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From Bad to Worse : Complaints against lawyers up 16%, few cases upheld, Board members on £20K expenses, reports anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2012 annual report

Jane Irvine SLCC ChairIt’s goodbye from her – Jane Irvine’s final term as SLCC Chair since 2008 did little for Scots clients caught in rogue lawyer trap. COMPLAINTS AGAINST SOLICITORS have shot up 16% in 2012, according to the latest 2012 ANNUAL REPORT issued by the ‘independent’ lawyer controlled Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which spent £2.7 million pounds up to 30 June on ‘investigating’ crooked lawyers. The fourth & final report under the Chair of Jane Irvine, whose term expires on 31st December 2012 also reveals the SLCC, which has not yet claimed one single solicitor being struck off as a result of its work over the past four years, was conveniently able to throw out a third of the complaints made to it by members of the public whose lives have invariably been ruined by the actions of rogue lawyers still working in the legal profession.

The report states that of the 1,264 complaints received by the SLCC during 2012 and 566 in hand at the start of the year, a suspiciously high number of complaints (486) were thrown out by the SLCC as being ineligible for investigation, while the report lists that 128 more complaints were withdrawn or resolved before an eligibility decision was made.

Included in the totals were 144 conduct complaints against members of the legal profession, which were then referred to the appropriate professional body (such as the Law Society of Scotland), and 289 eligible complaints were dealt with and closed by the SLCC, leaving 783 still in hand at the end of the year. The most common reasons for the SLCC branding complaints under the heading of “ineligibility” were “totally without merit” (200 cases), time bar (174) and prematurity (115).

Complaint Statistics SLCC annual Report 2012Complaints trends show House sales, Litigation, Wills & Executries remain big factors in clients ripped off by lawyers. The SLCC revealed that cases going all the way to a full determination totalled 146, of which 44 were upheld in whole or in part and 92 not upheld. A total of £37,042 was awarded in compensation across 33 cases, averaging out £1,122 per case yet clients face further hurdles in receiving compensation after the SLCC revealed solicitors had not complied with its rulings, forcing the SLCC to engage Sheriff Officers on particular occasions. The report stated : “We have seen an increase in cases of non-compliance where practitioners fail to pay awards which have been made against them by the SLCC. We take a firm line on this and use sheriff’s officers and the small claims court processes to enforce the outstanding sums.”

The SLCC said it was in talks with the Law Society of Scotland about its solicitors refusing to comply with compensation orders, stating : ”We are in discussion with the relevant professional organisations to ensure their support in tackling non-compliance. In addition, we have found that complainers sometimes have to wait a considerable length of time to receive compensation or fee rebates where a judicial factor or trustees have been appointed. Since this does little to build public confidence, we have started to work with the relevant professional organisations to assess options to address this issue.”

Worryingly, the annual report also reveals the SLCC refused to use its powers to abate or zero fees charged by lawyers who had given poor service to their clients, where only in 17 cases, fees were abated and fees totalling a paltry £3,851 were abated, an average award of only £227 per client.

The 2012 audited accounts of the SLCC also reveals that despite throwing out a third of complaints made to it, and the poor use of powers over fees, the SLCC’s board members continued to be paid what can only be described as lavish remuneration, listed as up to £20,000 each during 2011-2012, quite a contrast to the financial losses suffered by Scots clients of rogue solicitors.

A number of case examples are, for the first time, included in the SLCC’s latest annual report, although no identities of solicitors or law firms who have failed their clients have been revealed, marking the SLCC’s continued policy of refusing to name & shame rogue Scottish solicitors & law firms who consumers would be better to avoid.

The SLCC’s 2012 Annual report can be viewed online HERE or downloaded from the SLCC’s website HERE while the 2012 Annual accounts revealing the SLCC’s financial position, expenditure & remuneration of its staff, board members etc can be viewed online HERE or downloaded from the SLCC HERE.

The SLCC issued a Press Release on its 2012 Annual Report HERE

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (“SLCC”) laid its fourth Annual Report before the Scottish Parliament on 7 December 2012. The report covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012 and highlights the number and types of complaint coming to the SLCC; the SLCC’s achievements both as a gateway for legal complaints and a supporter to high standards in the legal profession.

Commenting on the SLCC’s challenges and achievements, Chair Jane Irvine said: “It stands as a huge tribute to the skills and hard-work of all our Staff and Board Members that we have achieved all we have this year. Our commitment remains unfailing despite the increasing demands placed on us and our resources, growing case loads and increasing financial pressures, along with the added complications deriving from transitional arrangements and backlog of earlier cases.”

Commenting on the work of the organisation during the year, Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers said: “My colleagues and our Board Members are committed to making the SLCC even more effective and efficient in handling complaints and more influential and impactful in improving legal services.

Mr Vickers, the fifth Chief Executive of the SLCC also went onto claim, laughably that “The SLCC exists to strengthen public trust and confidence in our legal services.”

In reality however, the SLCC, commonly regarded by most in the know as a joke, has demonstrated itself to be as anti-client as the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland issued its own Press Release praising the SLCC for its work in protecting solicitors from client complaints.

Commenting on the publication of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission annual report, Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We will look at the report in detail to see where we can assist the commission on working with the profession to improve complaints handling. The new use of case studies in this year’s annual report are a great way of showing solicitors examples of good practice in complaint handling at an early stage, and further down the line.”

Ms Jack was also grateful for the SLCC’s whitewash of the Law Society’s “Guarantee Fund”, long known as a corrupt compensation scheme which fails to pay out to ruined clients of crooked lawyers.

Ms Jack went onto congratulate the SLCC over their ‘review’ of the Guarantee Fund, saying : “Following a thorough audit of the Guarantee Fund by the Commission as part of its oversight role, we are pleased to see recognition that claims on the fund are being handled properly and impartially by the Society. We have always made it clear that all claims on the fund are considered on a case by case basis and on their own merit, regardless of the funds held and the audit has confirmed this.”

Ms Jack ended by saying : “It is reassuring that the commission is driving efficiencies as our members are tightening their belts during these straightened times.The Society will continue to work with the Commission to seek to reform the legislation to make complaints a better experience for all involved.”

A CLIENTS LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE :

In reality, clients of Scottish solicitors who are put in a position of having to make a complaint to the SLCC about their solicitor’s conduct or service, are in a no better position in 2012 than they were in two decades ago.

Little compensation on offer for solicitors stealing from clients, or negligent service, regulators poor use of powers to completely negate fees, hardly any complaints being fully upheld, few solicitors struck off, a claims system via the Master Policy that is just as corrupt as it was twenty years ago, a Guarantee Fund compensation scheme which puts tax dodging in the Cayman Islands to shame, regulators who are so anti-client, anti-public & anti consumer they cant see past their expenses claims , and amidst it all, lazy politicians at the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government who value legal freebies, and paid-for social occasions with lawyers & regulators too much to help constituents in dire need of assistance … the same old story from 1990 to 2012 repeats itself once again …

Previous coverage of the SLCC’s annual reports, which tell a similar story can be found HERE

 

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Accountant in Bankruptcy unfreezes benefits payments of client caught up in sequestration battle with Perth law firm Kippen Campbell

aibAccountant in Bankruptcy seized disability benefits to pay law firm’s disputed fees MEDIA REPORTING of a case in which a sequestrated client’s Disability Benefits payments were illegally seized for nearly FOUR MONTHS by the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB) over a wrangle involving debts which a Perth based law firm, Kippen Campbell claim are owed to them over a collapsed court case, appears to have helped the client, Mr William Gordon (also of Perth) finally gain access to money desperately needed for living expenses.

Mr Gordon apparently discovered his accounts had been unfrozen last weekend, but no one from the AIB has contacted him over the matter or offered explanations as to why they had seized his benefits payments.

Diary of Injustice reported last week that Mr Gordon was apparently sequestrated by his former law firm after a series of bitter, ‘one sided’ court actions held in Perth Sheriff Court, where agents acting for Kippen Campbell demanded Mr Gordon be sequestrated to pay fees they claimed were due to them for legal services provided for a medical damages claim being heard in the Court of Session.

Even though it transpired Mr Gordon was too ill to attend court for any of the hearings, and his doctor had written to the court informing them of his patient’s medical circumstances, it appears Sheriffs at Perth Sheriff Court ignored the doctor’s medial opinions and sided with the local law firm who were demanding fees for representing Mr Gordon in the now collapsed medical damages claim. More on the story can be found here : Personal injury client dropped by Perth based solicitors Kippen Campbell ‘being hounded’ by court attempts to recover disputed fees

Earlier last week, the Herald newspaper & Scottish Law Reporter reported that attempts had been made to seize Mr Gordon’s home by Glasgow based accountants Wylie & Bisset who are acting on behalf of the Accountant in Bankruptcy. Wylie & Bisset were apparently convinced Mr Gordon owned his property. Apparently not content with seizing Mr Gordon’s home, the agents acting for the AIB attempted to seize another property owned by an unconnected family who live in Rattray, Blairgowrie, whose surname is also Gordon.

Jane Irvine SLCC ChairJane Irvine, SLCC Chair : £300 a day for some, benefits seized to pay lawyers for others as regulator accused of failure to clip disputed fees. It is clear from persistent failures & a reluctance on the part of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to use their powers to abate or nullify disputed legal fees, that had the SLCC chose to exercise its powers in Mr Gordon’s case, he would not have been facing the wrath of courts, the Accountant in Bankruptcy & attempts to throw him onto the street over fees a law firm are claiming for walking away from his case. Diary of Injustice tackled these issues in last week’s report here : Solicitors regulator blamed for failure to use powers on fees as accountants seize Disability benefits to pay Perth law firm for collapsed court case,

In the article, it was also pointed out by a senior official from one of Scotland’s Consumer organisations that it was against the law to seize state benefits under section 187 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 which clearly states “On the bankruptcy of a beneficiary, such benefit shall not pass to any trustee or other person acting on behalf of his creditors.”

The official went onto tell Diary of Injustice that her organisation had received numerous reports of law firms threatening clients with bankruptcy if they did not pay what appear to be dubious demands for fees. In other cases, law firms have simply gone ahead and made their clients bankrupt without even giving them a chance to question the legitimacy of the fees claimed to be owed.

The Accountant in Bankruptcy was asked to explain why Mr Gordon’s bank accounts & benefits payments had now been unfrozen after the media coverage. The AIB refused to issue any comment.

It has also been revealed the Financial Ombudsman is investigating why Mr Gordon’s bank accounts were seized and why benefits payments were also frozen by the AIB. While the Financial Ombudsman has declined to comment on the case, documents provided to them appear to raise serious questions over the validity of court documents coming out of Perth Sheriff Court which were used to ‘sequestrate’ Mr Gordon and put him through months of torture.

Since last week’s report, a number of individuals have contacted Diary of Injustice with regard to problems with the Accountant in Bankruptcy, and their agents apparently seizing benefits payments on multiple occasions. Coincidentally or not, some of these cases also relate to dubious fee demands by law firms who have left their clients with ruined legal cases.

Indeed, the trend of law firms using threats of bankruptcy against clients appears not to have gone unnoticed by the Scottish Government, reported in last week’s article where a senior source in the Government acknowledged there was a growing problem with law firms threatening clients over legal fees. He went on to say he believed law firms were using their influence in local courts to easily obtain bankruptcy orders against clients who have little or no chance of obtaining legal representation to challenge the law firms demands.

Diary of Injustice would like to hear from any reader who has endured difficulties with the Accountant in Bankruptcy and law firms demanding fees which cannot be substantiated. Please contact us with your information via : scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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“Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission appoints latest Chief Executive. THE Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the quango set up by Holyrood msps and the Law Society of Scotland to ‘independently’ regulate crooked Scottish lawyers yet who’s highly remunerated board members have openly branded members of the public “frequent flyers”, “chancers” and demanded consumer groups be excluded from studies into the effects on clients of rogue lawyers has announced the appointment of it’s latest and now FIFTH in FOUR YEARS Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers.

Mr Vickers a former British Consul in the Canary Islands & Madrid, takes up the post on 5 June 2012 replacing Rosemary Agnew who left the legal complaints quango to be Scotland’s new Information Commissioner in charge of Freedom of Information laws.

In an announcement on the SLCC’s website, Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC, who was recently revealed to have met lawyers accused of professional misconduct in meetings where it had been agreed no records would be kept of discussions, said: “The SLCC is delighted to appoint Matthew as our new Chief Executive Officer. Matthew will bring fresh thinking to the SLCC just as we really start to push our performance for the benefit of all our service users – legal practitioners and consumers. In our search, in keeping with our aspirations for the SLCC, we set our sights high and were delighted to be able to select Matthew from an exceptionally strong field of candidates.”

Matthew Vickers, who will join the SLCC as Chief Executive Officer on 5 June 2012, said: “Customer service and efficient and effective ways of working have been themes throughout my career, and I hope to help a talented and enthusiastic team build on what the SLCC has already achieved. As the gateway for legal complaints, the SLCC must inspire trust and confidence in the legal complaints system. It’s vital that consumers and legal practitioners recognise us as impartial, accessible and independent if we’re to continue to do so.”

A biography published by the SLCC of Mr Vickers states :

Matthew is forty years old and originally from Merseyside. Matthew studied Modern History at Merton College, Oxford before a Master’s in Industrial Relations at the LSE. Matthew later returned to Oxford for doctorate entitled “Civic Image and Civic Patriotism in Liverpool 1880-1914” and joined Safeway on graduate scheme in 1998 working at Ferry Road store in Edinburgh. Matthew moved to McCurrach UK in 2002, made Board Director in 2004 and later joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2009.

On completing doctoral research on the history of Victorian Liverpool, Matthew joined Safeway where he held head office and regional roles specialising in customer care and customer insight. He later joined McCurrach UK, serving on the Operating Board and taking overall responsibility for in-store execution for AG Barr Scottish and Newcastle.

In 2009, Matthew joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as British Consul in the Canary Islands, subsequently moving to take up the role of Consul in Madrid. Last year he was awarded the Foreign Secretary’s Award for Service Delivery recognising his significant contribution to improving the support which the FCO offers to Britons abroad.

The latest Chief Executive of the beleaguered SLCC, widely viewed as anti-consumer from it’s failure to prosecute or strike off even a single crooked lawyer since 2008 (an even worse record than the Law Society of Scotland) certainly has a task ahead of him to improve the SLCC’s image if Scots consumers are to be able to trust the SLCC to carry out effective regulation of complaints without the usual inherent bias for lawyers. One SLCC insider dubbed Mr Vickers “a visiting fireman” amid hopes by some in the organisation he can repair the law quango’s image & functionality.

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy over the four year period of the hugely expensive yet under achieving law complaints quango which has burned up at least TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money and taken a further TWELVE MILLION POUNDS from the legal profession in the form of of complaints levies paid by solicitors, which in turn are recouped from hikes (or spurious additions) in legal fees demanded from clients.

mkmc slcc openingMasterman meets MacAskill who backed secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. A previous SLCC Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and resigned her position at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Mrs Masterman then returned to work for the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) in a “complaints reviewer” role, and was recently accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of Baby MacKenzie, which Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper reported on here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive, Richard Smith, also resigned from the role after disagreements about the way the SLCC was heading as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman got the role, then after a few months the job was handed over to Rosemary Agnew. all reported by Diary of Injustice here : The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role

MIND YOUR P’s, C’s & D’s – SLCC attempt & name & shame flounders in alphabet soup

As the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission announced it’s latest Chief Executive, a number of bizarre ‘investigation examples’ & ‘determination examples’ using letters of the alphabet to refer to [crooked’ lawyers and consumers who made complaints about their lawyers have been published on the law quango’s website, in an effort to show the public what to expect from the SLCC.

However the ‘examples’ published by the SLCC fail to identify a single solicitor or law firm, in stark contrast to the policy of the Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales to publicly name & shame law firms & lawyers who fail their clients in more fuller & detailed publications of complaints. Complainers are also not identified.

In none of the examples published  by the SLCC to-date, some of which are reproduced below, are there any references to any recommendation that a law firm or solicitor should be investigated for prosecution by the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

All examples featured by the SLCC, appear to show a series of slaps on the wrist for lawyers & law firms who are not required to alert any of their other clients to complaints made against them and poor service they have given to previous clients forced by their predicament to complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

A legal insider who drew the SLCC’s case examples to the attention of Diary of Injustice claimed the public should in no way take these examples as being genuine …

Determination Example 3

Mr C complained about the service Mr P provided in relation to divorce matters, ailment and contact with his children. He alleged that Mr P failed to: represent and argue his case properly in court, act on his instructions regarding his ex-wife’s failure to comply with a court order for contact, arrange acceptable alternative representation in his absence.  At a court hearing he arranged for his ex-wife’s (the defender’s) solicitor to represent both parties

The Determination Committee considered afresh a wide range of information which included the Firm’s file, Mr C’s comments, Mr P’s comments and the Service Standards.

The Determination Committee did not uphold any element of the complaint.  Its view was that Mr P had exercised his professional judgement in relation to the representation and saw no evidence that this was improperly done.  The Committee understood that it may have appeared odd to Mr C that his ex-wife’s solicitor was instructed to provide alternative representation but this was not inadequate professional service.  It is standard and acceptable practice for one party’s agents to represent both parties where a case like this was calling in regard to a non-contentious matter, and it was appropriate in this case. There was no substance to the complaint about failure to follow instruction.  Not only was Mr C was unable to clarify or provide any evidence of all of the instruction he claimed he gave to Mr P but where instruction was given, records demonstrated it was followed.

Investigation Example 1

Mr C complained about the service Mr P and his Firm provided in relation to his separation.  He complained about the way the Firm advised him on costs and subsequently charged him.  He alleged they charged nearly double the verbal quote and that they did not tell him when the costs became higher than the limit he was able to pay, even though they had agreed to. The Firm did not respond to his requests for a breakdown of costs for over ten months, they did not take payments from his debit card even though he instructed them to do so and the amounts they charged him differed between invoices without any explanation as to why.

Mr C was also unhappy with the poor communication and delay in dealing with his case.  It took five months to draft a document Mr P told him was straightforward, by which time it was out of date.  The Firm did not keep him informed or updated as the terms of business letter said they would. Nor did they respond to his complaint about the delay and the fees. At the point Mr C complained to us, the Firm had started to chase him for payment of his fees and although he paid them in full, did not acknowledge receipt.

The SLCC investigated this complaint by examining the Firm’s files and all the information Mr C sent.  We spoke directly with both parties and took into account all they had to say. We found that that Mr C’s case was not as straightforward as it appeared to be.  There were unavoidable reasons for the delay and although the fees were higher than originally quoted, it was clear the work was both necessary and instructed by Mr C.  The SLCC did not uphold the allegations about these aspects of the service.

However, it was apparent that neither Mr P nor his Firm kept Mr C informed.  Their communication with him was sporadic, did not answer his questions and contained a lot of jargon that he may not have understood easily.  There was no evidence they had answered his complaint.  Had they communicated more regularly and effectively with Mr C to help him understand why there were delays and why the matter was more complex than originally thought, they may have avoided the complaint, and would not have caused Mr C the inconvenience of writing to them or of complaining.

We reported these findings to both parties and recommended a settlement that they both accepted.  The Firm apologised.  It also paid Mr C £550 compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused by the poor communication.  We did not recommend a rebate of fees because although they were higher that Mr C was expecting, the service and advice provided in relation to his separation were not found to be inadequate.

Investigation Example 3

Mr and Mrs C complained about the way Ms P and her Firm dealt with their house purchase.  They were unhappy with her alleged failure to settle on the date they were expecting, 21 October 2010 which they agreed the week before in a telephone call.  They called the Firm on 20 October to confirm everything was in order and were told by Ms P that she was not expecting to settle until 22 October.  She said that settlement could not take place unless a new disposition was issued and delivered to the purchaser’s solicitor for the next day.  This was quite late in the working day. Mr and Mrs C decided they wanted settlement to take place on 21 October as planned.  Ms P prepared a new disposition which was hand-delivered.

The settlement took place followed by settlement late afternoon on 21 October.  This meant Mr and Mrs C could not complete their move and had to pay their removal company for an extra day.

When the SLCC examined the Firm’s file and the information that Mr and Mrs C provided, it emerged that the conveyancing was not straightforward.  There were problems with the sale of Mr and Mrs C’s current property resulting from the completion of remedial works identified by their buyer’s survey.  We could see that Ms P had raised doubts in her letters about being able to settle on 21 October and had kept Mr and Mrs C informed. Equally, it was evident that she was aware that 21 October was their desired date.  The consequence of the uncertainty about the settlement date meant that Ms P was unprepared for settlement on 21 October and as a result settlement was not until late in the afternoon of 21 October.

Our view was that the service was adequate and did not breach any Service Standards.  We appreciated it was a stressful time for Mr and Mrs C and that they had done everything they could.; We could also see that the Firm had made strenuous efforts on their behalf and had managed to settle on the day they wanted.  We considered very carefully the matter of the extra costs for the removal company, but did not recommend these be compensated as they were not the consequence of inadequate professional service.

Although we did not uphold the complaint, our findings and recommendations were accepted by both parties and no further action was taken.

 

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Court of Session hears Legal Defence Union boss who met SLCC complaints Chief stands accused of SEVEN counts of misconduct by Law Society reporter

Court BrodieCourt of Session’s Lord Brodie hears Legal Defence Union boss accused of misconduct in Law Society report. DETAILS of a court case heard in Scotland’s Court of Session have revealed William Macreath aged 60, who is the head of the LEGAL DEFENCE UNION (LDU), a shady lawyer’s lobby group specialising in defending crooked colleagues has been accused of “five findings of inadequate services” and “seven findings of professional misconduct” by an unnamed reporter acting for the Law Society of Scotland. The stinging accusations against the LDU boss, who it was revealed last year had secret meetings with Jane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) in expensive Edinburgh hotels, are contained in one of four reports carried out by Law Society reporters investigating complaints originally made SEVEN YEARS AGO in 2005 by a fellow solicitor, Miss Norna Crabbe.

Details of the court case and allegations against Mr Macreath who is also a partner in Glasgow law firm Levy MacRae only came to light after the LDU boss petitioned the Court of Session for a Judicial Review against the Law Society of Scotland which in turn resulted in Miss Crabbe asking leave to enter the process and to lodge answers as additional respondent alongside the Council of the Law Society of Scotland in response to the petition filed by Mr Macreath.

Earlier this week, Miss Crabbe’s motion to the court to enable her to enter the case faced bitter opposition from advocate Helen Watts, acting on behalf of Messrs Simpson & Marwick who are representing Mr Macreath. During the debate on the case, the Judge, Lord Brodie who is known not to be a big fan of the media, heard the case had come about after it had taken the Law Society of Scotland no less than four reporters to wade through, investigate and report back on complaints made against Mr Macreath by Miss Crabbe in relation to litigation & legal services provided by Mr Macreath to Miss Crabbe over the dissolution of a firm in which Miss Crabbe had been a partner.

The court was told of how the third reporter who looked into the complaints made against Mr Macreath recommended that all heads of complaint made by Miss Crabbe against the petitioner be dismissed, with the exception of one finding of inadequate professional services upon which the third reporter recommended that no sanction be imposed on the petitioner in respect of that finding.

Miss Crabbe subsequently complained about the terms of the 2009 Report conducted by the third reporter and it was by way of response to Miss Crabbe’s complaint about the 2009 Report that the respondent made its remit (which the petitioner avers was of a limited nature) to the fourth reporter.

In what appears to be a complete reversal of the third reporter’s findings, the fourth reporter reported in terms of the 2011 Report. In the 2011 Report the fourth reporter made five findings of inadequate services against the petitioner and seven findings of professional misconduct. The fourth reporter did not make a finding of inadequate professional services in relation to the one head of the complaint which had been upheld by the third reporter.

In response to the allegations, the court heard in Mr Macreath’s pleadings that he made detailed written representations to the respondent about the unfairness of the approach adopted in dealing with Miss Crabbe’s complaint which led to the 2011 Report. The petitioner avers that he did not receive a substantive response from the respondents until 10 January 2012 when the respondent wrote to the petitioner advising that it proposed to proceed on the basis of the 2011 Report treating the 2009 Report as a nullity.

Details published by the court reveal Mr Macreath is seeking an interdict ad interim against the Council of the Law Society of Scotland from taking any procedural step to advance the disposal of the complaint by Miss Crabbe pending resolution of the proceedings; reduction of the Law Society’s decision of 10 January 2012 to set aside the 2009 Report and treat it as a nullity; an order by the Court ordaining the Law Society to set aside the terms of the 2011 Report; and an order by the Court ordaining the Law Society to obtain a supplementary report in terms specified at paragraph 14.4 of the petition.

However, after hearing both sides arguments in court, Lord Brodie granted Miss Crabbe’s plea to lodge responses, giving a fourteen day deadline for answers to be received by the court. The full terms of Lord Brodie’s opinion are reprinted below, however it should be noted there does not seem to be any mention of what work if any, the first & second reporters carried out with regard to Miss Crabbe’s complaints.

The opinion of Lord Brodie published by the Scottish Courts website is featured here and reprinted below : OUTER HOUSE, COURT OF SESSION [2012] CSOH 81 P47/12 OPINION OF LORD BRODIE in the Petition of WILLIAM COUPERTHWAITE MACREATH Petitioner; for Judicial Review of a decision taken by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland

Introduction

[1] In this application by motion in terms of rule 58.8(2) by Miss Norma Crabbe for leave to enter the process and to lodge answers as additional respondent to the petition, I heard Miss Crabbe in support of her motion and Miss Watts, Advocate, for the petitioner.

[2] Miss Crabbe objected to my hearing Miss Watts on the ground that, contrary to what appears on the Form 23.4 lodged on behalf of the petitioner, written intimation of opposition had not been given to her on the day that the opposition was lodged with the General Department, as required by rule 23.4(4). The relevant timetable of events, according to Miss Crabbe, was that she intimated her intention to enrol the motion by fax on Monday 30 April 2012. She enrolled the motion on Wednesday 2 May. Those acting for the petitioner lodged a form of opposition to motion (Form 23.4) with the General Department on 2 May but only intimated that opposition in writing to Miss Crabbe by way of letter which arrived on Thursday 3 May. The motion came before me on Friday 4 May. While I understood Miss Watts to dispute that there had been a failure to intimate opposition on 2 May, she accepted that she had handed an amended Form 23.4 to Miss Crabbe on the morning of 4 May prior to the motion calling before me. The amended Form 23.4 stated that the motion should be refused on the basis that the applicant was not directly affected by the issues raised in the petition and lacked the necessary interest and standing to justify her participating in the proceedings.

[3] Rather than taking further time to explore the factual dispute, I proceeded on the basis that, as Miss Crabbe claimed, written opposition to her motion had only been intimated to her on 3 May 2012 and that therefore there had been a failure to comply with rule 23.4(4). Rule 2.1 gives power to the Court to relieve a party from the consequences of failure to comply with the Rules of Courts. It is not entirely clear to me that there are necessary consequences of a failure to comply with the requirement to give written notice of opposition on the day of lodging it, at least where the motion is starred, the other party is on notice that the motion is opposed and the other party has attended to make her motion. But, assuming that it was open to me to refuse to hear Miss Watts or to grant the motion irrespective of its merits, I decided that it was entirely inappropriate for me to do so andto the extent that my hearing Miss Watts required me to exercise my powers under rule 2.1, I did so. In my experience at least, a motion such as this is unusual. It did not appear to me free from all difficulty. I welcomed the assistance which might be provided from either side of the bar and Miss Crabbe did not suggest that she had suffered any prejudice from having a shorter rather than longer period of notice of opposition.

The petition

[4] The petitioner is a solicitor. The respondent is the Law Society of Scotland. The petitioner seeks judicial review of a decision taken by the Council of the respondent, acting through its Regulation Department, and intimated by letter dated January 2011, to treat its report dated 28 September 2009, on a complaint against the petitioner (by Miss Crabbe) as a nullity and to proceed on the basis of the report, dated June 2011, on the same subject.

[5] Miss Crabbe is also a solicitor. The petitioner acted on her behalf between 1998 and 2005 in relation to litigation arising out of the dissolution of the firm of which Miss Crabbe had been a partner. Miss Crabbe became dissatisfied with the services provided to her by the petitioner in relation to this matter and in August 2005 intimated the complaint to the respondent which is referred to in the petition. The then statutory provision regulating such complaints was section 33 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990. Section 33 requires the respondent to investigate a complaint made by any person with an interest and thereafter make a written report to the complainer and the practitioner concerned. It is averred in the petition that the respondent has appointed a series of four separate reporters to deal with Miss Crabbe’s complaint. The report dated 28 September 2009 (“the 2009 Report”) was a report by the third reporter and the report dated June 2011 (“the 2011 Report”) was a report by the fourth reporter.

[6] The 2009 report by the third reporter recommended that all heads of complaint made by Miss Crabbe against the petitioner be dismissed, with the exception of one finding of inadequate professional services. The third reporter recommended that no sanction be imposed on the petitioner in respect of that finding. Miss Crabbe subsequently complained about the terms of the 2009 Report. It was by way of response to Miss Crabbe’s complaint about the 2009 Report that the respondent made its remit (which the petitioner avers was of a limited nature) to the fourth reporter. The fourth reporter reported in terms of the 2011 Report. In the 2011 Report the fourth reporter made five findings of inadequate services against the petitioner and seven findings of professional misconduct. The fourth reporter did not make a finding of inadequate professional services in relation to the one head of the complaint which had been upheld by the third reporter.

[7] The petitioner avers that he made detailed written representations to the respondent about the unfairness of the approach adopted in dealing with Miss Crabbe’s complaint which led to the 2011 Report. The petitioner avers that he did not receive a substantive response from the respondents until 10 January 2012 when the respondent wrote to the petitioner advising that it proposed to proceed on the basis of the 2011 Report treating the 2009 Report as a nullity.

[8] In these circumstances the petitioner seeks interdict ad interim against the respondent from taking any procedural step to advance the disposal of the complaint by Miss Crabbe pending resolution of the proceedings; reduction of the respondent’s decision of 10 January 2012 to set aside the 2009 Report and treat it as a nullity; an order by the Court ordaining the respondent to set aside the terms of the 2011 Report; and an order by the Court ordaining the respondent to obtain a supplementary report in terms specified at paragraph 14.4 of the petition.

Rule of Court 58.8(2)

[9] Rule 58.8(2) provides as follows:

“Any person not specified in the first order made under Rule 58.7 as a person on whom service requires to be made, and who is directly affected by any issue raised, may apply by motion for leave to enter the process; and if the motion is granted, the provisions of this chapter shall apply to that person as they apply to a person specified in the first order”.

Discussion

[10] It was Miss Watts’s submission on behalf of the petitioner that Miss Crabbe was not a person “directly affected” by any issue raised in the petition. The petition would not resolve Miss Crabbe’s complaint against the petitioner. To the extent that Miss Crabbe’s patrimonial interests had been adversely affected by the petitioner’s conduct of her affairs then her remedy was an action for damages. Moreover, it was not in the interests of expedient determination of the petition that Miss Crabbe should be allowed to participate. A two day first hearing had been fixed in the petition for 14 and 15 June 2012. It was likely that that hearing would have to be discharged if Miss Crabbe were to be added as a party.

[11] Miss Crabbe and Miss Watts were agreed that authoritative guidance as to what is meant by “directly affected” for the purposes of Rule 58.8(2) is to be found in the judgment of Lord Reed in AXA General Insurance Ltd v The Lord Advocate 2011 SLT 1061 at paras.170 to 175. In that passage, Lord Reed explains that the traditional analysis in terms of title and interest as a requisite for locus standi in a private law context, as set out in D & J Nicol v Dundee Harbour Trustees 1915 SC (HL) 712, is inappropriate where what is in issue are questions of public law, which is likely to be the case with an exercise of the supervisory jurisdiction. At para.174 of his judgment in AXA Lord Reed considers the terms of Rule 58.8(2). He explains that stipulation in the rule that a person must be directly affected by any issue raised, is no more than a reflection of the pre-existing requirement that a person must have sufficient interest. It is no more restrictive than that.

[12] There may be instances where having made a complaint to a regulatory authority the complainer should be taken to have surrendered any private interest in the matter to that authority but on the admittedly fairly superficial understanding of the scheme under the 1990 Act which I was able to glean from the parties’ necessarily brief submissions, I do not see this to be such a case. It would appear from the petitioner’s averments that the respondent involved Miss Crabbe in the complaints process. It entertained Miss Crabbe’s complaint about the 2009 Report. It invited her to submit material which she claimed had not been considered by the third reporter. The petitioner complains of lack of procedural fairness on the part of the respondent in its consideration of the complaint. It is at the very least arguable that just as the petitioner had an expectation of procedural fairness, so did Miss Crabbe. The petitioner complains of delay on the part of the respondent. So did Miss Crabbe when she came to address me. It may be that, in contrast to the petitioner, Miss Crabbe has no direct patrimonial interest in the outcome of the complaint, but I consider that I am entitled to have regard to her interest in being vindicated in the event of her complaint being upheld just as the petitioner has an interest (additional to any purely patrimonial interest) in being vindicated by the complaint being dismissed, either in whole or in part. Depending on the outcome of the complaint, I would expect parties to consider that they had “won” or “lost” to a greater or lesser extent. The terms of the operative reporter’s report may not be determinative of the complaint but any final decision will have to be based on that report, hence the petitioner’s wish for the 2011 Report to be set aside in favour of the 2009 Report with any further report being limited to an identification of the documentation which was not available to the third reporter and a decision on the significance, if any, of such additional documentation. If it is clear that the petitioner has an interest in setting aside the 2011 Report in favour of the 2009 Report, then, conversely, I would see Miss Crabbe as having an interest, albeit perhaps not a patrimonial interest, in the 2011 Report remaining as the operative report.

[13] Were it to be suggested (and Miss Watts did not so suggest), I would not be satisfied that it would be an answer to Miss Crabbe’s wish to participate that her interests can be adequately protected by the respondent’s opposition to the petition. It may be that the respondent will take and maintain all relevant points available in answer to the petition but Miss Crabbe has no guarantee that that will be so. It may be that with a view to the economical conduct of the litigation, Miss Crabbe will not choose to add anything to what is put forward on behalf of the respondent, but she cannot know in advance whether the points which are to be insisted upon on behalf of the respondent and the way in which the proceedings are conducted will exactly coincide with her view of her interests.

[14] Miss Watts argued that it was not in the interests of the expedient determination of the petition that Miss Crabbe be allowed to participate. Miss Watts envisaged that the hearing fixed for 14 and 15 June 2012 would have to be discharged. I am not satisfied that this is necessarily so but were it to be so I do not see it as a consideration which could prevent a directly affected person being granted leave to enter the process.

Decision

[15] I shall therefore grant Miss Crabbe leave to enter the process. Miss Crabbe sought leave to lodge answers and I would grant leave for her to do so, ordaining that these be lodged within 14 days of the date of the interlocutor granting leave. [16] I reserve all questions of expenses.

LEGAL DEFENCE UNION – DEFENDING CROOKED LAWYERS, ACTING AGAINST CLIENTS :

The LEGAL DEFENCE UNION (LDU) is a small, yet powerful organisation which regularly represents crooked lawyers against investigations of client complaints which are carried out by the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). It is now well known the LDU regularly intervene in cases and make submissions to both the Law Society & SLCC on solicitors behalf while the clients who have made the complaints are routinely refused access to the LDU’s submissions, dubbed by some complaints insiders as “more often than not, threatening & intimidatory”.

A report into the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy carried out by the University of Manchester Law School in 2009 for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was handed documents linking the Legal Defence Union to suicides of clients who had complained about their solicitors. Details of the cases were referred to in the report, which can be read in an article by Diary of Injustice here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

SLCC Lockhart montageInvestigation revealed Legal Defence Union rushed to aid £600K dodgy legal aid claims lawyer. Diary of Injustice conducted an in depth investigation into dealings between the Legal Defence Union and the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), revealing James McCann, a solicitor acting for the LDU brokered a deal between SLAB and the Law Society to deter action on complaints filed by SLAB against sole practitioner Niels S Lockhart, a solicitor who SLAB accused of making inflated claims for legal aid work after raking in SIX HUNDRED & SEVENTY TWO THOUSAND POUNDS of legal aid funds between April 2002 to March 2005.

Diary of Injustice reported on the secret deal struck between the Legal Defence Union, Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Law Society of Scotland to get Niels Lockhart off the hook from potentially being struck off, in an earlier article, here : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case

The secret SLAB report on Niels S Lockhart, obtained in 2011 by Diary of Injustice under Freedom of Information laws, can be viewed online here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART

Jane Irvine SLCC ChairLegal Defence Union boss secretly met SLCC Chair Jane Irvine in no notes meetings at posh Edinburgh hotel. A further investigation carried out by Diary of Injustice into dealings between the Legal Defence Union and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed a series of secret off the record meetings at the plush Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh between Jane Irvine, the Chair of the SLCC and William Macreath, despite the fact Mr Macreath was under investigation by the Law Society of Scotland at the same time over complaints filed by solicitor Miss Crabbe. That report can be read here : Investigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s links, secret ‘off the record’ dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union

Documents obtained from the SLCC under Freedom of Information disclosures revealed Mr Macreath and the SLCC Chair exchanged correspondence and letters agreeing that no notes of their meetings would be kept. The FOI disclosures can be viewed online or downloaded here : Legal Defence Union & Law Care involvement in complaints to SLCC & here : FOI Disclosure : Involvement & meetings between Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Legal Defence Union

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked for their reaction over the allegations against Mr Macreath and what impact it may have on any discussions held between the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine and the LDU Boss. No response has been received at time of publication.

 

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The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role

Fifth Chief Executive sought for lawyer complaints quango mess. CONTINUITY appears to be a bad word at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), who are now faced with conducting a recruitment process to find a FIFTH replacement for the role of SLCC Chief Executive, after losing its FOURTH CEO, Rosemary Agnew to the post of Scottish Information Commissioner. The job of SLCC Chief Executive, which no one seems to want, or can stand for more than a year, attracts a salary of around EIGHTY THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR plus expenses, hospitality, and other perks from the law complaints quango which has so far cost clients of solicitors and taxpayers a stunning FOURTEEN MILLION POUNDS plus since 2008 yet has apparently not seen one single crooked lawyer prosecuted or struck off as a result of SLCC investigations into consumer complaints against the legal profession.

Continuing the lack of continuation in the role of SLCC Chief Executive, Mrs Agnew has occupied the SLCC’s Chief Executive job for a little more than a year after taking on the ill fated position from the SLCC’s first Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, who resigned on ill health grounds, coincidentally also after being able to stand little more than a year in the job based at the Stamp Office in Edinburgh.

Reports of difficulties during Ms Masterman’s time as Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission saw a string of controversial decisions involving the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy, secret meetings with insurers Royal Sun Alliance & Marsh, who were convicted of illegal activities in the United States.

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney revealed he felt Ms Masterman had mislead him over accounts of meetings. It later emerged the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief, John Swinney personally intervened on behalf of a constituent over the murky goings on at the SLCC and accused Ms Masterman of being less than honest in correspondence. It is thought this spat between Masterman and Mr Swinney eventually led to the first Chief Executive’s demise over ‘ill health’. Diary of Injustice reported more on Ms Masterman’s resignation in an earlier article here : SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh

While Ms Masterman may have resigned on ill health grounds, she was quick to engage lawyers to negotiate a large figure payoff from the SLCC, a payoff which was personally signed off by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and has never been disclosed to either the public or legal profession who fund the SLCC. The saga was reported by Scottish Law Reporter in an earlier article HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers

Prior to Eileen Masterman’s appointment as CEO in 2008, Richard Smith, who was appointed by the Scottish Government as the interim’ Chief Executive in the formation year of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, resigned in early 2008 after only a few months in the job. Mr Smith, a a consultant in the Scottish government’s justice directorate, was officially reported to have stood down to focus on other projects. However legal insiders have since informed Diary of Injustice the resignation was as a result of views expressed that the SLCC was not going to live up to expectations promised by the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Smith was the replaced by John Murphy, another Scottish Government consultant who took over the role until Eileen Masterman was eventually appointed as Chief Executive later in 2008. As reported by Diary of Injustice, Ms Masterman resigned over ill health grounds, even though questions remain over her actions while in the role, and Mrs Agnew, the latest Chief Executive has ditched her post to be the new Scottish Information Commissioner

Jane Irvine, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s Chair issued the following statement seeking a new recruit for the post of Chief Executive : On behalf of The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) I want to thank you for your interest in becoming our new Chief Executive. As an organisation we have been operational since 1 October 2008 with our main functions as follows:

  • Handling all complaints about members of the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates
  • Overseeing the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates conduct and insurance arrangements
  • Dealing with complaints about cases that have been through conduct systems
The establishment of the SLCC represented a change in the way complaints against the legal profession were handled by introducing a novel form of funding for a public body in Scotland. We focus on the early resolution of disputes and encourage improvement whilst remaining independent, accessible and impartial.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our departing Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew, who has established a core team which is working well with established governance and financial polices, allowing operational matters to run smoothly. From this sound platform we are searching for a CEO who will lead us into the next phase of evolution for SLCC.

We are looking for a leader who can inspire the operational team as well as influence change. Naturally, our new CEO should continue to drive operational efficiency upwards internally as well as influencing externally to help improve service standards within the legal profession. We are looking for someone with the appropriate level of gravitas to work in partnership with key stakeholders and develop the way the SLCC evolves over the next 5 years.

The Chief Executive will be responsible for enhancing operational efficiency by reducing the time we take to deal with cases and the costs, ensuring that we are 100% user focussed. We already have a LEAN review underway and this will form a bridge into this new phase. A new CEO will also have to start to use the evidence we hold about practise trends and complaint handling to encourage higher service standards within the Scottish legal professions.

As well as the typical leadership qualities, the SLCC requires a CEO who is familiar with using evidence gathered to ensure policy within the professional bodies matches the best in regulatory practice. The successful candidate will need to be capable of negotiating with a very broad range of stakeholders from small interest groups to the Scottish Parliament. Naturally, you will have the credibility to influence and persuade as well as the capability to resolve complicated arguments, often formulated by emotive parties and / or historic practices. In return the CEO will work with an excellent small team and enjoy the support of an active Board while fronting an intellectually stimulating role meeting the demands of both the public and private sectors.

Those interested in filling the shoes of Eileen Masterman, or Rosemary Agnew can find send their up to date CV and covering letter/supporting statement to Munro Consulting who are handing the recruitment : Amy Dalgleish by e-mail to amy.dalgleish@munroconsulting.com or by post to Munro Consulting Ltd, Monteith House, 11 George Square, Glasgow, G2 1DY quoting reference G640.

  • Job Description
  • Person Specification
  • Application’s Close – Monday 12th March 2012
  • Longlist interviews – Thursday 5th April 2012
  • Meeting to select shortlist candidates – Wednesday 11th April 2012
  • Shortlist interviews – Monday 16th April 2012
It should be noted that while the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates are keen to stress it is their member solicitors & advocates who stump up the £2.8 MILLION a year to pay for the SLCC’s budget, expenses claims & operating costs, the cold fact is that clients & consumers are being made to pay the complaints levies, via large hikes in legal fees or spurious additions of large sums to client’s legal bills for non existent or “forgotten work”. Taxpayers have also had a significant input into the SLCC, which has received around TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money since 2008 in the guise of “start up costs” despite the huge public sector cuts being forced through by Governments in London & Edinburgh. More on this year’s SLCC budget & complaints levy can be read here : Lawyers told to pay £338 for continuing ‘old pals act regulation’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls for 60% complaints levy rise

Some cases recently brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice where clients have been or are being pursued for unexplained or non existent legal work, have seen figures of tens of thousands of pounds demanded from clients for fees which law firms had supposedly “forgot to charge for”. Any consumer in a fee dispute with their solicitor where such a situation has arisen would be well advised to publicise their plight by contacting Diary of Injustice via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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Lawyers told to pay £338 for continuing ‘old pals act regulation’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls for 60% complaints levy rise

Jane Irvine SLCC ChairRegulating lawyers on the cheap : Jane Irvine’s SLCC sets the ‘Staying out of jail’ fee for Scottish lawyers at £338 a year. IF CRIMINALS could pay the Police £338 a year to rig an investigation, avoid criminal charges or a prosecution before the courts, there would be many takers (actually, come to think of it, there are). In what may therefore be a perfect comparison to a bribe to keep out of the arms of the law, the stage is set for another perfect ‘keep out of jail’ exercise in the legal world, where the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has this week, announced its 2012-2013 budget of nearly THREE MILLION POUNDS, where solicitors with three or more years of experience will be required to pay a complaints levy of £338, thus ensuring the legal profession can continue to cover up the actions of Scotland’s swelling ranks of corrupt lawyers.

There is little doubt that a meagre £338 a year to ensure lawyers continue to regulate lawyers is certainly a bargain, if one considers the amounts of money being taken from clients on an annual basis, and the vast sums of taxpayers money being lost to solicitors fraudulently claiming legal aid, resulting in figures which are well into the tens of millions of pounds. Yet the Law Society of Scotland does not appear to feel the £338 is much of a bargain, even though their member solicitors appear to be recouping the complaints levy many times over from huge hikes in client fees, and other creative ways lawyers have used to swell their wallets.

Last year, the SLCC’s stay-out-of-jail levy for Scottish solicitors was an artificially low £209 after the Law Society of Scotland lobbied then Scottish Government’s Communities Minister Fergus Ewing to intervene on the legal profession’s behalf to force the SLCC to hand back ONE MILLION POUNDS to lawyers, reported by Diary of Injustice at the time, here : Emails reveal Law Society Chief Executive ‘called the shots’ over Fergus Ewing’s Ministerial threat to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & HERE

This year, we are going to be treated to much the same spectacle, after the Law Society criticised the SLCC’s latest budget plan, and urged savings. You can be certain a letter from the Law Society to Roseanna Cunningham, who replaced Fergus Ewing, will certainly be in the post, or already on her desk demanding Ministerial coercion or simply just another up front intervention to lower the cost of the complaints levy to lawyers.

The proposed levy for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for the financial year 2012-2013 is: Solicitors with three plus years experience, £338 (£209 for 2011-12); Conveyancing & executry practitioners admitted three plus years £338 (£209); Solicitors in first three years of practice £169 (£105); Conveyancing & executry practitioners in first three years of practice £169 (£105); Practising outwith Scotland £113 (£69); In-house conveyancing & executry practitioners £113 (£69); In-house solicitors £113 (£69)

Lorna JackLaw Society’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack. Lorna Jack, the current Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland who replaced the much more fun Douglas Mill, was quick to plead poverty on behalf of her fellow solicitors in a Press Release issued by the Law Society, commenting : “Many of our members are facing difficult times economically.  Whilst we accept that the commission does not have the kind of reserves to offset the levy as it did last year, we believe that all efforts should be made to find further savings within the proposed budget thereby lessening the impact of the proposed levy increase.”

The pleas of poverty on the part of lawyers do not appear to match the reality of large scale legal aid frauds running into millions of pounds a year, hikes in client fees where even the simplest cases taken on by Scottish solicitors are now costing several thousands of pounds a year to resolve and being stretched out for years to ensure further income.

Ms Jack continued : “The Commission has indicated that its expenditure will be down by half of one percent on last year. However, we are urging them to find further savings – without compromising the core and important role they perform – so that the annual levy solicitors pay to fund the organisation can be as low as possible in the coming year.

“Many of our members are facing difficult times economically.  Whilst we accept that the commission does not have the kind of reserves to offset the levy as it did last year, we believe that all efforts should be made to find further savings within the proposed budget thereby lessening the impact of the proposed levy increase.”

The Press Release also reminded us that “…last year, the Society successfully lobbied the SLCC to use £1 million of its reserves, which meant that the levy was lower than in previous years.”

One of the most significant changes in the budget this year is the proposal to abolish the fee for resolving a complaint on the recommendation of a complaints investigator. Instead, the SLCC has the discretion to charge a case fee of up to £5,000 if a complaint is upheld at the determination stage.

The Law Society is required to collect the levy payments from solicitors on behalf of the SLCC. The levy funds the SLCC’s annual budget, which this financial year (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013) is forecast to be £2,813,381, largely funded by the levy. The Law Society has called on its members to respond directly to the SLCC during the budget consultation (or participate in a fabricated consultation organised by the Law Society)

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a Press Release  on the budget, lacking any statement from its Chief Executive. The SLCC is funded by a levy paid by legal professionals operating in Scotland. Under the terms of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, we are required to consult with the professional bodies about our proposed budget for the next financial year. Following the consultation, the budget will be agreed and then laid before the Scottish Parliament. The SLCC’s financial year runs from 1 July to 30 June.

The proposal is to: (i) set the complaints levy at mediation and investigation stages at zero for all complaints resolved. (ii) set the complaint levy at zero for complaints not upheld at determination (iii) set a single capped figure of £5,000 for complaints upheld in full or part at determination.  The SLCC’s policy will be to apply discretion to charge up to that figure taking into account the circumstances of the case and providing reasons for the levy charged.

The full SLCC Proposed Budget (PDF, 95k) reports the most significant areas of spend continues to be on staff and members, both of which have increased in the current budget.  The budget for 2011/12 was based on a head count of 38.  The budget for 2012/13 is based on a headcount of 40.6 (The 0.6 being Jane Irvine’s dog, probably the only trustworthy yet unofficial member of staff at the Stamp Office who wont tell a client to drop dead just because they filed a complaint about their lawyer).

The SLCC claims the new staffing headcount reflects the changes since the SLCC reviewed its staffing levels as part of the restructuring during 2010/11 and the increase in the volume of work related to complaints and oversight. No mention was made of staff leaving the SLCC either on health grounds, grievances or other issues such as departing to higher up the chain appointments.

The most significant variances between years not related to staffing are: (i) Direct case costs : The increase is based on actual expenditure in the previous year on case-related legal costs.  The majority of this is in relation to appeals. ii)  Corporate legal costs : The increase is based on actual expenditure on advice in relation to interpretation of the 2007 Act, Freedom of Information requests/ reviews, employment and governance.  The majority being in relation to interpretation of legislation. The SLCC said this is likely to continue into the 2012/13 financial year.

Last year the SLCC blew hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees, associated with legal advice on just about every FOI request the SLCC received, along with advice & representation on a string of solicitors court challenges to its authority.

The SLCC’s somewhat fanciful, highboy fictional Operational Plan (PDF, 159k) claims they will focus resources and activities on developing and refining the policies and process that support their core business in relation to ;

(i) Acting as the gateway for legal complaints in Scotland, (ii) Resolving complaints about inadequate professional service provided by legal practitioners, (iii) Oversight of the professional bodies investigation of complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners, (iv) Advice and information giving to complainers, the legal profession, consumers and other stakeholders, (v) Implementing the provisions of the Legal Services Act 2010

The SLCC’s plan also claims that “underpinning these activities is our aim to contribute to improvements and excellence in the  provision of legal services in Scotland. Operationally we will continue to operate an efficient organisation that makes effective use of resources.”

If Jane Irvine’s pet dog doesn’t believe the SLCC’s operational plan without a biscuit inducement, neither therefore should consumers who are forced to complain about their solicitors to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. We are after all talking about an organisation which has so far, told most consumers to ‘get lost’ about their complaints, upheld only a handful of cases against members of the legal profession, and appears not to have prosecuted any crooked lawyer or taken part in a striking off case after all the millions spent on the quango since 2008.

Rosemary AgnewSLCC Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew, soon to be Scotland’s new Freedom of Information Commissioner. Rosemary Agnew, the SLCC’s soon to exit Chief Executive who was recently appointed to replace Kevin Dunion as Scotland’s Information Commissioner, apparently at the insistence of a closed group of senior msps has written to the regulators who must ensure the complaints levy is paid. Ms Agnew’s letters can be found here : SLCC letters to the professional bodies (PDF, 6Mb). Ms Agnew in her role as Chief Executive has chosen not to issue any comment on the budget unlike last year where the Chief Executive issued a long statement.

 

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TO BE OR NOT TO BE ? Lawyer who raked in £600K of Legal Aid & left clients ruined, now being investigated by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011A solicitor from Kilmarnock who took over £1/2 million in legal aid is being investigated by the SLCC after clients made complaints. NIELS LOCKHART, a sole practising solicitor from Kilmarnock who was the subject of several reports in the Sunday Mail newspaper last year after a joint investigation with Diary of Injustice into legal aid fraud, is now confirmed by legal insiders to be under investigation by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), after some of Mr Lockhart’s clients filed complaints over his damaging conduct in their cases, conduct which the SLCC has been told, has left some former clients now financially ruined and with little hope of recovery. Mr Lockhart’s actions in one of the cases in particular, that of Esther Francis (70) have caused such hardship the pensioner was left homeless after losing everything from a failed claim Mr Lockhart was dealing with on Esther’s behalf. Esther was also threatened by Lockhart over the non payment of bills, leading to the pensioner having to starve herself to meet Lockhart’s demands for money.

However, despite the detailed complaints submitted to the SLCC about Mr Lockhart, and admissions from sources within the law complaints regulator they are well aware of media investigations exposing Lockhart, the SLCC sent several letters out to complainants asking if they wanted to enter into mediation over their complaints against the now infamous lawyer, rather than see justice done in a proper investigation which could eventually lead to Lockhart being struck off as a practising solicitor. In 2011, Diary of Injustice reported :

SLAB_logoCalls to investigate Scottish Legal Aid Board & Law Society over ‘dodgy dealings’ in ‘voluntary removal’ of £600k lawyer from legal aid register THE SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD (SLAB) & the Law Society of Scotland are facing calls for an inquiry into the way they both deal with alleged cases of legal aid claims abuse after it was revealed in a national newspaper a solicitor who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years was allowed to quietly remove himself from the legal aid register after a deal had been struck between his lawyer and the legal aid board to avoid any further proceedings, even though SLAB had made a detailed complaint to the Law Society of Scotland in 2006, a complaint which took the law complaints self regulator a whopping FOUR YEARS to investigate !

Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case Legal Aid Chiefs accused lawyer Niels Lockhart of excessive claims yet no prosecution or repayment took place. A SECRET REPORT by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) into “excessive” claims for legal aid made by Kilmarnock based solicitor Niels S Lockhart who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years can now be published, revealing the full extent of SLAB’s accusations against the sole practitioner, the FOUR YEAR WAIT for the Law Society of Scotland to rule on the case and the intervention of the Legal Defence Union who brokered a deal allowing Mr Lockhart to walk away from all accusations over his claims for legal aid.

Legal Aid officials hid details of dodgy claims scandal as ‘Pay-Up threats’ from £600K legal aid rogue lawyer leaves pensioner, 70, starving, homeless SLAB’s secret deal with Law Society of Scotland & LDU kept info on legal aid accusations against solicitor from clients. A VULNERABLE PENSIONER was left HOMELESS & HAD TO STARVE HERSELF to pay legal fees after being threatened by Kilmarnock solicitor Niels S Lockhart over a missed £100 payment of legal bills which were originally being paid by Legal Aid. Esther Francis, 70, had gone to Niels Lockhart for help in a dispute with her housing association and was originally put on legal aid by the lawyer who has already claimed around SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS of legal aid money in previous years for other clients, however she was not told by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) her solicitor, Mr Lockhart had ‘voluntarily’ withdrew himself from being able to provide legal aid, AFTER he was accused by SLAB of making excessive legal aid claims.

Diary of Injustice continued to report on allegations surrounding Mr Lockhart and the Law Society of Scotland’s efforts to avoid a prosecution. All previous reports can be viewed HERE.

The long story of Mr Lockhart’s legal aid claims began in the first half of the last decade, although it took the Scottish Legal Aid Board years to catch up with him, when on 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board sent a report to the Law Society of Scotland in terms of S32 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 against the sole practitioner firm of Niels S Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock. The secret report, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf)

The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”

The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :

(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.

The report by the Scottish Legal Aid Board revealed that, of all firms in Scotland, the sole practitioner firm of NS Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock, granted the highest number of advice and assistance applications for “interdict” (392) for the period January-October 2004.The next ranked firm granted 146, while the next ranked Kilmarnock firm granted only 30.

The report stated : “While conducting a selective analysis of Niels S Lockhart’s Advice and Assistance accounts, it was clear from the outset that much of his business comes from “repeat clients” and/or members of the same household/family, whom he has frequently admitted to Advice and Assistance. The analysis revealed persistent patterns of excessive client attendances, the vast majority of which are irrelevant, unnecessary and conducted without due regard to economy.”

“It was also clear that Niels S Lockhart makes grants for a number of interlinked matters, where there is clearly a “cross-over” of advice. Consecutive grants are also often made as a continuation of the same matter shortly after authorised expenditure has expired on the previous grant.”

“This appears to the Board to be a deliberate scheme by Niels S. Lockhart to make consecutive grants of Advice and Assistance on behalf of the same client for the same matter, for personal gain. By so doing, he has succeeded in obtaining additional funds by utilising new initial levels of authorised expenditure for matters where, had further requests for increases in authorised expenditure under the initial grant been made to the Board, they would with every likelihood have been refused by Board staff.”

“Closer scrutiny of Niels S Lockhart’s accounts and some client files has given rise to a number of other serious concerns, e.g. numerous meetings, standard of file notes, encouraging clients to advance matters while demonstrating a lack of progress.”

“After a meeting between SLAB officials & Mr Lockhart on 14 April 2005, Mr Lockhart was advised that SLAB’s Executive Team had approved of his firm’s accounts being removed from the guarantee of 30-day turnaround for payment of accounts, and that henceforth, to allow the Board the opportunity to satisfy itself that all fees and outlays had been properly incurred and charged by the firm, he would be required to submit additional supporting documentation and information with his accounts (including client files).”

The report continued : “Over the next few months, Mr Lockhart telephoned Accounts staff many times, often on a daily basis, repeatedly asking questions about the type of charge they considered acceptable or unacceptable in a variety of situations. Staff reported that, despite their having given Mr Lockhart the same answers time and again (both via correspondence and over the telephone),he continued to submit accounts with unacceptable charges. In a final effort to counter these continuing problems and to emphasis the Board’s stance in relation to the various issues of concern, our Accounts Department sent him a letter on 23 December 2005.”

“Mr Lockhart did not provide a written response to this correspondence. He did however contact Mr McCann of the Legal Defence Union, who wrote to the Board seeking a meeting with Board officials to try to resolve the payments issue. Our view however was that this would not advance matters as Mr Lockhart had been given a clear steer both after the April 2005 meeting and in the December when Accounts wrote to him on a number of matters.”

However, the secret report revealed SLAB officials had made a significant omission, amazingly, failing to interview any of Mr Lockhart’s clients despite the allegations of excessive legal aid claims.

The SLAB report revealed : “Board staff have not interviewed any of Mr Lockhart’s clients as we have no reason to believe that, for example, the multitude of meetings that he held with them—sometimes more than twice daily—did not take place; our concern is that they DID take place and he has sought to claim payment for these multitudinous meetings,very few of which could be described as necessary and reasonable. We believe that such work had no regard to the principle of economy: our contention is that it is highly unlikely that any private paying client would be willing to meet the cost of the service provided by Mr Lockhart. That aside, there are cases set out in the report where it is difficult to see what advice or assistance has actually been provided. Our Accounts staff are continuing to assess a number of his accounts and examining the corresponding client files which indicate repetition of the issues that gave rise to our initial concerns.”

The report’s findings concluded : “From April 2002—March 2005, Niels S Lockhart was paid £672,585 from the Legal Aid Fund. Of this, £596,734 (89%) was in relation to Advice and Assistance cases, with £570,528 (85%) solely in relation to Civil Advice and Assistance. In the Board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”

“Based on the supporting evidence he arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings. In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case, but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid Fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings. The nature of subject matters is often repeated, resulting in numerous duplicate/multiple/consecutive grants submitted under various guises, thus avoiding the Board’s computerised checks on subject matter. This pattern of conduct is deliberate,recurring and persistent, serving—in the Board’s view—as a device to generate considerable additional income for the firm to the detriment of the Scottish Legal Aid Fund.”

Outline of Correspondence SLAB-LSS re NS LockhartSLAB’s report was heavy on accusations yet achieved little, as did their complaint to the Law Society. The Scottish Legal Aid Board presented its report & complaint to the Law Society of Scotland on the 5th June 2006 but had to wait until a stunning FOUR YEARS until August 2010 before the Law Society even got round to sending SLAB a copy of the Law Society investigator’s report, which recommended that 11 out of 12 of SLAB’s complaints were “made out” and also recommended that the Law Society exercise its powers to exclude Niels Lockhart from giving advice & assistance to or from acting for a person to whom legal aid is made available.

However, two months later in October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a prospective offer that Mr Lockhart would withdraw fully from providing legal aid if SLAB’s S31 complaint was withdrawn. A Minute of Agreement was drafter and agreed with Niels Lockhart & the Legal Defence Union outlining the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from the provision of all firms of legal assistance (funded by legal aid). The Minute of Agreement also outlined the Board’s intention to make a press release detailing that following SLAB’s investigation into the firm and their subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, SLAB had accepted this permanent withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from providing all forms of legal assistance.

Letter to LSS, 11-10 redactedLegal Aid Board asked Law Society to withdraw complaint after secret deal was reached with Legal Defence Union. “In November 2010 SLAB advised the Law Society of Scotland that they had negotiated with Mr Lockhart his voluntary removal from the provision of legal assistance with effect from 1 November 2010 and acknowledged that the Society had separately received information from Mr Lockhart signalling his intention to withdraw from provision of all types of legal assistance. In the light of this, we sought to know from them whether they accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the S31 complaint against Mr Lockhart.”

“In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine had secret no-notes meetings with devisive Legal Defence Union in swanky Balmoral Hotel. Now, in 2012, rumours of further involvement by the legal profession on behalf of Mr Lockhart are again circulating, alleging the Legal Defence Union have again been asked to involve themselves with the SLCC over the investigations being carried out into Lockhart. If true, the rumours may damage the credibility of the SLCC even further, after an investigation by Diary of Injustice into the dark world of the Legal Defence Union revealed last year that senior members of the Legal Defence Union have enjoyed cosy get-togethers with Jane Irvine, the Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission at the expensive Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, meetings in which all note taking & record keeping were barred.

In July of 2011, Diary of Injustice followed up the investigation into the LDU-SLCC relationship with the following report :

slccInvestigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s links, secret ‘off the record’ dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union REVEALED : Law regulator’s dealings with organisation linked to client suicides & blocked prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters. AN INVESTIGATION by Diary of Injustice into dealings between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘independent’ quango which regulates complaints against Scottish lawyers and the Legal Defence Union, an organisation which represents the best interests of lawyers,recently linked to blocked criminal prosecutions of legal aid fraudster lawyers & also the suicide of a married Oban family man in the SLCC’s 2009 report into the Master Policy, has revealed a series of cosy meetings between the regulator & pro-lawyer lobby group at expensive Edinburgh hotels which the heads of both organisations agreed to keep off the record and away from public gaze.

According to claims from SLCC insiders who were fed up with the non-achieving law complaints regulator, the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union have now become so close, SLCC staff privately joke it is now “routine” for the Legal Defence Union to intervene in complaints investigations on behalf of solicitors interests while consumers who make complaints about their solicitors to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are not represented in any way and have no organisation to turn to for help with their complaints.

SLCC to LDU no records of meetings keptSLCC Chair Jane Irvine agreed no records of discussion between regulator & lawyer’s lobby group at Balmoral Hotel. A limited amount of papers reluctantly disclosed by the SLCC under Freedom of Information legislation show a series of discussions between the two pro-lawyer bodies bosses, Jane Irvine for the SLCC and LDU Solicitor Director William Macreath, also a partner at law firm Levy McRae, who, according to the text of one of the letters disclosed to Diary of Injustice under FOI laws, both agreed “there would be no formal records of any element of the discussion.”. The letter from Jane Irvine to the LDU Director which disclosed the secret no-records-of-meetings policy went on to detail several technical issues about complaints regulation and how the SLCC should deal with solicitors & consumers, the former apparently having much greater priority over the latter. The limited Freedom of Information disclosure of documents disclosed by the SLCC documenting only a fraction of its dealings with the Legal Defence Union can be viewed online or downloaded here : FOI Disclosure : Involvement & meetings between Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Legal Defence Union

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is yet to announce what, if any measures it is taking with regards to complaints made against Mr Lockhart.

 

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