Tag Archives: Jim Martin

REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

Review panel to consider self-regulation of lawyers. THE Scottish Government has announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

The move by Scottish Minsters, coming after discussions with the Law Society of Scotland – is intended to answer concerns  amid rising numbers of complaints about poor legal services and the diminishing status of Scotland’s legal services sector,

However, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the review should include judges and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

Mr Neil recently branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The review, led by NHS 24 chair Esther Roberton, is intended to make recommendations to modernise laws underpinning the legal profession’s current regulatory system including how complaints are handled.

This follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.

However, doubts about the impartiality of the panel have been raised after the announcement by Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing revealed a top-heavy compliment of figures from the legal establishment who are keen on protecting solicitors’ self regulation against any move to increase consumer protection by way of independent regulation.

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing the review, Legal Affairs Minister Annabel Ewing said: “Members of the public must be able to have confidence in the service they get from their solicitor. While this happens most of the time, I have been listening carefully to concerns that the current regulatory system in Scotland may leave consumers exposed and does not adequately address complaints.”

Speaking yesterday to journalists, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil generally welcomed the review, adding the review remit should also include judges.

Alex Neil said: I hope it produces radical and robust proposals. I also hope it covers the judiciary as well as lawyers.”

Mr Neil also called for greater fairness in the panel’s membership, to include members from outside the legal establishment.

Mr Neil added: I hope the membership of this review panel will be expanded to get a better balance between lawyers and non-lawyers”

The latest move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation of solicitors and advocates comes years after a move in England & Wales to more robust independent regulation of legal services – which has left Scots consumers & clients at a clear disadvantage.

And while clients in the rest of the UK have much more of a chance to obtain redress against legal professionals who consistently provide poor legal services – and see their lawyers named and shamed in public by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman (LeO),

At pains to point out the ‘independent’ nature of the review, the Legal Affairs Minister said: “This independent review will consider what changes may be needed to the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services to protect consumer interests and promote a flourishing legal sector. This includes ensuring that consumers properly understand the options open to them when something goes wrong and that the regulatory framework is proportionate for legal firms. I look forward to receiving its recommendations in due course.”

Chair of the review – Esther Roberton said: “I am delighted to have been asked to undertake this review. Our legal profession and legal services in Scotland are the envy of many around the world. We should be just as ambitious for our system of regulation of legal services. I would hope we can simplify the current complaints process to maximise consumers’ confidence in the system. I look forward to working with the panel members who bring a broad range of experience across a range of sectors.”

However, questions have surfaced over the actual intentions of the review after legal insiders revealed today the proposals only came about after long discussions between the Scottish Government and the Law Society of Scotland – the legal profession’s main lobby group in Scotland who enjoy the greatest benefit of self regulation.

Legal insiders have suggested the review is not widely seen as a serious move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation.

Rather, this third attempt at addressing failures of regulation and poor legal services provided by increasingly less qualified legal representatives is a reaction to the failure of Scotland’s legal services sector to put it’s own house in order amid diminishing business, a reduced client base, rising numbers of complaints.

The latest Government sponsored shot in the arm of lawyers – which one solicitor said this morning “may end up calling for more public cash and an increase in the legal aid budget” – comes on the back of a complete failure to attract international litigants who are wary of entering Scotland’s famously unreliable, expensive and poor legal services market.

Access to justice and legal services in Scotland are internationally well known as being hampered by slow proceedings in courts dubbed “Victorian” and “out of date” by both of Scotland’s recent top judges.

VESTED INTERESTS – Legal Profession welcome their own review:

The SLCC welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs of a review of how best to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling in Scotland.

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson, one of the review panel members, commented “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this review, in line with the manifesto commitment.  We hope our Reimagine Regulation legislative change priorities paper, which we published last year, will be one helpful contribution to the review.  In that paper we looked at some of the innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions, so we are especially delighted to see that expertise represented in the review panel alongside huge knowledge of the legal sector.   We look forward to this range of experience and expertise being shared as part of this process, and a collaborative approach to identifying priorities and opportunities for reform.”

SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge added, “This will be an excellent opportunity for all the key stakeholders involved to come together in supporting the review as it considers the regulatory landscape in order to support growth in the legal services sector and strengthen consumer protection.  Despite many strengths to the current system, the Board of the SLCC believe there are significant opportunities to make regulation more targeted, more effective and more efficient.”

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement today, Tuesday, 25 April, of an independent review of legal services, saying that current legislation governing the legal sector is no longer fit for purpose.

Law Society of Scotland president, Eilidh Wiseman said: “There have been huge changes in the legal market over recent years.  Changing consumer demands and new business structures are transforming the way legal services are being provided.

“This is why we have argued so strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation which covers the regulation of legal services in Scotland.  The main Act of Parliament governing solicitors is more than 35 years old and simply no longer fit for purpose.  We know the processes for legal complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients.  There are gaps in consumer protection, contradictions and loop holes in the law.  This is why change is so desperately needed to allow the legal sector to thrive and ensure robust protections are in place for consumers.

“The Scottish Government’s independent review offers the chance to build a consensus on how reforms should be taken forward.  It is vital for the work of the group to move as quickly as possible so new legislation can be introduced before the Scottish Parliament.”

The Law Society has highlighted its concerns about areas of legal services which remain unregulated in Scotland.

Wiseman said: “One area we will highlight to the review group is the growing level of unregulated legal services where consumers are at risk if something goes wrong. Many people are unaware that some types of legal services are not regulated – for example, receiving employment advice from a non-solicitor.  They may have little or no course of redress if something goes wrong. Consumers deserve the same level of protection whether they choose to go to a solicitor, and are therefore covered by Law Society client protections, or to use another legal services provider.”

Two former Law Society presidents, Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris, will serve on the legal services review panel.

Wiseman said: “I am particularly delighted that Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris will be part of the review group. With their considerable board-level expertise alongside their combined insight and knowledge of the legal sector, they will prove invaluable to the review process. They understand the need for reform and, having both served on regulatory sub-committees, bring a deep commitment to the public interest.”

Christine McLintock, as former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, was responsible for the firm’s in-house legal service, professional risk management and compliance. Christine joined the Law Society’s Council in 2005 and has served on the Society’s Board since its inception in 2009. Prior to that, she was a member of the Strategy and Governance Group and was Convener of the Education and Training Committee, before to serving as President in 2015-16. She is currently part of the team working on the regulation of licensed legal services providers and is Convener of the Law Society’s Public Policy Committee.

Alistair Morris was appointed CEO of Pagan Osborne in 2005, having built extensive expertise in private client work at the firm. He was elected to join the Law Society Council in 1992, becoming one of its longest serving members at 24 years. Alistair also served as a board member between 2009 and 2016, and was Convener of the Guarantee Fund Sub-committee (now Client Protection Fund Sub-committee) prior to his election as President in 2014. Alistair currently sits on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

The Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, has responded to an announcement by the Scottish Government of an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services.

Mr Jackson said: “I welcome that this review is taking place. It is very important that the legal profession retains the confidence of the public. I know that the Faculty of Advocates has earned that confidence, and that this thorough review will demonstrate that an independent referral bar has been, and will continue to be vital in maintaining an effective and fair justice system.

“The Faculty will willingly co-operate fully with the inquiry and I am confident that the considerable experience of the Faculty’s representatives, Laura Dunlop, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, will be of great value.”

Review should include judiciary:

Scotland’s judges have earned themselves widespread criticism and condemnation at Holyrood and from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – after top judges failed to address complaints and become more transparent and accountable like other branches of Government.

Ongoing efforts by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to create a register of judges’ interests have been flustered by two Lord Presidents – Lord Gill & current top judge Lord Carloway.

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The current review could include the judiciary in terms of how judges regulate themselves, however the Scottish Parliament should be left to get on with the task of creating a register of judges’ interests – given the five years of work already undertaken by MSPs on the thorny question of judicial declarations.

REVIEW THE REVIEW: Third attempt at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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


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Holyrood, msps & their queasy feelings about regulation reform : Eight petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman closed in under three minutes

LGC Committee HolyroodScottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee closed eight petitions asking for an independent review of the SPSO. As readers will now be well aware, EIGHT PUBLIC PETITIONS calling for an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) which received the backing of the Scottish Government’s Housing Minister Alex Neil in his capacity as a constituency MSP to the petitioners were closed in under three minutes by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee on Wednesday of last week.

The closure of all eight petitions, calling for a review of the independent regulator which investigates complaints against public services in Scotland, maintains the Scottish Parliament’s noticeably almost perfect record of refusing to consider any public petition which calls for an independent investigation into, or reform of any regulator, self-regulator, or ‘Ombudsman’ position in Scotland.

For those who were following the progress of the eight petitions calling for a review of the SPSO, along with one additional petition with similar aims which was closed by the Petitions Committee at an earlier hearing, I reported on these matters in earlier coverage which includes video testimony from Alex Neil MSP, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

The Petitions Committee then sent all eight of the remaining petitions to the Local Government & Communities Committee, reported here : Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee did indeed consider the petitions, for around three minutes, although as observers to the committee’s deliberations noted, it took the Convener longer to read out the details of the petitions themselves than it actually took members to debate their content in front of the cameras. The Committee subsequently closed all eight petitions involving the SPSO.

Holyrood’s Local Government & Communities Committee ‘discuss’ public petitions calling for a review of the SPSO (click image below to view video)

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (Review) (PE1342, PE1343, PE1344, PE1345, PE1346, PE1347, PE1348 and PE1349)

The Convener: Item 5 is consideration of eight petitions that call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit so that it can enforce its recommendations following investigations into actions of public bodies. The petitions are PE1342, by Phyllis and Robert French; PE1343, by Sandra Smith; PE1344, by Philip Hawthorne; PE1345, by James Smith; PE1346, by William Whiteside; PE1347, by Christina Cumming; PE1348, by Mr and Mrs Corbett; and PE1349, by Iris Innes. I invite members to discuss the petitions and to consider options 1, 2 and 3, as outlined in paper LGC/S3/11/5/5.

Alex Johnstone: Before the discussion begins, given some of the correspondence that we have had on the subject, I draw to my colleagues’ attention the fact that I am an elected member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The Convener: Do you want to add anything further on the proposals in the paper?

Alex Johnstone: No.

John Wilson: I point out to members that, as a member of the Public Petitions Committee, I sat in consideration of these petitions.

The Convener: Okay. Do you have any comments to add to that?

John Wilson: No.

Alasdair Morgan: In view of what we have heard from the SPCB in Paul Grice’s letter and, more particularly, from the ombudsman the last time he appeared before us, we should take no further action on the petitions and close them.

The Convener: Do members agree to Alasdair Morgan’s suggestion, which is option 1, which is that we should close the petitions under rule 15.7 of the standing orders and take no further action?
Members indicated agreement.

The next day, February 10, the Scottish Parliament voted on the reappointment of Jim Martin as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman for a further six year term, with msps voting 98 in favour, 8 voting against, and 9 abstaining.

The reappointment of Mr Martin was announced HERE

Mike Pringle, MSP, who proposed the motion on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), said : “It is the unanimous view of the SPCB that Jim Martin is the right person for the role of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. We consider that he has brought about visible and sustained improvements to the case load management of the office. His regular commentaries demonstrate recommendations for public authorities to make improvements to their processes where that is appropriate. He has also introduced a quality assurance process that we believe will continue to drive up the standards that he wants.”

Mr Pringle continued : “Of course, the SPCB is aware that some members have not always agreed with the ombudsman‘s decisions, and we received some unsolicited representations about the reappointment of Jim Martin. The Parliament has given the ombudsman the independence to make decisions, and in doing so he is not under our direction or control at all. As with ombudsmen around the world, not all parties will be satisfied all the time. That is simply not possible, given the nature of the job. However, we believe that Mr Martin is the right person and that during his next six-year term in office he will continue to build on the considerable improvements that he has already made in his office.”

Integrity4scotland is a campaign which has been set up to “campaign for the highest ethical standards, transparency & public accountability within Scottish public service bodies. Readers who may have encountered difficulties with the Scottish Public;ic Services Ombudsman or have issues with the accountability of Scottish public service bodies may wish to visit their website HERE

As I was busy with other reports last week and some upcoming investigations, this article is published today to complete my reporting on the progress of the petitions against the SPSO in the duty of keeping readers aware of how the Scottish Parliament handles petitions involving ‘touchy subjects’ such as regulation of, well … anything.


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Petitions calling for review of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over complaints remit sent to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee

Petitions CommitteeHolyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee to receive multiple petitions involving complaints about SPSO. EIGHT PETITIONS calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to make it more accountable which were heard earlier this week by Holyroods Public Petitions Committee, and featured a second attendance by Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil in support of the petitioners, are now to be referred to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government & Communities Committee.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

I reported on the initial hearing of the multiple petitions calling for a review of the SPSO in coverage during September, here : Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

Holyrood’s Petitions Committee referred SPSO petitions to Local Government & Communities Committee (Click images below to view video)

Since the initial hearing of the petitions during September, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body & the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman himself, Mr Jim Martin have filed written responses to all of the petitions, available to download here : PE1342/A: Scottish Public Services Ombudsman letter of 1 October 2010 (23KB pdf), here : PE1342/B: Scottish Government letter of 5 October 2010 (31KB pdf) & here : PE1342/C: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body letter of 8 October 2010 (144KB pdf)

Jim Martin, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said : “It is for the Parliament to determine to whom and how the SPSO should be accountable for its performance. In my 2009-10 annual report, I invite the Parliament to consider ways of strengthening the SPSO’s relationship with, and the accountability of the office to, the Parliament.”

Mr Martin went onto say : “I welcome external scrutiny. This office has adopted many non-statutory measures to ensure greater accountability for our performance.”

In commenting directly on the petitions before the Parliament, Mr Martin went onto say : “So it is to the handful of cases where a body refuses to comply that the petitioners’ question is addressed. My strategy to date has been to contact the relevant Chief Executive and bring about a conclusion I am satisfied with by the art of persuasion or the threat of publicity. In any case where this has not brought about the desired outcome, my option is to use the ‘special report’ mechanism in the SPSO Act. This allows me to ask the Parliament to take steps to enforce a recommendation. Since the SPSO was set up in 2002, we have not laid such a report, but I am now close to doing so.”

Concluding his letter to the Petitions Committee, Mr Martin said : “In conclusion, it is my strong view that commitment from the top and culture change, rather than technical legal compliance, are the real lever here. A very few bodies can be reluctant to admit fault and enforcement will not necessarily change their view – it might make them tick the boxes, but will not bring about the wider aim of encouraging bodies to learn from their mistakes and to see complaints as valuable tools to drive improvement. I believe that the work that my office is doing to lead the development of standardised complaints handling processes and to establish principles of good complaints handling (which we will bring to the Parliament for approval later this year) will go some way to bringing about the desired culture change.”

The response from the Scottish Government to the petitions claimed public bodies within the jurisdiction of the SPSO would be less than willing to work with the SPSO if enforcement powers were given to Mr Martin’s Office.

The letter from Scottish Government stated : “Having taken evidence from stakeholders, including Government and the SPSO, in 2009 the RSSB (Review of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body) Committee concluded that it would be more appropriate for Government to legislate for improved complaints handling. The Scottish Government agreed the approach proposed by RSSB Committee in November2009 and the recommended provisions were proposed as amendments at Stage 2 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 25March 2010 and the Act received Royal Assent on 28 April 2010.”

“To give the SPSO enforcement powers would alter the function of the Ombudsman (from Adjudicator to Enforcer). This would also be likely to impact negatively upon the willingness of bodies within jurisdiction to work with the SPSO on complaints. Traditionally, bodies are normally quick to take remedial action where the SPSO sees fit for them to do so.”

The Scottish Parliament’s Corporate body took a similarly negative view, with its reply to the Petitions Committee, from the Parliament’s Chief Executive, Paul Grice, saying : “As the SPSO has procedures in place for dealing with complaints from members of the public who are dissatisfied, including publishing statistics on the number of complaints received and the outcome, we can see no reason to establish public complaints channels. In addition, given the SPSO’s independence, it would not be appropriate for the Parliament to have a role in the SPSO’s complaints processes.”

Mr Grice went onto say : “The SPSO in the exercise of his functions is not subject ot the direction or control of any member of the Parliament, any member of the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. This is to safeguard the SPSO’s independence.”

”On the SPSO’s performance, the SPCB has noted that since the SPSO introduced new internal practices and procedures the number of outstanding complaints has fallen significantly and that the average turnaround time for determining complaints has also dropped substantially.”

Mr Grice ended by saying it was for the Scottish Government to propose legislation changes for altering the SPSO’s remit.

In the case of Petition PE1342, the petitioners responded to the written submissions by Mr Martin, Mr Grice & the Scottish Government, telling the Petition’s Committee in an email : “Having read the reports of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliament Corporate Body and Scottish Government, it appears that nobody, Jim Martin included,is opposed to the widening of the Ombudsman’s powers. We feel Parliament must improve the Ombudsman’s powers to enforce findings and also they must make clearer definitions of topics on which SPSO can comment.”

The petitioners continued : “One such is “malpractice”, for which the SPSO’s office provided a number of possible definitions, but could not provide definitive and practical clarification of the criteria which would be applied and to what degree malpractice might occur before SPSO would be obliged to comment.”

The petitioners ended their email stating : “It would also be very useful if the Parliament could enforce time limits on SPSP for the completion of complaint investigations. This should allow for extensions in cases of exceptional complexity or where new evidence emerges, but these would be the exception rather than the rule and would have to have the specific approval of Parliament or its appointed committee.”

An additional petition involving the SPSO, Petition PE1341, filed by Dr R A Rahman, calling “on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.” was, according to the Parliament’s website “closed under Rule 15.7 of Standing Orders on the grounds that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman makes an annual budget application to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body which is considered annually by the Finance Committee and the Scottish Government, also that regular financial performance information is supplied by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The decision to close Petition PE1341 went onto state : “Further, Audit Scotland has made it clear that the external auditors perform an annual audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman in accordance with the code of audit practice. Audit Scotland may produce a further report on the audit but, to date, ‘appointed auditors have produced unqualified opinions of the annual accounts of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and the Auditor General has not produced any reports’.”

Further developments will be reported, given this is a regulation issue involving public services.


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Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

alex_neilScottish Government Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP. A WAR OF WORDS has broken out between a Scottish Government Minister & the Public Services Ombudsman over the performance of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the independent body which investigates complaints made about public services in Scotland after Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions lodged by constituents at Tuesday’s Petitions Committee hearing at the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

Meanwhile another petition heard before the above, Petition PE1341 filed by Dr R A Rahman, also “calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.”

Petition PE1341 filed by Dr R A Rahman calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Speaking on Dr Rahman’s petition, Committee Convener Rhona Brankin said : “It is suggested that we contact the SPSO to find out what steps have been taken in relation to expenditure. It is suggested that we also contact the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Scottish Government and the Auditor General for Scotland. Is that agreed?”

John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland) replied, stating : “I am not sure whether other members have had the same experience as I have had with the petitioner. I want to put on the record that I have received a number of e-mails from the individual about complaints that he has made against various public bodies and organisations. The petitioner has certainly communicated with me, if not with other members, on the issues.”

“We should at least give the SPSO and the SPCB an opportunity to respond, so that we can find out what is happening and whether we can address the issues. Given the e-mail correspondence, it is clear that the petitioner conducts himself and his campaign against a particular body quite tenaciously. I wanted to make the committee aware of that.”

After a discussion on Dr Rahman’s petition, a transcript of which can be viewed at the Scottish Parliament’s website HERE, and noting the comments expressed regarding Dr Rahman by Committee member John Wilson MSP, the Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in the petition and during the discussion.

Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions against the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Invited to speak in support of the additional eight petitions regarding the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Alex Neil MSP (Central Scotland) (SNP) said to the Petitions Committee : A substantial number of other people could probably have submitted similar petitions. There is a letter of support for the petitions from Murdo Fraser MSP, which is based on his experience with constituents. I know that Michael Matheson MSP is also supportive. I have spoken informally to others who hold the same view.”

“In some cases, the ombudsman has found in favour of the petitioners. The petitions are not sour grapes—they reflect a more fundamental concern about the performance and powers of the ombudsman’s office. I will give one or two examples of how lacking in robustness investigations have been. Unfortunately, they are not isolated examples.”

“It took three and half years for one petitioner’s case to be resolved. Even at the end of that period, the final report was so full of factual inaccuracies that, in her view, it was not worth the paper it was written on. In another case, which was a planning matter, the ombudsman refused to investigate the matter because “it is not the job of a local government planning official to check that the papers going to the planning committee are accurate”. That is a farcical statement by any standard.”

“When another serious case involving a health matter was investigated with one health board, a number of recommendations were made to prevent the same thing happening again. However, a year later, in the same ward of the same hospital in the same health board area, exactly the same thing happened. The ombudsman’s recommendations were not implemented and nothing was done about the lack of implementation, in spite of the fact that that was brought to the ombudsman’s attention.”

“I could go on all day with examples that show that, in my view and in the view of other MSPs and the petitioners, the ombudsman’s office too often fails in its duty and fails to perform adequately. Given that the Parliament spends just under £3.5 million a year to fund the ombudsman’s office, we need a far better return on our money, especially in these days of constraint. To quote one of the petitioners, it is not worth a farthing in terms of the quality of service that petitioners have received.”

“To be fair to the ombudsman, its powers are more limited here than is the case in other countries. That applies both to the circumstances in which it can investigate complaints—which are confined to administrative errors and failure to deliver a service, and do not include injustices that public bodies are alleged to have inflicted on people, as is the case in many other countries—and to the power to implement its recommendations, which is limited. However, the ombudsman is not using effectively the powers that it has. The other big issue is that the ombudsman cannot investigate an incident that did not happen in the previous 12 months, even if the incident happened only 15 or 18 months ago and there was a good reason why it did not to come to the ombudsman earlier.”

Mr Neil concluded his statement to the Petitions Committee saying : “We must bear in mind the fact that the ombudsman is the last resort for people. Most people do not have the money to take public bodies to court, especially if the public body concerned threatens to charge to them its legal expenses, as well as their own, if they lose. People of modest income really rely on the ombudsman to sort out problems that arise. To be frank, the ombudsman is not performing to anything like the required standard. The petitioners, Murdo Fraser, Michael Matheson, other MSPs, many other people who have used the ombudsman and I are strongly of the view that it is time to have a fairly fundamental look at the ombudsman’s performance and powers, with a view to getting far greater return on the £3.5 million of taxpayers’ money that it uses up every year.”

Several Committee members, all from the Scottish National Party made points on the petition, beginning with John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland), who, in a slightly contrasting comment to his reply on the earlier petition regarding the SPSO, apparently not supported by Housing Minister Alex Neil, said : “When the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was established, the Parliament or Government did not put in place the powers to ensure that the ombudsman’s recommendations were acted on.”

“Mr Neil is right that people genuinely think that the ombudsman can resolve their issues and get answers, if not solutions, to the problems that they have encountered in dealing with public bodies, but they find that, even when the ombudsman’s recommendations are quite strong, the recommendations do not need to be implemented. Public bodies can note the recommendations without implementing them in full. Given that issue with the ombudsman’s powers, I welcome today’s debate as allowing us to take that issue forward to ensure that people can get some satisfaction from public bodies that are supposed to represent and protect them by taking decisive action against public bodies or individuals.”

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow) said : “The petitioners have done a great public service in lodging the petitions. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman should be a people’s champion. Someone who came to my office told me that they would go to “The Judge” column in the Sunday Mail before they would go back to the ombudsman. It would be in everyone’s interest, including that of the ombudsman’s office, to review the work and remit of the ombudsman so that we can give people confidence in what the ombudsman does.”

Nigel Don MSP said : “The original idea was that the ombudsman would investigate something and, if he pointed out malpractice, people would say, “Yeah—sorry. Got it wrong. Let’s put it right.” At the end of that, enforcement powers would not be needed. If we ask for enforcement powers, we must recognise—if my memory is right—that we will change the nature of the beast. That worries me, because it will mean in effect building another layer of a kind of court of appeal. In any legal or semi-legal system, we should try to avoid that, because it just means that the persistent litigant has somewhere else to go and that it all gets lost in the churn. I am concerned that we should not lose sight of the concept and try to turn it into something else.”

“It is clear that there is much dissatisfaction with what has gone on—we are all aware of that. Something needs to change, but I am not sure whether that necessarily applies to the enforcement powers. Perhaps the width of the investigative powers or simply the way in which the job is done by people—although I do not want to be personal—needs to change.”

After hearing all the points, the Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in these petitions and during the discussion.

Well .. not a bad days work for all concerned.

However, if I could recommend another target for some Scottish Minister to attend the Petitions Committee and call for a review, that would be obviously the Law Society of Scotland, who the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed last year in a report on the Master Insurance Policy, have caused clients to commit suicide. The Law Society of Scotland covered up the deaths, and the SLCC has done nothing about the deaths or the problems which led to the suicides one year after their report was produced. If the Scottish Parliament doesn’t stand on its feet and do something about that, well then … your thoughts would be most appreciated ….

You can read more about the Law Society’s policy on client suicides and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s do nothing approach after discovering it, here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’.

Oddly enough, one year on from the SLCC’s report, not one single MSP out of the 129 serving Scotland has muttered one word on the subject. Life in Scotland is, therefore, very cheap when it comes to dealing with the Master Policy & the Law Society of Scotland …

Jim Martin SPSOJim Martin, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said Mr Neil was “out of touch”. In response to the events of Tuesday’s Holyrood hearing and the criticisms of Alex Neil, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Jim Martin issued the following statement : “Mr Neil is clearly out of touch. A full review and overhaul of all of our investigative procedures was carried out and implemented in 2010. There is no longer a backlog of cases; indeed other Ombudsman offices from devolved administrations have visited us to try to learn from our revised working practices.”

“The SPSO he is describing is the SPSO of 18 months ago. I am disappointed that he has not taken the time to bring himself up to date with our current performance. My annual report will be published later this month and should answer the concerns he has raised. “

“We have seen nothing to suggest that our investigations are anything less than robust. It is inevitable that some complainants will disagree with our findings. But that doesn’t make our conclusions or our investigative methods wrong. Inevitably, with each complaint I consider, either the complainant or the body are going to be disappointed.”

“I am not surprised that Mr Neil has taken it upon himself to criticise the SPSO in this manner. He is one of the MSPs that has sought to place undue pressure on this office and is the chief reason I established a protocol for our engagement with MSPs soon after I came to office. I recognise that it is the role of MSPs to champion their constituents’ grievances. However, the desire to sound tough in the eyes of the public must not tempt MSPs to stray into challenging the independence, and indeed, now, the purpose of, this office.”

“We were set up, by the Parliament, as the final stage for complainants. We operate within the laws that the Parliament laid down. There are complaints that, by law, we cannot consider and there are outcomes that, by law, we cannot enforce. Last year saw a Committee review the role and remit of our office, along with all of the offices created by the Parliament. In my view, that Committee review was an appropriate forum in which Mr Neil could voice his views.”

“For our part, we have sought and we continue to seek a closer relationship with the Parliament. We will continue to do that, despite this unwelcome distraction from our work.”

Now if only some other elements of Scottish legal society could gain such attention from the Petitions Committee, instead of having the situation where the Law Society of Scotland come in and order the Petitions Committee to close petitions which may affect its policy of protecting the truly guilty among us ….


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