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POLICE REGISTER: ‘First responder’ Police Officers transparency in cops business interests register beats ‘last responder’ secretive elite judges still locked in 5 year battle against Holyrood on judicial interest register

Police Officers business interests register beats secrecy on judicial interests. POLICE SCOTLAND has released the latest data on their officers business interests, revealing enterprises from property letting to golf, education, entertainment & consultancies.

The information, disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information request, follows on from an article in May which revealed 1,512 Police Officers in Scotland have secondary businesses & jobs in addition to their work as Police Officers.

The information relating to business interests of Police Officers is recorded on the Police Scotland HR system (SCOPE).

Police Officers in Scotland  are required to conform to the provisions of the Police Service of Scotland Regulations 2013 which state: “A constable must not have a business interest without the consent of— (a) the Authority, in the case of a senior officer; (b) the chief constable, in the case of any other constable, provided that, in the case of any such constable in whose case the chief constable has an interest otherwise than as chief constable, the chief constable must refer the matter to the Authority for it to consider whether to consent.”

While the details disclosed by Police Scotland does not name actual companies and businesses in which officers are involved, the level of detail gives a flavour of potential cross over between cops second jobs and activities in public authorities, public contracts and particularly relationships with the legal world.

Police Scotland refused to provide an actual breakdown of organisations by name, claiming the cost would be too much to provide this information.

However, there is a significant public interest in the identification of businesses in which Police Officers operate, alongside their occupation as law enforcers, given potential conflicts of interest which can only truly be judged by the public, rather than Police Scotland itself.

The latest figures from Police Scotland reveal that since January 2015 there has been 354 Police Officers and 48 Police Staff who have been granted a business interest which is recorded on their SCOPE record.

However, Police Scotland refused to provide information on the number of Police Officers and Police Staff who have had a business interest refused – citing cost grounds on providing the information.

Police Scotland claimed they would have to “manually check each and every individuals personnel file to see if any individuals have applied and been refused”.

The full disclosure from Police Scotland on Police Officers & civilian staff outside business interests as of July 2017:

Executive: Property Letting.

Chief Superintendent: Education, Entertainment, Property Letting.

Superintendent: Agriculture, Property Letting, Shop or Other Like Business.

Chief Inspector: Coach, Director of Scottish Police Credit Union, Driving, Education, Golf, Photography, Property Letting, Shop or other like business, Sport Related, Voluntary Worker

Inspector: Administration, Board of Director, Football Club, Coach, Consultant, Crew member, Dance Class, Driving related, Education, Entertainment, Holiday Letting, Photography, Play in a Band, Property Letting, Referee, Retail Industry, Sales, Shop or other like business, Sport Related, Trade, Voluntary Worker:

Sergeant: Account manager, Administration, Agriculture, Childminding, Coastguard Rescue Officer, Construction, Consultancy, Driving, Education, Entertainment, Fitness, Football, Interior design/upholstery business, Gardening related, Health related, Landscape gardening, Musical interest, Office work, Photography, Piper, Play in a Band, Property Letting Retail, self-employed Joiner, Shop or other like business, Sport Related, Trade, Voluntary bailiff, Voluntary Worker.

Police Constable: Administration, Agriculture, Army cadet force instruction, beauty therapies, Catering, Cake making, Child-minding, Child nursery, Cleaning services, Coach, Coastguard Rescue Officer, Construction, Consultancy, Crew member, Cricket, Deer stalking, Driving, Education, Electrician, Entertainment, Fitness, Football, Foster carer, Freelance instructor, Gardening related, Ground maintenance worker, Gym attendant, Handicrafts, Handyman, Health related, Home carer, Indent chipping, Joiner, Martial arts, Motorcycle training instructor, Musical interest, Office work, Partner in family own farm, Parent Council, Photography, Piper, Play in a Band, Political, Professional footballer, Property Letting, Referee, Reservist, Retail, RNLI Lifeboat crew, Sales, Search Team Member, Self-defence Instructor, self-employed Joiner, Shop or other like business, Sport Related, Sports Therapy/rehabilitation, Spray Painter, Stockman, Tele-marketing, Territorial ARMY, Therapist, Trade, Training, Tutor, Unpaid Garage assistant, Voluntary Worker, Volunteer – Highland hospice, Volunteer – HM Coastguard, Web development and hosting, Writer.

Police staff (Civilian employees): Administration, Agriculture, B&B / Guest House, Beauty Therapies, Bicycle repairs, Caretaker, Cleaning Services, Comedy writer / Performer, Consultant, Consultant trainer, Dance class, Director, Driving, Education, Electrician, Entertainment, General maintenance Person, Handicrafts, Musical interest, Office work, Photography, Play in a Band, Property Letting, Receptionist/Administrator, Relief Support Worker, Reservist, Retail, Sales, Sale and Marketing, Secretary/treasurer, Self-catering holiday accommodation, Shop or other like business, Sport Related, Therapist, Trade, Voluntary Worker Wedding planner and car hire.

A Freedom of Information request recently published by Police Scotland on the website whatdotheyknow reveals figures of at least 1,512 Police Officers who have business interests outside their main employment in the Police Service for Scotland.

Regulation 5 of the aforesaid regulations outlines the provisions concerning any ‘business interest’ of a police officer. Police officers may also choose to disclose business interests of spouses or partners.

All police officers business interests are granted by the Chief Constable, which are based on their own particular circumstances and review dates are similarly set (based on individual).

Legislatively, the term ‘business interests’ covers a variety of categories and directorships fall within this. While a member of police staff is not legislatively required to declare business interests/secondary employment, contracts of employment can outline constraints on such activity.

For instance, some senior posts in Police Scotland are restricted; some politically, some commercially, some both.

Furthermore, the Anti-Corruption Policy includes putting in place procedures that support the identification of risks that business interests or secondary employment may pose to the organisation or individual.

An earlier Freedom of Information request to Police Scotland revealed certain business interests of the force’s top cops, :

For Chief Officers, this permission is granted (under Regulation 5 of the Police Service of Scotland Regulations 2013) by the Police Authority. The conditions and circumstances are outlined in this legislation which is available online, therefore section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies: information which the applicant can reasonably obtain other than by requesting it under section 1(1) is exempt information.

Information provided by Police Scotland revealed executive members (including the now resigned DCC Neil Richardson) business interests from 1 April 2014-31 March 2015.

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick: Property letting, Member and Trustee of various Charitable Organisations

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson: Property letting, Board Member for Scottish Institute of Policy Research Trustee/Vice President of various Police Associations

Journalists then requested further details from Police Scotland in a request for review of the FOI disclosure, requesting the organisations referenced in the initial disclosure be identified.

The subsequent response from Police Scotland revealed:

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson: Trustee, The Police Treatment Centres charity; Vice President, Police Mutual Board Member; The Scottish Institute for Policing Research.

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick: Member, Scottish Chief Police Officers Association; Trustee, The Rank Foundation (Charitable Organisation); Trustee, Salle Ossian Community Sports Club (Charitable Organisation); Advisory Panel Member, Dfuse (Charitable Organisation; Patron, Revolving Doors (Charitable Organisation)

In relation to the numbers of properties rented out by senior Police Officers, Police Scotland refused to release details on the numbers of properties.

Police Scotland said in their response to the Freedom of Information request:  “In relation to the number of properties relating to each Deputy Chief Constable, I have decided not to provide this level of information requested by you as it is considered to be exempt in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (the Act).”

“The number of properties which the respective Deputy Chief Constables hold as business interests is classed as personal information and as such Police Scotland believes that the disclosure of this information would cause unwarranted prejudice to the rights and freedoms and legitimate interests of the data subjects. Accordingly, release of this  information into the public domain would breach the requirement to process personal data fairly, as laid down by the first data protection principle in Schedule 1 of the Data  Protection Act 1998. This is an absolute exemption and does not require the application of the public interest test”

Police Scotland also refused to provide any values for the properties rented out by senior Police Officers, claiming the force did not hold the information:

Police Scotland said in their response: “Finally, Police Scotland does not hold details on the value of each property, as there is no requirement to do so under Regulation 5 of the Police Service of Scotland Regulations 2013.”

In comparison to the Police Scotland disclosure – members of Scotland’s 700 plus strong judiciary – who take the ultimate decisions on the results of Police detection of crime – do not share any details on their outside interests save a handful of judges who serve on the ruling Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

COPS DECLARE, JUDGES CONCEAL:

Members of Scotland’s judiciary continue to wage a bitter five year campaign against proposals to require members of Scotland’s judiciary to declare their interests, and links to big business.

The salary scales of officers in Police Scotland – where all officers are required to declare their interests – show a Police Scotland constable can expect £24,204 per annum going up to £83,925 for a Chief Superintendent with 3 years experience to Assistant Chief Constables: £115,000, Deputy Chief Constables: £169,600 and the Chief Constable: £212,280

However – Scotland;s judges have no such requirement to declare interests, despite their huge  judicial salaries skyrocketing from Sheriffs on £144,172 a year up to Sheriff Principals on £155,706 a year while judges of the Outer House of the Court of Session earn £179,768 a year, Inner House judges earning £204,695. The Lord Justice Clerk (currently Lady Dorrian) earns £215,695 a year, and the Lord President (currently Lord Carloway, aka Colin Sutherland) earns £222,862 a year.

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.

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

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

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COPS & LAWYERS: Concerns on Public Bodies Legal Fees spending as figures reveal Scottish Police Authority fork out over £1m in legal fees, Police Scotland spend at least £1.3 million on external lawyers

Millions from Police budget ends up funding lawyers. SCOTLAND’S single national Police service – Police Scotland is spending millions of pounds of public cash on external law firms, advocates & QCs over and above the significant costs of it’s own in-house legal teams.

The single national Police service for Scotland has admitted paying at least £1,316,819 to external solicitors, QCs, advocates and the courts over a three year period – over and above costs for in-house legal teams.

The largest beneficiaries of public cash from Police Scotland are Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) who were paid £361,801.91.

However, while that firm was still Simpson & Marwick prior to its merger with Clyde & Co, they earned £284,914.15, giving total earnings since January 2014, of £646,716.06.

Other big-earning firms from Police Scotland’s public cash splurge on major law firms were Morton Fraser (£278,069.60) and Ledingham Chalmers (£103,906.08).

However, the figures – released in response to a Freedom of Information request – Police Scotland & SPA Fees to external lawyers, law firms & QCs 2014 to 2017 – are now subject to scrutiny – after journalists questioned the Police as to why over half a million pounds paid by the Police to a law firm named in a £400m collapsed Hedge Fund scandal and a suspended judge were excluded from the figures handed over by Police well out of timescales tolerated by the Scottish Information Commissioner.

It was reported by the Scottish Sun in March 2016, a sum of £187K was paid to lawyer Peter Watson – a sheriff who has been suspended from the judicial bench for well over two years, and a further £364,830 was paid to Levy and Mcrae – the Glasgow based law firm named in a £28m writ in connection with the collapse of the Heather Capital hedge fund, run by Gregory King who is subject to a Crown Office probe now in it’s fourth year.

Police Scotland also disclosed at least £52,014 has been paid to in respect of Opinions of Counsel and Senior Counsel instructed by in-house Legal Services directly and at least £32,378 has been paid to the Scottish Court Service since January 2014 by in-house Legal Services directly.

Police Scotland also disclosed the names of law firms and Advocates Chambers who have received legal fees.

And, today, it has emerged in an additional, three months late FOI disclosure – the controversial Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has admitted to spending millions more on legal fees for it’s own use, with at least £623K spent on external law firms and £435K on it’s own in-house legal teams.

SPA Legal Costs (in-house and Third Party) From Jan 2014 to June 2017 saw the following public cash spends on third party legal costs: £154,449 (2013/14) £104,570 (2014/15) £175,785 (2015/16) £167,667 (2016/17) and £20,543 spent already in this financial year which runs to 2018 making a total of £623,012 on third party legal costs.

Costs for the SPA’s own in-house legal team has now reached £434,512 in just three years.

However, unlike Police Scotland, the secretive Scottish Police Authority refused to identify the names of law firms & counsel involved in it’s £1million plus legal expenses bill.

The SPA’s refusal to identify legal firms via FOI legislation has now been submitted for review, and possible investigation by the Scottish Information Commissioner, after weeks of deliberate delays by the SPA in disclosing the legal costs.

Additionally, questions are also being raised with the Scottish Information Commissioner on Police Scotland’s attitude towards Freedom of Information timescales after weeks of deliberate delays in the force’s handling of FOI requests.

The breakdown of the total figure for solicitors’ fees by solicitor from 2014 – 2017 as paid by Police Scotland are as follows:

AC White £396; Allan Black & McCaskie £300; Allcourt Solicitors £462; Balfour & Manson £1236.3; Blackadder & McMonagle £342; Brazenall & Orr £168; Carruthers Curdie Sturrock & Co. £324; Clyde & Co.(Simpson & Marwick) £361801.91; Cockburns  £54; Corrigal Black £306; Criggies £42; Douglas Gilmour & Son £36; DWF £134.8; Gray & Gray £60; George Mathers & Co £600; Grigor & Young £1920; Hamish L Melrose £540; Hunter & Robertson Solicitors £1872; John Henderson & Sons £2232; Leddingham Chalmers £103906.08; Linda George Family Law £984; MacIntosh Humble £174; Mackie Thomson £96; Mackintosh Wylie £48; Macnabs Solicitors £312; Malcolm & Hutchison £132; Mathie McCluskey £78; McCluskey Browne £2032; McCusker McElroy & Gallanagh £30; McIntyre & Co £258; McLellan Adam Davis £54; MacDonald McIver & Co £353.1; Morton Fraser £278069.6; Patten Prentice £96; Rankin & Aitken £42; Reid Cooper £15901.92 ;Russel & Aitken £60; Russell, Gibson McCaffrey £4084.8; Simpson and Marwick £284914.15; Stewart Balfour £48; Thorntons £3760.16; W & AS Bruce £60 TOTAL: £1,068,320.82

The sum paid to advocates broken down by chamber and year are as follows:-

Chambers fees from 2014 – 2017: 5 Essex court £16620; Ampersand £84000; Arnot Manderson £12840; Axiom  £8640;  Black  £6600; Compass £20334; Terra Firma £3780 TOTAL: £152,814

The National newspaper reports on the Police spend on external law firms, here:

Police Scotland ‘spends £1k a day to fight legal battles’

Martin Hannan Journalist 13th August

Police Scotland’s legal costs were exposed after FoI requests

DESPITE having its own legal team, Police Scotland has spent more than £1000 per day on external legal lawyers and court costs since January, 2014.

In the three years and six months to June of this year, Police Scotland paid out £1,316,819 to external solicitors, QCs, advocates and the courts, according to figures released under Freedom of Information (FoI) rules.

Peter Cherbi, the legal issues campaigner and blogger who made the FoI requests, has criticised the force after it refused to answer The National’s questions on the issue, directing us to use FoI questions.

Cherbi said: “There are firms on the FoI list provided by Police Scotland who specialise in legal issues relating to defence of damages claims and other similar legal issues, yet at this time the force appears unwilling to cough up the real reasons for running to lawyers at all hours of the day.”

More than 950 fee notes were issued to Police Scotland by law firms and individual solicitors, with £32,378 paid directly to the Scottish Courts Service for costs incurred in numerous actions.

More than 40 law practices across Scotland were paid for work, some of which is believed to have been connected to the many police property disposals which have taken place over the past few years since the national force was created in 2013. Other firms were paid for expertise in various personnel and legally complex matters, and QCs, solicitor and advocates all represented the force in court, including cases at the Court of Session.

In all, solicitors received £1,068,320 in that time. The National can reveal that the biggest earners from police work were Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) who were paid £361,801.91 for their involvement in such high-profile cases as former Assistant Chief Constable John Mauger’s failed action for judicial review of a decision by then Chief Constable Sir Stephen House – Maria Maguire QC acted for the force in that case.

While that firm was still Simpson & Marwick prior to its merger with Clyde & Co, they earned £284,914.15, giving total earnings since January 2014, of £646,716.06.

Other big-earning firms were Morton Fraser (£278,069.60) and Ledingham Chalmers (£103,906.08). By contrast, Renfrewshire law firm McCusker, McElroy and Gallanagh were paid just £30.

The total sum paid to advocates and QCs was £152,814 – in its response to the FoI request, Police Scotland explained: “These figures relates to instances where advocates have been instructed directly by Legal Services.”

The force’s response added: “I regret to inform you that I am unable to provide you with the figure in respect of fees charged on occasions where Counsel and/or Senior Counsel have been instructed by external solicitors acting for the Chief Constable as it would prove too costly to do so within the context of the fee regulations.”

The response did state, “951 fee notes have been rendered by external solicitors since January 2014”.

The National asked the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) which is supposed to superintend the national force if it was aware of the extent of usage of lawyers outside the legal services section of Police Scotland. We also asked if Police Scotland had to pay the legal costs of anybody taking out a court action against the force, and why do many solicitors firms were used?

We also asked what is the annual budget for the legal services section and asked both Police Scotland and the SPA to say if any of the costs were for defending Police Scotland personnel accused of crimes, or if any external cost was incurred in defending Police Scotland personnel in civil cases. The reply we received was “you would have to submit an FOI request in relation to these questions”.

Peter Cherbi commented: “While chief constables and senior officers have been talking up their lack of resources and funding in public, Police Scotland have been keeping law firms afloat with huge public spends of funds better spent on front line policing.

“The force’s overuse of law firms for legal action and other legal services must be opened for public inspection on a case-by-case basis. What are Police Scotland spending all this money on lawyers, and why? What are the processes employed by Police Scotland for using legal services? A key question given they have their own in-house lawyers.

“The public have a right to know and the Scottish Parliament should be looking to raise questions on this issue, which would make for some interesting exchanges before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub committee on Policing.

“This addiction to lawyers and exorbitant legal fees by Police Scotland and other public bodies must be brought to a halt as the operational budgets for policing and any public service are not meant to act as unaccountable public subsidies for the legal profession.”

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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LORD CASHVOCATE: Proceeds of Crime figures ‘now part of manipulated crime stats’ as figures reveal crooks receive more in legal aid than Crown Office takes in Cashback for Communities

Cashback for Communities eclipsed by legal aid to crooks. A RECENT Public Relations campaign by Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to promote cash taken from criminals via the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) – has been blown out the water after it emerged convicted crooks are costing taxpayers more than what prosecutors claim is returned to communities in asset seizures.

Today, the Scottish Legal Aid Board have revealed yet another convicted criminal who recently featured in publicity surrounding cash seizures from crooks – actually received more in publicly funded legal aid for his defence – than amounts of crime cash prosecutors claimed he had been ordered by the courts to repay.

Information released in response to a Freedom of Information request revealed Margaret Paterson – the Edinburgh madam who made a fortune running a £1.2m prostitution racket and was hit with a crime cash payback order for £1million  – actually received £144,802.50 taxpayer funded legal aid.

Her business partner – Robert Munro – who was hit with a crime cash payback order for £96,836 – received £147,370.12 of taxpayer funded legal aid – leaving public coffers £50K out of pocket

However, the true costs to taxpayers of the two cases referred to by the Legal Aid Board today may be significantly higher – according to a legal aid insider who told DOI earlier today: “factoring in legal aid, Crown Office legal fees, administration and court time, prosecution in the cases referred to are clearly over the £1million mark, so, there is in effect no cash back to communities from these cases.”

He described Proceeds of Crime figures as “little more than a myth which does not stand up to scrutiny when unbiased accounting is applied.”

The reality of Proceeds of Crime statistics and figures run counter to Press Releases and comments issued by Crown Office stars such as Lindsey Miller, Procurator Fiscal for Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism – who claimed after the court hearing on Munro & Patterson: “Today we have removed a vast amount of criminal earnings from organised crime groups operating right across Scotland.”

Miller went on to say: “These cases show the tenacity of law enforcement and prosecutors in pursuing the thing that is most important to criminals – their money.

In a Press Release from Police Scotland after the Proceeds of Crime orders against Paterson & Munro, Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Gray said: “These Confiscation Orders are some of the largest in Police Scotland’s history and they send out a very clear message to organised criminals everywhere that we will do everything in our power to ensure they do not benefit from illegal gains.”

However, with legal aid, costs of prosecutions and huge salaries of Crown Office admin & prosecutors, legal insiders are in little doubt regular announcements of Proceeds of Crime cash seizures now form part of manipulated crime statistics published by politicians in attempts to justify billions of pounds spent on what has become a justice industry for lawyers, prosecutors and the courts.

Other cases where Proceeds of Crime figures have fallen far short of reality have also emerged – such as jailed tax cheat Michael Voudouri.

Voudori, who fled to Cyprus in 2012 after admitting his guilt in an £11.6 million money laundering scam – claimed VAT on bogus transactions in what judges described as a “complex money laundering operation”, moving the money out of the country into foreign bank accounts.

He set up companies in the US and the British Virgin Islands to conceal the funds, before funnelling them back to Scotland to buy a house and fund a designer clothes business in Stirling.

Voudouri was eventually extradited back to Scotland where he is now in jail. He was also hit with a £207K Proceeds of Crime order in May 2015.

However, it was revealed Michael Voudouri has cost taxpayers over £600K in publicly funded legal aid.

Figures obtained from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) revealed legal teams working for Voudouri have been paid £509,000 since 2009 and £79,000 was handed out for his 2004 trial. The sums are almost certain to rise as further costs are still to be added.

SLAB said the money was paid out to his defence team and for lawyers’ expenses. A spokesman said: “When Michael Voudouri’s legal aid was granted, the courts decided whether to grant legal aid for applicants being seen in the High Court or by a sheriff sitting with a jury.

“Responsibility for granting legal aid for these matters transferred to SLAB in November 2010 and we apply stringent tests which assess whether the applicant is financially eligible.”

The costs of Voudouri’s legal aid – on top of huge  costs of prosecution, investigation, and extradition from Cyprus back to Scotland of well over £2 million – leaves Prosecutors little to brag about if the true figure of bringing him to justice ever became known.

Proceeds of Crime figures regularly presented by Scotland’s top legal officers to the public as ‘crime successes’ do not add up, and are now beginning to anger even some in the crime fighting camp such as hard up budget strapped cops – who do all the leg work investigating & apprehending crooks – only to see big time prosecutions of major criminals hawked away in plea bargains and carefully spun out press releases presented by overpaid prosecutors on £100K + a year to a duped public.

Earlier this year, amid concern from Scotland’s top cops they were not seeing any of the supposed millions confiscated by the Crown Office, Police Scotland announced it was seeking £16 million over the next two years from the money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca) to help plug its funding gap for the next two years.

Police Scotland is facing shortfalls in its budget because of delays in receiving cash under proceeds of crime (Poca) legislation.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House told members of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in February that in many cases there was a “degradation” of value in the assets actually handed on.

He described the amount received by the force as “disappointing”

However, Police Scotland’s bid for £16m over two years roughly matches the entire current income from POCA which saw a drop in takings during 2013-14, receipts totalled £8m, down from £12m the year previously.

The Crown Office have offered no comment on how Proceeds of Crime figures are currently presented to the public and the media.

 

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Racist murders in the East, Sectarian letter bombs & deaths in the West : Are Scotland’s Crown Office & Police institutionally out of touch with Scots society ?

Crown OfficeDoes the Crown Office have the will to investigate racist or sectarian crimes in Scotland? IN a country where the authorities appear to avoid investigating murders as racially, or even religiously provoked at all costs, and where members of religious or racial minorities are, according to academics, statistically more likely to be jailed by an apparently prejudiced justice system, it comes as no surprise that over a decade after the racially motivated murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, there are now new calls for an inquiry into how the Crown Office and now, Lothian & Borders Police, avoided investigating the murder of a Chinese man from Edinburgh, Simon San in August 2010 as a racially motivated crime.

In a statement released by Lothian & Borders Police, the Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen has apologised to the family of Mr San for not investigating the murder as a racist incident.

Simon San was attacked whilst at work in the Lochend area of Edinburgh in August 2010. He suffered injuries from which he died and Lothian and Borders Police launched a murder inquiry. Four young men were quickly identified and subsequently appeared in court.

The prosecution of those involved in the death of Mr San earlier this year saw the conviction of a 16 year old youth, John Reid, who admitted the culpable homicide of Mr San and was sentenced to five years for the killing. Two other 16-year-olds pleaded guilty to assault charges in connection with the case, however in April, Michael Roberts, had his original 42-month sentence cut to 26 months and Keir Rodger had his 34-month term cut to 24 months by appeal judges. A 14-year-old, who cannot be identified, who also faced an assault charge in connection with the death of Mr San, had his not guilty plea accepted by the Crown but admitted breaching bail conditions.

According to the statement released by Lothian & Borders Police, Mr San’s family made a number of complaints about the police response and an internal investigation was undertaken. This investigation, which was known as Operation Waymark, is now completed. The San family has been involved throughout and the report has been discussed with them.

Lothian & Borders Police Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen said: “There is no doubt that Simon’s family have not had the service from my force that we would hope to give any family or any victim of crime. I have apologised privately to the family for that failure and would like to repeat that apology publicly.”

Mr Allen also apologised on behalf of the organisation for not listening to the family when they said they thought the attack was racially motivated; for not making them feel that their views mattered, and for not recording and investigating the attack on Simon as a racist incident.

He added: “We said that Simon was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was not. Simon was at his place of work in a city that was his home. He was playing his part as an active member of our community, contributing through work to the economic success of this city. Simon was a fellow citizen who was killed tragically and pointlessly.”

The force is committed to learning from Operation Waymark and is now more alert to the needs and perception of family members. It has already taken steps to review its management of critical incidents and is refreshing guidance and training given to all officers and police staff in relation to identifying when a hate crime has occurred. The DCC has also spoken individually to all officers and police staff mentioned in the complaint.

Mr San’s family have been supported all along by Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council. ELREC’s chairman, Mr Foysol Choudhury, said: “We commend the family for their courage and perseverance to ensure the mishandling of Simon’s murder investigation is made public and other families who experience a similar event will not have their suffering prolonged. We also want to thank the enquiry team for their effort in delivering the answers the family had been seeking.”

Aamer Anwar, the San family solicitor, said: “Simon San’s family lost faith and trust in police because of the actions of these officers. They feel had they not complained about their treatment, they would have never found out about the mistakes made by the officers. The officers may well be disciplined but for Simon’s family they have played a role in lack of justice which they should have been entitled to as a grieving family.”

“Simon’s father believes his son lost his life and is convinced that the accused received a lesser sentence because the officers failed to investigate the racial motivation of this case. They also feel that they were treated in this manner because they were Chinese.”

‘Mr Trieu Seng San (father of Simon San) stated : “Simon San was the youngest of my six children. He was a good son and a good brother. Simon’s murder destroyed the whole family. I, along with my family, am very angry with the treatment we received from Lothian and Borders Police. The findings do not offer me any peace; they merely confirm that we were right that we have not been treated appropriately by the officers.”

“The racial motivation was completely denied by the officers despite there being evidence but though this material was provided to the Crown Office, the sentencing Judge and family were told there was no such evidence. The family welcome the findings and thank Lothian & Borders Police for their robust inquiry, but still feel they have been denied justice. They are now requesting that the Lord Advocate order an immediate inquiry into their actions following the findings of the Police Complaint.”

The Crown Office released the following statement in response to the apology to the San family from Lothian & Borders Police over their failures in the murder of Mr San. The statement from the Crown Office denies there was any evidence in law to show to show that the attack on Mr San was racially motivated , however as yet the statement does not appear on the Crown Office website.

The statement, from a Crown Office spokesperson said : Lothian and Borders police have today apologised for mistakes they have made in this case. In light of this apology the Area Procurator Fiscal has offered to meet Mr San’s family again to discuss any questions which they might now have.

The Crown was alert to the question of racial motivation from the beginning of the investigation and raised the issue with the police at an early stage. After careful consideration of all the available evidence provided to the Crown by the police, Crown Counsel concluded that there was no evidence to show that the attack on Mr San was racially motivated.

For a racial aggravation to be proved there must be evidence to demonstrate the motivation for the commission of the crime. There was no evidence in law to support this and this remains the case. There was evidence of a racial term used by the accused sometime after the crime but this was not evidence of motivation for the crime.

Notwithstanding this the Advocate Depute advised the High Court when John Reid pled guilty to culpable homicide in October 2010 that it was the strongly held view of Mr San’s family that the offence was racially motivated. In addition a victim impact statement was provided to the court which conveyed the family’s views on the motivation for the crime.

The Solicitor representing the family thanked the Advocate Depute prior to the accused pleading guilty for the sensitive way in which the family had been treated and the way the case was presented.

There are now, unsurprisingly, questions being raised why the Crown Office failed to prosecute the murder of Mr San as a racially motivated crime and there are now calls for an inquiry into the way the Crown Office handled the case. However, the Crown Office have refused calls for an inquiry into why the incident was not investigated as a racially motivated murder.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office said : “We can confirm the Lord Advocate will not be instructing an inquiry and is satisfied with the Crown’s prosecution of the case. Mr John Logue, the Area Procurator Fiscal for Lothian & Borders, has offered to meet with Mr San’s family to discuss any questions which they might now have.”

Last night on BBC Newsnight Scotland, the Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian & Borders Police Mr Allen was interviewed on his force’s investigation of the case, however Crown Office officials apparently refused to take part in the programme, or at least “were unavailable”, as is now the recognised code for nothing further to add.

Lothian & Borders Police DCC Steve Allen speaks on his force’s failures in the racially motivated murder of Simon San (click image to watch video)

The overall impression is that any lessons supposedly learned from the recommendations from the ‘independent inquiries’ carried out by Advocate Raj Jandoo of the Crown Office’s failure to prosecute the 1998 murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar as a racist crime, have after all these years, not had much effect on how racist cases are eventually prosecuted in the justice system. The accusations at the time of Surjit Singh Chhokar’s murder was that the Crown Office and the Scottish justice system was institutionally racist. Today, the same accusations appear to hold sway.

In a remarkable twist of fate, the author of the reports into the Chhokar case, Dr Jandoo, may well have been the victim of racism himself, after being convicted in 2005 of an incident involving a “bomb threat” aboard an aircraft flying to the Isle of Lewis.

Whilst it is now clear that racist crimes face an uphill battle to be prosecuted in the Scottish justice system, crimes involving sectarianism also appear to suffer the same problems, where a string of murders across Scotland in the past year, regarded widely by many in the communities in which they occurred as having sectarian connotations, have not seen even a hint of the notion being put forward by the authorities who appear to be doing everything they can to avoid any mention of religious divisions in Scotland.

Even the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee who were considering a public petition, Petition PE1073 which challenged the Scottish Justice system for incarcerating religious minorities including Catholics at a higher rate than the rest of the population, met in secret to debate whether to even publish research carried out by an academic which backed up the Petition’s claims, such is the apparent fear of acknowledging sectarianism within Scotland and even our justice system.

The research, undertaken by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University for the Petitions Committee, can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament’s website, here : Offender Demographics and Sentencing Patterns in Scotland and the UK: Research commissioned by the Public Petitions Committee in consideration of PE1073 (203KB pdf)

Indeed, the only recent moves to tackle sectarianism by the Scottish authorities have come on the back of conflict between groups of football club supporters & online incidents involving death threats against individuals, after letter bombs were sent out to politicians, football personalities and even a Scottish QC, allegedly motivated by sectarianism & religious hate, issues which most in authority in Scotland appear to be keen to sweep under the carpet.

Clearly, there are still attitudes on religious & racist crimes within Scotland’s criminal justice system which are just as “Victorian” as our civil justice system and the impression is left that Scotland’s prosecution services are out of touch with Scottish society and its expectations of justice in the 21st century.

 

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Hacking your life ? The Law Society of Scotland & its insurers are experts. Memos & more proved information sharing, surveillance, hacking of Scots public goes right to the top

Douglas Mill 4Strong questions and a lack of custard pies in 2006 ensured Law Society Chief Executive fell on his information gathering memos. IN a favourable comparison to yesterday’s Westminster Culture Committee session in which hardly anything new was gained from the questioning of Rupert & James Murdoch & Rebekah Brooks on a what did they know and when did they know it theme regarding the News of the World “phone hacking” scandal, readers may wish to take note us Scots visited this same topic in 2006, where, albeit accidentally, the ‘dark art’ of information sharing & hacking into the lives of the public was revealed during questioning the Law Society of Scotland’s then Chief Executive, Douglas Mill by the now Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney.

Hacking for some seems to, suspiciously, focus only on hacking phones, yet as we all know, hacking into your own life can mean a lot more. Legislation such as  the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, with our own Scottish version (RIPSA) has effectively promoted an uncontrolled culture of hacking throughout the UK so should we be surprised certain sections of the media felt left out and did their own hacking ? No.

Things like, hacking your medical records, hacking your financial details, hacking your mail, hacking your email, hacking into your home, hacking into your legal aid, hacking into your relationship with your own lawyer, hacking into your family life, and all done pretty much without so much as a whimper from anyone willing to stop it. We have seen it all before, yet nothing has ever been done until now. Did the same happen in Scotland ? Yes, although in the case of Scotland, you can be assured there will never be a Westminster style inquiry into it, ever.

As documents came to light at the Scottish Parliament in 2006 which touched on the subject of the legal profession hacking into the lives of clients, no one thought to ask the appearing Law Society officials exactly what methods they had used when intervening in the lives of members of the public to block their access to justice.

By today’s standards, not pursuing such a line of questioning when faced with documentary proof those before you had personally intervened in the lives of members of the public, gathered information which could not have been obtained in many cases, legally, had applied that information to blocking legal representation or interfering in court cases, or had knowledge that the Police had been used to thwart investigations, would in itself be suspicious. This is exactly what happened, and nothing more was said, nothing more was done.

Targeting clients : John Swinney asked stern questions of Law Society Chief Mill in 2006 which exposed lawyers using information to undermine members of the public. (Click image to view video)

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney (then in opposition in 2006) knew how to ask some questions, yet he should be asking more. You can read more about the content of Mr Mill’s memos to the Law Society of Scotland President & the disgraced insurance firm Marsh, who were convicted of criminal offences in the United States, here : Law Society boss Mill lied to Swinney, Parliament as secret memos reveal policy of intervention & obstruction on claims, complaints. The memos between the Law Society & employees of an insurance firm portrayed an information sharing agenda on members of the public which existed in order to undermine any court actions or access to justice for those victimised by the legal profession. Clearly a degree of spying against members of the public was being practised by the Law Society and its insurers, and clearly the legal profession had undermined an earlier Scottish Parliamentary inquiry, yet no searching questions were asked.

In one of the memos, sent from Alistair Sim, the Director of Marsh UK to Mr Mill, Sim suggested collecting information on clients while in another memo, Mill refers to a proposed Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 1 inquiry into regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, which was held in 2002-2003 under the Convenership of the Christine Grahame MSP, who is again, coincidentally of course, the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.

It was clear from the content of the memos Law Society officials & Marsh employees were involved in an attempt to undermine the 2003-2003 Justice Committee hearings and prevent anyone attending who might have exposed the hacking culture at the Law Society of Scotland and its insurers which was going on in the name of protecting the legal profession’s Master Policy, a massive multi million pound client compensation scheme. which oddly enough, hardly ever pays out.

During the 2002-2003 inquiry, not one single member of the public was allowed to testify before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee after the Law Society of Scotland demanded members of the public be banned from speaking at Committee hearings. The 2002-2003 inquiry under Christine Grahame did not discuss the memos made available to John Swinney, and Ms Grahame’s team subsequently went onto conclude regulation of the legal profession should remain as it was, under the control of the Law Society of Scotland.

It took a second inquiry into regulation of solicitors, held in 2006 by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee, initially chaired by Annabel Goldie (who resigned due to a conflict of interest) subsequently replaced by David Davidson, which brought the Law Society’s meddling in cases & client’s lives to the fore.

During the 2006 enquiry,  members of the public were allowed to testify before the Justice 2 Committee and subsequent to Mr Swinney’s encounter with Douglas Mill over the secret memos, Mill was forced to resign, albeit only after video footage of the incident was posted to video sharing website You Tube. Yet amid all this, no searching questions were asked by MSPs as to exactly what methods the Law Society of Scotland and its insurers employed to intervene in the lives of members of the public.

As readers will now be well aware, the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has done nothing to clean up the corruption in the world of regulation of the legal profession, in fact, probably worsening it. My previous coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, itself branded a “Front Company for the Law Society of Scotland”, can be found here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : The story so far

Readers can find out more for themselves in my previous coverage of just how the Law Society of Scotland and agents acting for its Master Policy insurers hack into the lives of clients, here : Spies, Lies, Hacking & Facebook : Law Society Master Policy snooped on ‘difficult clients’ to undermine damages claims, complaints about lawyers & here : Suicides, ill health, financial ruin : Will SLCC’s latest Master Policy report deliver solution to Law Society ‘pro-crooked lawyer’ insurance scheme ?

421Who headed the hacking ? Law Society’s now former Chief Executive Douglas Mill & Philip Yelland, head of Client Relations. Regular readers will be well aware I was significantly targeted by both Douglas Mill who personally blocked my legal aid, and the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation, Philip Yelland, who personally intervened with my solicitor at the time and ordered him not to take my instructions. Correspondence which revealed the actions of Mill & Yelland against me, can be viewed HERE & HERE. I can assure you all, these people and agents working for their “Master Policy” made my family life and my access to justice, a living hell. Almost, a death sentence, all in the name of protecting crooked Borders solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. The Andrew Penman scandal was heavily reported in the Scotsman newspaper during the 1990s.

Indeed, I have not forgotten that during the time of the Scotsman’s coverage, disruptive relationships between the legal & accounting profession who were intent on preventing further media reporting on Mr Penman, and, officers of Lothian & Borders Police came to the fore in several incidents, one of which involved the compromising of a costly & lengthy CID surveillance operation. Details of this scandal may well soon be appearing in a newspaper near you.

In my experience investigating & reporting on the legal profession for five years, and campaigning for legal reforms since the 1990s, information sharing, hacking, operating a policy to undermine critics by any means necessary, including the use of surveillance, and relationships involving the Police, goes right to the very top of any organisation which is very much involved in undermining the public good for its own ends.

 

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LEGAL PAID : Clients of legal aid lawyers should come forward with information on fake work claims & scams, say Scottish Legal Aid Board

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board asks for clients to tell on go-nowhere cases funded by legal aid. IF YOUR LAWYER IS ABUSING OR FALSIFYING CLAIMS FOR LEGAL AID FUNDS, COME TO US say the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) after clients of legal aid scandal solicitor Niels S Lockhart demanded an investigation by authorities into accusations by Legal Aid Chiefs exposed in a Sunday Mail newspaper investigation the solicitor made “unnecessary & excessive” claims for legal aid, while raking in over £600,000 in legal aid funds paid out of the public purse in over two years.

The announcement from the Scottish Legal Aid Board comes in response to a further article in the Sunday Mail newspaper reporting on the concerns of clients of solicitor Niels Lockhart. One client referred to in the latest Sunday Mail report on the Lockhart-Legal Aid scandal said he had been to Mr Lockhart’s offices on a staggering SEVENTEEN VISITS yet his case had not advanced.

However while SLAB are apparently now keen to speak to Mr Lockhart’s former clients over their concerns, it appears the board are also keen to stress they “saw nothing to indicate fraudulent practices” yet in an amazing contradiction, the board accused Mr Lockhart of making “unnecessary & excessive” claims for legal aid, accusations which in the eyes of many, clearly amount to abuse of public funds.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said on Friday : “During the Board’s thorough scrutiny of Mr Lockhart’s accounts we saw nothing to indicate fraudulent practices as opposed to what appeared to be unnecessary and unreasonable work. In addition, public money was protected because we only paid for work we were satisfied had actually been done and was necessary to advance the clients’ cases. Any work thought not to be reasonable was not paid.”

“The issue here was that the work Mr Lockhart did was not consistent with the principle of working with “due regard to economy”. For example, having an excessive number of meetings which did not advance a case. Where we thought there were too many meetings or meetings which were of no value, we did not pay Mr Lockhart for those meetings. In coming to these decisions, we had full access to the evidence on the case files.”

Keen to stress public funds had been “protected” from the solicitor who had claimed over £600,000 in legal aid funds in two years, SLAB’s spokesperson continued : “The key issue is that as a result of the work done by the Board in investigating this matter, we protected public funds and Mr Lockhart can no longer do legal aid work. The Board played an important role in trying to bring this matter to an end and achieved the best outcome for the taxpayer as Mr Lockhart can no longer do legal aid work.”

The statement ended, calling for Mr Lockhart’s former clients to contact SLAB with their concerns : “Should any former legal aid clients of NS Lockhart have information which would constitute fraudulent activity they can contact the Board or the Police about their concerns.”

If clients of Mr Lockhart or indeed any clients of solicitors across Scotland have concerns about their cases and legal aid funding, I would urge them to approach the Scottish Legal Aid Board immediately, while also copying in their information & concerns to myself via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com to ensure positive action is taken in relation to legal aid abuses while also enabling the media to report on these matters and alert other clients to the potential dangers of using solicitors & law firms who abuse legal aid.

The latest report from the Sunday Mail :

THE CLAIM BLAME : Clients want probe into lawyer’s Legal Aid scam

Apr 10 2011 Exclusive by Lauren Crooks, Sunday Mail

FORMER clients of rogue lawyer Niels Lockhart want police to probe his Legal Aid scam.Lockhart was banned from Legal Aid work after claiming £600,000 of taxpayers’ cash in two years.

A Scottish Legal Aid Board report said he routinely made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. But the Law Society of Scotland took four years to act on the report and then cut a secret deal which allowed him to simply agree to stop claiming Legal Aid. Slab ruled there had been no criminality – but admitted they didn’t speak to any of his clients.

Andrew Garland, 52, hired Lockhart to represent him in a compensation claim in 2009. The fees were paid by Legal Aid. He said: “I went to his office about 17 times and it was always the same. I was wasting my time because we were getting no further forward.

“Not once has SLAB been in touch – I can’t believe it. If it’s a case of them not having enough information, I’d be first in line to tell them what he was doing.”

Another client, who asked not to be named, fumed: “I can’t understand why the police haven’t been involved with this. I was being called in and he would just read me a letter or something he could easily have done over the phone. “When I read the Sunday Mail’s story, it all suddenly made sense.”

Slab said Lockhart’s tricks were “not appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor” – but the 60-year-old continues to run his one-man firm in Kilmarnock.

I reported on the secret deal between the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board and the little known Legal Defence Union in an earlier article, reprinted below :

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.

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 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, a key error was made by the Legal Aid Board, who stunningly failed to interview any of Mr Lockhart’s clients despite SLAB’s claims 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.”

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.”

In the light of revelations by the media that solicitors have been able to quietly withdraw from the legal aid register after secret deals were struck between the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board & the Legal Defence Union over irregularities which collectively, could run in to millions of pounds, the issue is likely to receive calls for a full investigation when the Scottish Parliament, now dominated by msps from the Scottish National Party, reconvenes for its next session.

The issue of abuse of legal aid may well be a test of the Scottish Government’s resolve to ensure legal aid is targeted towards those who actually need it, while also bringing into focus the Scottish Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the massive £150 million pound legal aid budget, where the pressure will be on to investigate why secret deals between elements of the legal profession can see a lawyer escape penalty for misusing funds, while benefits cheats regularly face criminal convictions or even jail for their actions in cheating the public purse.

 

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Voting on 5th May ? Keep in mind Scotland’s Justice system remains far too dishonest, far too “Victorian”, for independence from the UK

In case you didn’t notice, there is an election in Scotland tomorrow, May 5 2011. If you are eligible to vote, it is your privilege, right & duty to do so, no matter how cynical or critical you are of our politicians, the justice system, Scotland’s economy or even if you have a beef with the coalition Government at Westminster. However, as you are probably here to read topics of justice, rather than politics, there are some things you may wish to take into account before casting your vote …

The short version of what I am about to say is “If you are here looking for advice on who to vote for, vote for a party other than those leading the polls so at least there’s a chance of the winners being held to account, and reigned in on any daft, crazy policies which will ultimately do Scotland a great deal of harm.” Remember, Annabel isn’t so bad after all, and unlike some this time around, she does make a lot of sense.

Now, the dreaded long version. One thing which has been glaringly obvious over the past four years since 2007, and indeed much longer than that, probably going back to the ‘re-imagined’ Scottish Parliament of 1999, is that our beloved Scottish justice system is simply not up to the mark, not up to any real level of honesty, in fact, perhaps our beloved Scottish justice system is up to far too much dishonesty to merit & justify Scotland’s independence from the rest of the UK. I mean, really, what use to Scots is independence if the justice system is bent ? None, as far as I can see, and as we know, the justice system has more bends in it than a corkscrew hazel tree.

Individuals and entire groups or classes of people have been discriminated or prejudiced against at the hands of the Scottish justice system, some even thrown in jail for crimes they did not commit, others persecuted by the very legal system itself for daring to criticise it, stand up to it, take issue with their own circumstances by demanding a fair hearing, and there are of course, even those who have suffered at the hands of the legal profession itself, who have used the law & courts as a weapon to deny anyone they do not like, access to justice. It happened yesterday, it will happen today, and it will happen tomorrow.

While the arguments & excuses still rage over the now famous Cadder v HMA ruling at the Supreme Court in London in October 2010, you only need to look back to the Cadder case and what happened to understand that the Government of the day in Scotland, in this case, the SNP, and indeed all previous administrations believed it was right for anyone arrested by Police to be questioned without a lawyer present. Good for a quick guilty verdict of course, saves a lot of detective work and of course a lot of money along the way for the likes of the Legal Aid Board.

Amazingly while such a highly dubious arrangement of interrogating suspects has not been practised in the rest of the UK, and indeed quite a few countries around the world for many years (some jurisdictions would call such interrogation without a lawyer “unconstitutional”), no one in the Scottish legal establishment bothered to raise it as a case until the European Court ruled in Salduz v Turkey and made the law as it now stands.

Did a Scottish court react to this change in European Law first, considering there must surely have been a few outstanding incidents where people were denied access to a lawyer while being held by the authorities ? No. After the European ruling, it took a court based in England, the UK’s Supreme Court to rule on the Cadder case, and decide Scots, like everyone else in the rest of the UK and many other jurisdictions, had the right to a lawyer being present while being interrogated by the authorities.

Take it from me, Scotland’s Court of Session would never have done the same. Indeed, this is exactly why the Cadder case ended up in the Supreme Court in London, because the Court of Session thought it was fine (and I dare say would like it still to be fine) to hold someone, whether guilty or not, and get an admission without the right to having a lawyer present. Easy money for the judges, the prosecution team, and someone put away with a protracted press release touting yet another “successful prosecution” and triumph for the authorities. Great, until someone realises the wrong person is behind bars.

If the Supreme Court had not ruled as it did, as Scots, we would still not have the right to a lawyer being present during interrogation, and the courts would be fine with it, but of course Cadder and its outcome goes much further than that, sending a shot across the bows of Scotland’s antique justice system where the right to a fair hearing, the right to legal representation, or even the right to have funding for legal representation all appear to be a right too far those in the legal establishment who sometimes feel it is in the interests of the justice system to deny justice to certain individuals or cases.

If we were independent, you can kiss goodbye to the Supreme Court in London. If not immediately, certainly when it issues another controversial ruling requiring Justice-Secretary-for-Life Kenny MacAskill to change the law. You might also kiss goodbye to certain parts or maybe all of European Commission Human Rights Legislation (ECHR) which any future independent Scottish Government may begin to find ‘inconvenient’ to its management, or as we have seen in the past four years, lack of management of Scotland’s justice system.

For another comparison of recent events in the English justice system compared to our own, look at the death of Ian Tomlinson, who, a jury in London yesterday decided had been “unlawfully killed” by the actions of a Police Officer. Does anyone really think a Sheriff presiding over a Fatal Accident Inquiry in Scotland would have came to such a decision in a similar case had some Policeman did the same north of the border ? Fat Chance, and we all know it. The bereaved family would be fighting for justice for years, and they themselves would probably end up being victimised by the legal system for daring to take issue with it.

Look around the Scottish justice system and you will see a litany of miscarriages of justice, where for instance, the say so of dubious witnesses or even Police Officers themselves have contributed to guilty verdicts and long sentences of ‘the so-obviously guilty’, only to be found later the investigation was compromised, perhaps even evidence was falsified, and those dubious witnesses lied through their teeth. Result : Someone ends up being freed after 12 years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit and spends the rest of their life trying to clear their name while politicians sit back, promise much yet do little, and all the while the court, the judges, the legal system carrys on regardless.

How about the Lockerbie case and the long running controversy over the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi’s conviction & release. Despite all the calls for independent inquiries, calls for, & half hearted attempts at the release of documents to answer the many inconsistencies in the case, nothing has changed other than the fact Mr Megrahi was released back to Libya on compassionate grounds by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, so conveniently avoiding any further progress in Mr Megrahi’s appeal at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh, where the gritted teeth of the judges (one looked like he had bruxism) was much more obvious to most who saw the spectacle rather than any hope the court would turn its attention to matters at hand and quash a verdict which many around the world question. Last time I checked, this farce happened under an SNP administration.

How about Legal Aid ? If you really need it, do you think you might really get it ? It appears if the Scottish Legal Aid Board don’t like the look of your face, or someone, perhaps a someone of very high standing or position in the legal system puts in a bad word for you, perhaps accompanied by a long poisoned pen letter saying why you shouldn’t get legal aid, you don’t get it. No legal aid for you, therefore no access to a lawyer and no access to justice.

Yet over the past four years, certain lawyers as I previously reported, have been claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds of legal aid for themselves, collectively, millions of pounds, yet many of their clients never really had access to justice, and guess what ? the Scottish Government just let it happen. Yes, all those millions of pounds of legal aid, paid for by taxpayers, ended up lining the pockets of a few solicitors who were never prosecuted for one penny of misuse of public funds, rather than that legal aid going to those who really needed it, or to those lawyers who really do represent their clients.

How about the much heralded Scottish civil courts review by Lord Gill, the big “sea change” for our “Victorian” justice system which was supposed to give access to justice for all ? The Civil Courts Review has said much but achieved little under the SNP. Admittedly though, the same could well have been true no matter which political party was in power. Lord Gill’s “groundbreaking” Civil Courts Review is now just another piece of history in the shattered landscape of Scotland’s justice system, a review which itself is now being reviewed, and all the trappings of easier access to justice which many expected to come from it, are but a pipe dream.

Do you think independence might change all that ? No. The same people who still rave about independence did nothing about clearing up the justice system in the past four years and did nothing about giving justice to those who are denied it. These same people will do nothing to clear up Scotland’s justice system. In fact, some of those raving about independence and taking back the oil wealth for Scotland, have in some cases I am privy to, actively blocked access to justice for many people denied it .. even some of their own constituents. To be sure, the only constant here in Scotland is, “Nothing Changes” when it comes to justice.

As an observation from someone who has seen many cases where the legal system has been used as a weapon against those who take it on, or those who dispute the legal establishment’s line on all things justice, Scotland’s justice system is probably worse off now than it was in 2007, and that’s saying something. All of those people who said the system will change with a new party in power after 2007, where are they now ? Still fighting the same battles, still arguing over the finer points of detail and still knee deep in inquiries which will end up changing nothing.

It is certainly not my job to tell you who to vote for, but you must vote if you want to have a say in Scotland’s political future. By this, I’m not telling you not to vote for the SNP, and I’m not telling you to vote Labour, Scottish Conservative or Liberal Democrat, or Independent, or Green or for any of the other parties out there, but I am asking you TO VOTE, and to ensure that consensus politics, fairness and even justice is delivered in this next Scottish Parliament.

Make the next five years Scotland’s five years, make the next five years your five years to give all Scots a say in our country, access to justice, and the right to be heard against those groups & vested interests who regularly talk over or even interdict our expectations of reforms, jobs, financial security, justice and life for the better. If you want to be part of something positive, vote, and vote to make sure those who you elect are held accountable to you.

 

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