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KEEN TO TALK: Advocate General with criminal conviction for firearms offence promotes ‘UK Legal Services are best’ campaign in Singapore – in effort to attract Asian customers to Brexit-hit UK legal market

Lord Keen of Elie in Singapore. A GOVERNMENT minister with a conviction for a firearms offence is currently in Singapore on a taxpayer funded bash – promoting a UK Legal Services are great campaign in the hope of attracting Asian customers to the UK’s dwindling legal services sector and courts.

Lord Keen – real name Richard Sanderson Keen – who joined the Lords on 8 June 2015 and was appointed Advocate General for Scotland – has flown to Singapore to promote the UK legal industry in a social media & twitter #LegalServicesAreGREAT campaign to promote the UK as a hub of legal excellence.

However, the same Lord Keen was convicted of a firearms related offence in March 2017.

The campaign, hosted at the UK High Commission and other venues in Singapore – brings together lobby groups such as the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Scotland, a host of legal firms, and so-called ‘independent’ legal regulators – the Legal Ombudsman, Bar Council and others.

Asian customers attending the Singapore conference are invited to “Discover what makes UK legal services great – The UK’s legal system has inspired and influenced similar legal systems worldwide. Every year, we attract many international businesses who want to take advantage of the UK’s globally respected legal services.”

Attendees to the conference have listened to Lord Keen promoting UK legal services and the so-called world respected UK legal profession & industry.

However, in March 2017, Lord Keen – who also once held the post of Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – was fined £1,000 after admitting a firearms offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Earlier this year, Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen QC pleaded guilty – by letter – to breaching section two of the Firearms Act 1968 by ‘failing to secure a shotgun’.

Police investigating a ‘break-in’ at one of Mr Keen’s properties – a house in Edinburgh – found that the weapon had been left outside a secure cabinet.

The weapon, a Stephen Grant 12 Gauge shotgun – was outside its required storage area and was in a position to have been made use of, should the need have arisen – observed one firearms expert.

The incident & related court hearings,-  which sources claim contained “incredulous assertions” prompted a media investigation revealing the extent of firearms ownership by top lawyers & judges, reported here:  SILENCERS IN COURT: ‘Guns & Ammo’ rife in Scotland’s legal elite – Police Scotland disclose firearms ownership of judges, sheriffs, lawyers, advocates, QCs & Crown Office prosecutors

The new Legal Services Are Great campaign, staged by the UK Government and funded by taxpayers cash – in which Lord Keen plays a role – comes amid fears Brexit could turn to Lexit – where legal firms & litigants may chose to conduct arbitration & court business in other jurisdictions.

A post by the Ministry of Justice on Medium.com titled “Why UK legal services are GREAT”  claims: The UK is home to the best legal services in the world. That is the message of our new global campaign to promote the UK’s legal services.
With over 200 international law firms, the UK is a global hub of legal expertise

From nearly four decades in the legal profession and as a UK Government minister and Advocate General for Scotland, I have seen first-hand the exceptional talent and expertise within our legal services sector across the whole of the UK.

In a global and competitive marketplace, we know what international clients want when they’re looking for legal services.

Clients want to choose a law to govern their contracts that gives them the flexibility, confidence and certainty they need. They want legal firms that have a track record in and reputation for providing expert advice. They want judges that are not only experts but also incorruptible and fair when it comes to settling disputes. They want courts that are expeditious and that harness the latest technology. These qualities are all woven into the fabric of the UK’s legal services.

The Ministry of Justice campaign goes onto claim:

Experienced judges: Our judges are renowned for their independence, rigour and commercial expertise in all aspects of the law. As a result, UK court judgments carry a guarantee of excellence which is respected internationally.

Professional expertise: The UK’s regulated barristers and solicitors represent clients worldwide. From helping you close cross-border business deals and manage financial transactions to resolving international disputes, our lawyers have the global expertise to help you build your business.

Robust contract law: English law is the most popular choice of law for commercial contracts. Valued for its clarity, it’s the world’s most enduring common law system and can provide certainty and security for your business deals.

UK: the cradle of the rule of law: The UK is the cradle of the rule of law. The roots of English law are deep; its adoption and influence is wide. It is the product of hundreds of years of evolution — of gradual refinement, development and extension, precedent after precedent.

As a result, English common law is clear, predictable and familiar. It underpins over a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions. It is the most popular choice of law in the world for commercial contracts and governs about 40% of all global corporate arbitrations.

UK: home to great law firms, expert judges and modern courts: But it is not just the pedigree of English law that makes the UK attractive. Our law firms, our judges and our courts that administer, interpret and arbitrate on the law are world-renowned.

Take UK law firms. With four of the top ten law firms in the world and with over 16,000 barristers, the UK has a wealth of talent and top legal expertise and advocacy.

Take UK Judges. They are respected internationally for their intellect, independence and commercial expertise, with many having specialist knowledge and practical understanding of commercial matters they are judging.

Take the UK’s judicial processes and courts. They do not just have hundreds of years of history behind them, they are among the best in the world in terms of being digitally-enabled.

The UK’s legal heritage, together with its expertise and innovation, makes it a popular choice for clients around the world. London brings access to the world’s biggest specialist legal centre for dispute resolution and commercial litigation.

However, the carefully worded claims make no mention of the fact parts of the UK judiciary has been engaged in a five year fight against proposals to require the judiciary to declare their vast wealth, and business interests – which have resulted in countless conflicts of interest in case after case.

And, more recently it has been uncovered the Ministry of Justice has been concealing statistics on judicial recusals in England & Wales – despite the same information being published in Scotland as paret of the Register of Judicial Recusals – now made available after the work of journalists, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

The battle between members of the Judiciary of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament over a petition calling on judges to declare their interests has sparked ire among judges, amid concerns the judiciary are deliberately concealing significant conflicts of interest which has led to injustice across the spectrum of criminal, and civil cases in Scotland’s courts.

The Register of Recusals was created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee’s deliberations on 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.

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.

Of further note – all of the claims currently published by the Ministry of Justice in the #LegalServicesAreGREAT campaign – have been challenged by two successive Lord Justice Generals – the ranking top judge in Scotland –  where both Lord Presidents Lord Gill, and recently Lord Carloway – branding Scotland’s justice system as stuck in the “Victorian” era, and centuries behind the rest of the world.

Further studies by the EU have ranked Scotland’s justice system as one of the slowest, and most expensive in the world – with the most highly paid judges delivering the poorest results on civil and criminal justice – reported here: Scots Legal Aid ‘a £161Million public subsidy for legal profession’ as EU report reveals judges salaries & lawyers legal aid claims come before public’s access to justice

While keen to promote legal services to the world, the Ministry of Justice could not offer any further comment on the campaign or answer questions on how much public cash was allocated to the project.

The Ministry of Justice have refused to confirm claims attendees first, & business class flights & travel to the Singapore conference, hotel stays & hospitality have been paid by taxpayers.

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LEGAL REGULATION PROBE: Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee seek views on replacing Scotland’s ‘lawyer-lawyer’ regulation – with ‘UK style’ fully independent regulation of solicitors & legal services

MSPs seek views on reform of legal regulation. TEN YEARS after the contentious passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – which saw the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) as the lawyer-lawyer led regulator of legal services – MSPs are to seek views on creating a fully independent non-lawyer regulator of Scots legal services.

Two petitions calling for a complete reform of legal services regulation in Scotland have been debated by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

MSPs have now decided to call for views on bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK – where a much greater independent level of legal regulation exists compared to the current Law Society of Scotland & SLCC pro-lawyer regulation model.

Petition 1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

Petition 1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Ombudsman, Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

The move by MSPs comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

However, the Scottish Government ‘review’ – will not report back until the end of 2018 and with non binding recommendations – and has come in for significant criticism after it was found there was only one consumer related interest among the legal related membership.

When the review was announced earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil said the review remit should also include judges.

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

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

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

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

After members discussed the two petitions, the Petitions Committee agreed to join these petitions together for future consideration on the basis that they raise similar issues.

The Committee also agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

The Convener: The next two new petitions are PE1660 by Bill Tait and PE1661 by Melanie Collins, both of which raise similar issues in relation to the current system for complaints about legal services in Scotland. Members have a copy of the petitions and the respective SPICe briefings.

PE1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. PE1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Ombudsman, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, all of which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action on the petition?

Michelle Ballantyne: First of all, I note that there is a review under way. However, although it was launched in April, it is not due to report until the end of next year, which seems an awfully long time.

I am concerned about a turkeys voting for Christmas arrangement with regard to oversight of this matter. There needs to be some clear water between lawyers and those who review them, and this feels a bit close for comfort. We should check where the review is going and what it is looking at, because if it has been launched, the question is whether we need to be doing something parallel alongside it.

Angus MacDonald: Both petitions are extremely timely. Bill Tait and Melanie Collins have highlighted serious issues with regard to the legal profession and the way in which the SLCC operates in respect of complaints. I agree with Melanie Collins that there is a strong argument in favour of creating a new independent regulator of legal services, and I agree with Bill Tait’s call to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

In recent years, we have seen a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland over the operation of the complaints system. I am sure that I was not the only MSP to receive representations from the Law Society earlier this year, stating frustration and disappointment at the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. It also stated that the complaints system was slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the right time to look at this issue.

As Michelle Ballantyne has mentioned, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that the current process for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor is too slow and complex, so I was certainly pleased to see the Scottish Government launch its independent review of the regulation. However, I take on board Michelle Ballantyne’s point about the review not being due to report back until the end of 2018; the period seems quite lengthy, but clearly, we can contact the Government for clarification. Given the similarity of the two petitions, there is a strong argument for joining them together to help move them forward.

The Convener: First of all, does the committee agree to join the petitions together? It seems to me that they deal with the same issues.

Members indicated agreement.

Brian Whittle: Am I correct in thinking that the Law Society called for a change and was rebuffed?

Angus MacDonald: I am not entirely sure—it certainly was not happy.

Rona Mackay: It was about the levy. It was not happy with some of the SLCC’s operation, but, as far as I am aware, it has not formally called for a change.

Brian Whittle: I thought that it was investigating this very point and was rebuffed. I might be wrong.

The Convener: It would be worth getting it clear in our own heads where all of this stands. We can obviously ask for that information.

The suggestion is that we write to the Scottish Government about the review’s timescale and remit, and I think that we should write to the relevant stakeholder bodies to ask about what issues they have. It does not feel that long since the legislation was passed, so it would be a natural time to look at and reflect on whether it has been effective and what the alternatives might be. My sense is that, when the legislation went through Parliament, we wrestled with the options—it did not go through without debate. Perhaps we should look at whether this is a bedding-in issue or an actual structural problem and whether, as the petitioner suggests, the issue needs to be revisited and a different kind of regulatory body put in place.

I think that we have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Citizens Advice Scotland was mentioned, as was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Are there any others?

Angus MacDonald: Would it be worth contacting the Judicial Complaints Reviewer? Although it deals with judicial complaints, as per the title, it would be good to get its view, if it has one. Of course, it is not compelled to reply.

The Convener: Do we agree to deal with both petitions in that way?

Members indicated agreement.

HOLYROOD BRIEFING: MSPs hear of differences between Scotland & UK on regulation of legal services:

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

4. The SLCC was set up by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the Act) to deal with complaints against legal practitioners (primarily solicitors or advocates) in Scotland.

5. It is an independent body whose Board is appointed by the Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session. It is supported by a management team and staff who carry out investigations.

6. The SLCC is funded by a levy paid by legal practitioners and is required to consult with the relevant professional bodies when setting its annual budget. A copy of the finalised budget has to be laid before the Scottish Parliament no later than 30 April in each year (the budget is not, however, subject to parliamentary approval).

7. The SLCC acts as the initial gateway for complaints. Unresolved complaints have to be made to it in the first instance. Complaints made directly to a professional body (e.g. the Law Society of Scotland (Law Society) or Faculty of Advocates (Faculty)) have to be forwarded by these bodies to the SLCC.

8. Once the SLCC has received a complaint, it assesses whether it is a:

1. Service complaint – i.e. related to the quality of work; or a

2. Conduct complaint –i.e. related to a legal practitioner’s fitness to carry out work and behaviour outside of business.

7. Cases often involve issues of both service and conduct, with the result that both the SLCC and professional bodies can investigate different aspects of the same complaint.

8. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns inadequate professional service, the SLCC investigates following procedures laid down in its rules and the Act. The SLCC can ultimately:

• Award the complainer up to £20,000 for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service.

• Require the relevant legal practices/practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense.

• Report the matter to the relevant professional body if the practitioner shows a lack of legal competence.

9. Decisions of the SLCC can be appealed to the Court of Session.

10. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns the conduct of a legal practitioner, the SLCC passes it on to the relevant professional body to investigate. The SLCC is not permitted to investigate conduct complaints, but it can investigate the way these have been handled by the relevant professional organisation (known as a handling complaint).

11. The Law Society is able to impose sanctions on solicitors whose conduct has been “unsatisfactory” and can prosecute solicitors before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) where behaviour amounts to professional misconduct. The maximum compensation payable to a complainer is £5,000. In the most serious cases the SSDT can suspend a solicitor’s practising certificate or strike them from the roll of solicitors.

12. The Faculty deals with conduct complaints through a Complaints Committee comprising an equal number of advocates and lay members. Its decisions can be appealed to the Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal – chaired by a retired senior judge and whose members include advocates and lay persons. In September 2016 the SLCC published a report which audited the operation of the Facultys investigation and disciplinary processes.

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

• The SLCC’s overview of the process for dealing with service and conduct complaints.

The Law Societys overview of how it deals with conduct complaints,

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

14. In recent years there has been a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society over the operation of the complaints system. For example, in December 2016, the Law Society announced that it had commenced legal action against the SLCC over the way in which it categorises complaints as service complaints or conduct complaints. In addition, in April 2017 the Law Society noted in a press release that it was “frustrated and disappointed” about the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. The press release also referred to the complaints system as being, “slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive.”

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

15. In England & Wales complaints about poor service against legal practitioners are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman. Issues of professional misconduct are referred to the relevant “approved regulator” – i.e. the Bar Standards Authority (for barristers) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (for solicitors), who can take disciplinary action. For details see the House of Commons Librarys briefing on complaints against solicitors and other lawyers.

Scottish Parliament Action

16. In session 4, the SLCC submitted a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in which it argued that a review of the complaints procedure was needed. In response, the Justice Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and received a response dated 31 October 2012 indicating that the SLCC and Law Society were, “developing a consensual approach to reach an agreement on the key improvements required.” Regulations amending the powers and duties of the SLCC were subsequently scrutinised by the Justice Committee, which recommended their approval by the Parliament (approval was granted on 13 August 2014).

17. The adequacy of the complaints system has also been raised in the current parliamentary session (see for example Motion S5M05079 lodged by Douglas Ross MSP on 6 April 2017).

The motion lodged by Douglas Ross, who is now an MP at Westminster read:

Motion S5M-05079: Douglas Ross, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/04/2017

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

That the Parliament recognises the concerns of solicitors and advocates following the announcement that the annual levy on legal practitioners to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is set to rise by 12.5%; understands that the SLCC has argued that recent increases in the number of complaints received against solicitors requires a commensurate increase in its budget; believes that some solicitors and advocates consider that these costs could be absorbed by the SLCC without a rise in the levy; understands that the Law Society of Scotland submitted a paper to the SLCC in response to the plans, but that its proposals were rejected and the increase was maintained; recognises the reported concerns among legal practitioners that the levy can be adjusted by any amount without a mechanism to effectively challenge it; acknowledges what it sees as the risk that the increase in the levy could be passed on to consumers, and calls on the SLCC to carefully consider the feedback that it has received from solicitors, advocates and the Law Society of Scotland.

Supported by: Dean Lockhart, Alexander Stewart, John Lamont, Alison Harris, Peter Chapman, Liz Smith, Gordon Lindhurst R, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron R, Liam Kerr R, Miles Briggs, Murdo Fraser R, Adam Tomkins, John Scott, Margaret Mitchell, Rachael Hamilton R, Jackson Carlaw, Annie Wells, Jeremy Balfour, Ross Thomson, Brian Whittle, Jamie Greene, Alexander Burnett, Bill Bowman, Maurice Golden

Scottish Government Action

18. On 25 April 2017, the Scottish Government announced the launch of an independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland including the complaints system. According to the Scottish Government, the review

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

19. The review is expected to report to Scottish Ministers by the end of 2018.

FLAWED LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW – How Scottish Government’s attempt at independent review of lawyers ended up back in the hands of … lawyers:

In April 2017, the Scottish Government announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review should include judiciary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

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

 

 

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GOOD LORD, GLITCHES: “Gremlins & Glitches” theme of Lord Carloway’s opening of new legal year – Court of Session misses out on promised digital reforms, top judge takes swipe on judicial appointments in Law Society speech

Lord Carloway opens legal year 17-18. SCOTLAND’S top judge has marked the opening of the new legal year with an admission of significant problems with the rollout of digital technology in Scotland’s creaking, Victorian era courts & justice system.

Lord President and Lord Justice General – Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – who presides over a £42milion a year 700 strong group of Sheriffs & Sheriffs Principal, Justices of the Peace and Court of Session judges who call themselves “Senators” – told his handpicked, closed door legal world audience that “Gremlins and glitches” had yet again slowed down major digital technology reforms.

Luckily for the creaking Court of Session and it’s judges – who are known to despise transparency and openly snear, perhaps even smite media intrusions into their haphazard and often calamitously costly hearings to litigants – Lord Carloway added integrated digital reforms were still some way off from impinging on salivating legal teams fees, which can in some cases have resulted in tens of thousands of pounds for what passes as a day’s ‘work’.

Carloway, spoke to an audience which included Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales  and Lady Thomas, along with Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan, Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland – and the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Baroness Hale and her husband, Dr Julian Farrand.

Lord Carloway told his audience: “As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.”

However, earlier this year, in late February of this year, The Times reportedLord Carloway –  “Scotland’s most senior judge has claimed that the Scots legal system is stuck in the 19th century and needs to be modernised to provide better justice.

Lord Carloway, the lord president of the Court of Session and lord justice general of the High Court, claimed that many rules and procedures appeared to be “preserved in aspic”.

Dear oh dear. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) received over £105million of public cash in the latest Scottish Government budget. If the courts cannot achieve a visit to PC World on £100million a year to equip the ageing Court of Session justiciary with an integrated computer framework, well, the public are not getting value for money.

Admittedly, over £11million of that figure is directed to the judiciary, in an effort to split the ever burgeoning judicial budget which hit £40.5million in 2016.

Alas, as in many public body accounts in Scotland – Cayman Islands style creative accounting  became the in-thing – where some Scottish Government Minister decided it would be good figure fiddling to split the judicial budget into two. That way, the financial accounts look like the judiciary took a £12million a year hit, yet in reality they now receive a near £12million bung via the main Courts budget.

And, yet, in yesterday’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 address to the usual closed shop audience, ever closed for fear of public criticism – amongst a speech of gremlins, glitches & the goonies, Lord Carloway reverts back to the myths of a ‘respectable’ and functioning justice system, which rests firmly in the day dreams of Scotland’s judicary, and annual profits of mostly Edinburgh based law firms and cash collectors – otherwise known as the Faculty of Advocates.

Lord Carloway’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 speech in full:

Welcome everyone to the opening of the legal year. First let me thank you all for coming. Can I first introduce our guests from our neighbouring jurisdictions:

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and President of the Courts of that jurisdiction and Lady Thomas;

Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan

Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland

and a welcome return to Edinburgh to the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Lady Hale and Dr Julian Farrand

I am also pleased to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and Paul Johnston, the Director General for Education, Communities and Justice.

It is also a pleasure to have with us Liam McCollum, Chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Paul McGarry, the Chair of the Bar of Ireland, Seamus Woulfe, the Attorney General of Ireland and David Barniville, also from the Bar of Ireland.

Without indulging in a lengthy essay on the current state of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals, I would like to say a few words about where we are now and where we are going next.

We have now seen the structural changes of the Courts Reform Act bedding in; with the advent of the Sheriff Appeal Court, the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injuries Court and the raising of the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court to £100,000. We have introduced important changes to the structure of Scotland’s tribunals, with the establishment of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the creation of distinct chambers for housing and property and for taxation.

As anticipated by the reforms, there has been a significant reduction in both appellate and first instance civil work in the Court of Session and in summary criminal appeals to the High Court. There has also been a predicted drop in the number of commercial cases. As a consequence of all of this, this court the Court of Session ought to become leaner, trimmer and fitter in the coming years.

There ought to be a significant reduction in waiting times for civil first instance and appellate hearings. This has already happened with appeals, which are generally being disposed of (including judgment) on average within 8 months of marking. Proofs of 4 days duration are fixed within 6 months of the request to do so. However, I fully recognise that further work requires to be carried out to accommodate longer proofs, within much shorter time-scales. I include in that equation the issue of the final opinion. This will be achieved partly as a consequence of the abolition of court terms in the coming year. This has already seen some of these proofs being allocated over what was formerly known as the Summer Vacation or Recess.

The policy of having at least 4 non-commercial judges in the Outer House over a period of at least three months will continue, or rather increase to five, so as to avoid any criticism that ordinary first instance business is being regarded as less of a priority than other work. Major inroads have been made in relation to providing all judges with sufficient writing time in civil cases. Statistically, there has been a substantial improvement in the time taken to issue judgments, even if there continue to be problems in specific cases.

The High Court is already processing solemn appeals as efficiently as is reasonably practicable with disposals occurring within 6 months of the grant of leave. It is anticipated that far fewer criminal appeal courts will be needed in the coming months. This will mean that we will be able to continue to run two civil Divisions each week if necessary. The post reform developments will result in much less reliance on retired or temporary judges and, in the sheriff courts, dependence upon fee paid and retired sheriffs. I remain very conscious of the fact that almost all High Court cases require an extension of time. However, I do not consider that this is caused by an inefficiency in the system. Rather, the introduction of enhanced disclosure, the need to search electronic databases and social media and advances in forensic science have made it all but impossible to comply with timescales set in a different era whilst at the same time accommodating the diaries of parties’ legal representatives. As a result of concerted efforts over the past year, all sheriff courts are now able to fix summary trial diets within the optimal 16 week timescale. In relation to domestic abuse cases that timescale is under 10 weeks. Reform in sheriff and jury practice ought to place the sheriff courts onto a similar efficient footing to the High Court.

As I said at this time last year, the focus must now change from structure to function. As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.

The enormously ambitious rules rewrite project, under the auspices of the Scottish Civil Justice Council, continues apace. Having produced its first report, the project now enters a second stage designed to develop a core narrative of draft civil rules applicable in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court. It has, to some, rather dull aspects, but the development of case management powers in relation to the conduct of proofs and other hearings will see an exciting change in the way things are done and the time which it takes to do them; provided, that is, that we continue to have a judiciary committed to improvement.

The next significant reform in solemn criminal procedure will be the expanded use of recorded evidence with vulnerable and child witnesses. This is already done, although not always consistently across the board. It is in summary criminal procedure that greater change is anticipated with fundamental proposals being made following upon the “New Model” paper produced earlier this year. The plan is to have all pre-trial procedures conducted by a digital case management process. More important will be the creation of a means to store, manage and share evidence digitally and securely. The idea that truth can be ascertained by using a combination of memory test, pressure and general inconvenience to witnesses will be replaced by a system which gives far greater precedence to images and statements recorded electronically at or about the time of the relevant incident and to the need to accommodate witnesses generally.

I would now wish to thank all of my judicial colleagues, especially the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, for their continued help and support. I am grateful to the administrative judges Lords Malcolm (formerly Lord Menzies), Turnbull, Boyd and Matthews, for all their assistance throughout the year. I also thank the SCTS chief executive, Eric McQueen, the new head of the Judicial Office, Tim Barraclough, our new Principal Clerk, Gillian Prentice, and all the court clerks and other staff working here in Parliament House, in the High Court Centres and throughout the country. Their commitment and hard work remain important an driving force in ensuring not only the continued existence of the justice system but also its progress. I have also very much appreciated the court’s continuing engagement with the Law Officers, all of whom are here today, in helping to develop policies and plans, both past and future, which make the system, as it is at present, fit for the 21st century.

Not least, I wish to thank the legal profession, especially those institutions represented here today, including the Faculty, the WS, SSC and Law Society, and also all those many counsel and solicitors who have participated so willingly, and for no reward, in the committees and working groups now beavering away in the background, for their dedication to the Scottish Legal System, for the effort which all have put in over the last year and in anticipation of the invaluable work which they will be carrying out in the coming year.

Lord Carloway, Lord President 25 September 2017

THE LORD PRESIDENT’S OTHER SPEECH:

The duties of a Lord President and his judges are far and wide.

International travel junkets akin to playing diplomat, or perhaps as unmasked by media attention – just charging up the taxpayer for ‘law conferences’ around the world in 5-Star hotels with golf courses, river tours and first class travel.

Or just a trip across Edinburgh to a law conference, the Lord President does not miss an opportunity to get his oar in give a speech, even if only to a shady bunch at the Law Society of Scotland annual conference – whose members are well practiced in dodging those murky Police Scotland & Crown Office hit-a-brick-wall probes into mortgage dealing, money laundering & bulk buying of properties on the cheap.

While the focus of Lord Carloway’s speech to the Law Society of Scotland audience, already fattened on over £1.3billion pounds of legal aid since the 2008 financial crash, and countless Scottish Government contracts of up to £20million a year and tens of millions more fleeced from public authorities & public bodies, the top judge took another swipe at those who may ‘interfere’ with a measure of transparency in the junta-like regime of Scotland’s courts & judiciary.

Lord Carloway breezed to his Law Society audience: “Under the ancien regime, before the advent of the Judicial Appointments Board, judges and sheriffs were recommended to the Queen for appointment by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the Lord Advocate and, in practice, the Lord President . It was perceived, by some, perhaps many, that judges were the product of cronyism or political patronage. It is true to say that every Lord Advocate in the century or so prior to 1970 was appointed to a superior court bench. Many nominated themselves as Lord President , Lord Justice Clerk  or became judges in the House of Lords .”

“That tradition was broken not so much with the appointment of Lord Wilson of Langside, who became Director of the old Scottish Courts Administration (now the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service) and then Sheriff Principal of Glasgow, but when Norman Wylie appointed George Emslie to be Lord President in 1972. Nevertheless, Lord Advocates  continued to be appointed as Lords Ordinary and, one way or another, often progressed rapidly to similar positions of high judicial office .”

“The appointment of judges generally was political in the sense of the selection being by government; a system which is common, albeit with different focus, in many western democracies. It is seen as an element in the balance of power. Its merits and demerits have recently been analysed by the new President of the UK Supreme Court, who has mooted re-involvement of politicians from both government and opposition in the appointment of the most important chairs in the English legal system.”

“No-one would pretend that every judicial appointment from that era was of a person with complete legal and personal skills equipping him (as all judges then were) for high judicial office or a sheriffdom. There were problems. What is clear, however, is that the person who was, in practice, recommending the appointment would be fully appraised of the candidate’s qualities and failings. The Lord Advocate would be well aware of his prospective appointee’s experience, ability and knowledge. Consultation with the Lord President ensured that there was substantial input on suitability from the person who would be responsible for the new judge’s future performance and behaviour.”

Judicial Appointments

“There has been much recent public discussion, both in Scotland and in neighbouring jurisdictions, about the challenges which exist in the recruitment of new members of the judiciary. It is imperative, if Scotland is to maintain a high quality judiciary, especially at Court of Session level, that those at the top of the profession in the litigation field are highly motivated to apply for judicial office. It is equally important that the selection process itself does not deter or subsequently reject those candidates best qualified to fulfil the role. The aim must be to secure the services of those whom the profession regard as the leaders in their field and who are seen as the most able of their generation.”

“The independence of the judiciary is a vital element in our system. It is maintained primarily by selecting persons who have acted as independent advocates or solicitors throughout their professional lives, who have prosecuted and defended, and who have acted on the one hand for government, insurance companies and global conglomerates and on the other for the private individual, legal aided or otherwise, who has allegedly been oppressed or who has a legal right requiring vindication.”

“What must not be lost sight of is the simple fact, which cannot be underestimated, that for the Scottish justice system to operate properly, it needs judges and sheriffs who are not just competent lawyers with reasonable or even good people skills. It needs, at the high end, the best lawyers of the generation to lead the way; to take over the chairs of the permanent Divisions and to provide their wings. In the sheriff courts, although the same quality of legal skill and experience may not be a necessity, the appointments must be of people whom the profession recognise as prominent within their ranks.”

“I very much welcome the willingness of the new Chair of the Judicial Appointments Board to engage in a discussion about how the selection process might be improved to ensure that we do persuade the leading lights of the profession to apply for judicial office, and that the very best are successful in their applications.”

The full speech is available here:  LP Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference Keynote Address 19September2017

Put it this way. If suddenly, the Government banned elections, any form of public vote was suspended, and instead politicians were selected in the way the Lord President extols as fit for judges who head a £2.5 billion pound per annum publicly funded justice system, it would be branded undemocratic, a system of jobs for the boys, and well, in all honesty – totalitarian.

The “Greater Good” – The phrase used by the Lord President in the opening paragraph of his speech to the Law Society conference – is served by Transparency, in increasing amounts, and taken several times daily by a judiciary, courts and justice system in dire need of reform.

 

 

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ROGUES GALLERY: Lawyer who spoke at Holyrood on behalf of Law Society – struck off for dishonesty, meanwhile concerns Police probe at bust law firm Ross Harper may hit Crown Office block on prosecuting colleagues in legal profession

Rogue lawyers & Police probes dog Scots legal industry. A LAWYER who gave evidence to MSPS on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland has been struck off – for serious dishonesty – after earlier findings of professional misconduct a year earlier.

Michael McSherry, who once gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice & Home Affairs Committee on Vulnerable and Intimidated witnesses – was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) after being found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to misrepresentation to two law firms on the purpose of funds being held, and failures to carry out proper money laundering checks.

The findings issued by the Discipline Tribunal also reveal a former solicitor, listed as ‘Ms B’ worked for McSherry.

The unnamed solicitor recently had her practising certificate removed by the Law Society of Scotland, yet she was easily able to find employment back in the legal services sector and began working with McSherry.

While the name of the solicitor is anonymised, the latest incident again reveals a trend where crooked lawyers who are turfed out of the profession land jobs as ‘consultants’ or ‘paralegals’ following them being stripped of their right to practice law.

McSherry was previously found guilty of professional misconduct in 2016 for failing to bank fees taken from clients, and his continuing to act on behalf of the client in his capacity as a solicitor when he was not the holder of a practising certificate, was not affiliated to any practising firm of solicitors and had no professional indemnity insurance cover. Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (21 January 2016)

The latest Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal findings on Michael McSherry, recently published – are here:
Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

The full document listing the SSDT findings on Michael McSherry is here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

Solicitor(s): Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow

Tribunal Date: 27/06/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Edinburgh 27 June 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland dated 11 April 2017 against Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct singly in respect of his misrepresentation to Mr D about the purpose for which funds were held (issue 1), the improper, incomplete and inaccurate recording in the client ledgers (issue 2), and his misrepresentations to Slater, Hogg and Howieson and TLT Solicitors (issues 6 and 7); and in cumulo in respect of his failure to carry out proper money laundering checks on Company 1 and Mr C (issues 3 and 5), his failure to investigate the source of funds from Mr D (issue 4), his poor record-keeping and accounting practices (issue 8), his failure to reconcile bank statements (issue 9) and his failure to undertake training in connection with his role as cashroom manager (issue 10);  Order that the name of the Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that this order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Respondent; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00; and Direct that publicity will be given to this decision and that this publicity should include the name of the Respondent but need not identify any other person.

And, it has also been reported in the media that a Police Scotland probe has been launched into the now bankrupt law firm – Ross Harper.

However, as observers to the ‘twilight zone’ world of Police investigations into lawyers will be well aware, most probes carried out by Police almost never result in a prosecution before the courts, as has previously been the case in relation to multiple cases involving fourteen law firms & millions of pounds of legal aid fraud – which resulted in not one case going to court, reported earlier here: FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

The Sunday Mail reports on the Police Scotland probe of bust law firm Ross Harper:

Cops launch cash probe into bust law firm Ross Harper and Co after partners struck off

The company had offices across Scotland before they were shut down in 2012 after operating for more than 50 years.

By Craig McDonald 06:00, 17 SEP 2017

A police investigation has been launched into the collapse of one of ­Scotland’s top law firms.

Ross Harper and Co, who had offices across Scotland, were shut down in 2012 after more than 50 years in practise.

It emerged that public cash claimed in Legal Aid fees was not paid to ­suppliers and experts hired by the Glasgow firm.

A lengthy probe by the Law Society of Scotland led to four partners being struck off and two more being censured.

We can reveal a dossier has now been passed to police, who have launched a criminal investigation.

The Mail understands the initial focus is on former ­senior partner Alan Miller, 38, who was struck from the roll of solicitors last month.

One expert witness hired by the firm welcomed the probe. Forensic psychologist Ian ­Stephen, who’s owed £5000 in fees, said: “I think it’s appropriate that police investigate.

“If anyone commits a crime, be it fraud or anything else, then you would expect police would make inquiries into it.

“If this happened in any other profession, the appropriate ­professional body would make inquiries and, if there was a criminal element to it, you would expect police to become involved.

“I don’t not see how the ­situation should be any different for solicitors.”

Stephen, a former senior medic at the State Hospital at Carstairs, said: “I felt badly let down by Ross Harper. You should be able to put your faith in a lawyer.

“I was always writing to them to ask why I was not being paid. I was shocked they were so ­blatant about it.”

Professor Hugh Pennington saw £4000 in fees go unpaid.

The bacteriolgoist said: “I was shocked to ­discover Ross Harper were ­withholding payments from me and others. There has been a betrayal of trust.”

Miller and Jim Price, also a senior partner, were struck off last month by the ­Scottish ­Solicitors ­Disciplinary Tribunal for professional misconduct.

Price was employed as general manager of Nottingham Forest in 2013 but left the football club within a year.

Two further partners, Paul McHolland and Joseph Mullen, were censured by the SSDT but are still able to practise.

The SSDT found Legal Aid cash lay in “a drawer”, the firm’s bank account, for up to two years.

The cash was used to help them ­balance their books after the 2008 financial crash.

Accounts also showed a cheque was cancelled and ­reissued three times before it reached its destination.

On at least two occasions, the same tactic was used to hold up payments of £300 to Pennington.

We told last month how legal watchdogs are facing more than £100,000 worth of claims from victims of the firm.

Any compensation would be paid from a Law Society client protection contingency fund.

Ross Harper had 12 offices in Scotland and were the country’s biggest earning Legal Aid firm, with 2006-07 earnings of £1.7million. They were founded in 1961 by ex-law professor Ross Harper.

A police spokeswoman said: “Inquiries are at an early stage.”

A Law Society of Scotland spokesman said: “Concerns were raised about the firm’s ­accounting record following one of our ­routine ­compliance inspections.

“This led to us going to the Court of Session to request the appointment of a judicial factor to the firm in April 2012 and, ­following investigation, we prosecuted all six former partners before the independent SSDT.

“We have a legal duty to report suspicious activity to the ­relevant authorities but cannot comment on whether reports have been made on specific cases.”

The SSDT decision on Ross Harper is here: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

The full document detailing the SSDT’s findings in relation to the Ross Harper law firm partners can be found here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

Solicitor(s): Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain

Tribunal Date: 08/05/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Perth 8 May 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the amended Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Find the First Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that (a) The First Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper and in particular during the period when he was the designated Cashroom Manager being 1 April 2010 to 5 April 2012, operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.

Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the First Respondent, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers.  Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011: (b) The First Respondent submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The First Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (d) The First Respondent in his specific capacity as Designated Cashroom Manager between 1 April 2010 and 5 April 2012 failed to supervise the cashroom staff and cashroom systems to keep proper accounting records and that in breach of Rule B6.13 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011 and Rule 12 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001; (g)The First Respondent failed to settle invoices rendered by professional expert witnesses timeously, and that despite having received reimbursement of these sums from third parties;

Find the Second Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that The Second Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011;  Find the Third Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that The Third Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of  a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; Find the Fourth Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that (a) The Fourth Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the Fourth Respondent as Joint Managing Partner, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers. 

The fees in these instances were deducted for the purposes of assisting the firm’s cashflow and financial position and to conceal the true level of the firm’s liabilities and overdraft. Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (b) The Fourth Respondent countersigned and submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The Fourth Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; 

Order that the name of the First Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the First Respondent; Censure the Second Respondent; Censure the Third Respondent; Order that the name of the Fourth Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Fourth Respondent; Find the Respondents jointly and severally liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00 restricted in the case of the Second Respondent to 20% and in the case of the Third Respondent to 10%; and Direct that named publicity be given to this decision, declaring that such publicity shall not contain the name of the clients or otherwise identify them as the publication of their personal data is likely to damage individuals’ interests.

Alistair Cockburn Vice Chairman

Second Interlocutor:

The Tribunal having made findings of professional misconduct in respect of matters complained of by Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia, appoints them if so advised to lodge statements of claim with the Clerk to the Tribunal at Unit 3.5, The Granary Business Centre, Coal Road, Cupar, Fife, within 21 days of the date of intimation hereof.

Alistair Cockburn,  Vice Chairman.

Compensation Interlocutor:

Glasgow,   21 August 2016.  The Tribunal having made a finding of professional misconduct against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonards, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock, and James Price formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark, and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Having allowed 21 days for the Secondary Complainers, Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow; and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia to lodge their claims for compensation;  Having received confirmation from Dr Peter Thornton that he does not wish to submit a claim for compensation and having received no correspondence from said Thomas Aulds, Ian Stephen, The PRG Partnership, Ewa Daly and David Bartolo within said 21 days; makes no further order and no further finding of expenses.

Alistair Cockburn, Vice Chairman

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Cases of repeat offender rogue lawyers rise at Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

 

 

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SILENCERS IN COURT: ‘Guns & Ammo’ rife in Scotland’s legal elite – Police Scotland disclose firearms ownership of judges, sheriffs, lawyers, advocates, QCs & Crown Office prosecutors

Scots legal elite firearms ownership revealed. AN INVESTIGATION into firearms ownership among Scotland’s legal fraternity – has revealed widespread firearms and weapons throughout the ranks of solicitors, advocates, prosecutors and the judiciary who run Scotland’s legal system and the courts.

And, it can be revealed – 295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors collectively own more guns in their private collections than even Police Officers – as information now released by Police Scotland reveals 1,079 firearms, shotguns & air weapons in the hands of the legal fraternity – compared to 1,043 firearms and shotguns owned by 327 Police Officers.

The investigation was triggered by a recent case involving firearms offences committed by the Solicitor General For Scotland – Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) who was convicted and find £1,000 for breaches of the Firearms Act 1968 after he pleaded guilty by letter to the charge at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 1 March 2017.

Keen, who once headed a failed legal challenge against the Scottish Government over legislation to speed up pay-outs to asbestos sufferers –  was charged after police investigating a break-in at his Edinburgh home found that a 12-bore shotgun had been ‘left outside a secure cabinet’ while Lord Keen and his wife ‘were away on holiday’.

Lord Keen’s conviction for firearms offences, and the widespread ownership of firearms – including handguns – by members of Scotland’s legal fraternity – has drawn interest in the use of guns by Scotland’s wealthy legal establishment – who are known to favour the hunting & shooting set lifestyle with participation at shooting events at home and abroad.

And these are no ordinary weapons owned by Scotland’s legal elite.

Shotguns popular with Scotland’s legal eagles – range from the relatively inexpensive to more costly ‘over & under’ & ‘side by side’ barrelled Browning, Beretta, matched pairs of expensive Purdeys and other expensive brands such as Holland & Holland, Army & Navy, and in the case of the Solicitor General for Scotland – a Stephen Grant 12 bore shotgun – which can sell for over £6,000.

Data seen by journalists also reveal ornate ‘Damascus’ etched barrelled weapons, expensive side-lock action shotguns, semi automatic weapons, and presentation piece quality shotguns, well out of reach of most shooting enthusiasts.

In relation to firearms, the legal establishment is similarly tooled up in numbers and quality of guns – ranging from handguns – and smaller .22 and .243 calibre rifles to high calibre firearms purposely designed for deer stalking.

Among the more lethal stocks of weapons owned by the legal fraternity are – according to firearms insiders – double ‘express’ (two barrelled) rifles – primarily designed for ‘taking down’ much larger beasts such as lions, rhino and even elephants.

And, the ownership of silencers for firearms among Scotland’s legal elite – is much more widespread than originally thought.

However, it can be revealed members of the legal fraternity own only 57 silencers for their ‘registered’ firearms – compared with a staggering 216 silencers owned by Police Officers –  disclosed in part one of the firearms investigation revealing Police gun ownership.

Information obtained during the investigation has now been clarified by Police Scotland, who disclosed some details in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Police Scotland has revealed 8 Sheriffs and 8 Judges hold a selection of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

Of the 8 certificates held by Sheriffs, 1 is for firearms, 5 are for shotguns and 2 are for air weapons are held by currently serving Sheriffs, totalling 2 firearms and 10 shotguns.

A further 8 senior ranking judges own a similar mixture of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

In relation to the eight certificate held by judges, 1 is for firearms, 3 are for shotguns, and 3 are for air weapons, totalling 2 firearms and 5 shotguns.

Curiously – while Police Scotland readily disclosed information in relation to members of the judiciary owning firearms – the Judiciary of Scotland said in response to an FOI request that no member of the judiciary has declared any ownership of firearms or shotguns to either the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) or the Judicial Office.

The Judicial Office also refused to answer questions on judges’ membership of any hunting or shooting clubs or associations, participation in hunting trips including deerstalking and other firearms related activities within the UK or overseas.

While the judiciary remained tight-lipped on their stack of firearms & shotguns, Police Scotland has also released details on the firearms ownership of Scotland’s legal profession, where paralegals, solicitors, barristers, advocates, QCs and even prosecutors own over a thousand firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

The SHOGUN firearms database used by Police Scotland revealed the following:

4 paralegal certificate holders – hold 3 shotgun certificates and 2 air weapons certificates, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

6 barrister certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 4 shotgun certificates and 2 Air weapons certificates – holding between them 9 firearms with a further 3 silencers (sound moderators) and a total of 23 shotguns.

8 QC certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 8 shotgun certificates and two air weapons certificates – holding 6 firearms along with 2 silencers, and a total of 31 shotguns.

18 Advocate certificate holders – hold 4 firearms certificates, 18 shotgun certificates and 7 air weapons certificates – holding 9 firearms along with 3 silencers, and a total of 26 shotguns.

40 lawyer certificate holders – hold 12 firearms certificates, 25 shotgun certificates and 18 air weapons certificates – holding 55 firearms with 18 silencers and a total of 96 shotguns.

199 solicitor certificate holders – hold 51 firearms certificates, 146 shotgun certificates and 60 air weapons certificates – holding 100 firearms with 31 silencers, and a total of 393 shotguns.

Two court officer certificate holders – hold one firearms certificate and one shotgun certificate. Only one single firearm held is listed in this category.

Police Scotland also disclosed two Crown Office prosecutors of Procurator Fiscal rank hold 2 shotgun certificates, holding three shotguns in total.

It was not possible for Police Scotland to disclose further details of COPFS employees firearms, shotgun or air weapons usage, however it is known COPFS employees ownership of, and involvement with firearms shotguns and other weapons does exist = and to a more significant level than quoted in the Police Scotland FOI response.

Police Scotland also disclosed firearms ownership among Scotland’s political classes at Holyrood.

3 MSP certificate holders – hold 3 firearms certificates, 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificates – holding 9 firearms with 3 silencers, and – Police Scotland claim – a total of 24 shotguns according to the FOI disclosure.

One Scottish Government Minister holds 1 shotgun certificate – and is in possession of 3 shotguns.

A further 3 “Members of Parliament” certificate holders – hold 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificate, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

And one “Parliamentarian” holds a single shotgun certificate, and is in possession of 8 shotguns.

Police Scotland said it could not provide details of Scottish Government employees due to deficiencies in the SHOGUN database which allows some firearms owners to dodge having their ownership of weapons included in national statistics.

Police Scotland said “SHOGUN does not hold the individual employer details related to an individual certificate holder. The application form 201 requires a work address and contact but work address details are not searchable on the SHOGUN system. Searching occupations which include the word ‘government’ includes local government employees, government inspectors, government officers and investigators. The parameters of the search therefore cannot provide the details required.”

While the figures released by Police Scotland pertain only to numbers of weapons – rather than types and their potency by way of calibre – enquiries by journalists have since established Scotland’s legal elite enjoy generous permissions to hold, and purchase – significant quantities of ammunition for firearms and shotguns – with figures of thousands of rounds kept by certain members of the legal fraternity being commonplace.

Commenting on the information released by Police Scotland, a firearms specialist who did not wish to be named said that while some of the certificate holders may be members of gun clubs and ‘shoot at paper targets’ , it was his understanding most of the weapons held by persons he knew to be members of the legal fraternity – are used for hunting purposes.

There are also claims the figures of firearms and gun ownership among Scotland’s legal establishment may be much higher than stated in the Police Scotland Freedom of Information disclosure – as various weapons such as antique powder propellant type pistols, muskets and rifles are among items thought to be owned by lawyers and others in the legal fraternity – and are often not registered despite some requirements to do so.

The sometimes murky origins of the firearms & shotguns owned by the legal fraternity in Scotland are also drawing curiosity – after a legal source gave an account to journalists in relation to how two expensive shotguns including their leather cases and a set of valuable fishing rods & equipment ended up in the hands of a solicitor after he allegedly took the items from the estate of a deceased client to be valued.

The items were never handed back to the family of the deceased nor were they included in any account of assets of the deceased’s estate.

The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) could not be reached for a statement on their members ownership and usage of firearms and shotguns.

‘KEEN SHOT’ TOP LAW OFFICER CAUGHT WITH HIS GUNS OUT:

IN March 2017, Lord Keen of Elie – the UK government’s most senior adviser on Scots law – was fined £1,000 after admitting a firearms offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen QC pleaded guilty – by letter – to breaching section two of the Firearms Act 1968 by ‘failing to secure a shotgun’.

Police investigating a ‘break-in’ at one of Mr Keen’s properties – a house in Edinburgh – found that the weapon had been left outside a secure cabinet.

Lord Keen, a former chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, was made a life peer in 2015. He did not appear when the case called at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March 2017, choosing to plead guilty by letter – thus avoiding a court appearance.

The presiding judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe said: “I do take into account Mr Keen’s previous good record and the fact that he admitted his guilt at the outset.

“Nevertheless to hold a firearms certificate is a privilege and there are very strict conditions which have to be adhered to to prevent such weapons falling into the wrong hands.

“There was a potential risk with the shotgun not in the secure cabinet as laid down by the regulations.”

The court heard the offence came to light when Police Officers were called to a break-in at one of Lord Keen’s properties – an address on Ann Street in Edinburgh – on Hogmanay last year. The court was told Lord Keen and his wife were away on holiday.

Officers searching the property ‘found’ a 12 bore Stephen Grant shotgun in a basement out of its secure cabinet.

Solicitor advocate Simon Catto, representing Lord Keen – told Edinburgh Sheriff Court his client had been out shooting on 27 December.

Mr Catto added on returning home his client had taken the gun to the basement intending to clean it, but had then “forgotten about it through his own carelessness” before leaving on holiday the following day.

Mr Catto said Lord Keen had contacted Police himself on Hogmanay after receiving a mobile phone alert that his alarm system had been triggered.

While the upper floors of the property had been ransacked, the burglars had not entered the basement area, he said.

Mr Catto said: “He’s a keen shot, he shoots approximately 10 times per year.

“He has been a shotgun enthusiast for around 25 years and has held a firearms certificate. He is therefore fully aware of what’s expected and required of him in terms of the certificate.

“He accepts on this occasion he fell below that.”

An investigation of gun ownership in the ranks of Police Officers can be found here: GUNS OF THE LAW: Police Scotland files release details of officers private gun ownership – shotguns, rifles & silencers, Cops also declare recovery of 30 handguns

 

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CASH ADVANCE: QC says ‘Can I have £5k cash on the way to the Law Society?’ – MSP calls for reform of ‘toothless’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as regulator turns blind eye on Advocates cash payments scandal

Failed legal regulator in ‘QC cash scandal’ needs reform – Alex Neil. THE REGULATOR of Scotland’s legal profession has been branded a “toothless waste of time” by an MSP and former Cabinet Minister – after it emerged the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  refused to act against a senior QC named in emails demanding £5,000 cash payments from clients.

Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – has now called for major reform of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after a Sunday Mail investigation revealed the SLCC refused to investigate serious complaints & cash payments involving ‘top’ planning law QC John Campbell (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers.

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Alex Neil said: “These technicalities show the SLCC as it stands is a waste of time. It’s not up to the job and we need major change.”

Mr Neil continued: “Parliament’s justice committee should have an urgent and comprehensive look at this and rewrite the legislation so people have a reasonable time to register legitimate complaints.”

“People need assurance that the legal profession isn’t just looking after itself all the time. People have no confidence in the system.”

Ongoing media scrutiny of Campbell’s demands for cash payments of up to £5,000 at a time are now leading to calls for a wider inquiry into the world of cash payments to QCs, advocates and solicitors.

And today, new material released to journalists include a further email from John Campbell to his clients – in which Campbell demands to pick up another £5,000 in cash – while he is on the way to a meeting at Airdrie Sheriff Court followed by a dinner with the Law Society of Scotland.

The email from John Campbell to his client reads as follows: “A little better information about timing. I am due in Airdrie at 4.30. The meeting is in the Sheriff Court, which closes at 6.30. The Law Society is taking me and a colleague for dinner, but I have no idera where. There isn’t a huge number of restaurants in Airdrie, but we’ll find somewhere. This means I won’t be at Bonkle Road until about 8. Is that OK?”

“I have asked JC for a breakdown of the £5000. I will explain to you how a spec case works. I have checked; both John and I are willing to take on a spec case for Donal, but only if he signs up to it. There will be two conditions; one is that you keep the Edinburgh agent fed and watered, and the second is the size of the uplift at the end of the day, as I explained to you.”

The initials “JC” in the email are thought to refer to John Carruthers – a solicitor advocate who started a company called Oracle Law with Campbell back in the mid 2000’s.

Members of the Faculty of Advocates are forbidden from collecting fees and cash directly from clients, as was reported earlier here Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case linked to serious judicial conflicts of interest.

Advocates who personally collect cash payments from clients are in breach of Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct which states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

The Sunday Mail investigation revealed John Campbell sent emails to clients demanding cash “in any form except beads” to pay for legal services provided to his client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer – Donal Nolan.

Campbell then collected cash stuffed envelopes in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw – which became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Scotland Ltd – who admitted in court their role in dumping contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

Emails from John Campbell QC stated: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet in Dalkeith on TUESDAY morning, when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team” … “Please let me know if it’s OK to meet at the Mulsanne Garage, which is at 137 High Street, and what time would suit you?”

Campbell’s email also revealed members of the legal team – including ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers received payments from the cash.

The ongoing investigation into Craig Murray’s role in the legal team revealed Murray was responsible for two versions of a letter bearing his name as author – which were later used to exonerate John Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Faculty of Advocates.

Craig Murray also claims to be a successful prosecutor for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Asked for comment, a legal observer said he was surprised legal figures would engage in collecting cash payments before going out to dinner with the legal profession’s main lobbying group – the Law Society of Scotland.

The little talked about, but well known world of cash & carry lawyers & QCs – where demands to clients for anything up to £100K in cash are not unheard of – is now thought to be ripe for investigation after lawyers admitted Campbell “became too bold” in looking for money.

However, in order to thwart any references to regulators being drawn into the fray over the cash payments to QC John Campbell, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission backed away from action, citing obscure rules implying notification of the evidence to the SLCC was time-barred.

The SLCC said in it’s determination: “Having considered the complaint in accordance with the 2013 Rules as set out in the attached extract, the SLCC determines that there are no exceptional circumstances in this case which would warrant the complaint being accepted. The SLCC has therefore determined that issue 11 of the complaint be rejected under Section 4(1) of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 as the complaint is time-barred.”

The SLCC was asked for comment on why the regulator has turned a blind eye to Campbell’s cash collections –  however no response has been provided at time of publication.

The Faculty of Advocates were asked the following questions:

* Can the Faculty confirm if it is in receipt of John Campbell’s email demanding £5,000 before he attends a meeting with the Law Society, and does the Faculty have any comment on the content, particularly in the circumstances Mr Campbell is on the way to meet one of the legal profession’s main lobbying and regulatory bodies while demanding a sum of cash from his clients?

The Faculty did not issue a response to this question.

* Can the Faculty also confirm whether or not any action or investigation is being undertaken by the Faculty or SLCC in relation to John Campbell QC and allegations recently made in the press in relation to his collection of large sums of cash?

Again, the Faculty did not respond.

* Finally, can the Faculty confirm if it has reported Mr Campbell to HMRC given the size of the cash payments and clear breach of Faculty rules and obvious ramifications of the scale of such payments in cash?

Again, the Faculty did not issue a response to this question.

Instead, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Advocates said: “The Faculty must, by law, refer any complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who then investigate and decide if further action is to be taken, either by them or by the Faculty. In this case, the SLCC decided that no further action should be taken.”

A response from the Faculty also confirmed the appointment of Charlotte Street Partners – an expensive PR & ‘media management’ company who are now working with the Faculty of Advocates.

Charlotte Street Partners was launched in 2014 by former MSP Andrew Wilson and Malcolm Robertson.

The PR company is chaired by Sir Angus Grossart, and comprises a mixture of journalists and former political spin doctors.

Papers from Companies House on Charlotte Street Partners can be viewed here Companies House – Charlotte Street Partners filing history.

Earlier today, journalists were provided with details of discussions with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which now suggest the SLCC are open to the possibility of considering new or reworded complaints regarding John Campbell QC.

Speaking to journalists this morning, Ms Collins indicated she will be submitting fresh complaints to the SLCC, along with new evidence and will be taking into account the Lord Malcolm ruling on hybrid complaints.

John Campbell QC did not reply to requests for comment.

The Sunday Mail reports:

MSP brands legal watchdog a ‘toothless waste of time’ after top QC avoids censure over cash payments

We told last week how John Campbell QC was paid four sums of £5000 in banknotes – £20,000 in total – during the build-up to a court case.

By Craig McDonald 9 APR 2017 Sunday Mail

An MSP has branded a legal watchdog a “toothless waste of time” after it emerged a leading QC will face no action over cash payments.

Campbell took the payments from client Melanie Collins at her home in Bonkle, Lanarkshire, a hotel, a restaurant and a plot of land.

Despite breaching strict rules on fees and contact with clients, Campbell will not be the subject of disciplinary action.

Melanie, 62, reported her concern over the payments to the Faculty of Advocates and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after the case concluded but was told her complaint was too late.

The bodies said the position would not change despite calls for an investigation.

Melanie’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said last week: “This is a good example of how the SLCC is absolutely toothless.

“The legislation is riddled with loopholes. We need a fundamental, urgent review of the powers and remit of the SLCC.

“If people feel they do not have reasonable forms of redress for what is a legitimate complaint, it brings the whole system into disrepute.

“These technicalities show the SLCC as it stands is a waste of time. It’s not up to the job and we need major change. Parliament’s justice committee should have an urgent and comprehensive look at this and rewrite the legislation so people have a reasonable time to register legitimate complaints.

“People need assurance that the legal profession isn’t just looking after itself all the time. People have no confidence in the system.”

Melanie and partner Donal Nolan said they paid cash after Campbell emailed them saying he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Faculty of Advocates guidelines state: “Counsel should not under any circumstances discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Their ­disciplinary tribunal can hand out fines of up to £15,000. A member can also be suspended or expelled from the faculty.

Melanie said yesterday: “I’m disappointed but not a bit surprised that no action is being taken.

“He clearly broke their rules.”

The payments related to a case involving the couple and a construction firm at the Court of Session in 2013. Judgment was made in early 2014 and Melanie and Donal registered their complaint within days.

An SLCC spokesman said last week: “We can’t disclose information directly to anyone not personally involved in a complaint.”

The Faculty of Advocates said: “We must, by law, refer any complaint to the SLCC, which then investigates and decides if further action is to be taken.

“In this case, the SLCC decided no further action should be taken.”

Campbell, 67, said he did not wish to comment.

CASHING IN – John Campbell QC, Profile:

Year of Call: 1981Year of Silk: 1998 Areas of Practice Commercial, Land & Property, Public Law & Equality

John Campbell called to the Scottish Bar in 1981 and admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1990. His primary practice areas are in Town and Country Planning, Energy and Land and Rural Law. He works all over the UK in Planning matters and also in ADR, particularly Arbitrations. He is extensively consulted by regulatory authorities, councils, members of the public and developers. He is very approachable, and places great emphasis on the value of team work. A specialist in inquiry work, he has conducted many types of statutory and non-statutory inquiry, and has appeared in related judicial reviews and appeals. He has acted as counsel in arbitrations, is qualified to sit as an arbitrator, and teaches and writes on planning and environmental law, and domestic and international arbitration law and practice.

He is a Member of Trinity Chambers, Newcastle, where he holds a Direct Access ticket. He is a Member of the Construction Panel of Experts for the Mersey Gateway Project, acting as a Dispute Review Board for the PPP project for a replacement 1500m six lane toll bridge across the Mersey from Runcorn to Widnes. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and Chairman of the SHBT, Scotland’s largest Building Preservation Trust.

John is rated in Chambers 2015, 2016 & 2017 in the field of Planning and Environment:

General Information: LL.B Edinburgh 1972; Assistant Director of Legal Aid, Hong Kong, 1978; Permanent and Juvenile Magistrate, Hong Kong 1980/1981; Advocate 1981;Barrister at Law Lincoln’s Inn 1990
Silk 1998;”Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas, etc” (Green’s Planning Encyclopaedia)

DO you have a complaint with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or Faculty of Advocates? What is your experiences of dealing with the SLCC or the Faculty? Has your solicitor, advocate or QC demanded cash payments from you at any stage of a civil or criminal case? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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LEGAL COSTS: Ask your solicitor ten questions about costs before your legal expenses run up thousands in unnecessary work & bills – or result in your lawyer taking your home & savings to pay for it

Questions to ask your solicitor – walk if you don’t like the replies. IN SCOTLAND, there are few, if any non lawyer controlled sources of advice to legal services consumers on how to manage client relationships with solicitors, how to control legal costs, and what to do when something goes wrong and your lawyer rips you off.

Client protection – is a myth. Given three decades of evidence that thousands of clients have been ripped off every year by their once trusted solicitors, the only people who believe a complaints system run by lawyers, managed by lawyers and protected by lawyers –  are fantasists, and the Law Society of Scotland.

There are no background record checks available on Scottish solicitors, and the only ‘help’ on offer to clients when their relationship with their solicitor breaks down – is provided by the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), a regulator backed by the Law Society of Scotland, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland. You get the picture.

However, in England & Wales, the landscape is a little more consumer friendly, with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing a more independent form of advice and help to consumers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also publish complaints and regulatory data on solicitors and law firms – a must have service for anyone considering using a solicitor which does not currently exist in Scotland.

As things currently stand in Scotland – if you are unable to check up on your solicitor’s regulatory history via an independent source, the best advice is to walk away – or what happens next is your own fault.

Self regulation by lawyers, pleas to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament for help will not put right your legal problems or what your solicitor did to you.

A handy guide published by the Legal Ombudsman, reprinted by DOI in this article, gives a list of ten questions consumers and clients of solicitors should ask their legal representatives before taking on representation and expensive legal services.

There are further tips in the full LeO leaflet, so please download it and read thoroughly before engaging legal representation.

This guide was written for the English legal services market, and you may be an English reader, so go right ahead and ask you solicitor these ten basic questions on costs.

However, the same questions apply as much in Scotland as anywhere else –  and anyone using a Scottish solicitor should consider asking these same questions.

If you don’t like the answers you receive, or don’t get any answers at all – then the best consumer advice possible is to protect yourself and walk away.

At the very least, you will have saved yourself hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for something involving a lawyer which may well have ended up going wrong anyway.

Why put yourselves through a five year heartache losing your savings to a lawyer, when ten little questions and answers may save you a whole lot of trouble.

The introduction to the leaflet from the Legal Ombudsman states: “If you use a lawyer, he or she should talk to you about the cost of their services. But you should also understand their charges. We have come up with ten questions to ask your lawyer about the cost of your service. We’ve also included some top tips and explained the terms used to help you get the most from conversations with lawyers about costs.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect your lawyer to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.

Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may affect things too. However, most services are straightforward and your lawyer should give you a clear idea of what you will be charged from the start. Even if things do get complicated, your lawyer should warn you when this happens, so there shouldn’t be any surprises in your final bill.

A lawyer who values good service will happily answer your cost-related questions. Lawyers also have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price.”

Question 1  Will I be charged for a consultation?

Finding the lawyer who is right for you and the service you need is important. A consultation by phone, face-to-face, letter or online can help you make your decision. A lawyer can charge you for a consultation but they should tell you before you book and explain any conditions. For example, they may offer the first 30 minutes free but charge for time above that.

A lawyer should speak to you about costs and provide the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.

If you have a consultation, make the most of the opportunity. Do your research to find the right lawyer – you can check online, talk to friends and family, or speak to consumer organisations to help you make your choice.

Question 2  “How do you cost your service?”

This question can help you shop around to get best value for money. Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service. Understanding why the quotes differ can help you make the right decision. For example, one lawyer may be more experienced or an expert in the area of law your case involves. If you have a complex case, you might think it’s better to pay more as it may improve the outcome and cost you less in the long run. With a fairly simple case you might decide you don’t need that level of expertise, so it may be better value to go with the cheaper estimate.

Experience and skill are just two reasons why costs may differ. There are now more ways than ever to provide a legal service which can have an impact on what you pay. For example, you can now buy services that are phone or web based rather than face-to-face. Providers who offer this type of service may save on rent and backroom costs and might therefore offer a cheaper price to customers. Understanding if this type of service works for you will help you decide if it is, or isn’t, value for money.

Estimates may vary for a whole host of reasons. Ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer so you can pick one that suits you.

Question 3 “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”

Lawyers have different ways of charging and their charging method may also vary according to the service. For example, they may offer a fixed fee for writing a will, but an hourly rate for a probate service (the administration of a will when someone has died). Find out what charging method the lawyer will use and ask them to explain it to you in detail. Questions 4 and 5 help with understanding fixed fee and hourly rate charges.

Conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) are also known as ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. If you lose, you won’t, in general, have to pay your lawyer’s fees, but may need to pay some out of pocket expenses such as barrister’s fees or court fees. You may also be liable to pay some of the other side’s costs but it is possible to get insurance to protect against this. If you win, you will have to pay your lawyer’s fees and in addition there is usually a success fee which is intended to cover the risk that the firm are entering into with this type of agreement. You should in most cases, however, be able to recover your fees (including any success fee) from the other side. If you are thinking about entering into one of these arrangements, make sure you ask detailed questions so that you fully understand the terms and conditions.

Contingency fee agreements are also a type of ‘no win no fee’ agreement. If your lawyer agrees to represent you under a contingency fee agreement — which should not be confused with a conditional fee arrangement – they will be able to claim a percentage of any money they win on your behalf plus expenses. If you lose the case, you won’t be charged a fee, but you might still have to pay other costs (which could include the other side’s legal costs too).

The contingency fee percentage must be agreed in advance. You should also check whether the lawyer will deduct any expenses before they take their contingency fee or after as this can make a significant difference to the amount you finally receive. If the percentage you are asked to pay is very high, you could end up with very little – even if you win.

Question 4 “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover?  Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways. It can be easy to assume that it covers all costs for the service you need. In some cases that may be true, but it may also just refer to the lawyer’s fees. For example, a ‘fixed fee’ in a property case may, or may not, include charges related to searches. Sometimes a lawyer may offer a ‘fixed fee’ for a stage of the case, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking your lawyer exactly what they mean by ‘fixed fee’. It’s not a silly question; the term isn’t self-explanatory.

Lawyers will sometimes give you an estimate of the costs. This isn’t the same as a ‘fixed fee’, so check what your lawyer means. This can be important as sometimes a lawyer may charge a fixed fee for a particular stage but give an estimate for the next stage. If that happens, or you aren’t sure, check what your lawyer means and ask for an estimate for the total cost of the case.

Question 5  “You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. This should compare reasonably with your final bill. If you aren’t sure, then ask your lawyer to give you an estimate for the whole service. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much it will all cost. Ask so you know how certain the estimate is. Having a range of costs might be more helpful than a single number, which could shift up or down. The important thing is to understand how much the total bill could be.

You are entitled to ask the lawyer to set a limit on the costs. This means your lawyer has to check that you are happy to continue if the spend approaches the agreed threshold. Setting a limit can help you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks – check if that’s how your lawyer works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the way they charge.

As with ‘fixed fees’, ask if there are any other costs that won’t be covered in the hourly rate.

Question 6 “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”

There may be circumstances where costs do change. This is most likely if new information or developments make a case more difficult. For example, in a divorce case much is dependent on the other person’s cooperation to resolve it quickly. Even if both people intend to behave amicably, sometimes that resolve breaks down. If your costs look like they are changing, ask your lawyer about it. In general, your lawyer should tell you as soon as they are aware of any changes, but you don’t have to wait to ask for an explanation. Another option is to ask, when you choose your lawyer, if their original estimate is likely to be breached. If you have agreed a spending limit (see question 5), then your lawyer should stop work until you confirm that you want to continue.

If a case gets complicated even a ‘fixed fee’ arrangement can change. Your lawyer should explain when this might happen and also set out the terms and conditions in your client care letter. Make sure you understand and ask if there is a ‘get out’ clause to say if additional costs can be charged.

Remember, you always have options, even in the middle of a legal transaction. If there is a big hike in the costs of using a lawyer, then your lawyer should tell you about them and let you know what your options are. You could use a different specialist who might cost less but take longer, or only use email to contact your lawyer. There might also be some stages in the process that can be missed out. Ask your lawyer how you can work with them to reduce costs.

Question 7 Are there any extra costs?

This really is a catch-all question to help you budget for your service. You are basically asking your lawyer if they have given you all the information they reasonably can to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises in the future. Examples of the sort of information this question might raise are additional costs for things like expert reports (such as from a doctor), or photocopying. Some firms use premium rate phone numbers, which could add unexpected costs to the final amount you spend for your service. Use these examples as a prompt to discuss this issue. Your lawyer should also tell you if you are likely to incur any bank charges. For example, you might need to make a CHAPs payment (same day electronic transfer) which can cost over £20 in a property transaction.

Finally, don’t forget to check if your estimate is inclusive of VAT. Your lawyer should tell you, but check so that you don’t get a higher bill than you’re expecting.

Question 8 “Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?”

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs. There can be some fine-print with different insurance options that you need to understand, so ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are signing up to. Some insurances, like ‘after the event’ or ‘before the event’ insurance, could cover you for some things but not for others. Ask your lawyer for more information.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs. There are different programmes for different types of help but the best known is legal aid, which provides free legal advice from lawyers who are registered with the service. Even if your lawyer isn’t registered to provide legal aid they should tell you about it so you have the option of going to a lawyer who can.

Question 9 “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. You may be asked to pay some money at the start either to cover certain expenses or as an advance payment of fees. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate. Asking the question might help you find a lawyer whose service fits your personal circumstances.

Question 10 “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works. You should not be charged by a lawyer for looking at your complaint – it is very poor service if they do. When you appoint a lawyer they are also obliged to let you know about the Legal Ombudsman who can help you to resolve your complaint if you and your lawyer can’t reach an agreement.

Note – if you disagree with legal bills in Scotland, cases have revealed solicitors often employ threats and legal action for demands to be met within seven days. In some cases solicitors have applied to sequestrate their clients for disagreements on legal bills, and willing, compliant local sheriff courts staffed by familiar clerks and members of the judiciary often grant such orders with little regard for the facts or any representations from clients who question the integrity of legal fees.

SCOTLAND – Consumer protection against rogue solicitors and law firms does not exist.

How bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is  very bad. The Law Society of Scotland is a lobby group for the legal profession which puts lawyers interests first, before clients, the public, or anyone else. Do not expect client protection from a system where lawyers regulate themselves.

Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

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

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

 

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