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NAME & SHAME: Scots consumers denied records checks on lawyers – as Solicitors Regulation Authority propose detailed public register of lawyers in England & Wales

UK Solicitors regulator plans to publish more data on lawyers. A PROPOSAL to publish more detailed information about law firms and solicitors in a public register has been launched by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the body charged with investigating solicitors in England & Wales.

The move to advance consumer protection south of the border by the English legal regulator could help consumers make more informed choices on the use of legal services, and result in a more competitive legal sector with higher standards of service and client care.

However, this is in stark contrast to Scotland, where DOI recently reported on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) who refuse to publish any useable information to Scots consumers which could help clients steer clear from corrupt lawyers and law firms.

The report, available here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings revealed SLCC determination decisions are heavily redacted and only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, leaving Scots consumers at a considerable disadvantage to consumers in England & Wales.

However, and with the advantage of not being held back in the middle ages by the Law Society of Scotland, the England based Solicitors Regulation Authority has launched a discussion paper, “Regulatory data and consumer choice in legal services” exploring what information the SRA could publish through a public register.

The proposed public register already allows consumers to check up on lawyers via the SRA’s Check your solicitor’s record service reported earlier here:  INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England.

The SRA suggests that consumers could benefit from information such as a solicitor’s qualifications or practice restrictions, and complaints data and insurance claims. The SRA also considers what information law firms might want to publish voluntarily, such as quality marks and service prices.

The proposals echo recent calls by the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA), in its interim report on its market study, as well as from the Legal Services Consumers Panel (LSCP), to improve the level of information available for consumers. The SRA agrees that a lack of clear, targeted information means it is difficult for consumers to compare providers and make informed choices. This is dampening competition in the sector.

Better information could help tackle the problem that the legal needs of individuals and small businesses are not being met.

Only one in ten people use a solicitor when they have a legal problem. And legal problems are estimated to cause small businesses almost £10 billion of losses a year, yet 83 percent of the population see legal services as unaffordable.

Greater transparency would also bring legal services more in line with other sectors, such as financial services and energy, where regulators are already making sure consumer-focused information, such as complaints data, is available.

The SRA recognises that there needs to be careful consideration of the implications of publishing more information. Risks to consider include increased burdens on firms and a one-size-fits-all approach working well for some and not others. For example, the needs of corporate clients will be different to those of an individual consumer.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Most people and small businesses are still not accessing legal services. When they do, they are not shopping around. It is unsurprising when the information out there is so limited.

“We want to help consumers, so they are not left making blind choices. Information such as enforcement action, complaints and claims data are exactly the type of things I would want to know when choosing a solicitor.

“We know that the public look to the regulators to provide credible, authoritative, objective information.

“If we get this right, we could help create a more competitive market, where consumers can make better choices and forward-thinking firms thrive. It will also help small businesses access the legal services that could help them succeed and grow.

“Yet we need to think carefully about what we publish and how. More information will not benefit consumers if they find it confusing, hard to access, or it is unhelpful. We have also made good progress on getting rid of unnecessary burdens on firms. We will not ask firms to do more in this area, unless there is a clear benefit.

“This is just the start of a discussion, so we are keen to hear what everyone thinks.”

The SRA has already taken steps to improve the information available to consumers by publishing its law firm search in April. And it already publishes details of enforcement action. Publishing useful data in one place would not only help consumers directly, but indirectly as data re-publishers could use it to develop comparison tools that could help make the market more competitive.

The SRA plans to consult on proposals in this area next year. Its discussion paper can be found at: www.sra.org.uk/choice. Closing date for submissions to the consultation is 26 January 2017 submissions.

SRA law firm search can be found here: www.sra.org.uk/consumers/using-solicitor/law-firm-search/about-search.page

The CMA’s interim report looking at ways to improve competition in legal services by increasing information for consumers is available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/cma-seeks-views-on-ways-to-help-legal-services-customers.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel’s research, “Opening up data in legal services (PDF 36 pages, 625K)

SCOTLAND: Legal Services Consumers held back by Law Society of Scotland & self regulation.

Away from the fantastical claims of the Law Society of Scotland, the oh-so-easy free pr and spin of how the Law Society protects access to justice while offering client protection, the fact is, consumers of legal services in Scotland have no chance whatsoever of selecting a legal representative based on their regulatory history – because the Law Society of Scotland refuse to publish any detailed regulation histories of their members.

Just how bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is very bad. Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

A BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” exposed further weaknesses in the Law Society of Scotland’s system of control freakery self regulation. The BBC programme lifted the lid once more on lawyers investigating their own, how dishonesty plays out at the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, and legal aid fraud.

A recent DOI investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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A QUESTION OF TRUST: Should solicitors be independently regulated? UK public say “Yes” – according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Lawyers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves – say public. RESEARCH conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the body charged with investigating solicitors in England & Wales, shows there is strong support in the rest of the UK for a move to make the SRA fully independent of the Law Society of England & Wales.

And, unlike Scotland, where the Law Society of Scotland ‘fronted’ regulation model – the  Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – continues to be driven by former Law Society staff – the English based Solicitors Regulation Authority wants a complete break from the over arching power & influence of the legal profession’s representative body – to enable it to conduct fully independent regulation of legal practitioners.

Proposals from the UK Government to fully separate legal regulators from professional bodies have been backed by polls reporting that 82 percent of adults in England and Wales say solicitors should be regulated independently.

Research conducted by ComRes – a leading research consultancy on behalf of the SRA, has found that 86 percent of adults in England and Wales believe solicitors should be regulated—similar to doctors and more than for other professions such as dentists and accountants.

And when asked about the type of regulation, there is overwhelming support for independent regulation.

Looking at how regulation affected public trust in solicitors, 68 percent of respondents said they were more likely to trust an independently regulated profession.

When asked directly about the proposals to deliver fully independent regulation, 77 percent agreed that they support the Government’s attempts to do so.

Commenting on the research, Chief Executive of the SRA, Paul Philip, said: “This research shows that the public overwhelmingly support independent regulation. Public confidence is key and, as this polling shows, people say they will have greater trust in their solicitor if they know they are independently regulated.

“I am clear that separating out regulator and representative body would not only meet public expectations, but would enhance the important role of the Law Society in making sure the voice of solicitors is heard and respected.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority recently ran a campaign titled “A Question of Trust” – which invited the public and profession to share their views on what should happen when solicitors fall short of the professional standards set out in the SRA Handbook.

The campaign used scenarios based on real-life cases to ask how serious the issues are and what action should be taken.

The response has been impressive with thousands of people getting involved.

In total the campaign secured: More than 2,350 online survey responses, 6.5m impressions on social media, including 10,000 engagements on Twitter and 1,636 answers via our Twitter polls, Almost 4,500 visitors to our website’s “Hot topics” page, where the Question of Trust toolkit for firms could be found, 3,000 attendees to our events around England and Wales.

The input from the four-month campaign will help with the development of a reference framework for our staff to use when making regulatory decisions, including whether to refer to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Commenting on the campaign, SRA CEO, Paul Philip, said: “This is a landmark campaign that has really engaged people. Regulation is part of the social contract between the profession and the public and it important that we calibrate and validate what we do. Thank you to the thousands of solicitors and members of the public who have helped us with this.

“We asked people about what should happen when things go wrong. I believe that clear, consistent and transparent decision making is fundamental to good regulation and we are reviewing our end to end procedures accordingly. Our new reference framework will help staff and the profession alike.

“We refer the most serious cases to the SDT. The Tribunal is rightly independent and our campaign was not about how it operates. It was about stimulating a debate on the standards the public can expect of solicitors. Of course, each case must turn on its merits and we have a right of appeal where we think the Tribunal has got it wrong.

“A Question of Trust addressed the big issues at the heart of regulation and shows that there is real public interest in the high standards expected of solicitors. Testing what we do with the profession and the public increases public confidence, not only in regulation but in the profession itself.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is due to report further on their campaign later this year.

Responding to the SRA statement on regulatory independence, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “We support independent regulation. Regulation is about the minimum regulatory rules which should apply to the whole market to protect consumers. This is very different from professional standards of behaviour, conduct and ethics, which should be the responsibility of the profession, as they are best placed to raise these standards.”

“There is an opportunity to put in place better and simpler regulation which applies to all legal services, as currently many legal services providers are not regulated. This means that purchasers of some legal services are not protected.”

“Currently the regulatory maze is complex. There are numerous regulators of legal services and there is an opportunity to consolidate to save cost. There is also confusion because currently there is a very broad definition of regulation, which includes regulatory rules, professional standards and conduct, ethics, entry into the profession and awarding the professional title.”

“Paradoxically, the most qualified and trained are the most regulated; the least qualified and trained are not regulated. This is a mistake. There is an opportunity to redefine what regulation should cover to ensure that it is simple and better, and applies to all legal services. Regulation should not include professional standards and conduct, nor entry into the profession and awarding a professional title. In order to drive professional standards, the responsibility needs to be with the profession. This will ensure that the reputation of the profession at home and internationally is secured and that England and Wales remains the jurisdiction of choice, and that the legal profession is seen to be independent from government, enabling it to uphold the rule of law.”

The Times newspaper reported on the research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, excerpt follows here:

It’s time to have an independent body to police solicitors February 3, 2016

Should solicitors be independently regulated? The public certainly thinks so, according to a new poll this week, Frances Gibb writes. In the latest move in the current battleground between the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the profession’s watchdog and the Law Society, the professional body for 160,000 solicitors in England and Wales, the SRA has published a poll showing strong support for its wish to become fully independent of the society.

The move could radically change the role and funding of the society — at present bound with the SRA. How it works is that the SRA tells the society what it needs and the society agrees the figure. The society’s council then adds a sum for activities that it is authorised to conduct and together the figure determines what solicitors pay for their practising certificate fee.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, says: “The present arrangement is not understandable to the man or woman on the street. Most people would be surprised to know that the people who regulate solicitors are part of the body that represents the profession. In terms of public trust, you might have a question mark about that.”

Meanwhile, the SRA is ready to make a strong case when ministers consult on regulation in March. “There’s an inherent conflict between representing the profession and the public,” Philip says. “When push comes to shove, we’re part of the Law Society. If independent, we’d be less expensive and confidence in the profession would be bolstered.”

SCOTLAND – Where the legal profession ensures solicitors look after their own:

In the past eight years of investigating complaints about legal services practitioners in Scotland, the allegedly ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC has amassed a lengthy history of abusing clients expectations of action against wayward, rogue and corrupt Scots solicitors.

In attempts to placate calls to scrap the SLCC in current form and replace it with a fully independent regulator, the Law Society of Scotland has embarked on regular polls, one of which was widely published in the media claiming huge levels of client satisfaction with legal practitioners.

However, a media investigation by Diary of Injustice into the solicitor satisfaction survey uncovered evidence the Law Society had rigged the poll, and kept details of the SLCC’s involvement a secret, reported here: 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.

The full extent of how the poll had been rigged –  featured in an investigation by DOI reported here: 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.

After the series of rigged polls, and the resignation of the SLCC’s then Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers,  the Law Society of Scotland took charge of the ‘independent’ SLCC by appointing one of their own former Directors – Neil Stevenson as the latest Chief Executive of the SLCC.

The move came after a challenging year for self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession – left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” –  which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own and legal aid fraud.

A further media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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Corruption among lawyers ‘rife’ yet independent regulation of legal profession ‘not necessary’ claims MacAskill & Scottish Government

Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill – Reign of error as Justice Secretary since 2007 AS SCANDALS continue to rock Scotland’s legal profession,  leaving a growing trail of clients who suffer heavy financial losses, the price of having a second hand High Street solicitor in charge of Scotland’s justice system for the past FIVE YEARS is clearly beginning to tell on Scots access to justice, where, with no end in sight to Kenny MacAskill’s reign of error, now entering it’s SIXTH YEAR, the Justice Secretary has now indicated his Scottish Government does not consider further independent regulation of the solicitor profession in Scotland to be necessary.

In response to a series questions raised in the Scottish Parliament by Justice Committee member Margaret McDougall MSP (West Scotland, Scottish Labour), on the subject of regulation of the legal profession, Mr MacAskill replied that there will be no further review of regulation of the Law Society of Scotland.

The Justice Secretary also indicated in his responses that the Scottish Government is apparently, supportive of the present arrangements of regulation of Scotland’s legal profession, arrangements which have seen a series of high profile corrupt solicitors escape punishment for complex frauds against their clients involving huge sums of money, while other solicitors have escaped criminal prosecution for the theft of millions of pounds of taxpayer funded legal aid.

The series of questions put to Mr MacAskill by mps Margaret McDougall are published on the Scottish Parliament’s website, among a series of evasive responses from Scottish Ministers on other topics : HERE (pdf)

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Scottish Labour):  To ask the Scottish Executive who oversees the work of the Law Society of Scotland.
(S4W-08503)

Kenny MacAskill:  The Law Society of Scotland is an independent professional body. It is not regulated by the Scottish Government nor any other body but is subject to the provisions of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and other enactments.

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Scottish Labour): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it plans to review the regulatory system in place for the Law Society of Scotland.
(S4W-08504)

Kenny MacAskill:  The Scottish  Parliament has recently considered and approved two pieces of legislation which significantly modify the regulatory system in place for the Law Society of Scotland, namely the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 and the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. The Scottish Government has no further plans to review the regulation of the Law Society of Scotland.

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Scottish Labour):  To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment it has made of the performance of the Law Society of Scotland.
(S4W-08505)

Kenny MacAskill:  The Scottish Government does not assess the performance of the Law Society of Scotland.

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Scottish Labour):  To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on the need for independent regulation of the legal profession.
(S4W-08506)

Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Scottish Labour):  To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on self-regulation of the legal profession.
(S4W-08507)

Kenny MacAskill: The Law Society of Scotland is an independent self-regulating professional body for solicitors and conveyancing and executry practitioners.  Section 120 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010  laid down the regulatory framework for  the regulation of the Faculty of Advocates by the Court of Session.  Sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990 provide for the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Scottish Ministers to approve and regulate professional or other bodies which apply to enable their members to have rights to conduct litigation and rights of audience in the courts.

There are safeguards in place.  Complaints about all legal practitioners can be made to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission which is an independent body.  Further, allegations of misconduct by solicitors may be heard by the Scottish Solicitors’  Discipline Tribunal, another independent body.  In addition, the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 provided for increased lay  involvement in the work of the Law Society, and a lay majority on its regulatory committee.  The Scottish Government considers these arrangements appropriate and that  there are  adequate safeguards. It  does not consider further independent regulation of the solicitor profession in Scotland to be necessary.

Clearly, from Mr MacAskill’s responses to questions on the subject of regulation of solicitors, Scots consumers of legal services do not stand a chance against lawyers out to rip them off. Similarly, anyone wishing to bring their legal business or litigation to Scotland should take note of the fact that regulation and the lack of real safeguards against rip offs, will also let international & corporate clients down, sooner or later.

Asked about the content of Mr MacAskill’s responses to questions, Margaret McDougall told Diary of Injustice : “I have concerns about self-regulatory bodies and how “independent” they are and how they best serve the public needs.  Since raising these PQs the Law society has kindly offered to meet with me to discuss my concerns and I am looking forward to meeting with them in the near future.”

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, a leading campaigner on reform of regulation of the legal profession condemned Mr MacASkill’s pro-lawyer stance to msps.

He said : “Given Mr MacAskill’s robust defence of the Law Society of Scotland and what are effectively two front companies to get lawyers off the hook – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, it might appear to anyone viewing the situation with a degree of knowledge or experience that the legal profession has a Scottish Minister in its pocket, bought & paid for.”

Diary of Injustice has been covering injustice against clients & consumers in Scotland’s legal system since 2006, repeating time & again the system of regulation of Scotland’s legal profession is corrupt in name, and corrupt in nature.

In spite of Mr MacAskill’s claims to msps of new regulation, the reality of dealing with Scottish solicitors has shown us time & again that nothing has changed to improve the rights of clients against vindictive, prejudiced and thoroughly dishonest regulatory practices operated by the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Clearly however, there are some msps who do feel the system must be changed, and therefore Diary of Injustice would like to encourage readers who feel strongly on the matter to contact their msps and ask for progress and the introduction of reforms such as fully independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland and further powers of protection for consumers, such as naming & shaming ‘crooked lawyers’, a policy now implemented in England & Wales by the Legal Ombudsman. If it’s good for the rest of the UK, we Scots can have it too .. and also, a much needed replacement in the Justice portfolio.

 

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Scottish failure, English success ? Annual report of Legal Ombudsman of England & Wales is ‘streets ahead’ of anti-consumer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Legal OmbudsmanLegal Ombudsman’s first annual report is ‘streets ahead’ of Scottish attempts at complaints regulation via SLCC. LAST WEEK the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) for England & Wales, Adam Sampson, issued his first annual report on regulation of complaints against the legal services market for England & Wales. Mr Sampson’s first report, which features stories from the LeO’s investigations into complaints has been for the main, well received, and is noticeably much more consumer friendly than the notoriously anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which has produced three annual reports since it came into being in 2008, the latest of which showed SLCC had managed to uphold only one single complaint in three years.

The full annual report of the Legal Ombudsman can be downloaded here : Legal Ombudsman Annual Report 2010-2011. The LeO’s website is a world away from the Scottish SLCC’s poor offering. The LeO also offers information on case examples where the LeO have investigated complaints, more of which can be found HERE while decisions of the LeO can be viewed HERE. The Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman also has an online blog, well worth a visit HERE.

Within the LeO’s report, some of the following stories are featured in a significantly more detailed manner than anything seen in Scotland. The problems encountered by consumers in England & Wales when dealing with the legal profession will be familiar to Scots consumers of legal services, the only difference being in Scotland, consumers have to deal with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Law Society of Scotland, two of Scotland’s self regulators of the legal profession renowned for their anti-consumer stance when dealing with complaints against solicitors.

Mr Sampson said in his report : “We use lawyers at key points in our lives – at important, and often upsetting or stressful times like when we move house, have an accident or get divorced. I have included these stories in my first Chief Ombudsman’s report because the experiences of the people involved demonstrate the impact of a changing and developing legal services market.”

In the case of a will gone wrong, where a client had initially gone to a solicitor for a will then had been introduced to a will writer by the solicitor, the LeO reported :

Mr F complained to us that he had gone to a high street solicitor to write a will. He was then introduced to an individual in an adjoining office whom he was told would provide the service. In the event, the will proved defective. However, when he complained, Mr F was told by the firm’s senior partner that the will writer concerned had been working for a linked, but unregulated, company offering legal services, including will writing.

This was the first of a number of similar matters raised with us about the same company. Although the company claimed to be out of jurisdiction and the service – will writing – is not a reserved activity, we considered that the connection between the solicitors firm and the company complained about was umbilical: the firm had made the introduction, the complaint was answered by the senior partner on behalf of both entities, and the senior partner was the owner of both. Since the senior partner was a regulated individual, we judged that the company fell within our jurisdiction.

In the event, and to complicate matters further, while our investigation was nearing its end, the senior partner died. The company was then taken over by another, similar company which appears to have even less connection with a regulated individual. Nevertheless, we believe that the remedy we ordered in this case will be enforceable, either against the successor company or the legal insurers.

In another example, the LeO reported :

Mr P is a trustee of a social club. He and his fellow trustees employed a firm of lawyers to sell the club’s premises and to distribute the payment of the proceeds of sale to all the members of the club – about 180 people. The club found buyers, the sale went through and the proceeds were paid to the law firm, as is normal practice. Part of the money was used to pay off the club’s final bills and some loans, which the firm handled, leaving a substantial amount of around £180,000 to go to members. The firm also advised that there would be a delay in distributing the money to members for various administrative reasons. Not being an expert in conveyancing, Mr P was satisfied with this. After six months the firm got in contact to begin to sort out the payment to members… and then went silent.

Mr P tried to raise his concerns with the firm. He then came to the Ombudsman, as the firm had not explained what had happened to the money from the sale and the members had not yet received any cash. He also asked that the firm refund the fees the trustees had already paid them, as the work had not been carried out properly.

We found that the firm had been a sole practice – but that the lawyer was no longer practising. This seemed to be why Mr P hadn’t heard about the money from the sale of the club, though it was confusing as the solicitor occasionally got in touch. Mr P didn’t know what to do, so had sought advice from a second firm of solicitors. They also tried to contact the first firm but had no reply. Mr P heard again briefly from his first lawyer to say that members would get their money soon… and then heard nothing again.

When we looked into this case, there was very little written down about what had happened. There was no client care letter, no written details about how the cash from the sale had been handled, or even about what money had been paid to clear debts and loans. What was clear was that there was some sort of problem in the law firm, and that the lawyer had tried to delay this matter. It was also clear that most of the money from the club was still in the solicitor’s client account, even though the firm’s records were very poor.

There had been no attempt to pay this money to the club members – but the money was the club’s and should not have been kept for so long by the solicitor. It had been three years since Mr P and the other trustees put the club up for sale.

Our Ombudsman decided that there was around £180,000 outstanding and required the firm to re-pay this, with interest, to the club and its members. A formal Ombudsman’s decision was required as the solicitor did not cooperate throughout our investigation. We also referred this and the outcome of this case to the regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, for their help in getting the club’s cash out of the solicitor’s client account and returned to Mr P and the other members

In a third example, the LeO reported :

Mr and Mrs N had taken on a solicitor to help with two separate matters – an employment tribunal and the other to do with their mortgage insurance. They were clearly not happy with aspects of his work and felt that the lawyer had not taken their concerns seriously. After trying to raise their concerns with him, they complained to us.

We first contacted the solicitor in October 2010. He repeatedly failed to respond to or comply with our requests for documents and information. Mr and Mrs N now saw the solicitor ignore the Ombudsman – and were again left waiting for an outcome to their complaint. Eventually, after seven months had gone by, we decided to take enforcement action against him as he had repeatedly failed to produce documents or provide information – even when he received a formal notice requiring him to. There were some eight prior letters, phone calls or emails from the Ombudsman, plus a formal notice and a letter from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, before proceedings were issued.

The court first dealt with the case in May, but the solicitor failed to attend the hearing and so the judge ordered his arrest. A few days later, the solicitor surrendered to the court and was brought before the judge, when he was released after a court date had been set.

At the formal court hearing, the solicitor promised the High Court that he would cooperate with an investigation into a complaint against him – or risk being punished by the court. The judge emphasised to the solicitor that it was “absolutely essential” he communicate with the Ombudsman and cooperate to a high professional standard. Failure, said the judge, was “likely to attract the sanction of the court”.

The lawyer gave an undertaking to the court that he would do everything he could to help find the files needed by the Ombudsman, to cooperate with the investigation into the complaint and any others against him, and keep the Ombudsman updated with his contact details. He was also ordered to pay the Ombudsman’s costs in the case so far of just over £11,000. At the time of writing, we are still waiting for the information we need to resolve this case – but there is another court date set, so, while it is disappointing to have had to go to these lengths, there is an end in sight for Mr and Mrs N.

At the same time as we were dealing with this case, which ended up in the High Court, we were having similar issues with another solicitor.

This one – a busy sole practitioner with a general practice – had failed to respond to our correspondence about Mr O’s complaint. So he was also served with a notice requiring him to produce the relevant documents and other information. When he ignored it, we reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. When more time passed again without hearing from him, we also said that we had the power to ask the High Court to compel him to cooperate. At the last minute, when faced with having to explain his non-compliance to a judge, the lawyer reconsidered his position. He provided us with the information we needed, reconciled with Mr O and continued to represent him.

adam_sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson. Mr Sampson also wrote in his report about the blurred edges of regulation : “There have been cases which have begun to clarify some of the jurisdictional tests which we will apply to complaints raised with us. These include whether the person making the complaint has been provided with legal services (a test which is significantly wider than whether the complainant was a “client” of a lawyer); whether the complaint was within the timescales laid down by our Scheme Rules (normally within a year of the complainant having knowledge that there was reason to complain); whether the complaint was from an individual, small charity or micro-enterprise (rather than a larger, corporate entity), and so on. We believe that, although we will need to keep these aspects of our jurisdiction under review, there is nothing inherently so opaque about these tests that cannot be clarified over time.”

Which logoConsumer Group Which? gave its reaction  to the Legal Ombudsman’s first Annual Report, stating : As the Legal Ombudsman publishes its first annual report today, Which? supports its call for greater protection against confusing structures and dodgy claims management and will-writing companies. Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “We want the government and regulators to wake up to the current lack of clarity and to provide a clear and straightforward route of redress for consumers”.

Undercover investigations : Which? undercover investigations into both will-writing firms and claims management companies have revealed examples of poor practice. But the Legal Ombudsman does not currently have the powers to investigate these types of organisations. Many consumers believe they are getting a legal service from such companies, but don’t realise that the work may be carried out by someone who isn’t authorised to do so.

Route for redress : Expanding the remit of the Legal Ombudsman would allow it to tackle problem areas of the market, give it greater scope to challenge future issues and offer customers a clear means of redress where they have received a poor legal service.

Richard Lloyd said: “As the legal services market continues to grow in both size and complexity, it’s crucial that consumers who have paid for a legal service that’s not up to scratch know where to turn to get help”.

Gaps in regulation : Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: “The gap in regulation which allows unregulated cowboys to operate in areas like will-writing doesn’t just cause unfair competition to solicitors, who provide a regulated, professional service. It is also damaging to consumers, because the unregulated providers aren’t insured, don’t provide a compensation fund, and aren’t covered by the Legal Ombudsman’s scheme for consumer redress.”

38,000 legal complaints : The Legal Ombudsman service was established in October 2010. Its remit is to make sure legal complaints are ‘resolved quickly and with minimum formality by an independent person’. More than 38,000 people contacted the Legal Ombudsman during its first six months in operation. The organisation has launched nearly 4,000 investigations into the service provided by lawyers, and resolved 1,450 cases.

SLCC Scottish Legal Complaints Commission a complete failure for Scots consumer protection against poor legal services. Well, the differences in how the Legal Ombudsman and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission operate are astounding, to say the least. Perhaps Scots should flock south of the border to use English legal services given the prejudice & poor regulation offered by the Scottish legal services market. At least the LeO appears to have more of a will to tackle the main problems of regulation rather than the SLCC who have done little for the past three years other than soak up over half a million pounds in expenses claims & remuneration, while chalking up a few bar tabs at the same time.

 

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UK Spending Review hits home after poorly regulated banker’s failures rip public services, jobs, armed forces & consumer protection apart

HMS Ark RoyalHMS Ark Royal, scrapped along with the rest of us to pay off banker’s debts. ON the day it has been announced nearly 500,000 public sector jobs are to go, as well as £7 billion slashed from the welfare budget, Police funding cut by 4% a year & the retirement age to rise from 65 to 66 by 2020 – to name but a few of Chancellor George Osborne’s decisions in the spending review, and reflecting on developments earlier in the week where we were told our armed services are to be cut to the bone, and then some, perhaps we should take a minute out to remember exactly why this is happening, and exactly who is responsible.

Fred GoodwinSir Fred Goodwin who ruined the Royal Bank of Scotland, dubbed “The World’s Worst Banker” by the media. Exactly why these cuts are happening and exactly who is responsible are not difficult questions to answer. The reckless actions of our bankers through the lack of regulation in the banking sector caused it, by bringing down many of the UK’s ‘premier’ financial institutions to the point the former Labour Government had to use massive amounts of public money to prop up the likes of the Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS & others.

Lack of regulation is nothing new however, as thousands of consumers of legal services in Scotland discover every year, as well as tens of thousands of consumers a year in England & Wales. Since before I can remember, the Scots legal profession have ripped-off the public on an almost unregulated basis. Complaints, scandals, financial turmoil, client losses, you-name-it, was all guaranteed to be covered up by one self regulator in Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, and one self regulator in England & Wales, the Law Society of England & Wales.

Now in 2010, with regard to legal services, the rest of the UK has moved on, with Law Society of England & Wales no longer controlling regulation of the UK’s legal services marketplace or, crucially the vast amounts of money which flow within it. However in Scotland, the exact opposite is true, with Law Society of Scotland still ruling the roost on every issue imaginable such as regulation, complaints, deciding who can provide legal services to the public, how much can be charged by way of fees, and inevitably also controlling exactly who among us can actually have access to justice and who cannot.

The Law Society of Scotland even controls financial claims made against [equally-as-reckless-&-corrupt-as-the-bankers] Scots law firms who will still continue to dominate Scotland’s legal services market, dressed up by the Law Society as providing access to justice, however in reality they operate little more than the same multi billion pound business full of scandals, financial crashes & fraud run by many of our less than glorious bankers who have, fortunately for them, found new highly paid jobs to keep their billionaire lifestyles going, while the remainder of the UK ends up on the scrap heap, along with the Ark Royal.

Without doubt, lack of regulation in the banking sector has ripped our country’s public services, armed services, and economy clean apart. Politicians have since claimed they have done everything to prevent this happening again, and will ensure the bankers pay it all back. Personally, I doubt many believe this. The bankers will not pay it back. They couldn’t really care less about the rest of the country, as we found out in a BBC Scotland report “Trust me, I’m a banker” although the programme must have been so good, its no longer available on the BBC’s iplayer to watch again.

So, tough new regulation for bankers so we never have another banking crisis again, ever, in the history of the planet. I don’t think so. However, no tough new regulation for the billions of pounds of consumer’s money swishing around law firms in Scotland’s legal services market. No, that would be just too much regulation and too much consumer protection for Scots, and anyone who argues we should have increased and fully independent regulation of legal services in Scotland and all those billions sloshing around in it under the control of one, very closed shop unaccountable self regulator, is just plain wrong, right ?

A reminder of exactly what happened at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which cost us billions to bail out, sacrificing thousands of jobs, livelihoods & even the prestige of the country to do so, while also reminding us of who defended the actions of those who caused it :

Ex-Law Society Chief Exec, now University of Glasgow Legal Practice Director Douglas Mill said Sir Fred Goodwin’s failure was down to lack of regulation ! (click image to watch video)

Justice ? or just us who would allow it ? Ex-Bank boss Goodwin who ruined the bank (and the country) gets huge pension, keeps knighthood while bringing UK’s Treasury, public services & armed forces to their knees. (click image to watch video)

A nice little earner for Sir Fred Goodwin, and he mostly got away with it … (click image to watch video)

 

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Scots consumers stuck with ‘crooked’ self-regulation of lawyers as England & Wales go fully independent with new Legal Ombudsman

Legal OmbudsmanScotland left behind once again as England & Wales finally go fully independent on complaints against the legal profession with new Legal Ombudsman. CONSUMERS in England & Wales who are placed in the position of having to make complaints against solicitors, barristers or others in the UK’s legal services market will, unlike their Scots counterparts, now have an opportunity to approach a fully independent regulator, the new Legal Ombudsman, which began its work today, Wednesday 6 October.

The Legal Ombudsman’s office say this is the first time people can come to an independent and impartial body to help them resolve a legal complaint. The service covers all lawyers, including solicitors, barristers, Law costs draftsmen, Legal executives, Licensed conveyancers, Notaries, Patent attorneys, Probate practitioners, Registered European lawyers, & Trademark attorneys. The Ombudsman has official powers to put things right if the service a consumer received from their lawyer was not satisfactory. The Ombudsman’s office predicts it may handle more than 100,000 cases of complaint a year.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland & SLCC are not seen as independent by Scots consumers. The powers & independence of the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales are seen as a vast improvement on the so-called ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has so far demitted most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland for investigation. The ‘independent’ SLCC, which is now mostly viewed as being anything but independent is also now well known for being populated by former Law Society staff & several board members, who in their register of interests appear in some cases to have previously served on Law Society Committees and be locked into Scotland’s famous ‘quango circuit’, with this & other issues leading one msp dubbing the SLCC as “The Law Society’s front company”.

The Legal Ombudsman’s office for England & Wales issued a Press Release today : A Fresh Start for Resolving Legal Complaints, stating “The new Legal Ombudsman will also enhance the reputation of the profession and aims to simplify the current consumer complaints system. Consumers can have greater confidence in using legal services because they know they can access an independent body that has specific powers to help.”

adam sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson. Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson said: “We know that most of the time, lawyers provide a good service. But sometimes things can go wrong. When they do, people must have access to someone they can have confidence in to put things right. That is our job – to resolve complaints quickly and fairly. We have worked hard to make sure we bring a fresh approach to legal complaints with a focus on justice.”

He continued : “We also want to work closely with lawyers and their regulators to raise standards. We want to help prevent complaints and make the legal and justice systems work better”.

jonathan djanoglyJonathan Djanogly MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Jonathan Djanogly MP, Minister responsible for Legal Services commented: “The new Legal Ombudsman will make a real difference for people who want to make a complaint about their lawyer. The consumer will have a single point of contact, instead of the current confusing situation, and the process will be a smoother one for the legal profession.”

The Minister continued : “As a lawyer myself I fully understand the vital part this will play in the regulatory system that helps maintain the high standing that our lawyers have around the world.”

Peter Vicary SmithWhich? Chief Executive Peter Vicary-Smith. Peter Vicary-Smith, CEO Which? said: “The arrival of the Legal Ombudsman is a welcome step forward for consumers who use legal services. It is hugely important for consumers to have the opportunity to contact an independent ‘referee’ who looks at both sides of the argument, makes enquiries, asks questions and comes up with a remedy or solution that they believe is fair.

By law, the Legal Ombudsman (for England & Wales) is a free service for consumers. It is funded by a levy on the legal profession but with Government controls in place to ensure it is independent and free from influence when it comes to resolving complaints. There is no cost to the taxpayer. A range of publications to help consumers and lawyers can be found here: http://www.legalombudsman.org.uk/publications – also worth a read to consumers in Scotland, to evaluate what you are missing out on …

In a BBC News report, Martyn Hocking, editor of Which?, said the Legal Ombudsman should have more powers, saying : “The Legal Ombudsman has a cap on the amount of compensation it can force solicitors to pay back of £30,000. It’s questionable whether that is high enough.”

He also called on the Ombudsman to “name and shame” by publishing complaints data, as the Financial Ombudsman has recently started doing after years of lobbying.

Mr Hocking said: “The Legal Ombudsman needs to be able to collate that data and definitely needs to be able to name and shame.”

Unlike Scotland, where complaints against the legal profession appear to rank higher in the secrecy stakes than national security, the motives of which are clearly to protect solicitors & law firms business from the possibility they may lose business as clients get to know their solicitors shocking complaints records, there are now moves afoot in England & Wales to ensure complaints & complaints decisions are published.

The Legal Ombudsman has launched a consultation on publicising complaints decisions, stating : “The Legal Services Act gives the Legal Ombudsman the power to publish reports of our investigations and decisions. We have put out a discussion paper to help us consider what sort of information we will publish. We would particularly like to hear views on whether or not we should identify lawyers and firms when publishing the outcomes of investigations.”

You can download the Discussion paper (September 2009) (pdf) on the consultation and take part, sharing your views on this important topic. The deadline for responses to the discussion paper is 23 December 2010. Please write/email to consultations@legalombudsman.org.uk

Even though many of my readers are based in Scotland, I would urge you all to take part in this consultation, offering your views on why complaints against the legal profession should be published. I have reported on this issue in earlier articles, such as HERE

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked earlier in the summer to comment on the publication of complaints in England & Wales, and whether the SLCC consider Scots consumers would benefit from the same entitlements? A spokeswoman replied : “The points you have raised are very interesting, but the SLCC has no comment to make on this particular issue at this time.”

Now that Scotland’s anti-consumer legal complaints system has been firmly left behind in the dark ages by the move in England & Wales to a more transparent independent legal services regulator, questions must now be asked why Scots must suffer the well known anti-client culture of complaints handling at the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates & SLCC.

Readers should bear in mind the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales was created through the Legal Services Act 2007, the equivalent act for Scotland, the Legal Services Bill being debated today in the Scottish Parliament, which the current Scottish Government have resisted including the same full independent regulation of legal services as is now the case in England & Wales.

Why therefore must Scots consumers suffer more of lawyers regulating themselves and covering up for each other when the remainder of the UK has fully independent regulation of their legal profession ?

 

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