of the drivers of the move towards centralisation had been a desire to achieve greater consistency, and a higher quality public service overall.Overall, nothing in the COPFS’s evidence indicated to the Committee that the COPFS was minded to fundamentally reconsider its approach, in the light of views that had been expressed. The Lord Advocate cited learned authority from the 19th century that it was his role to ensure “the due and equal distribution of criminal justice”, so that all may have equal protection under the law, in order to underline that the concept of achieving consistency in prosecution policy was not a new one. It was his view that the current system did allow for some flexibility—

The system can accommodate matters that are of concern in local areas. Indeed, in their reports, the police might identify a particular issue as being a matter of concern. I can put it in this way: through having a national approach, we can ensure that, where there is justification for a variation from the norm to be applied in a particular locality, that is done consistently and does not depend on the views of a particular individual in a particular local area.

201. The Crown Agent said that previous less centralised models had run into problems of their own, such as some courts sitting until late evening. He said that the current system had brought greater professionalism and consistency. Inasmuch as it had probably brought down the number of court sittings, it may have reduced overall costs, although that was not, he stressed, the main reason behind the policy.In relation to the comments of the GBA and others that the current decision-making approach to individual cases can appear opaque and unnecessarily hierarchical, the Crown Agent acknowledged that there was, or had been an issue, explaining that recent internal reforms had led to the number of “approval levels” for ongoing cases being rationalised, with the grade for approval reduced to a local level.

Diversions and local knowledge

202. The Lord Advocate explained to the Committee that teams at the two central case-marking centres are organised by reference to Scotland’s six sheriffdoms. He argued this helped enable case-markers to develop local knowledge of particular areas. In relation to diversions from prosecution, the Lord Advocate said he had reflected on the evidence and posed an open question as to whether it indicated a lack of consistency across the country on the availability of diversion schemes as much as any perceived lack of local knowledge on the part of case markers.

203. Supplementary written evidence from the Crown Agent queried SACRO’s evidence that there had been a trend away from referrals to restorative justice schemes, arguing that it was not strongly supported in the follow-up information SACRO had itself provided to the Committee. The COPFS’s own statistics had indicated a gradual rise in the number of diversions from prosecution over the course of the current decade.The Committee notes that it would require further analysis to determine the extent to which diversions by case markers appear to have had outcomes that could be described as successful.

204. The Crown Agent’s written evidence also queried the JPs’ evidence to the Committee, which he interpreted as being to the effect that—

…prosecutors issue direct measures to avoid the expense of prosecuting cases in court. This is inaccurate and contrary to the Lord Advocate’s policies on decision making. The Scottish Parliament has given prosecutors a range of powers to take action against offenders and we seek to make effective use of all these powers.

205. Both the COPFS and the SCTS referred to statistics indicating that around 80% of direct measures consisting of fines or fixed penalties end up being paid.

206. The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

207. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

208. The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

209. More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Now, turning to the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – funding of the Crown Office comes into sharp focus, despite evidence of massive waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers cash on Crown Office staff:

Recommendations: Resources and funding of the COPFS

The COPFS, in common with agencies across the public sector, has faced significant challenges as a result of a prolonged period of flat-lining budgets. This looks set to continue into 2017-18. The Committee notes the Lord Advocate’s remarks that he considered his 2017-18 budget to be a “sound settlement” that will enable him to continue to provide a fundamentally effective prosecution service.

For the most part, the COPFS has coped in this tougher financial environment as well as can be expected, and its frontline staff deserve credit and recognition for their resilience under sometimes difficult circumstances. It would be unreasonable for the COPFS to continue to rely on the resilience of its staff indefinitely. The Committee considers that change is necessary before the risks that are undoubtedly embedded in the prosecution system, as presently constituted, begin to crystallise.

The Committee agrees with evidence from the COPFS and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that more efficient ways need to be found to manage the whole prosecution process. Whilst the COPFS is the single most important organisation involved in managing the prosecution process, it cannot achieve this reform on its own. The Committee notes that it is expected that change will be primarily driven by the cross-agency Justice Board, on which the COPFS is represented, and expects the Lord Advocate and Cabinet Secretary to provide the necessary backing for the Board as it proceeds in implementing key elements of the Justice Strategy

The Lord Advocate and Crown Agent have acknowledged in evidence that there is a need to address staffing concerns dating back several years. Above average numbers of staff on short-term contracts, on sick leave, or in long-term temporary promotions are danger signs. The Committee is pleased the current leadership appears to recognise this, to be listening to staff, and to be looking for ways to deal with these issues. The Committee will continue to maintain a watching brief on this issue and requests an update on staffing matters from the COPFS when it responds to this report.

In relations to matters such as job satisfaction and work-life balance, returns from staff surveys in recent years have been concerning. The Committee notes some evidence that, in these areas, the organisation might now be making progress. The Committee also notes evidence and public statements from the Lord Advocate that he has confidence in the judgment of his prosecutors and trusts them to take decisions in his name. However, it is still very early days and, in this context, indications that the COPFS may have to shed around 30 staff in 2017-18 to deal with real-terms budget cuts are worrying. It is difficult to see, given the current pressures staff are under, how further losses are sustainable. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS on the operational rationale for job losses and where they will fall.

The Committee also warns the COPFS against an over-reliance on digital solutions to deliver greater efficiencies.

Efficiency of the prosecution service

“Churn” – adjournment and delay of cases scheduled for trial – is one of the main sources of frustration for anyone having to engage with the prosecution process. The Committee accepts that a degree of churn is inevitable and unavoidable, but evidence received over the inquiry indicates that it remains unacceptably high.

The Committee accepts that the problem of delay and inefficiency in the prosecution process cannot be solved by the COPFS acting on its own. The Committee also accepts that churn is a part-consequence of the COPFS’s limited staffing resources, but calls on the COPFS to find methods of mitigating it. For instance, it should be within the capacity of the COPFS to develop more efficient and effective means of notifying those whose attendance is no longer required at a trial. The Committee asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to take this forward within the Justice Digital Strategy.

The Committee notes evidence that 80% of Crown motions to adjourn arise because of the non-attendance of witnesses. Giving evidence in a trial is a civic duty and failure to do so can be deemed a contempt of court. The Committee accepts that there can be understandable reasons why witnesses do not attend a hearing, but seeks clarification from COPFS and Scottish Government as to: what measures are in place to encourage and, if necessary, ensure witness attendance; the extent to which these measures are being used; and whether alternative approaches are being considered over and above whatever may emerge in due course from the Evidence and Procedure Review.

No blame can be attached to witnesses for non-attendance when they have not in fact been cited to attend court. The Committee is concerned by evidence that the process is sometimes unreliable. The Committee asks the Scottish Government, COPFS and SCTS whether it accepts this evidence and, if so, what measures are being considered to address this, including for instance, the Sheriffs’ Association suggestion of a dedicated COPFS unit to issue citations.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Effectiveness of the prosecution service

The Committee agrees with the Lord Advocate that the COPFS is, overall, “effective, rigorous, fair and independent” in the prosecution of crime. The evidence received indicates that, in general, Scotland is fundamentally well served by the COPFS in its core role as public prosecutor. However, the same evidence also makes clear that there should be no room for complacency and that the various shortcomings stakeholders have identified must be addressed.

The Committee acknowledges that the criminal justice system has not always prioritised domestic abuse as it should have or treated it with the seriousness it deserves. It was necessary for a clear message to be sent by public agencies working in the system that domestic abuse is unacceptable and would be tackled robustly, in order to give victims confidence that their case would be taken seriously. The COPFS/Police Scotland Joint Protocol on domestic violence has played an important role in that process. The Committee notes the differing views it has received during this inquiry as to the COPFS’s application of the protocol, notes the Lord Advocate’s response to it, and asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to reflect further on the views that the Committee heard.

The Committee calls on the COPFS and Scottish Government to note evidence as to the quality and consistency of prosecution of those summary cases in relation to which special considerations do not apply by way of Lord Advocate’s guidelines to prosecutors or in the Joint Protocol on domestic abuse. Such cases include instances of antisocial behaviour, crimes of dishonesty or less serious violent crimes. The evidence suggests that these are sometimes under-prioritised.

The Committee acknowledges the COPFS’s evidence that it intends to build stronger relationships with third sector stakeholders in the prosecution of wildlife or environmental crime. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to views heard in evidence that recommendations in the Scottish Government’s 2008 report Natural Justice, particularly in relation to post-prosecution debriefings, have not been fully implemented, and to set out its plans to address this.

The Committee is concerned by evidence of very low prosecution rates for failure to hold employer’s liability insurance, noting that the consequences of failing to be properly insured can be devastating for individuals and families. The Committee welcomes the COPFS’s commitment to explore the reasons behind the low number of referrals with relevant reporting agencies and requests an update from the COPFS.

The Committee seeks the COPFS’s view on whether there is merit in recruiting locum prosecutors to prosecute High Court cases turning on complex and specialist aspects of criminal law such as corporate fraud or health and safety breaches and, if so, whether this is part of its current practice.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that the courts are sometimes being asked to take decisions on bail without access to the full range of relevant information. This may lead to decisions being made that are not necessarily in the public interest, for instance to refuse bail on the basis of the accused’s homelessness. Whilst the safety of the public and the integrity of the prosecution process must be the paramount considerations, the public interest is not served by individuals being remanded when more suitable alternatives may be available. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government, on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond to this evidence.

The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Victims and witnesses and the COPFS

The Committee supports the principle that the COPFS prosecutes in the public interest and not directly in the interests of individual victims of crime: it is not “the victim’s lawyer”. The Committee understands that this may sometimes lead to difficult decisions being made that victims find painful. However, the Committee considers that the principle is key to protecting the independence and integrity of the prosecution service.

The Committee considers that there is no inherent contradiction between putting the public interest first during the prosecution process and putting victim care at the heart of criminal justice system, In particular, victims have a right to be listened to and to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Their views matter and they should be consulted, whenever possible, at appropriate points in the prosecution process.

The Committee considers that an effective, efficient and fair COPFS in everyone’s interests; accused, victims and witnesses alike. The Committee is therefore concerned by evidence that a lack of preparation time means that time limits in solemn trials are being “routinely” exceeded and seeks the COPFS’s response.

The Committee also asks the COPFS to respond to evidence that its general policy is not to seek the withdrawal of warrants for arrest of an accused for non-attendance, even where there may be exculpatory or mitigating factors. The Committee accepts that non-appearance for a court hearing is a serious matter but asks the COPFS to respond to concerns that, if this is its policy, it may impact disproportionately on vulnerable people.

The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to clarify what information (if any) public agencies must provide to families and dependents of accused people and what measures are in place to ensure that the information is provided. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what measures are in place to ensure that family members or vulnerable adults accused or convicted of a crime are contacted and notified.

The Committee considers that the safety and mental welfare of victims, balanced against the accused’s right to a fair trial, should be at the forefront of consideration during the prosecution process. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to confirm whether it is their understanding that Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 imposes legal duties on the COPFS, and other agencies, in relation to the hostile cross-examination of witnesses during a criminal trial and, if so, to clarify what practices and policies are in place to ensure that relevant legal requirements are met.

The Committee welcomes the Victims’ Code for Scotland and considers that the pamphlet should be available to all victims at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to current practices in relation to making the Code available.

The Committee welcomes ongoing work under the Evidence and Procedure Review to reform the way in which children give evidence during a trial but repeats its earlier concern that there is no publication date for the review’s findings.

The Committee notes that the aspiration is to make taking evidence from children in a courtroom setting the exception rather than the norm. Any reforms must continue to allow the defence to challenge and test the evidence. The Committee looks forwards to considering detailed proposals as they emerge.

The Committee welcomes the additional funding that the Cabinet Secretary provided for the victim fund, which assists families of murder victims, in the 2016-17 financial year. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to keep the fund under review to ensure that it is adequate.

The Committee considers that the evidence taken from victims of crime set out serious failings by the criminal justice system, of which the COPFS is a key component, to provide the confidence necessary for these victims to participate in court proceedings. These failings including a lack of communications, misinformation, delays and adjournments, have resulted in some of these victims concluding that they would never have reported the crime in the first place. The Committee considers that this is unacceptable and must be addressed as a priority, and repeats its view that it is imperative that the COPFS finds more effective methods for passing on accurate up-to-date information about trials in real time to all stakeholders, victims especially. The Committee acknowledges that the reasons for adjournments in criminal trials are complex and that the COPFS bears only partial responsibility for them.

The Committee asks the COPFS to clarify the extent to which it takes into account the vulnerability of victims and witnesses, and the risk to them of a prolonged or delayed prosecution process, in determining the prioritisation of cases, in the light of evidence that delays in hearing cases can disproportionately damage the mental welfare of vulnerable adults.

The Committee recognises the valuable role played by the Victim Information and Advice Service, and that there has been praise for the contribution of VIA staff members in evidence. The Committee recognises that the COPFS’s resources are finite and limited and prevent it providing as much assistance as it would like. At the same time, there are lessons for the COPFS as a whole to learn as to the way it sometimes communicates with victims of crime and with other prosecution witnesses.

Reforms under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 have significantly widened the duties owed to victims and witnesses and have been widely welcomed. The COPFS, in common with other public agencies, is still adjusting to these changes. The Committee is concerned by evidence appearing to indicate that some of the key rights secured by that legislation are not yet a reality for victims and witnesses in their journey through the criminal justice system. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to respond to this evidence, and to evidence that victims and witnesses are not always aware of their rights.

The Committee welcomes the Lord Advocate’s acknowledgement that the COPFS might benefit from examining the process of giving evidence from the victim’s perspective in order to see whether it could be improved.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that vulnerable witnesses did not always obtain the special measures that they had requested and that where some special measures (for instance, screens) were provided, they were not always adequate. Evidence that victims and witnesses did not always feel secure outwith the courtroom setting during the trial process is also concerning. The Committee notes that, as well as potentially affecting victims’ and witnesses’ mental welfare, this might affect the evidence they give, or in extreme cases lead them not to give evidence at all.

The Committee recommends that the COPFS carry out an audit of victims and witnesses entitled to special measures in order to determine (a) whether they are aware of their rights to ask for special measures, (b) whether reasonable requests for non-standard special measures are being met, and (c) the extent to which the provision of special measures actually assisted the individual in providing evidence and, if not, what lessons could be learned from this.

Under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, the COPFS is required to take reasonable steps to enable victims and their families to avoid the accused during a trial. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS as to how it exercises that duty in practice and whether it makes victims and their families aware of its existence.

The Committee was concerned by evidence as to the lack of contact between victims and prosecutors during trial preparation, leading in some cases to a perception from victims that the Crown was not well prepared when it came to the trial. The Committee notes the explanation provided by the COPFS as to why, in the vast majority of cases, it is no longer considered appropriate to precognose victims and witnesses. However, the Committee also notes evidence that precognition by the Crown, amongst other things, may help evidence be agreed earlier, and thus help cases resolve more quickly, which is one of the main aims of the Evidence and Procedure Review. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to this evidence.

Evidence received over the course of this inquiry shows a divergence between the intentions of the COPFS and the experience of many victims. Victims can be re-traumatised by what can come across as a mechanistic process that does not always appear to have their interests at heart. Victims and witnesses are sometimes made to feel like an afterthought. This is a system-wide problem but the COPFS, as the key organisation within the prosecution process, bears its share of responsibility. Any comprehensive solution must also be system-wide.

The Committee notes Dr Lesley Thomson’s Review of Victim Care in the Justice Sector in Scotland. Whilst welcoming the Review as a valuable contribution to the current debate as to how best to cater for victims within the prosecution process, the Committee considers that many of its conclusions have been voiced before but not acted upon.

The Committee requests a detailed response from the COPFS and the Scottish Government as to the main conclusions in the Review, including which recommendations they propose to accept, and what legislative reforms may be necessary in the light of this. The Committee further requests from the COPFS and Scottish Government a timetable for implementing recommendations in the Review. The Committee also seeks their views on the Review’s proposal that victims should have access to a single point of contact providing advice and support during their journey through the criminal justice process.

The Committee notes that the number of referrals to the VIA service has risen sharply (by around 45% in seven years) and that the Thomson Review estimates an additional 4000 referrals per annum in future thanks to recent legislative reforms. The Committee considers that without additional resource for VIA, there will almost certainly be adverse consequences for its ability to work effectively.

The Committee calls for the COPFS to audit the work VIA currently undertakes in order to come to a view on where the main demands on its services come from and whether there are areas of unmet need.

The Committee makes these recommendations in the context of what it recognises as an ongoing debate as to the future role of the VIA service. The Committee considers that obtaining more information on VIA’s current workload and on unmet need may help clarify next steps in relation to that debate.

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions in Scotland has an important role to play in ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecution system and the Committee supports its work. The inquiry has laid bare the Inspectorate’s very low public profile, even amongst criminal justice stakeholders. Whilst the Inspectorate is not a public-facing complaints-handling organisation or an advocacy body, it requires the input of informed experts and stakeholders to add value to its scrutiny work.

The Committee is therefore concerned at the lack of stakeholder awareness of the Inspectorate’s output, given that its reports have touched on matters of genuine public interest.

The Committee notes the Inspectorate’s assurances that it recognises its low profile as a concern and proposes to address it. The Committee requests an update from the Inspectorate as to what work is planned and would welcome the Scottish Government’s view on what the Inspectorate proposes.

The Committee notes that it helps the Inspectorate to have ex-COPFS staff working on its investigations. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge about how the service works that is likely to add to the quality of its output. However, the Committee considers that the Inspectorate has not currently got the balance quite right. This applies particularly to the practice of recruiting most assistant inspectors from the COPFS on secondment.

The Committee notes the Inspector’s assurances that she has never been influenced to change a recommendation in her reports. However, perceptions matter, and current arrangements contribute to a perception that the Inspectorate may not be as independent from the COPFS as it was intended to be. The Committee requests the Scottish Government to reflect on these views and to respond to them.

Finally, the Committee asks the Inspector to take into account conclusions and recommendations about the COPFS made elsewhere in this report when considering her next programme of inspections.

LET’S DO JUSTICE DIFFERENTLY – JAMES WOLFFE QC

At a meeting on 17 January 2017, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence from Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – who told MSPs ongoing reviews suggested a “need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

In the months since James Wolffe made this statement to MSPs, Wolffe has embarked on a public relations offensive in order to bring the thorny question of the removal of corroboration – a safeguard against miscarriage of justice – from Scotland’s criminal justice system – in order to secure what COPFS agents believe would be a vastly higher conviction rate – if the requirement of two independent sources of verification for evidence was dropped.

Appearing in sympathetic press, Wolffe has made known he now sides with the abolishment of corroboration and a wholesale change of the way criminal prosecutions are handled in Scotland.

However, critics say the Crown Office cannot be trusted with such radical alterations to Scots Criminal law – pointing to high levels of corruption at the Crown Office including staff who themselves hold criminal records for serious offences, and the widely known fact COPFS is heavily compromised by criminal informants, as well as legal staff who have tipped off other crooks including lawyers & financiers linked to major criminal investigations.

And – moves to drop corroboration in the past have been condemned as little more than a policy move to allow Prosecutors to make up evidence as they go along in Criminal Trials.

Legal figures from across Scotland have indicated it is their view that if  corroboration were removed from the Criminal justice system, trials would be likely to see an increase in all kinds of dodgy statements & evidence used by desperate prosecutors out for a conviction at any cost.

Evidence from Police Officers too has been widely criticised by several members of the judiciary who contend officers have knowingly given false, and at times corrupt evidence in  Scotland’s Sheriff and High Courts of Justiciary.

Legal insiders have since tipped off the media the Crown Office has conducted an internal consultation on how to ‘reinvigorate’ moves to abolish corroboration and return the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – where MSPS previously concluded only two years ago that corroboration must remain as part of Scotland’s justice system.

The Justice Committee’s decision came from an impassioned address by Lord Brian Gill, who rightly supported the retention of corroboration as a safeguard to ensure the right to a fair trial across the spectrum of Scotland’s criminal justice system.

The Justice Committee – then under the chair of MSP Christine Grahame MSP, had previously heard from anti-corroboration protagonists Lord Carloway – who is now Scotland’s top judge, and the then Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – who Carloway has since appointed to a £180k judicial post at the Court of Session.

The Justice Committee remained unconvinced of the merits of abolishing corroboration after hearing from Carloway, Mulholland and a plethora of other groups & vested interests.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is also facing serious questions to answer over his role in a growing scandal around cash bungs and payments to members of the Faculty of Advocates – while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

An ongoing media investigation into a case in which a judge & privy councillor failed to declare links to his son – who was at the time representing a construction company which admitted an incident of unlawfully dumping contaminated waste – has established a QC representing the pursuer was paid large sums of cash after he demanded the payments “in any form except beads”.

An investigation into the payments – which breach Faculty rules -, and evidence of alleged malpractice by the QC was covered up while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

Now, the case has re-entered the headlines as calls grow for a full investigation into legal regulators including Wolffe’s Faculty of Advocates – who dismissed the complaint without even looking at it.

Video footage of two appearances by Crown Office agents including the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC, follow:

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 17 January 2017 – COPFS Inquiry & other business

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said the probe had “unearthed some serious concerns”.

She said: “From the amount of time wasted through trials not proceeding on schedule, to the workload of prosecutors and the support offered to the victims and witnesses who appear at court. “The justice committee will publish its conclusions in due course, but we hope that the Lord Advocate will have listened to the legitimate concerns raised so far.”

Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross pressed the Lord Advocate on whether there would be “an overhaul of the justice system” in light of concerns raised.

Mr Wolffe said he acknowledged the challenges COPFS faces, saying “significant reform” was ongoing, with a process review suggesting “the need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

Crown Agent David Harvie, the professional head of the service, said there was a “very strong argument for system change” within the justice system, and “a need and an opportunity for transformational change”.

Staff surveys have noted that 40% of Crown Office staff don’t wish to stay in the service in the long term – although Mr Wolffe argued that this is “considerably higher” than the average in the civil service, saying things were moving in the right direction. He also argued that there should be no lack of confidence in the fundamental work of COPFS, with a conviction rate of 80% in cases prosecuted.

Mr Harvie said the “vast majority” of individuals were provided with a good service, although he said he “accepts and regrets” that some had been failed.

In response to further questions about staff issues, Mr Wolffe said “we are not complacent about it”, but added that “there is encouragement to be taken” from staff surveys. He said the service had “come a remarkable distance” in his lifetime, from a position where the criminal justice system paid no regard to the needs of witnesses.

The Lord Advocate highlighted communication and support for victims and vulnerable witnesses as a particular area of focus for ongoing improvements, with ambition to deal with evidence from children and vulnerable people in a different way.

Ms Mitchell said there was a “fundamental problem” over communications with victims of sexual assault in particular, with Mr Harvie agreeing this was an issue worthy of “significant reflection” and further work.

Under the current budget draft, the Crown Office budget is maintained in cash terms, which equates to a real-terms cut.

Mr Harvie told members that £1.5m of savings had been targeted, with half of the sum coming from staff costs.

He said “probably around 30” jobs would be cut, by not replacing staff who leave or retire. The other half of the savings will come from areas like expert witness costs and pathology, although Mr Harvie conceded there was a “risk” that some could also come from staffing – albeit “not a significant risk”.

Mr Wolffe previously appeared at Holyrood to give evidence about the draft budget, at which point he argued the Crown Office had adequate resources to fulfil its role.

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 20 December 2016 COPFS Inquiry & other business

Concluding MSPs probe of the Crown Office, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better-serve justice and the public. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish government.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “It is gratifying that the committee has concluded that COPFS is an effective, rigorous, fair and independent public prosecutor.It states that, in general, the public in Scotland is fundamentally well-served by the COPFS in that core role. That is, in large part, a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staff of the service. The committee has made a number of recommendations and I will wish to take time to reflect on all of those recommendations.”

For a more substantive reporting on the Crown Office, read previously articles here: Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service – previous reports and on the office of Lord Advocate here: Scotland’s Lord Advocate – Top crime officer leaves much doubt on justice.

Have a problem with the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service? Tips to tell on cases, prosecutions or presentation of dodgy evidence? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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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 regularly appeared before the SSDT;

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

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

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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