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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of recommendations

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

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

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

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

REGULATION REVIEW:

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

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

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

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

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

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

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

OUR PROPOSALS FOR REFORM

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

We hope this is of assistance to the Committee.

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

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Embedding the consumer principles

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

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

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

SPECIFIC ISSUES RAISED IN THE PETITIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEVY

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC appendices to our main paper

SLCC Annual Review 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

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

 

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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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