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OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help

 

Law Society poll did not reveal all – SLCC. THE FINDINGS of a Law Society of Scotland survey claiming hard-to-verify client-solicitor satisfaction rates have come in for criticism by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – the ‘independent’ regulator of solicitors & legal services in Scotland.

The Law Society poll – published in early January 2015 – claimed Scottish solicitors were highly regarded by the public.

However, the SLCC have now challenged the poll’s findings, claiming high levels of legal service in Scotland are “not a universal experience”. The ‘independent’ SLCC also cited higher compensation awards against rogue solicitors and ‘increasing redress’ provided by the SLCC to wronged clients.

And, in another swipe at the Law Society’s poll dodging, the SLCC has now revealed that only a third of clients polled who were dissatisfied with their solicitor did anything about it, and not one client involved in the poll knew they could refer their complaint to the SLCC.

However, carefully prepared statements avoided any explanation on why the SLCC’s involvement in the poll was kept secret until a media investigation published documents revealing the SLCC’s role.

A spokesperson for the SLCC said: “Towards the end of last year, the Law Society of Scotland released the results of a poll of the public’s perceptions of the legal profession. This indicated that, overall, people expressed a high level of satisfaction with solicitors. While we agree that the vast majority of solicitors provide a high level of service, this is unfortunately not a universal experience. As our figures show, we are increasingly providing redress for those clients who receive a poor service from their solicitors – a picture also supported by the record level of compensation awards and refunds of legal fees we highlighted in our last Annual Report.”

The SLCC went on to explain it’s previously secret involvement in the poll, revealing it asked searching questions on how clients react to the provision of poor legal services.

“We were given the opportunity to include questions in the Law Society’s poll. We asked two related questions aimed to assess public awareness of the role of the SLCC. In particular, we wanted to know whether clients who were dissatisfied with the service they had received from their solicitor knew they could bring their concerns to us.

The answers to these questions were revealing. Of those who were dissatisfied with their solicitor: only a third did anything about it; and none knew they could refer their complaint to the SLCC.

Solicitors throughout Scotland have a duty to make their clients aware of the SLCC and how to make a complaint to us. We continue to see evidence that this is not happening – less than 5% of those who complain to us say that they found out about us from their solicitor. We are concerned that, as a result, the voices of many dissatisfied clients are just not being heard. As a priority, we are currently working with the Law Society to ensure that all solicitors provide clear and consistent sign-posting to our service.

Clearly there is also more work that we, as an organisation, need to do to increase public awareness of the SLCC. Our Consumer Panel, newly-established this year, will be looking at how we can make sure that, on the occasions where things do go wrong and fail to be resolved, the public knows to bring those concerns to us.  Our half year results show that when this does happen – we can help put things right.”

Complaints slightly down – SLCC statistics for first half of 2014/15. Alongside the SLCC’s attempt to clear the air on their involvement in what some legal insiders have referred to as a “vanity survey”, the SLCC released complaints statistics for the first half of the operational year, showing a slight drop in complaints.

The SLCC said: “The headline figures for the first half of the SLCC’s operational year show that, overall, the number of complaints we receive is declining, reflecting a continuing trend which we have highlighted in previous years.

More importantly, however, we note the proportion of those complaints which are either accepted as eligible complaints or resolved by us during our eligibility process. They represent almost 60% of all received complaints (up from just over 40% in the corresponding period in 2013).

It’s also clear from the figures that the number of accepted complaints which are then either resolved or upheld in favour of the complainer has also increased – 115 complaints compared to 97 in 2013.”

Responding to the SLCC’s criticisms, the Law Society’s Chief Executive – Lorna Jack – said: “In the vast majority of cases, solicitors’ clients are happy with the advice and the level of service they receive. However we know that things do go wrong from time to time and it is important that people have proper recourse to address any failings through a strong legal complaints system.”

“Dealing with complaints is and will always be difficult for everyone involved. What we want to ensure is that the process in place is robust and fair to both complainer and solicitor, and that we reach the right outcome.We will work with the SLCC to ensure that the legal complaints system in Scotland continues to improve.”

The Law Society did not comment on why the involvement of the SLCC was withheld from statements released by the Law Society along with articles written for newspapers during January by the Law Society’s own President – Alistair Morris.

The research carried out by IPSOS MORI for the Law Society of Scotland claimed that of clients who had used a solicitor in the past five years – more than 90% “of respondents” said their own lawyer was either very trustworthy (70%) or fairly trustworthy (27%), with 87% describing solicitors overall as very or fairly trustworthy.

However, no detailed material has been made available which could verify the claims, or identify which solicitors or law firms were involved. It has also emerged some solicitors and law firms were provided with scripted responses by the Law Society to answer questions from the pollsters.

Legal insiders also point out the SLCC’s admission of involvement in the ‘rigged’ poll only came about after the publication of heavily redacted communications between the SLCC & Law Society which revealed both regulators discussed how to frame questions for the survey. The now published documents also revealed the Law Society demanded all material handed to the SLCC regarding the poll was not to be released to the public or media.

 

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LAW POLL FIDDLE: Law Society of Scotland survey on client satisfaction used scripted replies, question rigging & involvement of ‘independent’ legal regulator SLCC was kept secret

Law Society poll details to remain secret says regulator. A SURVEY conducted by the Law Society of Scotland claiming Scottish solicitors are highly regarded by the public was so dishonest, the involvement of the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and discussions about the poll and question rigging had to be censored out of documents released under Freedom of Information legislation.

AND, it emerged from an investigation into the poll the Law Society of Scotland demanded that all key documentation shared with the SLCC was provided to them on a confidential basis and on condition the material was safe from searching Freedom of Information enquiries by the media.

The research carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Law Society of Scotland claimed that of clients who had used a solicitor in the past five years – more than 90% “of respondents” said their own lawyer was either very trustworthy (70%) or fairly trustworthy (27%), with 87% describing solicitors overall as very or fairly trustworthy.

The survey went onto claim high numbers of clients felt their solicitor was an expert in their area of law and had provided good service enough to recommend to others. However, no independent material has been made available which could verify the claims, or identify which solicitors or law firms were involved.

Today, in documents released by the SLCC – blacked out to conceal discussions with the Law Society on how to ‘frame’ questions for the Ipsos-Mori survey, a murky trail of data manipulation emerges between the ‘independent’ SLCC & the Law Society – involved in a concerted attempt to manipulate the public into believing client-solicitor satisfaction rates are higher than the eventual publicity about the poll – published in late December 2014 & January 2015.

The documents released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal a series of polls, carried out by the Law Society in order to boost its image and that of the legal profession.

In one email between the SLCC and Law Society representatives on the ‘poll’, a Law Society representative tells his SLCC colleague: At the recent LSS/SLCC strategy day, I agreed to provide you with our polling plans so we could discuss possible areas for some joint work. There are three pieces of polling work which we plan to carry out before the end of the calendar year, all carried out by Ipsos MORI.

• Public polling on attitudes towards solicitors (around 1,000 people) – polling carried out in September with results due in October.

• Political monitor (around 100 Members of the Scottish Parliament) – polling carried out Sep-Nov with results due in early December.

• Members polling (around 550 members) – polling carried out in December with results due by calendar year end.

Can I suggest that we find some time in the next few weeks for us to chat through the questions we have asked in the past and plan to ask this year? Perhaps Wednesday 13 or Thursday 14 August?

After a round of fixing questions and manipulation of data, an email from the Law Society of Scotland complains Ipsos cannot get to work on the survey because the pollster company was “busy with referendum stuff” in reference to the Scottish independence Referendum during September 2014.

“Please find attached the public research with your proposed changes. I will send it on to Ipsos and let them advise on the best way to frame the questions. This research will now not happen before October-they’re quite busy with referendum stuff at the moment! If you can get back to me next week with any comments, I would appreciate it.”

During attempts to publicise Ipsos-Mori survey, the Law Society had so much difficulty obtaining publicity it’s own President – Alistair Morris put his name to articles spinning out the poll – which now appears more of a spin session than an accurate accounting of what the public really feel about high charging Scots lawyers who are costing their own legal profession over £1000 a day in compensation awards to ripped off clients.

Outgoing SLCC Chief Executive Matthew Vickers backed the decision to keep much of the details of the SLCC’s involvement with the survey a secret. He also supported the Law Society’s condition of providing documentation to the SLCC on the sly.

Matthew Vickers said: “The information which has been withheld relates to the survey carried out on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland (“the Society”) by IPSOS MORI. The SLCC was given the opportunity by the Society to contribute some questions to the survey and following the survey the results of the poll were shared with the SLCC by the Society. The Society provided the material to the SLCC on a confidential basis and this was agreed and reaffirmed with the society at the time.

Vickers – who is standing down from the SLCC to take up a role in mediation at Ombudsman Services, added he strongly rejected any calls for the Law Society documents to be released in the public interest. Vickers said there was a greater interest in withholding the information from the public than releasing it.

Law Society President Alistair Morris said: “Overall, the results from the Ipsos MORI research are very positive and we are delighted that our members are so well thought of. However we can never become complacent and we have to recognise that things do go wrong from time to time. In addition to ensuring that we have a strong regulatory system in place, it’s important that we can understand the reasons behind clients dissatisfaction and what we at the Law Society can do to provide the right support and training to ensure that solicitors offer the advice and services that their clients need, whether they are buying a house, completing a business deal or appearing in court.”

However, it now transpires a number of solicitors did not want anything to do with the survey, some even questioning it’s cost and worth.

Earlier today, a law firm contacted in the survey talked about the discredited poll, admitting they were provided with a scripted response on how to respond to the pollsters.

Speaking to DOI a solicitor claimed he disagreed with the Law Society intruding into solicitor client relationships purely to seek publicity for it’s own ends.

He said: “The Law Society’s desire for publicity is more often than not counter productive and creates an unnecessary air of potential disagreement or conflict if clients refuse to become involved”.

The solicitor indicated colleagues in the profession had also received similar prompts from the Law Society to respond to the “vanity survey”.

 

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ROGUE FEE: Legal regulator SLCC reveals rogue solicitors compensation data, admits powers to nullify dodgy legal fees only used in two cases during 2013/14

Regulator admits sparse use of powers on legal fees. DOCUMENTS released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the ‘independent’ regulator of legal services in Scotland – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is failing to use its powers to reduce legal fees to zero when presented with detailed complaints & evidence about rogue lawyers – even after the regulator eventually decides the lawyer is guilty of failing their client.

Among a raft of data on how compensation is paid by the legal profession to clients after complaints have been investigated, upheld, or mediated, the regulator was forced to admit it had used powers to nullify fees in only two cases in the past year which resulted in clients not having to pay their lawyer a penny.

In one case, the SLCC said fees were recorded as being reduced to nil at the “determination stage” – where the SLCC usually conclude a solicitor is guilty of a variety of offences including having providing poor legal services to clients.

And, in stark contrast to the SLCC’s claims of overall success in mediation, the regulator also revealed the only other case were fees were reduced to zero was a mediation case – raising questions about why lawyers are able to recover any fees at all after being found guilty of ruining a client’s legal affairs.

When asked to give a total amount of exactly how much compensation had been paid at the time of the release of the SLCC 2014 Annual Report – which made a big show of £365K being paid to clients in compensation & fee abatement deals, the SLCC claimed it had no records and therefore could not answer. The regulator said law firms who agreed to rebate fees or pay compensation did not tell the SLCC when such repayments were made, if at all.

The information released by the regulator which details compensation and fee reductions paid in the last year, 2013-2014, reveals the highest award made by the regulator against a rogue solicitor or law firm – was £20,000 – while the lowest award was a mere £50.

While awards of compensation to clients and fee rebates are up, the fact that other than in only two cases, all solicitors & law firms who were found to have provided clients with poor legal services were still able to recover some amount of fees from their clients raises the prospect that clients who complain about their solicitors are not making the point clear enough to the SLCC they  expect fees reduced to nil.

In one case currently being looked into by journalists, it appears a client who made a complaint about their solicitor and asked for fees to be reduced to nil was talked out of it by the SLCC itself.

The information released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in response to questions on compensation & fee reductions during 2013-2014:

1. How much of the £365,000 listed in the latest 2013-2014 annual report as Compensation & fee reductions for complainers at all stages has been paid at the time of the report’s publication;

Compensation/fee rebates agreed as a result of a settlement reached at investigation stage or by way of mediation will generally be paid directly by the practitioners involved to the complainers. Although the SLCC will check that agreements are adhered to, it does not hold records of how much of the compensation/fee refunds has been repaid to complainers in these cases and it is not copied into correspondence between practitioners and complainers about payment arrangements.

2.    How much (amount) is fee reduction & number of cases where fee reduction took place and scale of awards;

The total amount for fee reduction is broken down between cases resolved at investigation stage, cases resolved by way of mediation and cases which have gone to determination. Figures are produced for each of these stages. The figures are recorded for the last financial year July 2013 – June 2014.

At investigation stage fee reductions were made in 15 cases. £9360.35 was agreed in respect of fee refunds. The lowest amount of fee reduction agreed was £91 and the highest was £2112.

At determination fees were abated in 30 cases. The SLCC does not have complete records of the total fee rebates awarded in those cases as it is often not provided with details of the final figure for the fee rebate from the practitioners once a determination is made. I can, however, advise that from our records the total fee rebates awarded at determination amounted to more than £29,608.99. The lowest figure for fee rebates at determination I have identified is £50.50 and the highest is £14,876.32.

At mediation fee reductions were made in 12 cases. A total of £29,610.40 was agreed in respect of fee reductions. The lowest amount of fee reduction I have identified was £488 and the highest was £13,417.74.

3.    How much (amount) is compensation and number of cases where compensation was awarded including scale of awards;

The total figure for compensation is broken down between cases resolved at investigation stage, cases resolved by way of mediation and cases which have gone to determination. Figures are produced for each of these stages.

The figures are recorded for the last financial year July 2013 – June 2014.

At investigation 44 cases were resolved and the sum of £50,627.56 was paid in compensation for injury and distress in respect of those cases. The lowest amount of compensation agreed was £50 and the highest was £6752.66. In 4 cases compensation was paid for losses. The total paid for losses amounts to £22493.50, with the lowest amount being £1000 and the highest £17,000.

At determination compensation was awarded in 86 cases amounting to £191,515.56. This amount covers compensation for injury and distress as well as compensation for losses and outlays. The lowest amount of compensation awarded was £50, the highest was £20,000.

At mediation compensation was agreed in 31 cases amounting to £37,187. This amount covers compensation for injury and distress as well as compensation for losses and outlays. The lowest amount of compensation agreed was £50 and the highest was £8750.

4.    If any cases resulted in fees to complainers being completely nullified and if so how many (and on what scale – amount);

At investigation we have no records of any cases where fees were reduced to nil. At determination we have records of fees being reduced to nil in one case. At mediation we have records of fees being reduced to nil in one case.

5.    Costs are listed as £43,000 for enforcement of compensation, fee refunds and levy payments. How much of this has been recovered and how many civil actions or enforcement actions, if any, have been raised to recover these amounts.

The figure of £43,000 provided in the annual report is an estimate of the staff costs for the work undertaken in recovery of compensation and levy payments etc. The amount does not cover the legal costs of raising actions for recovery of funds. This sum is not recoverable.

An insider at a consumer protection body who was passed the figures by Diary of Injustice commented: “Consumers who make complaints about their solicitors should keep a written record of any material they send to the SLCC while making it clear from the outset one of the goals they expect from the complaints process is for any legal fees to be reduced to nil.”

Detailed coverage of the SLCC’s latest annual report, released in December 2014 can be read HERE, and a further report on why the SLCC has refused to name one single rogue solicitor since 2008 and how solicitors end up recovering compensation they are forced to pay out features HERE

 

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LORD FLY-BYE: Scotland’s courts in the slow lane as judges prefer law conferences, business & ‘diplomatic’ trips to life on the bench

Slow day in Court? Judges prefer international travel to dull legal hearings. AMID suspicions some of the wealthy, well connected members of Scotland’s judiciary who regularly fly around the world at taxpayers expense to attend ‘law related events’ have been using trips abroad to mix their official duties with private business, and apply a little soft power on behalf of Governments, the Scottish Court Service (SCS) are currently fighting a battle against publishing any further information in connection with the travels of Scotland’s elite, secretive judiciary.

The move by the SCS to stall the flow of information on what Scottish judges are up to outside of their role in court comes amid increased public debate on what judges actually do for the community and why, in spite of claims by Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill that the Civil Justice system is “failing society”, reforms which Gill himself proposed over five years ago never see the light of day while judges, lawyers and the justice system itself soak up billions more from clients, court users trapped in litigation hell, & taxpayers every year.

In previous information published by the media, it was discovered Scottish judges & sheriffs were also taking their wives on expensive trips abroad at public expense.

And in some expenses claims alongside the trips, members of the judiciary who are typically on salaries of over £140K a year with handsome pensions and numerous other ‘unspecified financial benefits’ also scooped up extra public funds for the hire of dinner suits, taxi expenses, and even malaria injections – while the rest of the country was being told to buckle down and public services including the National Health Service were being cut to the bone.

Judicial trips & extra expenses claims 2010-2013

17/06/10  Lord Hamilton Meeting European Court of Human Rights Strasbourg £100.90
17/06/10 Lord Reed Meeting European Court of Human Rights Strasbourg £103.53
24/06/10 Lord Hodge European Commercial Judges Conference Rome £765.39
25/06/2010  Lord Pentland Reform of criminal law event, Lisbon £1083.34
08/09/2010  Sheriff MacNeill Anglophone conference Berlin £382.57
12/09/2010  Sheriff Normand European Network of Councils of the Judiciary Meeting Brussels £136.72
12/09/2010  Lord Hodge European Network of Councils of the Judiciary Meeting Brussels £46.08
16/09/2010  Sheriff Baird  OPG Conference Dublin  £367.84
16/09/2010  Nikola Milne  OPG Conference Dublin  £245.77
03/10/2010  Lord Gill Opening of Legal year Dublin £362.16
07/10/2010  Lord Reed Meeting of UK judges Conseil d’Etat Paris £376.66
11/10/2010 Sheriff Normand European Network of Councils of the Judiciary Brussels £314.21
15/10/2010  Lord Gill Commonwealth Law Conference India  £3724.66
06/11/2010  Sheriff Ireland International Association of Judges Conference Senegal  £1331.02
06/11/2010  Lord Eassie International Association of Judges Conference Senegal  £1223
12/12/2010  Lord Woolman Judicial Conference cross-border protection of children & families in Morocco  £1158.78
12/12/2010  Sheriff Normand European Network of Councils of the Judiciary Meeting Brussels £224.61
16-19/09/2010  Sheriff Welsh  OPG Conference Dublin  £349.48
23-27/06/2010 Lord Glennie European Commercial Judges Conference Rome  £621.17
24-29/06/2010 Sheriff Normand Reform of criminal law event, Lisbon  £992
31/01-12/02/2011  Lord Tyre  ERA Academy I & II Trier £177.90
8-10/12/2010   Sheriff Noble EU Seminar on Mutual Recognition and Trust in Amsterdam  £178.84
8-10/12/2010   Sheriff McColl EU Seminar on Mutual Recognition and Trust in Amsterdam  £163.84
10/04/2011      Lord Hodge  ENCJ Bucharest £181.17
12-14/5/2011 Sheriff M  Neilson Franco/British/Irish Colloque Dublin £367.89
12-15/5/2011 Sheriff T Welsh Franco/British/Irish Colloque Dublin £391.85
12-14/5/2011 Sheriff C Cunninghame Franco/British/Irish Colloque Dublin £493.79
12-14/5/2011 Sheriff K Ross Franco/British/Irish Colloque Dublin £770.91
10-12 April 2011     Sheriff A Normand ENCJ working Group – Barcelona £176
6-7/7/2011           Lord Woolman Hague Conference on PIL £284.67
7-11 June 2011    Lord Hodge General Assembly of the ENCJ Vilnius, Lithuania £295.59
7&11/6/2011      Sheriff Normand General Assembly of the ENCJ Vilnius, Lithuania £806.53
7-11 August 2011  Lord Gill ISRCL Conference, Ottawa, Canada £1053.39
14-22 July 2011 Sheriff Fletcher  CMJA Kuala Lumpur £4659.41
4-8 Sept 2011  Sheriff L Wood International Association of Judges, Istanbul £1815.08
15-16 Sept 2011  Lord Hodge ENCJ, Hague, Amsterdam £733.85
25 – 27 Sept 2011  Lord Reed European Court of Justice, Conference £380.74
6-12Aug 2011 UKIJSC Sheriff McFadyen ISRCL Conference, Ottawa, Canada £4010.29
12-15May2011  Lord Uist Franco-British-Irish Judicial Cooperation Conference £0
9-10 Oct11     Lord Hodge ENCJ Steering Committee meeting £80.34
30 Sept-3Oct11 Lord Hardie Opening of the Legal Year: Dublin £677.29
9-10Oct11       Sheriff A Normand ENCJ Steering Committee meeting, Brussels £830.50
20-23Nov11     Sheriff A McCulloch European Court of Justice, Luxemburg £37.90
20-23Nov11    Lord Hodge European Court of Justice, Luxemburg £1342.99
17-22July11  Sheriff N Morrison  CMJA Kuala Lumpur £4850.07
25-28Jan2012 Lord Woolman Scottish Hague Network Judge, The Hague, Netherlands £1100.65
22-23Jan 2012   Lord Hodge ENCJ Steering Committee, Brussels £296.25
6-7May 2011      Lord Eassie European Association of Judges, Malta £996.31
4-8 Sept 2011    Lord Eassie International Association of Judges, Istanbul £1996.11
15-16 Jan 2012   Sheriff A Normand ENCJ Project Group meeting, Brussels £397.55
22-23 Jan 2012    Sheriff A Normand ENCJ Steering Group meeting, Brussels £148.30
3-7March 2012    Sheriff A Normand ENCJ Project Group meeting, Palma Majorca £553.60
31Oct-3Nov 2011  Lord Malcolm Bordeaux to attend IOJT Conference £1245.58
31Oct-3Nov 2011  Sheriff Duff Bordeaux to attend IOJT Conference £1289.07
31Oct-3Nov 2011  Sheriff Welsh Bordeaux to attend IOJT Conference £1163.22
23-27Nov 2011     Lord Gill Ljubljana on official business £251.50
21-22June 2011  Sheriff Welsh QC non funded delegate EJTN General Assembly, Budapest  £672.56
25-26 Oct 2011  Lord Brodie  UKRIJSC Meeting £221.13
25-26 Oct 2011  Sheriff Duff  UKRIJSC Meeting  £240.43
9-13 May 2012   Sheriff A Normand ENCJ General Assembly, Dublin  £399.20
9-11 May 2012   Lord Hodge ENCJ General Assembly, Dublin £394.59
10-16Nov2012  Sheriff G Liddle IAJ Conference, Washington (USA) £3953.32
29-31 May 2012  Lord Brodie EJTN General Assembly, Copenhagen  £44.50
18/07/2012 Sheriff David Mackie Commonwealth Magistrates & Judges Association Conference Kampala  £2182.38
27-29June 2012 Sheriff K Maciver Extradition Seminar, Madrid £121.88
22-26 Nov 2012  Sheriff N McFadyen ISRCL Conference, Washington DC £2173.44
8-16 Sept 2012  Lord Gill CMJA Conference, Kampala Uganda £3519.97
7-16 Sept 2012  Sheriff Fletcher CMJA Conference, Kampala Uganda  £3781.14
17-18 Sept 12  Sheriff Normand  ENCJ – Brussels £120.00
18-20 Oct 2012  Lord Tyre ERA Conference in Trier £505.45
9-16 Nov 2012  Lord Eassie IAJ Conference, Washington (USA)  £2695.56
17-Sep-2012   Sheriff A Normand ENCJ project meeting in Brussels £360.24
29Sep-1Oct 2012 Lord and Lady Brodie Opening of Legal Year Dublin £561.96
23-Sep-2012 Lord Doherty European Courts of Justice -Luxembourg  £114.96
29-Sep-12  Lord Doherty Opening of Legal Year – Dublin  £81.00
18 20 Oct 2012  Lord Tyre ERA Conference in Luxembourg  £72.77
26-29 Sept2012 Lord Malcolm Attending the European Forum of Commercial Judges, Warsaw £483.75
9-10Dec 2012 Lord Hodge attend working group of ENCJ in Vilnius £1070.02
29-30Sept 2012 Lord and Lady Doherty attend opening of the Legal year in Dublin (in place of LP&LJC) £721.48
12-20 April2013  Lord Carloway Attendance at Commonwealth Law Conference £5541.37
Apr-13 Lord Gill Attendance at Commonwealth Law Conference £3233.31
8-12 Feb 2013 Lord Hodge Attendance at ENCJ working group Rome 10 & 11 Feb £556.91
Jan to Aug 2012 reimbursement by ENCJ -£320.59
Sept to Dec 2012 reimbursement by ENCJ -£166.47
29-May 2012        Lord P Brodie EJTN General Assembly, Copenhagen £391.50
15 & 22 June 12  Sheriff T Welsh EJTN Conference, Rome £584.99
17-21 Oct 2012   Sheriff T Welsh ERA 20th anniversary, Trier  £476.28
26-28 Nov 2012   Sheriff T Welsh EJTN meeting, £0
31Jan- 1Feb 2013   Sheriff  T Welsh UKIJSC Meeting, £407.21
31Jan –1Feb 2013  Lord Malcolm UKIJSC Meeting, Dublin £464.90

 

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SECRET SCOTS : FOI Chief Rosemary Agnew voices transparency concerns as Scottish Public Authorities fail on Freedom of Information requests

Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew raises concerns over FOI failures. SCOTTISH Public Authorities are failing to respond to Freedom of Information requests on time, says Scotland’s Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew in her 2012-2013 Annual Report published today. The report reveals a 14% rise in appeals to the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office during the last year with 27% of those cases relating to failures by public authorities to respond to FOI requests.

Speaking at the launch of her Annual Report, Commissioner Rosemary Agnew revealed that there was a 14% rise in appeals to her office in 2012/13, and that 27% of those appeals related to a failure by the public authority to respond. This is the highest proportion of such appeals to date. Under Scottish FOI law, public authorities have a legal duty to respond to the requests they receive within 20 working days.

The publication of the report coincides with new research which reveals that only 49% of the Scottish public are confident that they would receive an FOI response within 20 working days, with only 10% stating that they would be “very confident” of a response.

Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew said: “These findings concern me. Eight years on from the introduction of FOI, we would expect authorities to be more effective at handling requests, not less so. When they don’t respond, authorities fail to respect people’s legal rights to information: information which can be extremely important to individuals and communities. By contrast, authorities that perform well take a customer focussed approach, respond promptly and engage with requesters.

“A failure to respond can also harm public perception of FOI. While many FOI requests are answered on time and a lot of information is provided, the research findings reveal that this is certainly not the public’s perception.

“Scottish public authorities that are falling short should take steps to address their performance as an immediate priority. In doing so, they should also remember that failing to respond doesn’t make requests go away, but just creates unnecessary extra work and increases costs. Failure to respond generates complaints, review requests, and appeals to my office, and damages a public authority’s reputation. The most efficient option is to get it right first time.”

As those who make FOI requests and many in the media will know, some of the most persistent offenders in Scotland are local authorities, Departments of the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland trusts and others all eager to cover up internal scandals, the persisting, endemic jobs for the boys culture, the pernicious abuse of vulnerable individuals and widespread waste of public funds including large, sometimes secret pay-outs to top public officials the details of which only emerge after months of wrangling over the terms of FOI replies, requests for reviews and a possible appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Key public authorities in charge of the justice system are well known to journalists as some of the worst offenders, which include Scotland’s prosecution service the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) who appear to be operating a policy of regular delay in response to FOI requests.

It has been found in many cases brought to the attention of the media that Crown Office staff have persistently engaged in expanding the required time to reply to FOI requests by weeks, even months in some cases, while in others, regular refusals to hand out information have become a staple diet of Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland’s £100million a year Crown Office.

Commenting on the Information Commissioner’s report, a Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Scotland has the most robust freedom of information regime in the UK, with a transparency system that sets an example for other nations to aspire to.”

“In 2012 we received over 1,900 FoI requests – the highest number on record – and we are on course to receive even more in 2013. We strive to respond on time to all cases, and the number of technical appeals we receive has decreased since the end of March 2013.”

She added: “Our commitment to proactive publication and sharing of information with the public is enshrined in legislation.”

Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew has also announced today she is planning to lay a Special Report for the Scottish Parliament exploring such failures in the spring.

The Commissioner’s 2012/13 Annual report: Upholding the right to know reveals that:

The number of FOI appeals increased by 14% over the last year, to 594 appeals.

564 cases were closed, a 9% increase on the previous year.

The Commissioner found completely in favour of requesters in 37% of cases and completely in favour of authorities in a further 37%. The remainder were partially upheld.

60% of appeals were made by members of the public

43% of appeals related to local government bodies and 31% related to the Scottish Ministers or the Scottish Parliament.

Enquiries to the Commissioner rose by 8% last year.

The report also contains examples of how FOI has been used by the Scottish public over the last year, seeking a wide range of information on issues relating to housing, health, transport, education and the environment.

Discussing the rise in FOI appeals, Rosemary Agnew said: “Our case volumes have continued to rise, with a 14% rise over the last year and a 49% increase in the last five years. I’m happy to report that we’ve been able to manage these increases through a combination of hard work and a considered review of how we conduct our business. As a result, we have closed more cases than ever and reduced the time we take to investigate appeals.

“However, I am concerned about how sustainable this position will be in the longer term. These advances have been achieved against a backdrop of decreasing resources, and if volumes continue to rise, it will pose significant challenges to my ability to enforce FOI effectively.”

Appeal statistics – by Region and Sector

More detailed information on appeals received since 2005, broken down by public authority, region and sector, are available in the following spreadsheets:

2012/13 Public Authority Tables – by Sector (Excel – 597kB)

2012/13 Public Authority Tables – by Region (Excel – 1.6MB)

Technical appeals

These are appeals made following a public authority’s failure to respond with the FOI Act’s 20-working day timescale.

The 2012/13 Technical appeals investigated – by authority reveals that 29% of the appeals investigated by the Commissioner in 2012/13 related to such a failure to respond.

 

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AIR WIG ONE : Forget “Victorian” courts, vested interests & access to justice, instead, travel around the world in style like a Scottish Judge

Jet set judges prefer life in the air to sitting in Scots courts. IF those of you stuck in Scotland’s “Victorian” courts for years have ever wondered what judges do in their spare time when they are not sitting on the bench or raising an eyebrow at the mutterings of counsel, one of the answers lies above the clouds, in the numbers of air miles Scottish judges clock up each year on a variety of jollies trips allegedly taken to represent the interests of Scotland’s justice system around the world.

As revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper earlier in June, an investigation into the journeys of Scotland’s judiciary around the world revealed our overworked, over paid, stressed out and anti-transparency judges have been taking international trips to law conferences,  and curiously titled “diplomatic missions” while the Scottish justice system lies in ruins.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Scottish Court Service confirmed that £83,644 had been spent on overseas trips alone by Scottish judges between 2010 and 2013. While judges usually travel alone, or take a colleague, on at least two occasions last year, judges took their wives along on the taxpayer funded trips.

Scottish Judicial Airways : Overseas trips 2010-2013 taken by Scottish judges (Click image to view details). And how the media reported it : JET-SETTING LAWMEN NOTCH UP £83K BILL

Scotland’s judges have racked up thousands of air miles on overseas trips, including jaunts to the US, India, Morocco and Malaysia.

Taxpayers have paid £83,644 to send judges and sheriffs around the world in the past three years. In 2010/11, the total was £14,430 which rose to £35,107 in 2011/12 followed by £34,167 last year.

The most expensive trip last year was to Kampala in Uganda. It cost £7300 for Sheriff Michael Fletcher and Lord President Lord Gill to attend a judges’ conference there. Lord Gill’s other trips since 2010 have included Dublin, Cape Town in South Africa, Slovenian capital Ljubljana and a £1050 trip to a conference in Canada.

One of the most widely travelled was Sheriff Andrew Normand who has been on 11 overseas trips in the last three years. The judges usually travel alone or with a colleague but on two occasions last year they were joined by their wives.

The figures were obtained by legal blogger Peter Cherbi. He said: “Instead of flying around the world, perhaps Scotland’s judges should focus on the problems within our own legal system.”

The Judicial Office for Scotland said: “Attendance at overseas events must be approved in advance and comply with agreed guidance.”

Further reports on the travels of Scottish judges in the media have also revealed the Lord President himself, Lord Gill, enjoys regular excursions to the far east including China and Taiwan.

It was also revealed by the Sunday Mail newspaper that Lord Gill, who had been summoned to the Scottish Parliament to explain his hostility to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, jetted off to a law conference in South Africa instead of attending the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from MSPs on the proposal to require Scottish judges to disclose their so-far secret and murky hidden interests in a published register of judicial interests.

While our judges appear to prefer the jet set lifestyle to sitting for endless days on the bench, here in reality Scotland where access to justice is little more than an expensive joke for most, our expensive, almost lavishly funded courts are not working for the country, and have become aloof from the public’s need of justice in the 21st Century.

Perhaps a few less air miles and a few more more ‘court miles’ coupled with a face to face meeting with transparency, may go some way to remedying the problems, delays, failures and lack of transparency & accountability of the Scottish justice system Lord Gill himself branded as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose” in 2009, because here in the not so futuristic 2013, and a few million air miles later, the Scottish justice system remains just as “Victorian” and just as “unfit for purpose”, as it was five years ago, Mr Lord President.

 

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Lawyers FOI secrecy feud with regulator wrecks £10K ‘Complaints Handling Research’ as 75% of solicitors, advocates refuse to disclose client complaint statistics

SLCCLawyers survey boycott & unverifiable data ruins complaints research. COSTLY RESEARCH undertaken by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) into how lawyers & advocates ‘handle’ complaints from their clients has today been labelled “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise” after results revealed a staggering 75% of all Scottish law firms & advocates either “refused”, were “not available” or “terminated” their participation in the research which sought disclosure of key details on how complaints from dissatisfied clients are handled made to them before clients are forced to approach regulators such as the SLCC or Law Society of Scotland.

And while the lack of participation effectively rendered the ‘independent’ SLCC’s research unusable, insiders at the regulator now also believe many law firms fiddled the numbers and simply LIED in what little data was actually handed over by the legal profession, as none of what was submitted can be independently verified or subject to public inspection.

Figures released in the two reports published by the SLCC show that of the total numbers of questionnaires & letters sent out to every law firm & advocate in Scotland by research firm TNS-BMRB who were commissioned by the SLCC to carry out the research, 850 law firms and 350 advocates either refused or for a variety of other reasons, failed to disclose any details on how complaints made by dissatisfied clients are handled.

Although TNS BMRB had undertaken the research in May & June 2012, both reports had curiously remained secret until the SLCC responded to a Freedom of Information request from Diary of Injustice, which can be viewed online in its entirety, here : FOI Release – SLCC Research into complaint numbers & complaints handling by practitioners

Later that same day (31st January) after the documentation was released to Diary of Injustice journalists, the SLCC issued a press release with a short comment from Richard Keen, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. There has so far been no comment from the Law Society of Scotland on the survey or the lack of participation of its members.

Both reports can be viewed on the SLCC’s website HERE & HERE or online here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Advocates & here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Legal Firms

The mass non-participation of Scotland’s legal profession in the ‘independent’ regulator’s complaints survey comes as no surprise after Diary of Injustice earlier reported on calls by various sections of Scotland’s legal profession to boycott the survey after lawyers groups such as the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) voiced fears that any information handed over to the SLCC would be released to the media via Freedom of Information Requests.

To allay the lawyers concerns over complaints data being released to the public, the ‘independent’ SLCC brokered a sinister deal of secrecy, and ordered research firm TNS BMRB not to hand over any data to the SLCC directly, thus avoiding Freedom of Information and its requirements. The SLCC issued a public statement to the legal profession saying : “While it is the case that the SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), it should be noted that information is being ingathered on a confidential basis by the researchers purely for the purpose of statistical analysis by them. Information from individual legal firms, or data that could identify any legal firms or individual practitioners, will not be passed on to the SLCC.”

DOI reported on this highly questionable move on the ‘independent’ SLCC’s deal with lawyers to avoid FOI disclosure of complaints information, here : Law regulator SLCC responds to lawyers call to boycott complaints research : ‘We will AVOID Freedom of Information by stashing data with researchers’

TNS BMRB were tasked with securing the following information for their research :

Statistical Information

1. To establish number and type of transactions by practice area, since 2008;

2. To establish number of complaints dealt with since 2008, by practice area;

3. To identify from where complaints originate;

4. To establish the outcome and disposal of complaints.

Complaints handling

1. To identify management information systems in place for complaint record keeping;

2. To establish how lessons learned about complaints handling are captured and cascaded through the firm;

3. To assess how clients and others are informed about how to make a complaint;

4. To determine the type and provider of any training/guidance received on complaint handling;

5. To ascertain the appeal of different options for further support on complaint handling

The SLCC claimed that the research, the first of its kind in Scotland, was intended as an initial fact-finding exercise. As such, it has highlighted scope for further work which the SLCC will undertake as part of its on-going oversight role.

However, the information which made it into the research and the conclusions of both reports unsurprisingly reveal complaints records within the Scottish legal profession are at best, a mess.

More worryingly, if unsurprisingly, analysis of the reports by consumer campaigners reveal a deliberate act of deception on the part of lawyers to avoid accurate reporting of client dissatisfaction with Scottish solicitors & law firms, now rated as among the worst & most expensive in the entire European Union.

Critics who have viewed & studied both the report into law firms & advocates have raised serious doubts over the accuracy of information handed over to the research firm by Scottish lawyers & advocates, highlighting the fact there is absolutely no way to authenticate any of the data handed over to the researchers in interviews or questionnaires.

One senior spokesperson for a Scottish consumer group said she believed “much of the material was probably fabricated by law firms who were told not to reveal accurate complaints data to the SLCC or their researchers.”

Speaking about its piece of expensive, unverifiable research, David Buchanan Cook, the SLCC’s Head of Oversight issued a vague public statement claiming: “While the reports show that complaint levels are low, they are increasing. Complaints have a direct impact on any business, so it’s surprising that more practitioners don’t take simple steps to listen and to put matters right. The reports show that in a quarter of complaints resolved a simple apology was all that was needed yet a large number of practitioners faced with a complaint do nothing at all. In these cases both the complainer and the practitioner lose out.”

Mr Buchanan Cook continued “The reports do highlight that it can be more challenging for smaller firms and sole practitioners to deal with complaints in terms of resources, processes and experience. We will be working with both the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates to draw up best practice guidance later this year to help. We will also be using the reports to identify where we can help the profession to improve complaint handling. The public has a right to expect complaints to be listened to and where something has gone wrong, the practitioner should put it right. It’s not just a question of fairness- it’s good business sense too.”

The SLCC refused to answer questions on the low participation rate of the survey and offered no comment on the legal profession’s call to boycott the SLCC’s research, which will be met out of its 2011-2012 budget. However, a legal insider at the SLCC admitted “lawyers had been expected to lie in their responses to the research”, now branded “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise”.

With the Law Society of Scotland apparently refusing to issue a press statement on the research, Richard Keen QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates was wheeled out to provide some backup to the beleaguered SLCC. Mr Keen said : “The Faculty of Advocates takes its responsibility for complaints handling extremely seriously and notes from the report that the level of complaints to new cases is “undoubtedly low.” The Faculty will study the report and engage with the SLCC in taking forward a number of broad themes that have been identified.”

It should be noted that clients & consumers were completely shut out of this SLCC research project, as Diary of Injustice earlier reported here : Consumers ‘locked out of debate’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission carries out yet more research on how solicitors handle complaints

 

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