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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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EDINBURGH LAW: Law firms who targeted residents over property repairs scandal among list of lawyers paid £15m public cash by Edinburgh Council in 3 years – as Council fights disclosure of extra payments to ex Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini

Edinburgh Council paid lawyers over £15m in 3 years. THE CITY of Edinburgh Council has been forced to reveal a list of law firms and advocates involved in a staggering Council public cash spend of £15 million on lawyers – in only three years.

However, the Council only revealed the list – after initially refusing a request to disclose the identities of lawyers receiving millions in public cash for work which in some cases  insiders allege is being used to keep law firms afloat in ‘difficult times’.

Among the list now disclosed via Freedom of Information legislation are law firms used by Edinburgh Council – who allegedly harassed & intimidated city residents for recovery of fees for dodgy construction work carried out on orders of the Council while staff from the Property Conservation Department took bribes from contractors & construction firms.

Edinburgh City Council was flooded with nearly 1,000 complaints about statutory repairs worth £30bn – yet despite a report saying lessons had been learned, law firms have continued to target residents over dodgy work orders.

The scandal prompted a Police Scotland fraud probe amid claims of bribery and billing for work not done. It was also discovered gifts & hospitality for staff in departments of the council was widespread.

However, Edinburgh Council has bitterly fought any moves to release exact figures for payments to individual law firms, and is now fighting a further Freedom of Information probe on legal fees and other expenses paid to a former Lord Advocate – Elish Angiolini – who was accused of undermining the judiciary by former Lord President Lord Hamilton.

The figures for Edinburgh Council’s spend on lawyers from 2014 to 2017, obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – reveal the Councils’ staggering £5 million a year spend on in-house, external lawyers and Advocates.

From January 2014 to  31 May 2017, the figure revealed by Edinburgh Council  details some £15,265,175 spent on lawyers.

During the five months from 1 January to 31 May 2014, Edinburgh Council spending on lawyers alone was £1,016,252

The totals for each year since reveal: 2014-2015: £4,812,170, from 2015-2016: £4,104,736, from 2016-2017: £4,649,121 and in only two months from 1.4.17 to 31.5.17 a further £682,896.

In the same period Edinburgh Council also paid the sum of £229,107 to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

Initially, Edinburgh Council attempted to argue that the commercial interests of the Council, the solicitors, advocates and QC listed in the disclosure would be harmed by the disclosure of the withheld information.

However the identities of law firms involved in the payments, but not the exact payments to the actual law firms themselves were eventually disclosed.

The full list of law firms on the payroll of Edinburgh Council includes law firms which have also been subject to PoliceScotland investigations, firms subject to multiple complaints by clients accusing partners of fraud and dishonesty, and a law firm where a stolen £38m Leonardo da vinci painting was ‘found’ in a safe during a Police raid:

Law Firms and Solicitors:

Adams Whyte Solicitors, Aikman Russell Dunlop WS, Aitkens The Family Law Solicitors, Allan McDougall & Co SSC, Allingham & Co (Solicitors) Ltd , Anderson Strathern LLP, Arbuthnott McClanachan, Ashurst LLP, Balfour & Manson, BCKM Solicitors, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, Beveridge & Kellas SSC, Brechin Tindal Oatts, Brodies LLP, Burness Paull LLP, Campbell Smith WS, Clan Childlaw, Clyde & Co (Scotland) LLP, CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, Community Law Advice Network, Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service LINETS, Digby Brown Solicitors, Drummond Miller LLP, Duncan and Wallace SSC, Dundas & Wilson CS LLP, Edinburgh Law Seminars Limited, Edinburgh Law Solicitors and Notaries, Ennova Law, Eskhill and Company, F M McConnell SsC, Frances McChlery Consulting, Fraser Shepherd, FT & DC Wallace, Garden Stirling Burnet, Gibson Kerr Law and Property, Harper MacLeod LLP, Hay Cassels, HBJ Gateley Wareing Scotland LLP, Hughes Walker Solicitors, Iain Smith & Partners, Innes & Mackay Limited, J K Cameron, Jones Whyte, K W Law, Ledingham Chalmers LLP, Legal Services Agency Ltd, Lindsays W S Solicitor,s MacLay Murray & Spens Solicitors, LLP MacRoberts LLP, McCartney Stewart Limited, McKenzies Solicitors, McMillan Williams Solicitors, McNeill & Cadzow, Millar & Bryce Ltd, Morisons Solicitors, Morton Fraser Solicitors, Odonnells Solicitors Limited, Pinsent Masons LLP, Quinn Garland Associates Ltd, R.A Low & Company, RSC Solicitors, Scottish Child Law Centre, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scutt Beaumont Solicitors Ltd, Sheehan Kelsey Oswald, Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP, Simpson & Marwick WS, Sinclair Court Solicitors, Somerville & Russell , T C Young, Thorley Stephenson SSC, Thorntons WS Solicitors, Tods Murray LLP in Administration, Trinity Chambers, Warners Solicitors LLP, William Hodge Shorthand Writers Ltd, Wilson Terris & Co SSC,

Advocates and QC’s:

Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, Ruth Innes, David Jack, Morag Jack.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has now been approached to investigate the case and seek disclosure of the amounts of secret legal fees paid to former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – after Edinburgh Council claimed the payments of substantial sums of public cash amounted to ‘personal data’.

A separate approach to the SIC is to be made over exact payments to law firms, given the sheer size of payments of public cash – which some legal insiders contend are an indication of law firms generating work for themselves to keep them afloat.

Do you have an experience with Edinburgh Council and any of the law firms listed in the Freedom of Information disclosure? If so, DOI would like to hear from you by contacting us at scottishlawreporters@gmailcom

 

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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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LOOK AFTER LAWYERS: Law Society wants to keep 70 year ‘successful’ system of lawyers investigating themselves – in response to Scottish Parliament petitions calling for UK style independent regulation of legal services in Scotland

Law Society says lawyers should investigate themselves. A PROPOSAL before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland – has heard claims lawyers have successfully investigated themselves for seventy years – and that this ‘arrangement’ should continue.

Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee have now received the views of the Law Society of Scotland , and Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal  (SSDT) – who both want to continue the current system where lawyers maintain their own ‘standards’, write their own rules, and investigate complaints against themselves.

The Law Society of Scotland stated in a letter to MSPs – PE1660B and PE1661B: Law Society of Scotland“the dual role of regulation and professional support has been successfully carried out for almost 70 years”

The Law Society goes on to claim “This issue was considered in depth by the Scottish Government ahead of the 2010 Legal Services Act with a clear conclusion that the model of having a single professional body was right for Scotland.”

However, thousands of complaints a year made against solicitors in Scotland by clients who end up considerably worse off financially after bruising encounters with lawyers even on the most common legal services show the profession’s self regulation model as predominantly dishonest.

The Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – who were exposed in a BBC Scotland documentary for shying away from striking off serially dishonest solicitors – ‘suggested’ in their own letter to MSPs – PE1660 A and PE1661: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – that the Scottish Parliament wait until a two year review is complete before considering the petitions.

The Disciplinary Tribunal said in it’s letter to the Committee: “The Tribunal considers that the issues raised in Petitions PE1660 and PE1661 are being considered in the current Review which includes an examination of the legal complaints system in Scotland and an analysis of legal complaint handling in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it would be appropriate to await the recommendations of the current Review before there is detailed consideration of the issues raised in these Petitions”.

However, the Scottish Government review referred to by the Disciplinary Tribunal –  has already come in for stinging criticism due to it’s dominant complement of vested interests from the legal profession who lobby against any change to the current system of regulation where lawyers investigating themselves.

The letters come in response to petitions being considered by the Public Petitions Committee calling for a radical overhaul of the way complaints against the legal profession are handled in-house by the Law Society and ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

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.

The move by Holyrood to look at the issue of self regulation of lawyers – comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

However, the Scottish Government ‘review’ – will not report back until the end of 2018 and with non binding recommendations – and has come in for significant criticism after it was found there was only one consumer related interest among the legal related membership.

When the review was announced earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil said 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”

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services 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’

During the last debate on the two petitions, members of the Public Petitions  Committee also 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.

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

If proposals within the petitions go ahead, this would bring regulation of legal services in Scotland into line with independent regulation as practiced in England & Wales.

The full letter from the Law Society of Scotland to the Public Petitions Committee:

PE1660/B PE1661/B Law Society of Scotland submission of 16 October 2017 REGULATION OF THE SCOTTISH LEGAL PROFESSION

Thank you for your letter of 29 September. We are grateful for this opportunity to feed into the Committee’s consideration of petitions PE1660 and PE1661.

As the professional body for Scottish solicitors, we share the petitioners’ desire to improve the regulation of legal services. The Scottish legal sector has evolved considerably since the introduction of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which is the main legislative framework governing the regulation of legal services. We are clear that reform is needed, both to protect clients’ interests and to ensure the legal sector, which contributes so significantly to the Scottish economy, can be competitive and continue to thrive.

We approach these issues with almost 70 years’ experience of delivering robust regulation of the legal profession. As the principal regulator of Scottish solicitors, we take our duty to protect the public interest extremely seriously, a fact demonstrated through the range of activity which we carry out.

First and foremost, we set high professional standards which all solicitors must meet, including a robust route to qualification along with practice rules and guidance which is regularly reviewed. Our highly trained financial compliance team inspect around 370 law firms each year to ensure compliance with our strict accounts rules. In 2015/16 and as a result of these inspections, we raised 17 complaints of our own to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Additionally we intervene quickly in firms when things go wrong, ensuring clients know who to contact, where their files are and offering the assurances they need. Even when clients choose to no longer pursue an initial complaint against their solicitor, we will raise our own complaint if it is in the public interest and in order to maintain standards. In total we raise around 30 complaints a year against solicitors to the SLCC.

By setting, maintaining and vigorously enforcing standards, we strive to ensure that consumer interests remain the central focus of our regulatory work and that consumer confidence in the Scottish solicitor sector remains high. A poll of the Scottish public in

2016 indicated that 90% of those surveyed are satisfied with the services provided by their solicitor and 82% would recommend their solicitor to others. That poll also demonstrated high levels of trust in the legal profession as a whole.

The case for change: We recognise that, despite the strong system of regulation in place, further work is needed to improve that system. This is particularly true around the area of complaints handling, where processes need to be simpler and consumer protection stronger. Given the regulatory framework and processes involved are set out within primary legislation, we are afforded little flexibility within the existing system. This is why we proactively approached the Scottish Government in 2015, submitting a detailed paper which set out the case for new legislation to better protect consumers and allow the legal services market to thrive . Our proposals include better regulation of legal firms and individual solicitors to improve standards in addition to a wider regulatory reach over other legal professionals.

This is in response to the dramatic changes we are seeing in the Scottish and UK legal services market. New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape that market. Yet most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is approaching 40 years old and did not anticipate the changes we are seeing today.

Whilst taking forward reform, we also believe it vital to preserve the elements and principles of the current regulatory framework which work well – the independence of the legal profession; a single professional body; independent discipline body. These must be protected.

We were delighted that, in response to our proposals, the Scottish Government established the independent review of the regulation of legal services, now being chaired by Esther Roberton. We believe this offers a real opportunity to develop a consensus on what reforms are required and how they can be effectively delivered.

The complaints system: We note the ultimate aim of both petitions is to urge the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to review complaints about providers of legal services in Scotland. We share the petitioners’ concerns and frustration in relation to the complex and unwieldy complaints process that currently exists from the existing legislation.

The introduction of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which opened on 1 October 2008. The SLCC is a complaints handling body which operates independently of the Law Society and Scottish Government. It has important oversight powers in relation to the handling of conduct complaints by the legal professional bodies, including the power of audit in addition to other consumer protection matters. Under the provisions of the 2007 Act, the Law Society retains the responsibility for managing and investigating complaints relating to the conduct of Scottish solicitors.

We regularly engage with the SLCC and enjoy a close working relationship of mutual respect and recognition. We discuss shared matters of concern and ideas for improving the complaints process to the benefit of complainants and the legal profession. We are frequently in discussions with the SLCC and other stakeholders with regard to the various challenges which the 2007 Act raises in relation to legal complaints, in particular the complex processes at the gateway / eligibility stage which result in unacceptable delays.

We believe the whole system for managing legal complaints needs to be changed to make the processes involved easier and quicker for the consumer. We are currently in discussions with the SLCC regarding an interim solution which could be delivered through secondary legislation. This offers the chance to improve the system by speeding up the eligibility stage of the complaints process until such time as more permanent changes can be made.

Given that there is no ability for a complainer to make a complaint on the SLCC’s handling of a service complaint, we strongly believe there should also be independent oversight of the SLCC, particularly as the SLCC perform the oversight functions of the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates relating to conduct complaints.

We note that during the Committee’s meeting of 21 September 2017 a number of members referred to the Law Society’s campaign which resulted in many solicitors contacting their local MSPs to express concerns over the increase in the SLCC’s budget for 2017/18. During this campaign, we raised concerns that the SLCC’s budget could not be formally objected to by Ministers or by Parliament. This emphasises the challenge about the lack of effective independent oversight of the SLCC. I enclose a copy of the standard letter which formed the basis for many of the emails sent to MSPs earlier in the year. We would be happy to provide further background information or meet members of the Committee to further clarify the circumstances that led to the campaign and our position.

We have provided some further information on each petition below:

PE1660:  The petitioner argues that the existing appeals route against decisions by the SLCC, via the Court of Session, forms a barrier to those who wish to appeal.

We fully agree with this view. We recognise that the concept of pursuing legal action against a public body via the court can be a difficult and daunting process.

The requirement to obtain the leave of the Court of Session can put the appeal option out of reach for the majority of complainers, even where they may have fully justified grounds for appealing. This compares starkly to the situation regarding conduct complaints dealt with by the Law Society. Here, if a complainer is not happy with the way we have handled a complaint then they have the option of taking a ‘handling complaint’ to the SLCC. Whilst this does not amount to an appeal, the SLCC can recommend the matter be re-opened for further consideration if due process has not been followed or the decision lacks reasoning. Furthermore, a complainer can appeal a decision directly to the separate and independent Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

There is no equivalent process for those complaints dealt with by the SLCC. The only recourse is through seeking leave of the Court of Session. We believe there is a case for reviewing this and hope the work being undertaken by Esther Robertson and her review group will consider this point.

The petitioner also states that the Law Society ‘appears to desire no involvement, nor introduce quality control’ in the SLCC’s handling of complaints’. It is important to stress that the current legislative framework provides us no role of oversight of the SLCC, its processes or its decisions. Even where there may be occasions that we disagree with a service complaint decision of the SLCC, there are no special mechanisms which allow us to challenge or raise this other than the general provision which are available to the general public.

We also note that comment is made in the background notes on the process by which the SLCC lays reports before Parliament for information only. The provisions of the 2007 Act (Schedule 1 paragraph 16) provide that the SLCC must lay their annual report before Parliament at the end of each financial year. This is in addition to the laying before the Scottish Parliament of the SLCC budget by the end of April each year. These are laid for information only and Parliament has no statutory powers to comment on or amend these in any way. As I have already outlined, we do believe that greater oversight is needed of the SLCC and its performance, a fact which came into stark focus during the budget issues earlier this year.

PE1661: Central to this petition is the call for a wholly independent regulator of legal services in Scotland with no ties to the profession.

The Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of regulation and professional support has been successfully carried out for almost 70 years. This issue was considered in depth by the Scottish Government ahead of the 2010 Legal Services Act with a clear conclusion that the model of having a single professional body was right for Scotland.

At the core of any profession is a commitment to provide the best possible service to the consumer while recognising it has a responsibility to act in the public interest in all that it does. The regulation of the profession is the means by which the profession ensures these aspirations are met.

Our dual role is essential in ensuring that Scottish solicitors deliver the highest practical and ethical standards. To ensure we maintain a practical distinction between our two roles, our regulatory function is clearly separated and works independently of our professional support work. That regulatory activity is overseen by the Regulatory Committee in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. This means it is an independent committee. The Law Society Council is not permitted to unduly interfere with the work of the Regulatory Committee, nor with the work of its sub- committees which are responsible for taking specific regulatory decisions. This is all clearly set out in legislation. To strengthen that independence, the Convener of the Regulatory Committee is chosen by the committee and must be a lay member. Our current convener Carole Ford comes from the teaching profession, bringing both an expertise in standards setting and enforcement but also a clear commitment to the public interest. The committee she chairs has an equal number of solicitor and non-­solicitor members – another element set out in legislation.

The concept of a single professional body, with both regulatory and professional support functions, is a model seen in other sectors in Scotland and also in other legal jurisdictions around the world.

Here in Scotland, we have the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The teaching profession in Scotland recently moved from separate bodies into the single professional body that is the General Teaching Council. There is clear recognition across a number of professions that having a single professional body is the right approach, particularly given the size of Scotland.

Further afield, Law Societies and Bar Associations around the world have dual responsibility for regulation and professional support. These include the Law Society of Ireland, Law Societies in the provinces of Canada and states of Australia as well as bar associations in US states such as California, Florida and Texas. It provides a cost effective, practical, and coordinated professional approach which works in the interests of the consumer.

Nevertheless, we recognise the specific areas of concern which the petitioner highlights. The petitioner’s background information notes how the Law Society of Scotland cannot become involved in the decisions of the independent complaints handling body, the SLCC. If there is concern over the accountability of the existing independent complaints body, we do not agree that the way to correct this is to create a new regulatory body. Rather it would be better to create the kind of effective oversight of the SLCC which I have described earlier, the kind of oversight which the Law Society faces from our own Regulatory Committee, the SLCC, the SSDT and the Courts.

The background notes also assert that over 600 complaints were dismissed as a result of the court ruling in Anderson Strathern vs. SLCC (CSIH 71XA16/15). As a result of the ruling, which affected around 250 complaints already in the system, the Court of Session has now made a further judgment on the way these cases should be dealt with . We are working with the SLCC to implement the judgment which centres on the way the SLCC have categorised complaints.

We have worked constructively and collaboratively with the Parliament and other organisations throughout the passage of the Acts of the Scottish Parliament referred to in the petition background notes. As a professional body which has a statutory duty to protect and further the interests of the public and consumers, we have put forward proposals which demonstrate our commitment to these values.

As I have noted, the Scottish Government appointed an independent group to review the provision and regulation of legal services in Scotland, chaired by Esther Roberton. The Committee may wish to consider contacting the review group regarding opportunities for the public, including the petitioners, to present their views on the complaints process for consideration.

Thank you again for the opportunity to respond to these petitions. If we can provide any further points of clarification or aid the Committee’s consideration of these petitions further, please contact our Legislative Change Executive.

The letter from the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SSDT) to the Public Petitions Committee:

PE1660/A PE1661/A  Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal submission of 13 October 2017

Introduction: The Public Petitions Committee met on 21 September 2017 to discuss petitions PE1660 and PE1661. In short, these conjoined petitions call on Parliament to urge the Government to review and reform the system of legal complaints in Scotland by comparing it to the system in operation in England and Wales. The Committee determined to seek the views of various stakeholders including the Scottish Solicitors ’ Discipline Tribunal.

Current system: It may assist the Public Petitions Committee to understand the place of the Tribunal in the system of legal complaints. Complaints against solicitors in Scotland are channelled first through the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). The SLCC deals with matters of inadequate professional services itself. It refers conduct matters to the Law Society. The Law Society has powers to deal with unsatisfactory professional conduct itself. The Law Society may appoint a Fiscal to prosecute the most serious cases before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal as professional misconduct. Individuals cannot make complaints direct to the Tribunal.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal: The Tribunal is an independent formal judicial body constituted under statute and subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Session. The Tribunal deals with complaints of professional misconduct, complaints that a solicitor has been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or any other more serious criminal offence, appeals stemming from the Law Society’s determinations regarding unsatisfactory professional conduct, and applications for restoration to the roll of solicitors in Scotland. The Tribunal is made up of 12 solicitor and 12 non-solicitor members. At each hearing the Tribunal comprises two solicitor and two non-solicitor members. Hearings are generally held in public.

The sanctions which the Tribunal can impose are censure, fines of up to £10,000, restriction of a solicitor’s practising certificate, suspension, strike off or prohibition on restoration to the roll, and compensation of up to £5,000 for loss, inconvenience or distress if a Secondary Complainer has been directly affected by the misconduct. Every decision of the Tribunal is published in full subject to the terms of paragraph 14A of Schedule 4 to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980. Occasionally publicity is deferred, for example, pending the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

The Tribunal’s mission statement is to ensure so far as possible that all cases brought before the Tribunal are dealt with in accordance with the legislative framework and the principles of natural justice, bearing in mind the importance of protecting the public from harm and maintaining public confidence in the legal profession. The Tribunal endeavours to deal with cases efficiently and expeditiously. The Tribunal has a duty to be independent, impartial and transparent.

The Tribunal is responsible for the most serious cases of misconduct relating to Scottish Solicitors. Consequently, it deals with far fewer cases than either the Law Society or the SLCC. In the year 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016, the Tribunal met on 45 days to hear Complaints. 32 new Complaints were received during that year. The Tribunal made 22 findings of professional misconduct and one under section 53(1)(b). The Tribunal made four findings of not guilty and two were remitted to the Law Society to consider as unsatisfactory professional conduct.

PE1660 and PE1661: The Tribunal considers that the system of legal complaints in Scotland can be complicated, lengthy and expensive. To a limited extent, the procedure has been simplified following the Court of Session judgements in Anderson Strathern v SLCC [2016] CSIH 71 and Law Society v SLCC [2017] CSIH 36. However, there are still areas for improvement.

The Tribunal is currently participating in the Review of Regulation of Legal Services; its Chairman is a member of the Review. The remit of the Review is to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. The Tribunal hopes that this would modernise and streamline complaints handling. The Review’s remit is to focus on the current regulatory framework and the complaints process. Its aims therefore directly cover Petition PE1660 which calls for a review of the operation of the SLCC with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. .

The Review also overlaps Petition PE1661 which calls for reform of the regulation of legal complaints. However, the author of PE1661 calls for this to be done by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with similar powers those held by the SRA, Legal Ombudsman, BSB and SDT in England and Wales. The Tribunal observes that the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal is the direct counterpart of the SDT in England and Wales. Similarly, the SLCC performs a broadly similar though not identical role to the Legal Ombudsman. The Law Society of Scotland’s Regulation Department performs comparable functions to the SRA. The Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal and the Bar Standards Board also have related responsibilities. The role of these bodies in the complaints system is included in the current Review and the Review may make recommendations for changes in this.

Therefore, the Tribunal considers that the issues raised in Petitions PE1660 and PE1661 are being considered in the current Review which includes an examination of the legal complaints system in Scotland and an analysis of legal complaint handling in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it would be appropriate to await the recommendations of the current Review before there is detailed consideration of the issues raised in these Petitions.

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

 

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KEEN TO TALK: Advocate General with criminal conviction for firearms offence promotes ‘UK Legal Services are best’ campaign in Singapore – in effort to attract Asian customers to Brexit-hit UK legal market

Lord Keen of Elie in Singapore. A GOVERNMENT minister with a conviction for a firearms offence is currently in Singapore on a taxpayer funded bash – promoting a UK Legal Services are great campaign in the hope of attracting Asian customers to the UK’s dwindling legal services sector and courts.

Lord Keen – real name Richard Sanderson Keen – who joined the Lords on 8 June 2015 and was appointed Advocate General for Scotland – has flown to Singapore to promote the UK legal industry in a social media & twitter #LegalServicesAreGREAT campaign to promote the UK as a hub of legal excellence.

However, the same Lord Keen was convicted of a firearms related offence in March 2017.

The campaign, hosted at the UK High Commission and other venues in Singapore – brings together lobby groups such as the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Scotland, a host of legal firms, and so-called ‘independent’ legal regulators – the Legal Ombudsman, Bar Council and others.

Asian customers attending the Singapore conference are invited to “Discover what makes UK legal services great – The UK’s legal system has inspired and influenced similar legal systems worldwide. Every year, we attract many international businesses who want to take advantage of the UK’s globally respected legal services.”

Attendees to the conference have listened to Lord Keen promoting UK legal services and the so-called world respected UK legal profession & industry.

However, in March 2017, Lord Keen – who also once held the post of Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – was fined £1,000 after admitting a firearms offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Earlier this year, 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.

The weapon, a Stephen Grant 12 Gauge shotgun – was outside its required storage area and was in a position to have been made use of, should the need have arisen – observed one firearms expert.

The incident & related court hearings,-  which sources claim contained “incredulous assertions” prompted a media investigation revealing the extent of firearms ownership by top lawyers & judges, reported here:  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

The new Legal Services Are Great campaign, staged by the UK Government and funded by taxpayers cash – in which Lord Keen plays a role – comes amid fears Brexit could turn to Lexit – where legal firms & litigants may chose to conduct arbitration & court business in other jurisdictions.

A post by the Ministry of Justice on Medium.com titled “Why UK legal services are GREAT”  claims: The UK is home to the best legal services in the world. That is the message of our new global campaign to promote the UK’s legal services.
With over 200 international law firms, the UK is a global hub of legal expertise

From nearly four decades in the legal profession and as a UK Government minister and Advocate General for Scotland, I have seen first-hand the exceptional talent and expertise within our legal services sector across the whole of the UK.

In a global and competitive marketplace, we know what international clients want when they’re looking for legal services.

Clients want to choose a law to govern their contracts that gives them the flexibility, confidence and certainty they need. They want legal firms that have a track record in and reputation for providing expert advice. They want judges that are not only experts but also incorruptible and fair when it comes to settling disputes. They want courts that are expeditious and that harness the latest technology. These qualities are all woven into the fabric of the UK’s legal services.

The Ministry of Justice campaign goes onto claim:

Experienced judges: Our judges are renowned for their independence, rigour and commercial expertise in all aspects of the law. As a result, UK court judgments carry a guarantee of excellence which is respected internationally.

Professional expertise: The UK’s regulated barristers and solicitors represent clients worldwide. From helping you close cross-border business deals and manage financial transactions to resolving international disputes, our lawyers have the global expertise to help you build your business.

Robust contract law: English law is the most popular choice of law for commercial contracts. Valued for its clarity, it’s the world’s most enduring common law system and can provide certainty and security for your business deals.

UK: the cradle of the rule of law: The UK is the cradle of the rule of law. The roots of English law are deep; its adoption and influence is wide. It is the product of hundreds of years of evolution — of gradual refinement, development and extension, precedent after precedent.

As a result, English common law is clear, predictable and familiar. It underpins over a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions. It is the most popular choice of law in the world for commercial contracts and governs about 40% of all global corporate arbitrations.

UK: home to great law firms, expert judges and modern courts: But it is not just the pedigree of English law that makes the UK attractive. Our law firms, our judges and our courts that administer, interpret and arbitrate on the law are world-renowned.

Take UK law firms. With four of the top ten law firms in the world and with over 16,000 barristers, the UK has a wealth of talent and top legal expertise and advocacy.

Take UK Judges. They are respected internationally for their intellect, independence and commercial expertise, with many having specialist knowledge and practical understanding of commercial matters they are judging.

Take the UK’s judicial processes and courts. They do not just have hundreds of years of history behind them, they are among the best in the world in terms of being digitally-enabled.

The UK’s legal heritage, together with its expertise and innovation, makes it a popular choice for clients around the world. London brings access to the world’s biggest specialist legal centre for dispute resolution and commercial litigation.

However, the carefully worded claims make no mention of the fact parts of the UK judiciary has been engaged in a five year fight against proposals to require the judiciary to declare their vast wealth, and business interests – which have resulted in countless conflicts of interest in case after case.

And, more recently it has been uncovered the Ministry of Justice has been concealing statistics on judicial recusals in England & Wales – despite the same information being published in Scotland as paret of the Register of Judicial Recusals – now made available after the work of journalists, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

The battle between members of the Judiciary of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament over a petition calling on judges to declare their interests has sparked ire among judges, amid concerns the judiciary are deliberately concealing significant conflicts of interest which has led to injustice across the spectrum of criminal, and civil cases in Scotland’s courts.

The Register of Recusals was created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee’s deliberations on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The proposal, 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.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

Of further note – all of the claims currently published by the Ministry of Justice in the #LegalServicesAreGREAT campaign – have been challenged by two successive Lord Justice Generals – the ranking top judge in Scotland –  where both Lord Presidents Lord Gill, and recently Lord Carloway – branding Scotland’s justice system as stuck in the “Victorian” era, and centuries behind the rest of the world.

Further studies by the EU have ranked Scotland’s justice system as one of the slowest, and most expensive in the world – with the most highly paid judges delivering the poorest results on civil and criminal justice – reported here: Scots Legal Aid ‘a £161Million public subsidy for legal profession’ as EU report reveals judges salaries & lawyers legal aid claims come before public’s access to justice

While keen to promote legal services to the world, the Ministry of Justice could not offer any further comment on the campaign or answer questions on how much public cash was allocated to the project.

The Ministry of Justice have refused to confirm claims attendees first, & business class flights & travel to the Singapore conference, hotel stays & hospitality have been paid by taxpayers.

 

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LEGAL REGULATION PROBE: Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee seek views on replacing Scotland’s ‘lawyer-lawyer’ regulation – with ‘UK style’ fully independent regulation of solicitors & legal services

MSPs seek views on reform of legal regulation. TEN YEARS after the contentious passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – which saw the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) as the lawyer-lawyer led regulator of legal services – MSPs are to seek views on creating a fully independent non-lawyer regulator of Scots legal services.

Two petitions calling for a complete reform of legal services regulation in Scotland have been debated by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

MSPs have now decided to call 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.

The move by MSPs comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

However, the Scottish Government ‘review’ – will not report back until the end of 2018 and with non binding recommendations – and has come in for significant criticism after it was found there was only one consumer related interest among the legal related membership.

When the review was announced earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil said 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”

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services 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’

After members discussed the two petitions, the Petitions Committee agreed to join these petitions together for future consideration on the basis that they raise similar issues.

The Committee also 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.

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.

HOLYROOD BRIEFING: MSPs hear of differences between Scotland & UK on regulation of legal services:

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

4. The SLCC was set up by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the Act) to deal with complaints against legal practitioners (primarily solicitors or advocates) in Scotland.

5. It is an independent body whose Board is appointed by the Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session. It is supported by a management team and staff who carry out investigations.

6. The SLCC is funded by a levy paid by legal practitioners and is required to consult with the relevant professional bodies when setting its annual budget. A copy of the finalised budget has to be laid before the Scottish Parliament no later than 30 April in each year (the budget is not, however, subject to parliamentary approval).

7. The SLCC acts as the initial gateway for complaints. Unresolved complaints have to be made to it in the first instance. Complaints made directly to a professional body (e.g. the Law Society of Scotland (Law Society) or Faculty of Advocates (Faculty)) have to be forwarded by these bodies to the SLCC.

8. Once the SLCC has received a complaint, it assesses whether it is a:

1. Service complaint – i.e. related to the quality of work; or a

2. Conduct complaint –i.e. related to a legal practitioner’s fitness to carry out work and behaviour outside of business.

7. Cases often involve issues of both service and conduct, with the result that both the SLCC and professional bodies can investigate different aspects of the same complaint.

8. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns inadequate professional service, the SLCC investigates following procedures laid down in its rules and the Act. The SLCC can ultimately:

• Award the complainer up to £20,000 for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service.

• Require the relevant legal practices/practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense.

• Report the matter to the relevant professional body if the practitioner shows a lack of legal competence.

9. Decisions of the SLCC can be appealed to the Court of Session.

10. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns the conduct of a legal practitioner, the SLCC passes it on to the relevant professional body to investigate. The SLCC is not permitted to investigate conduct complaints, but it can investigate the way these have been handled by the relevant professional organisation (known as a handling complaint).

11. The Law Society is able to impose sanctions on solicitors whose conduct has been “unsatisfactory” and can prosecute solicitors before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) where behaviour amounts to professional misconduct. The maximum compensation payable to a complainer is £5,000. In the most serious cases the SSDT can suspend a solicitor’s practising certificate or strike them from the roll of solicitors.

12. The Faculty deals with conduct complaints through a Complaints Committee comprising an equal number of advocates and lay members. Its decisions can be appealed to the Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal – chaired by a retired senior judge and whose members include advocates and lay persons. In September 2016 the SLCC published a report which audited the operation of the Facultys investigation and disciplinary processes.

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

• The SLCC’s overview of the process for dealing with service and conduct complaints.

The Law Societys overview of how it deals with conduct complaints,

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

14. In recent years there has been a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society over the operation of the complaints system. For example, in December 2016, the Law Society announced that it had commenced legal action against the SLCC over the way in which it categorises complaints as service complaints or conduct complaints. In addition, in April 2017 the Law Society noted in a press release that it was “frustrated and disappointed” about the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. The press release also referred to the complaints system as being, “slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive.”

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

15. In England & Wales complaints about poor service against legal practitioners are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman. Issues of professional misconduct are referred to the relevant “approved regulator” – i.e. the Bar Standards Authority (for barristers) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (for solicitors), who can take disciplinary action. For details see the House of Commons Librarys briefing on complaints against solicitors and other lawyers.

Scottish Parliament Action

16. In session 4, the SLCC submitted a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in which it argued that a review of the complaints procedure was needed. In response, the Justice Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and received a response dated 31 October 2012 indicating that the SLCC and Law Society were, “developing a consensual approach to reach an agreement on the key improvements required.” Regulations amending the powers and duties of the SLCC were subsequently scrutinised by the Justice Committee, which recommended their approval by the Parliament (approval was granted on 13 August 2014).

17. The adequacy of the complaints system has also been raised in the current parliamentary session (see for example Motion S5M05079 lodged by Douglas Ross MSP on 6 April 2017).

The motion lodged by Douglas Ross, who is now an MP at Westminster read:

Motion S5M-05079: Douglas Ross, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/04/2017

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

That the Parliament recognises the concerns of solicitors and advocates following the announcement that the annual levy on legal practitioners to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is set to rise by 12.5%; understands that the SLCC has argued that recent increases in the number of complaints received against solicitors requires a commensurate increase in its budget; believes that some solicitors and advocates consider that these costs could be absorbed by the SLCC without a rise in the levy; understands that the Law Society of Scotland submitted a paper to the SLCC in response to the plans, but that its proposals were rejected and the increase was maintained; recognises the reported concerns among legal practitioners that the levy can be adjusted by any amount without a mechanism to effectively challenge it; acknowledges what it sees as the risk that the increase in the levy could be passed on to consumers, and calls on the SLCC to carefully consider the feedback that it has received from solicitors, advocates and the Law Society of Scotland.

Supported by: Dean Lockhart, Alexander Stewart, John Lamont, Alison Harris, Peter Chapman, Liz Smith, Gordon Lindhurst R, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron R, Liam Kerr R, Miles Briggs, Murdo Fraser R, Adam Tomkins, John Scott, Margaret Mitchell, Rachael Hamilton R, Jackson Carlaw, Annie Wells, Jeremy Balfour, Ross Thomson, Brian Whittle, Jamie Greene, Alexander Burnett, Bill Bowman, Maurice Golden

Scottish Government Action

18. On 25 April 2017, the Scottish Government announced the launch of an independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland including the complaints system. According to the Scottish Government, the review

“…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.”

19. The review is expected to report to Scottish Ministers by the end of 2018.

FLAWED LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW – How Scottish Government’s attempt at independent review of lawyers ended up back in the hands of … lawyers:

In April 2017, the Scottish Government 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.”

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).

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

The Scottish Government’s review of legal services 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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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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