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COPY MINISTER: ‘Copied’ content from ex Minister sent by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to Holyrood MSPs – Public must rely on judges judging judges for transparency, Scottish Government will not create register of judges’ interests

Judges should judge judges – Minister. SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary – Humza Yousaf – has told Holyrood’s Justice Committee that judges should be allowed to judge themselves, and the public must rely on judicial oaths & ethics – written and approved by the judiciary – instead of transparency in courts.

The Justice Secretary’s letter of 3 April to Holyrood MSPs, which was released only late last week – also states the Scottish Government willnot create a register of judicial interests in response to the widely supported Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, it has emerged Humza Yousaf’s letter of April 2019 – is almost a duplicate of a letter sent in April 2014 by Kenny MacAskill during his time as Justice Secretary.

The recent letter from Mr Yousaf to Margaret Mitchel MSP – Convener of the Justice Committee, effectively re-states the Scottish Government’s refusal to create a register of judges’ interests.

Mr Yousaf also claims in his letter that “no further evidence has been provided to the Justice Committee that strengthens the arguments already put forward in favour of the introduction of the register.”

However, recent submissions to the Justice Committee including accounts of serving Scottish judges swearing dual oaths for high earning judicial posts in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and other Gulf States point to substantial new evidence submitted to MSPs, backing up the need for a full register of judicial interests.

Clerks to the Justice Committee were quizzed on the content of Mr Yousaf’s claims in relation to no new evidence.

In response, a Justice Committee clerk told the petitioner: “Your submission was publicly available to the Scottish Government to refer to, before the Cabinet Secretary provided the letter dated 3 April”

It has also emerged the Lord President – Lord Carloway, and others including the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Crown Office and others have refused to engage with the Justice Committee’s call for views on creating a register of judges’ interests.

A clerk for the Justice Committee informed the petitioner: “Before the Committee last considered your petition on 5 February, clerks approached those who have previously given evidence to the Public Petitions Committee to ask if they had anything to add to their previous submissions.”

“We approached the Lord President, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Only the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service responded, stating that they had nothing to add”

Mr Yousaf’s letter of 3 April 2019 to the Justice Committee reads as follows:

Thank you for your letter of 20 February seeking my views on the above petition and whether it remains the Scottish Government’s position that a register should not be introduced.

I have given consideration to the matter and I don’t think it is necessary to establish a register of interests. I share the views of both of my predecessors that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary.

These safeguards are the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the various rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 which concern complaints about the judiciary and judicial conduct.

I note that no further evidence has been provided to the Justice Committee that strengthens the arguments already put forward in favour of the introduction of the register.

However, the “the various rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 which concern complaints about the judiciary and judicial conduct” – which include the post of Judicial Complaints Reviewer – remain unchanged since Scotland’s first JCR – Moi Ali gave evidence to the Public Petitions  Committee during 2013.

And, during her time as Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Moi Ali requested increated powers from the Scottish Government – to give the office of JCR a more formidable and independent oversight role on complaints against judges – only to be turned down by the then Justice Secretary – Kenny MacAskill.

The request by Moi Ali to increase powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer ws reported here: Scottish Government urged to give more powers to Judicial Complaints Reviewer as MSPs hear lack of judicial scrutiny undermines public confidence in justice system

An earlier letter of 22 April 2014 from Kenny MacAskill – who was Justice Secretary from 17 May 2007 until ‘stepping down’ sacked from the post on 21 November 2014 – to David Stewart MSP – then Convener of the Public Petitions Committee reads as follows:

Thank you for your letter of 6 March 2014 regarding the above Public Petition. I apologise for the delay in responding.

You ask whether the Scottish Government will review its position on whether members of the judiciary ought to register their interests. I note the evidence the Committee has gathered on this issue and, in particular, the arguments presented by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) that a register of interests would increase transparency and public trust in the judiciary.

The JCR considers that there is merit in a register of interests for members of the judiciary. I do not think it necessary to establish such a register. I continue to be of the view that there are already sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary.

These have been set out in previous correspondence and comprise the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the rules made under the 2008 Act. I do not consider that the case has been made that these existing safeguards are not effective.

It is of note, that after being kicked from the post of Justice Secretary – Kenny MacAskill ended up on the same Public Petitions Committee which was considering the petition calling for a register of judicial interests.

And, during a hearing of the Petitions Committee on 1 December 2015 – MacAskill – by now devoid of Ministerial rank – suggested calling the new Lord President – who was yet to be publicly identified at the time due to the appointments process – but was known to be Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland)

The post of Lord President – with a salary of £220K per year – became vacant after Lord Brian Gill unexpectedly walked out of the top judicial post in May 2015 – giving only 30 days notice he intended to quit.

The 1 December 2015 hearing was reported in more detail here : EVIDENCE, M’LORD: Scotland’s next top judge to be asked to give evidence in Scottish Parliament’s probe on secretive world of undeclared judicial wealth, interests & judges’ links to big business

Video footage of Mr MacAskill at the Public Petitions Committee in that meeting can be found here:

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Judges Public Petitions Committee Holyrood 1 Dec 2015

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458) 1 December 2015

The Convener: Our next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on the creation of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note on the committee’s previous consideration of the petition and the submissions from the petitioner.

Do members have any comments?

Kenny MacAskill: We have heard from the previous Lord President and I think that we should hear from the new Lord President, whoever he is likely to be—I do not think that there is a “she” on the shortlist. That appointment is likely to be made in the next week or so, so there is still time for him to appear before us.

The Convener: In that case, we will write to the new Lord President, as we said that we would.

Decision: The Committee agreed to write to the new Lord President once appointed.

PETITION – A REGISTER OF JUDGES’ INTERESTS

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are currently investigating calls for a probe of Judicial Recusals, as part of their work on considering Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The proposal, 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.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee and Justice Committee work in  relation to creating a Register of Judges’ Interests – can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

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JUDGE SCANDAL: Dark side of Scotland’s judiciary reveals how judges & courts covered up scandal hit judges – from fraud, tax avoidance, alcohol related violence to the wife-beating Sheriff – who all avoided action from Crown Office & Police

Judiciary, Police & prosecutors failed to act on retired scandal Sheriff. THE WAY in which the Judiciary of Scotland deal with allegations against their own members, was never more evident, and in remiss than when the wife of a now deceased Sheriff tried in vain to report her judge husband to Police and prosecutors.

The late Sheriff Lothian, who it turns out – was well known to judicial figures and even Scottish Court Service staff – for his visits to sauna parlours, rumours of mistreatment of his family and use of prostitutes – is one of the dark, yet not so far away chapters of Scotland’s legal circuit.

Yet to this day, snippets of similar behaviour by sheriffs & senior legal figures from unpublished court documents, hearings in chambers,quietly arranged divorces and even missing Police reports – is as shielded from the public today, as it was during Lothian’s reign in the Sheriff courts.

Far from the image of judicial figures cosying up to First Ministers, Lord Advocates and the reluctant ex top judges lecturing politicians and the public on morality, transparency and accountability – members of the judiciary have recently been caught up in all kinds of seedy accusations, ranging from mega millions in hedge fund linked financial impropriety, to carefully concealed court cases and even divorce, where allegations against judges range from wife battering to drunken rages and smashing objects.

Yet, the public learn very little, if usually nothing of these events – and mysteriously, the courts, prosecutors, even Police, all comply with a very judicial silence.

The “me too” #metoo movement – a campaign to denounce sexual assault and harassment – which has somehow mysteriously skipped Scotland under First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – certainly stands no chance against angry, embittered & wife beating members of the judiciary.

Nor does “me too” stand a chance against shady senior figures in Police Scotland– who support each other when reports of sexual assault or harassment end up buried with a ‘no action’ ticket at the Policeman’s ball.

The history of the demise of Sheriff Lothian – who died in 2016 – is well known.

However, the cover up by colleagues on the bench, who knew of Lothian (and other judicial figures) associations with prostitutes, sauna bars, and the attempts by Lothian’s wife to report her husband to the Police & Crown Office – stands to this day as an example of the dark side of Scotland’s judiciary.

A carefully crafted system of cover up, denial and protection of a 500 year old white male dominated judiciary – which runs from the lowly Justices of the Peace who have criminal records for shop lifting & assault, to the most senior levels of the bench where tax avoidance, failures to declare interests, wife beating & carefully denied allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace never see the inside of a court, the pages of a recusal register or the ink of a charge sheet.

It is also worth noting, many of Scotland’s current senior judges were on the judicial bench during Sheriff Lothian (among others) penchant for boozing, sexual assault, use of prostitutes & reign of terror at home. Yet, to this day, not one judge ever spoke out.

Sheriff Lothian quietly retired on a pension of £7,000 a month.

A Freedom of Information disclosure from the Scottish Government to DOI Journalists also revealed Sheriff Lothian received substantial payments from the Scottish Government & service awards.

Documents within the FOI disclosure reveal that under the Judicial Pensions Act 1981, Sheriff Lothian was entitled to a pension of £63,200.00 per annum and a lump sum of £84,547.00 and in addition Lothian would receive a service award of £50,560.00, based on a salary of £126,400.

Additionally, under the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993, Sheriff Lothian was entitled to a pension of £62,627.00 per annum, and a lump sum of £84,547.00 together with a net service award of £52,920.00 – based on his pensionable pay of £125,253.33.

Exchanges within the documents disclosed by the Scottish Government also reveal the then Justice Secretary – Kenny MacAskill – was not informed of Sheriff Lothian’s sudden decision to quit the bench, and further emails between heads of the justice department show concern at enquiries from newspapers as to the conduct & status of Sheriff Lothian.

In relation to the allegations against Sheriff Lothian of wife beating and other reports to Police – no action was ever taken against him by the Crown Office or Lothian & Borders Police.

A report on the allegations against Sheriff Lothian and the suffering of his wife, which exposed brutality at a judicial level, featured in the former News of the World newspaper.

It may be a grim read for some, but a necessary read for all – and much further afield than Scotland:

SICK SECRETS OF SAUNA SHERIFF

Ex-missus claims Lothian’s obsession with vice girls and booze destroyed their marriage  Downed sprits daily  Begged for 3-way sex  Hit wife at Christmas

By MARCELLO MEGA News of the World 15 March 2009

SLEAZY sheriff Andrew Lothian is a wife-beating drunk who’s obsessed with prostitutes, his ex-wife reveals today.

The shamed 66-year-old was forced to quit the bench after claims he paid for spanking and whipping sessions with an Edinburgh hooker.

But today the News of the World can expose the SHOCKING secrets of his sordid private life.

According to long-suffering ex-wife Harriet Lothian, the twisted beak TRIED to make her have sex with strangers while he watched

ADMITTED using prostitutes during their marriage

DOWNED at least a bottle of spirits every day, and BATTERED her while their unsuspecting kids slept upstairs.

Speaking at length for the first time since her ex-husband’s sauna shame, disgusted Harriet, 57, said: “I’m surprised it took so long for his activities to be exposed.

“I tried repeatedly to alert the police and the Crown to his unsuitability for office because of his behaviour, but to no avail.

“I suffered greatly at his hands, both during our marriage and for many years after I divorced him.”

We told last November how Lothian quit his £125,000-a-year job after Crown Office bosses confronted him about allegations over his private life.

But, according to Harriet his obsession with sordid sex had been going on for YEARS.

Lothian’s wife of 19 years said: “Sexually, there were problems from an early stage in the marriage.

“I found it so unsettling that I sought advice from my father, who was a doctor, and who I could talk to about anything.

“Andrew was into kinky but fairly inadequate sex. He also had fantasies about introducing third parties, men or women, into the bedroom.

“I had no interest, but he kept asking me to do it to please him.

Repugnant

“I refused because I found the idea repulsive. He said he could pay people to make his fantasies come true.” Harriet suspected her hubby was using hookers DURING their marriage.

And she told how her elderly father was forced to confront Lothian about the sleazy claims.

Harriet said: “He confessed without any shame. He told me he had lost his virginity at 16 to a prostitute, and that he’d always been turned on by them.

“I was devastated. I told him I’d never have unprotected sex with him again but he was totally unrepentant.

“Once his obsession was out in the open, he became more demanding. If he was out at a dinner, he would bring men home and want me to have sex with them while he watched.

“I would have to throw them out, which was embarrassing. I found the idea repugnant. Apart from anything else, I had children in the house.

“My father was 68, but was very close to me and he had no hesitation in speaking to Andrew and telling him to shape up.”

The couple had married on December 28, 1983, after a whirlwind romance.

Lothian already had a son, also Andrew, from the first of two previous marriages, and Harriet had a young son, James, from a previous relationship.

Two years after their wedding, Harriet gave birth to their son Robert, but already the foundations of the marriage were beginning to crumble.

She says: “By the time Robert came along, I had serious concerns about his father’s alcoholism and how terribly ill it was making him.

“He was drinking at least a bottle of spirits a day, and that was just what I was witnessing. He was in a mess.

“I went home with Robert on New Year’s Day 1986 and Andrew was in such a terrible state that he became abusive. I threw a milk bottle at him and hit him on the side of the head.

“The next day, I insisted he saw a doctor, and he agreed because his mother was in the house.

Harriet tried to alert senior legal officals to her husband’s alcohol abuse but was snubbed at every turn.

Things spiralled further out of control and by Christmas 1996 Harriet demanded Lothian move out.

She said: “His language became more abusive. There were implied threats of violence and the odd punch to the side of the head where no visible marks were left, but I was still shocked by what happened then.”

Harriet told how their sons, James, now 27, and Robert, now 23, were in their bedrooms when a huge row erupted on Christmas Eve that year.

She claims Lothian slapped her hard in the face, before punching her full on the nose.

As their shocked mother took refuge in the bathroom, where she tried to stem the flow of blood, both sons plucked up the courage to leave their rooms and go to her aid.

Charade

With her face badly marked and her eyes beginning to blacken, the family went through the motions the next day, exchanging presents and eating dinner — but the mood was understandably bleak.

Harriet said: “Until that point, I’d been trying to hold things together for my sons, but I couldn’t go on with the charade.

No child should have to see their mother pouring with blood from a blow their father has struck.

It was a total nightmare.” Robert said: “I remember clearly what happened that night and it sickens me the way he behaved. It is more than ten years since I have spoken to him.

“When I was 12 I wrote him a letter telling him I wanted nothing to do with him.” Following the attack Harriet demanded that Lothian move out of the family home in Lauder, Berwickshire.

She wept: “I feared for the safety of our sons. I had no choice.”

But in SLEAZE: summer 2001 Lothian — then living in Edinburgh — launched a court bid to SELL the house.

She said: “The move was especially hurtful as Robert was about to start his Higher courses.

“It was also difficult to understand as Andrew had inherited a six-figure sum the previous year when his mother died.”

Lothian’s partner at that time, Eleanor Burns, daughter of Sir John and Lady Eleanor Burns, had also inherited a substantial sum on the death of her mother, just a week before Catriona Lothian’s death.

By 2002, when they finally divorced, Harriet claims exclusive that Lothian enjoyed a six-figure salary whilst Harriet took care of their children and could only work part-time as a rape crisis counsellor.

In the end she had to pay Lothian £28,000 to buy him out of the family home and finish the marriage.

Assault

Lothian and his brother Murdoch were subject to an Inland Revenue investigation in 2000 after claiming the contents of their late mother’s Stirling home were worth a mere £5,000.

This included antique furniture, jewellery, silver, paintings and pottery.

It’s understood the Inland Revenue later valued the list at £300,000.

But Harriet still wishes justice had been done for the assault she endured in 1996. She said: “Successive governments on both sides of the border have claimed to wage war on domestic violence.

“There was an opportunity for the Scottish establishment to show there was substance behind the platitudes by taking action against a senior lawyer. But typically, they covered his back.” Now self-employed in horticulture, Harriet added: “I have to work extremely hard to make a living.

Andrew’s disgrace has not made life any easier, but I feel vindicated.”

Lothian served on the Glasgow bench from 1979 to 1992 before moving to Edinburgh. He’s expected to keep his £7,000-a-month pension.

He was unavailable to comment on the allegations.

Read more articles about the Judiciary of Scotland here : Judiciary of Scotland – Previous articles

 

 

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One Law for Lawyers: Under the guise of ‘Consumer Protection’ Law Society of Scotland propose new pro-lawyer legislation to maintain control over self regulation of solicitors

Law Society – new powers to look after lawyers. VESTED INTERESTS tend not to remain silent in an election year, and as the May 2016 Holyrood elections approach, the Law Society of Scotland has proposed the Scottish Parliament give the legal profession even more powers to enable lawyers to look after their own.

The Law Society pledges the new legislation – written by the Law Society, amended by the Law Society, and finally, approved for whatever scant debate at Holyrood the Law Society deigns necessary, will enable the Law Society to protect consumers and clients even more so than is currently humanly possible.

The Prospectus for Power – which the Law Society has submitted to Scottish Ministers, sets out the legal profession’s take on a “need for change” including proposals for;

* better regulation of legal firms (‘entity regulation’) in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to protect consumers,

* new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing,

* opening the Law Society’s membership in order to improve standards amongst other legal professionals,

* the ability for the Society to regulate legal work beyond the domestic Scottish jurisdiction in order to provide simpler regulation for cross-border firms,

* more flexible business models which allow legal firms to adapt to market changes.

Better regulation of legal firms – to protect consumers.

This coming just a few short months after Law Society staff were hurriedly arranging press conferences to combat questions over their seedy role in holding down a Crown Office investigation of certain activities carried out by solicitors involved in the Michelle Thomson property scandal – reported in further detail here: CRIME SOCIETY: Law Society of Scotland ‘unfit for purpose’ as calls grow for Scots solicitors to be stripped of self regulation powers used by lawyers to investigate themselves

Little more has been said of the Crown Office inept handling of the information allegedly passed to it by the Law Society – however, the silence may not be a total surprise, given Scotland’s Crown Office was recently revealed to hold a criminal tendency all of it’s own: CROWN CROOKED: Crown Office crime files reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors & staff charged with Drugs crimes, Police assault, threats & perverting the course of justice

However, we must remember the demands proposals from the Law Society of Scotland should not be taken lightly.

As any experienced Parliament watcher will admit – the Law Society of Scotland have a history of getting what the profession wants at the Scottish Parliament.

Take for instance, the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, and the lengthy, at times bitter debate during 2006 – which saw John Swinney call out the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Indemnity Insurance arrangements and the Society’s interference in client compensation claims as dishonest and then some.

The Law Society’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill did not take kindly to the cross examination, and proposals before MSPs to create an independent regulator – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

At one point, Mill went so far as to say Holyrood should take a hike – and threated the Parliament with legal action if lawyers were to be robbed of their self given Human Right to look after their own. In the end, it was Douglas Mill who took a hike.

However, in all things legal, nothing is as it seems.

The ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – created as a result of the 2007 LPLA Act, became little more than a front for the Law Society of Scotland.

The regulator ended up costing clients around £3million a year – paid over and over again out of hikes to legal fees.

As independent regulators go, the SLCC is staffed by former Law Society employees, lawyers, lawyers families, friends, business associates, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

To crown it all, the Law Society took charge of the ‘independent’ SLCC by appointing one of their own former Directors – Neil Stevenson as the latest Chief Executive of the SLCC.

A truly malevolent definition of ‘independence’ – if ever there was one.

Since the LPLA Act took effect, countless law changes have taken place to allegedly improve the SLCC’s procedures on how it can better regulate the legal profession.

One such change landed Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to provide Scots legal regulators with similar ‘new powers’ to protect consumers.

Read more on the 2014 legislative effort to create enhanced powers for legal regulators, here: TOXIC LAW: MacAskill gives lawyers ‘right to complain about complaints’

Guess what.The new rules changed nothing. The SLCC is as inept at regulating lawyers in 2016, as it was in 2014 counting backwards to 2008 when the ‘independent’ regulator came into being.

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

Prospectus for Power – Law Society of Scotland.

Now, in 2016, the Law Society of Scotland claims another round of new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive

Publishing a detailed prospectus which it has presented to the Scottish Government on the need for change, the professional body for Scottish solicitors said the current legislative framework was increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose – about as unfit for purpose as self regulation can ever be.

Discussions have already taken place between the Law Society and the Scottish Government on the legal profession’s legislation wish list for new powers.

Christine McLintock – President of the Law Society of Scotland admitted: “We have had a number of very useful discussions with the Scottish Government and we are grateful to Ministers and officials for being so open to listening to our ideas. We have also worked hard to engage other bodies in the legal sector as well as consumer groups to ensure we work in partnership to deliver real change.

Ms McLintock added: “We obviously need to see the outcome of the Holyrood elections in May and the shape of the new Scottish Government.  Whatever the outcome, we will be pushing hard for reform to be an early priority in the new parliament.”

The Law Society’s campaign to give the legal profession new powers includes what the profession claims should be ‘Priorities for the Scottish Parliament’.

This campaign includes a call for Scotland’s political parties to commit to a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland which;

* Maintains the advantages of the current system, including the independence of the legal profession, a robust system of co-regulation involving strong professional bodies and an independent complaints handling organisation and discipline tribunal

* Provides a more agile system of consumer protection and addresses the rise of the unregulated legal services market

* Allows flexible regulation that reflects the rise of alternative business models, cross-border firms and internationalisation of the sector

* Enables the Law Society to respond to the changing needs of its members and to open up associate forms of membership to other legal professionals, including paralegals and legal executives

President of the Law Society, Christine McLintock added: “The legal services market is a great Scottish success story.  We contribute over £1 billion to the economy each year; account for over 20,000 highly skilled jobs and support many of the other sectors on which Scotland’s economy depends.  We have phenomenal legal talent, thanks to our world class universities and a rigorous programme of training and development to deliver high standards.

“Yet the legal services market is going through a dramatic period of change.  New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape the market.

“Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It is increasingly outdated for modern legal practice.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“There are important elements and principles which should be preserved.  The independence of the legal profession.  A single professional body for solicitors.  Independent complaints handling and discipline bodies.  These are important and should be protected.  However, there is a case for new, flexible and enabling legislation which helps the legal services market in Scotland to thrive, which continues to ensure standards remain high and which better protects consumers when things do go wrong.”

The Law Society of Scotland says it now plans to engage with political parties, consumer groups and others in the legal sector to build a consensus in favour of change with an aim of getting a new Bill introduced early in the new term of the Scottish Parliament.

However, in England & Wales, the public mood is for fully independent regulation of the legal profession, as was recently reported here: A QUESTION OF TRUST: Should solicitors be independently regulated? UK public say “Yes” – according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Remember to add your own voice when any such proposals eventually reach the Scottish Parliament.

 

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DECLARE IT, M’LORD: MSPs seek further evidence on proposals to create register of judges’ interests, Lord President to be invited to face Holyrood Committee after May 2016 elections

Lord Carloway to face questions on judicial register. A THREE YEAR Holyrood probe on proposals to require judges to register their interests is to be continued into the next Parliamentary session – with a call to invite Scotland’s latest top judge – Lord Carloway – to give evidence on plans to bring the judiciary into line with transparency rules which apply to all other branches of Government.

The decision to call in the Lord President – who is on record opposing proposals to require judges to declare their interests – came last week after MSPs sitting on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee heard further evidence and submissions on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Speaking in favour of continuing the petition, Petitions Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP (Scottish Labour, Uddingston and Bellshill) said: “We have written to the new Lord President, whose position is no different from that of the outgoing Lord President. However, we invited the outgoing Lord President to come to the committee to discuss the petition; does the committee want to extend the same invitation to the new Lord President, so that we can explore the issue?”

Mr McMahon continued: “There is still a live debate on the matter, and I would certainly be reluctant to close the petition without having exhausted the discussion and examined the issue—almost to destruction, I think. There are serious questions to ask.”

Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP (SNP, Edinburgh Eastern) asked for the petition to be placed in the Committee’s legacy paper for the next Petitions Committee – which will come into being after the elections to the Scottish Parliament  on 5 May 2016.

The former Justice Secretary – who is set to publish a book revealing more on his decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988 – also hoped the next Petitions Committee would consider the process of selecting a new judge for the US Supreme Court to fill the vacancy after the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr MacAskill said “It would also be up to the future committee to consider what will be on-going in the United States of America, where judicial declarations go to an extreme that we might not wish to emulate—I am thinking of the replacement of Justice Scalia.”

John Wilson MSP (Independent, Coatbridge North and Glenboig) agreed with moves to keep the petition open, and backed calls to contact the Lord President, and a University of Strathclyde Law Professor who has researched judicial interests.

Mr Wilson said: “The petitioner has suggested that the committee write to Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde, who has apparently done some independent academic research on the subject. It might be as well writing to the Lord President and asking him to consider whether he would appear before the committee. That might also be something for the legacy paper. We should also suggest that the committee invites Professor Alan Paterson to give some independent academic scrutiny of what has been requested in the petition.”

Mr Wilson also revealed former Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali, had recently written to The Scotsman newspaper, urging the establishment of a register.

During an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Ms Ali backed the creation of a register of judicial interests – providing MSPs with a powerful first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson also backed plans to require judges to declare their interests, during an evidence  session of the Public Petitions Committee held in June 2015.

The cross party supported proposals – debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, 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.

Video footage & transcript of Public Petitions Committee debate:

Petition PE1458 Register of judicial interests Scottish Parliament 23rd February 2016

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458) 23 February 2016

The Convener: PE1458, which was brought by Peter Cherbi, is on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

We have written to the new Lord President, whose position is no different from that of the outgoing Lord President. However, we invited the outgoing Lord President to come to the committee to discuss the petition; does the committee want to extend the same invitation to the new Lord President, so that we can explore the issue? There is still a live debate on the matter, and I would certainly be reluctant to close the petition without having exhausted the discussion and examined the issue—almost to destruction, I think. There are serious questions to ask.

Kenny MacAskill (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP): There is clearly still debate about the matter. It was the Judicial Complaints Reviewer who initially indicated a change in tack, which was upheld.

Where we can take the matter and whether it should be this committee that pursues it, I am not sure. Lord Carloway, the new Lord President, has made his position quite clear. It seems to me that the question is whether anyone else wants to pick the issue up. We could ask the new Lord President the same questions that we asked of the former Lord President, but given that we have his response in writing, I do not know where that would take us.

The question is whether the Justice Committee or the Scottish Government wants to pursue the issue. My recollection is that it is about six months since we heard from the minister but there was no indication of any change in perspective.

The Convener: There are still issues to be debated and it would be useful to get the new Lord President’s views on the record. The question is whether we, as an out-going committee, extend that invitation or put it in our legacy paper so that the new committee can pick it up and run with it.

Kenny MacAskill: I would be inclined to leave it in the legacy paper on the basis that we have had a reasonably full letter from Lord Carloway. If we were to squeeze him in within the next fortnight, I am sceptical as to what we could get from him that we have not already had in writing.

John Wilson: The petitioner has suggested that the committee write to Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde, who has apparently done some independent academic research on the subject. It might be as well writing to the Lord President and asking him to consider whether he would appear before the committee. That might also be something for the legacy paper. We should also suggest that the committee invites Professor Alan Paterson to give some independent academic scrutiny of what has been requested in the petition.

I spent half an hour this morning trying to get the updated register of interests of judicial members of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. I am assured that it is on the site somewhere, but although I tried for half an hour this morning, it was impossible to find. The latest register of interests that I have comes from last year and so is not up-to-date enough to include Lord Carloway. I know that he registered no interests when he was Lord Justice Clerk.

We have been told that there are safeguards in place, but it would be useful to know how the general public get the information that they are looking for. If it is difficult to get the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service judicial service register, it raises other questions about where we are going and whether we are making it more difficult for people to find out judicial interests.

The former Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, has recently written to The Scotsman, urging the establishment of a register—just as she did when she gave evidence. The current Judicial Complaints Reviewer has also said that it would be helpful to have a register of judicial interests.

I would like to think that the future Public Petitions Committee could take the issue forward and invite Lord Carloway and others to come and give evidence, perhaps answering some of the questions that arise further down the road.

The Convener: The suggestion is that we put it in our legacy paper and write to Professor Paterson, as John Wilson suggested, so that his response would be available to the new committee, which could take it into consideration. Is everyone happy with that?

Members indicated agreement.

Kenny MacAskill: I am fine with that. It would also be up to the future committee to consider what will be on-going in the United States of America, where judicial declarations go to an extreme that we might not wish to emulate—I am thinking of the replacement of Justice Scalia.

The Convener:It is interesting to watch what is happening there and compare it.

Writing in the Scotsman newspaper, Moi Ali said :

“I hope that when the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee reconsiders a proposal to implement a register of interests for the judiciary next Tuesday, it does not accept the Lord President’s advice to throw out this petition.”

“When I was Scotland’s first independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer, I gave evidence to the committee in support of a register of interests. I am a ministerially-appointed board member in Scotland, where I am rightly required to complete a register of interests to provide assurance to the public that my dealings are above board. For the same reason, the judiciary should also complete such a register.”

“The judiciary can take away people’s assets, separate families, and lock people away in prison. Given this position of power, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity – but crucially, that they are seen to be beyond reproach.”

“A register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case – financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any ­other way.”

“Conversely, the refusal to keep a register of interests creates public suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. Thus, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

JUDICIAL BLOCK: Transparency on judicial interests not welcome in my court – Lord Carloway.

Last month, Diary of Injustice reported on written evidence provided by Lord Carloway to the Public Petitions Committee on plans to require judges to declare their interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The move by Scotland’s latest Lord President to undermine the Scottish Parliament’s efforts to increase judicial transparency follows a bitter three year campaign against the petition – led by Carloway’s former boss – Lord Brian Gill – which culminated in an ‘aggressive’ evidence session with the former top judge at Holyrood in November 2015.

Responding to Lord Carloway’s letter, the petitioner told the Committee: “Lord Carloway presents the same view of his predecessor Lord Gill in that a register of interests for the judiciary is unnecessary or undesirable. Similarly, as Lord Gill has already inferred, Lord Carloway speaks of constitutional problems if the judges are asked to declare their interests.”

“In reality, there are no constitutional issues created by this petition, nor is there an impediment to the creation of a register of judicial interests. Such a register already exists for the Scottish Court Service and Tribunals Board, of which Lord Carloway and others declare their interests.”

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, 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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EVIDENCE, M’LORD: Scotland’s next top judge to be asked to give evidence in Scottish Parliament’s probe on secretive world of undeclared judicial wealth, interests & judges’ links to big business

Former Justice Secretary calls for top judge to appear at Holyrood. SCOTLAND’S as yet unnamed new top judge who will take on the role of Lord President & Lord Justice General – is to be called to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s three year probe on creating a register of interests for judges as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The call to hear from the new top judge was made by former Justice Secretary and Petitions Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP during a brief discussion of  Petition PE1458 at last week’s meeting of the Public Petitions Committee on 1 December 2015.

Calling on whoever is named to be Scotland’s new top judge, Kenny MacAskill said: “We have heard from the previous Lord President and I think that we should hear from the new Lord President, whoever he is likely to be—I do not think that there is a “she” on the shortlist. That appointment is likely to be made in the next week or so, so there is still time for him to appear before us.”

The petition calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, 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 proposal to require judges to declare their interests enjoys cross party support, and was widely backed by MSPs during a full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on 9 October 2014 – reported in full with video footage of MSPs and Scottish Ministers speaking during the Holyrood debate, here: Debating the Judges.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Judges Public Petitions Committee 1 December 2015

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener: Our next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on the creation of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note on the committee’s previous consideration of the petition and the submissions from the petitioner.

Do members have any comments?

Kenny MacAskill: We have heard from the previous Lord President and I think that we should hear from the new Lord President, whoever he is likely to be—I do not think that there is a “she” on the shortlist. That appointment is likely to be made in the next week or so, so there is still time for him to appear before us.

The Convener: In that case, we will write to the new Lord President, as we said that we would.

Decision: The Committee agreed to write to the new Lord President once appointed.

During an earlier evidence session held on 10 November 2015, MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee heard from former Lord President, Lord Brian Gill (73) – who suddenly retired in May 2015 – after serving three years as Lord President & Lord Justice General – one of the shortest terms of a Lord President in recent history.

Lord Gill vehemently opposes any call for judicial transparency and calls to require judges to disclose their interests, and twice refused invitations to appear before MSPs to give evidence on the probe into judicial interests.

Gill spent two of his three years as Lord President writing a series of eight angry letters to the Public Petitions Committee, calling on MSPs to exit the petition and any discussion of judicial transparency – reported in detail here: Top judge branded media & public aggressive in attempt to avoid interests register & judicial transparency

The stormy evidence session with Lord Gill, reported here: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests saw ex top judge Brian Gill hound MSPs on three occasions with demands to close the petition.

Video footage of Lord Gill’s terse 50 minutes evidence to MSPs is available here: Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015.

Highlights of the former top judge’s vested interests must remain secret approach include:

In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill,  Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.

And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.

Facing further questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of Lord Gill’s former Private Secretary Roddy Flinn, the top judge angrily denied Mr Flinn was present as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so. The top judge barked: “The agenda is wrong”.

And, in a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.

The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.

Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.

Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.

Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.

In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here. However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali gave backing to the the judicial transparency proposal during a must watch evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013.

Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also backed the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests including reports from the media, 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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PURGE LAW: ‘Reform minded’ Legal complaints chief ousted for Law Society insider as solicitors regulatory body retakes control of ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Law Society’s Neil Stevenson retakes complaints quango for lawyers.THE LEGAL profession’s definition of ‘independence’ took a full turn yesterday as the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and the Law Society of Scotland announced long time Law Society insider Neil Stevenson is to be the SLCC’s latest Chief Executive, replacing former Foreign Office careerist Matthew Vickers who took on the role in June 2012.

Stevenson’s appointment to the tarnished position as head of the pro-lawyer anti-client SLCC – created in 2008 and at a staggering cost since to Scots clients of over £20 million in complaints levies paid by solicitors and recovered via legal fees to clients – comes after widely reported evidence showing the SLCC has failed to live up to expectations of dealing with rising numbers of rogue solicitors who rip off their clients.

And, the Law Society’s decision to retake control of the ‘independent’ SLCC by placing one of their own in charge also comes after a challenging year for self regulation of the legal profession – left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” –  which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own and legal aid fraud.

For the past fifteen months since the BBC programme aired in January 2014,  the Law Society have demanded significant changes at the SLCC after concluding the hapless complaints quango – staffed mostly by former Law Society insiders – failed to stand up for lawyers during the BBC Scotland investigation.

And, earlier this year, further friction between the two legal regulators emerged when the SLCC criticised a rigged poll organised and funded by the Law Society which claimed solicitors are ‘well liked’.

Articles on the client satisfaction poll – published in some media outlets were written by the Law Society’s own president Alistair Morris in which the Law Society President extolled the virtues of lawyers, backed up with dodgy statistics.

However the full extent of how the poll had been rigged –  featured in an investigation by DOI reported here: OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help

Another twist to the friction between the SLCC & Law Society emerged after it was revealed a series of communications between the SLCC and law reformers brought about a tipping point forcing Law Society bosses to act.

The communications – which fell into the hands of the Law Society – ‘in real time’ – appear to have helped the decision to force out the then SLCC CEO – Matt Vickers – who stood down out of the blue earlier this year to pursue a career at Ombudsman Services, reported here: GONE MEDIATIN’: Pro-lawyer legal regulator loses another CEO as Matthew Vickers leaves Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for Ombudsman Services role

The replacement of an outsider with a Law Society insider as head of the SLCC have led to further suggestions the anti-consumer quango can do nothing without a say so from the Law Society.

In an announcement the SLCC said yesterday: The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the independent body for complaints against solicitors, advocates and other legal practitioners in Scotland, has announced the appointment of Neil Stevenson as its new Chief Executive Officer.

Neil Stevenson has been with the Law Society of Scotland since 2004.  He is currently the Society’s Director of Representation and Professional Support.  He will be joining the Commission in mid-July.

As the new CEO Neil’s priorities will be to drive the full implementation of the SLCC’s strategy – to provide an excellent complaint resolution service for legal complaints in Scotland, to provide guidance on service standards to the profession and consumers and to raise the confidence in the legal profession in Scotland.

Bill Brackenridge, Chair of the SLCC welcomed the appointment. He said : “I am delighted to welcome such an accomplished professional to the Commission; he will inspire our staff to deliver their challenging role and move the Commission to a higher level.

Neil Stevenson, the new CEO said “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Law Society and am grateful to have all the opportunities and challenges afforded to me.  I am looking forward to joining the SLCC and working with the staff to deliver some very challenging objectives.”

The Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack commented: “I am delighted for Neil and congratulate him on his appointment. As someone who understands the legal profession and with his passion, good judgment and positive attitude, I know Neil is going to make an outstanding contribution as SLCC chief executive.”

Jack continued: “Whilst I am sorry to lose Neil from the Law Society, we will benefit from his hard work for many years to come. In his time as director of representation, he has helped to transform the range of services and support we offer the profession. He has championed our innovative new Smartcard project, ensured we remain a leader on equality and diversity, and has helped develop our new long term strategy. All of us at the Law Society are grateful for everything he has done.

“I am now looking forward to working with Neil in his new role. The relationship between the Law Society and the SLCC has improved greatly over the last few years. Given the specific roles we play in the regulation of solicitors, this has been important, particularly for the public who depend on both of our organisations to work together to protect their interests.”

The current biography of Neil Stevenson on the Law Society of Scotland’s website says: “Neil joined the education team of the Society in 2004, having previously worked on medical and dental training for NHS Education for Scotland. He holds an Edinburgh law degree and a masters in management, and has previous experience in the oil and gas sector and management research. Neil is responsible for the confidential helpline service provided by the solicitors in professional practice and for the provision of CPD to the profession through Update. The professional support team focuses on ensuring the Society listens to and learns from its members, campaigns on their behalf, and provides support services to individuals and firms. He is a director of both the independent charity LawCare and the Scottish Arbitration Centre.”

Stevenson’s directorship of “Law Care” – a charity set up by the legal profession to help and defend solicitors who have been found out for ripping off their clients – will be of interest to clients who end up in the unenviable position of having to approach the SLCC to make a complaint about their solicitor. The charity has filed numerous reports with the pro-lawyer SLCC & Law Society Complaints Committees – pleading for corrupt solicitors to be let off the hook on everything from embezzlement to faking up paperwork.

Stevenson’s directorship of the Scottish Arbitration Centre may also put him in conflict of interest with SLCC policy of forcing complainants into the murky world of arbitration – where clients who are ripped off for large sums of cash by their solicitor end up with only a pittance in return. The Scottish Arbitration Centre – started by the Scottish Government and backed by lawyers, is a sponge for taxpayers cash and international trips by lawyers & former judges who are trying to promote Scotland’s tarnished legal sector as a haven for international mediation.

REVOLVING DOOR OF LEGAL REGULATOR CHIEF EXECUTIVES:

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy since the legal quango was created in 2008. Now, eight years on and five Chief Executives later, the SLCC is looking for another boss to steer it through troubled waters and continuing accusations of pro-lawyer bias.

mkmc slcc openingMacAskill as Justice Secretary backed secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. The SLCC’s first ‘appointed’ Chief Executive – Eileen Masterman – held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and resigned from her role at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Eileen Masterman then returned to work for her former employer – the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) as a “complaints reviewer”, and was accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of a baby at the NHS Forth Valley Hospital – reported by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive – civil servant Richard Smith – resigned from the role after disagreements about how the SLCC would act as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman was eventually appointed as the first ‘official’ CEO.

Concluding a turbulent few months which saw exchanges of letters between current Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Masterman over claims and counter-claims about the Master Policy – reported here: SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh’ Masterman stood down from the SLCC – which by that time had suffered significant reputational damage.

After a speedy recruitment round, Rosemary Agnew then became the SLCC’s fourth Chief Executive, reported here: The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role. However Ms Agnew later resigned to take up the post of Scottish Information Commissioner in early 2012.

The SLCC’s current and now outgoing CEO Matthew Vickers took on the role in June 2012, reported here: “Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

 

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GONE MEDIATIN’: Pro-lawyer legal regulator loses another CEO as Matthew Vickers leaves Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for Ombudsman Services role

Matthew Vickers, CEO of law regulator resigns for mediation post. TROUBLED regulator of solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has announced the resignation of yet another Chief Executive – Matthew Vickers – who steps down in March 2015 for a post in the world of big business mediation.

Mr Vickers, who took on the CEO role at the SLCC during summer of 2012 after the ‘independent’ regulator had lost several bosses over a four year span – is leaving to take up the post of Deputy Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services – a not-for-profit organisation which provides independent dispute resolution for the communication, energy and property sectors.

Commenting on the resignation SLCC chair, Bill Brackenridge said: “We are grateful to Matt for his leadership and contribution since he joined the SLCC as CEO in June 2012. He and the management and staff have worked hard to make the SLCC a more efficient, effective and influential organisation. We are now well established as an independent and impartial body. Of course, we recognise that there is a great deal of work to be done and we have started our search to find a CEO who will help us to tackle it.”

The overly pro-lawyer, anti-consumer SLCC – frequently accused of bias towards solicitors over poor handling client complaints has cost clients a staggering £18 million since it was created in 2008 with an extra £2million of taxpayers money handed over by the Scottish Government.

The cost of running the SLCC is  met by a complaints levy of around £300 a year, paid by solicitors who then go on to recover the levy through hikes in legal fees to clients.

In the eight years since the SLCC has existed, not one rogue solicitor or law firm has been named & shamed by the poorly constituted regulator – once touted as the key to cleaning up the poor and often corrupt reputation of legal services in Scotland.

Over the years, the regulator has been subject to numerous scandals, ranging from board members drunken jibes against victims of rogue lawyers, to accusations it failed to use powers to monitor damages claims made in the courts by financially ruined clients against the Law Society’s Master Insurance Policy.

A report commissioned by the SLCC on the Master Policy revealed clients were not getting a fair deal from the Law Society’s ‘crooked lawyer’ compensation scheme, and that clients had committed suicide after not being able to repair the damage to their lives caused by their solicitors. However nothing has been done by the SLCC on this matter since the report came out in 2009, reported here: Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

The SLCC’s latest annual report for 2013-2014 claimed the regulator had awarded a record £365K in compensation to clients who filed complaints about rogue Scots lawyers.

However an analysis of the figures revealed the SLCC only used its powers to nullify fees to clients on two occasions in the past year, raising questions as to why the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission continues to solicitors found guilty of providing poor legal services to demand fees from clients even after ruining their legal interests.

REVOLVING DOOR OF LEGAL REGULATOR CHIEFS:

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy since the legal quango was created in 2008. Now, eight years on and five Chief Executives later, the SLCC is looking for another boss to steer it through troubled waters and continuing accusations of pro-lawyer bias.

mkmc slcc openingMacAskill as Justice Secretary backed huge secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. The SLCC’s first ‘appointed’ Chief Executive – Eileen Masterman – held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and resigned from her role at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Eileen Masterman then returned to work for her former employer – the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) as a “complaints reviewer”, and was accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of a baby at the NHS Forth Valley Hospital – reported by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive – civil servant Richard Smith – resigned from the role after disagreements about how the SLCC would act as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman was eventually appointed as the first ‘official’ CEO.

Concluding a turbulent few months which saw exchanges of letters between current Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Masterman over claims and counter-claims about the Master Policy – reported here: SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh’ Masterman stood down from the SLCC – which by that time had suffered significant reputational damage.

After a speedy recruitment round, Rosemary Agnew then became the SLCC’s fourth Chief Executive, reported here: The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role. However Ms Agnew later resigned to take up the post of Scottish Information Commissioner in early 2012.

The SLCC’s current and now outgoing CEO Matthew Vickers took on the role in June 2012, reported here: “Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

 

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