Tag Archives: Lord Malcolm

GOOD FOR LAWYERS: Challenging year for ‘toothless, waste of time’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as complaints against lawyers rise again amid claims regulator has little impact on rogues of the legal world

Lawyers regulator proves no deterrent to poor legal services. SCOTLAND’S ‘independent’ regulator of legal services has admitted complaints against rogue solicitors & law firms have again risen in the past “challenging year” according to the latest Annual Report 2016-17 of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The SLCC’s past year was marked by the Anderson Strathern appeal, in which Court of Session judge Lord Malcolm – real name Colin Campbell QC – ruled unlawful the SLCC’s previous practice of classifying certain single issue complaints as hybrid (raising issues of both service and conduct).

However, an investigation of the ruling by Lord Malcolm – who is also a Privy Councillor – revealed a top QC who was identified in complaints relating to the acceptance of £5,000 a time cash payments  and accusations of misrepresenting clients in a case directly involving Lord Malcolm – escaped investigation as a result of the same Court of Session ruling on 31 August 2016.

Earlier this year, the SLCC was branded a “toothless waste of time” by Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who 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.”

A full report on the John Campbell case impacted on by Lord Malcolm’s ruling can be found here: 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.

Further litigation occurred with the Law Society of Scotland over the SLCC’s power to then reclassify cases, in which the court eventually found for the Legal Complaints Commission but resulted in a large number of complaints being suspended, with no progress made until the ruling in June.

Over the year, complaints received rose from 1,132 to 1,155, up 2% on top of the previous year’s 12% rise.

However, an analysis of the complaints statistics, and contact with persons raising complaints with the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal the SLCC is more often than not – too eager to knock back complaints against solicitors – in a similar manner once practiced by the Law Society of Scotland.

In the past year, a total of 414 cases were accepted for conduct or service investigation, or a combination of the two (previous year 408), and 171 (compared with 226) were deemed ineligible as time barred or being “frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit”.

A further 251 cases (previous year 188) were resolved, withdrawn or discontinued without a formal investigation.

Solicitors accounted for 410 of the complaints accepted while 4 of the cases related to members of the Faculty of Advocates.

However, this year, the success rate of mediation was much lower – indicating perhaps complainants have become wise to a process dubbed as “rigged” by some, after it was discovered some ‘independent’ mediators have connections to some of the law firms facing complaints investigations.

In the past year, mediated resolutions were achieved in only 27 complaints (44 the previous year), a lower success rate than previously at 58%.

Sixty three cases were resolved during or at the conclusion of the investigation stage (down from 128), and the number receiving a final determination by a committee of commissioners fell from 102 to 95, of which 44 (down from 58) were upheld in whole or part.

The number of investigations in hand at the year end rose from 664 to 807, having jumped from 473 at the start of the previous year.

Residential conveyancing was again the most frequent area of complaint, at 22% of those received, closely followed by litigation (21%), then executries, wills and trusts (14%), family law (10%) and crime (7%). Commercial property and leasing accounted for 4%, as did “personal conduct”. Other categories of work, each comprising fewer than 3% of complaints, accounted for the remaining 18%.

Regarding the nature of the complaint, however, failure to communicate effectively was a clear leader at 26% (but down from 43%), followed by failure to advise adequately (20%, up from 14%), failure to provide information (14%, down from 15%), failure to prepare adequately (11%, up from 6%), failure to follow instructions (10%, up from 6%), and delay (unchanged at 8%). Other categories made up 6% of cases.

The accounts for the year, also published today, disclose a net operating loss up from £114,000 to £194,000, though income rose from £2.714m to £2.763m. Net assets fell from £675,000 to £421,000.

This year the current Chair, Bill Brackenridge, comments on coming to the end of his statutory term after five years as well as this year’s performance: “the SLCC has sought to drive efficiency within the current statutory process whilst making bold calls for reform.  This year we were pleased to see the Scottish Government announce an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services, and we will continue to contribute to work to improve the regulatory and complaints system for consumers and lawyers”

“This year complaints against lawyers continued to rise, a further 2% on top of 12% last year.  We recognise that complaints form a tiny proportion of overall transactions in which lawyers support clients, but increasing case load continues to be a key factor in performance and costs.  This year we have also seen a continuing trend towards more complaints entering the later stages of our process.  To tackle this we’ve worked to support consumers and the sector with guides to reduce the common causes of complaints.”

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson added “this has been a challenging year, with significant litigation that has driven delays and costs and which was outwith our control.  We are delighted the court upheld our position, and hope we can now move beyond some of these challenges to work with others in the sector to improve confidence in regulation.

On a personal level one of the organisational achievements we all contributed to, and which I am most proud of, is a significant improvement on our staff engagement survey results. I’m also delighted that we are in the rare position of gender pay parity.”

The SLCC’s Annual Report and Annual Accounts are laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

In the past NINE years since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created in 2008, the Law Society backed ‘independent’ regulator of complaints against legal practitioners in Scotland – including solicitors and advocates – has more often than not seen year on year rises in complaints while becoming involved in protracted orchestrated arguments with lawyers over funding for the legal quango.

In reality, funding for the SLCC – running at around £3million a year – is secured from a client sourced complaints levy – where hikes in solicitors legal fees to clients & consumers are used to pay for the upkeep and operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Since 2008, the SLCC has received nearly £30 million of client sourced funds – yet it is now clear the pro-lawyer quango has had little impact on the generally poor standards of expensive legal services available in Scotland.

Currently the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is involved in lobbying against a Scottish Parliament investigation into self regulation of the legal profession, a full report on this can be found here: LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services.

The SLCC, along with the Law Society of Scotland and other legal interests have made submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee calling for MSPs to hold off on hearing petitions calling for independent regulation – until a Scottish Government review on regulation of legal services reports back at the end of 2018. The ‘independent’ review, is in actuality being run by lawyers.

ANOTHER DAY IN COURT – Unidentified Law firm accused in client complaints fails in bid to overturn investigation

The Court of Session recently ruled in favour of the SLCC in refusing an application by a firm of solicitors for leave to appeal one of the Commission’s decisions. The application came from a firm seeking leave to appeal a decision that a number of issues of complaint were accepted as eligible services complaints and were not frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit. It was unusual in that only some issues of complaint accepted were being appealed.

The full findings – by Lord Glennie are available here: NOTE OF REASONS delivered by LORD GLENNIE in the application for leave to appeal by X LLP AND OTHERS (Appellant) against SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION (Respondent).

However, it should be noted the Court ruling does not identify the law firm involved.

The SLCC’s eligibility determination that some issues of complaint should be accepted for investigation represents what is essentially a sifting function to establish whether issues of complaint require investigation. The Court endorsed the already established view that at this stage there is a low bar for accepting issues of complaint, Lord Glennie’s Notes of Reasons stating “the Commission has to decide in respect of each complaint whether it is frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit; and if it decides the complaint is any or all of these things, it must reject the complaint and notify the relevant parties.  That is a high test to be applied or, to put it another way, is a low threshold to be crossed.”

Mark Paxton, one of the SLCC’s Case Investigation Managers, explained “there can be misconceptions about the eligibility test, one of the most complex stages within the process prescribed in statute.  We have seen comments in the past that ‘too many complaints’ are let in, but the courts are once again making clear there is a high test to be met if complaints are dismissed at this stage.  We know others can think the eligibility decision is an early indication of eventual substantive outcome, which is not the case – it is simply a decision that matters need formally investigated to have sufficient information to make a decision. We are also aware that, for practitioners, the fact that this is a formal “decision”, appealable to the Court of Session, suggests that it is somehow already a stain on the practitioner’s record – which again is just not the case.”

Lord Glennie went on to reiterate that “the nature and extent of the investigation to be carried out by the Commission, and how they go about it, is pre-eminently a matter for the Commission itself.”  Having considered that there was no basis for establishing that the SLCC had erred in law or acted irrationally the Court refused leave to appeal the decision.

What was also highlighted in this case was the time and resource expended by the SLCC in carrying out this sifting function. The Court also made reference to the detail in which the SLCC had dealt with this determination, stating “The Commission’s decision in the present case is very fully reasoned… The decision deals with each complaint individually and over a number of paragraphs”.

The resources expended by the SLCC in relation to appeals bears a significant financial cost to the organisation. In this particular case, costs will be recovered following the decision of the Court to award expenses. However such an award is unlikely to recompense the full cost of all work done in relation to the appeal, and the process of contesting appeals continues to be a significant factor which the SLCC has to contend with in managing its budget.

Neil Stevenson, CEO added: “The expense of appeals has been a key driver of increasing cost in the last two years. Looking at other complaints bodies and ombuds it is very unusual for a right of appeal, especially to such a senior court, to be provided for in a complaints process on a decision simply that something needs investigated.  Our current proposals for statutory reform recommend that a more proportionate approach should be considered.”

The SLCC itself was created at a cost of over £2 million pounds of public cash in 2008 – by a Scottish Government team led by Angela McArthur – who was since appointed as Chief Executive of the Parole Board of Scotland from 2009 to present day.

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


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

CASHBACK QC: Legal regulator’s files reveal senior QC reduced claim without instructions, withheld key evidence & witnesses including Cabinet Secretary from Court of Session case

John Campbell QC – evidence to legal regulator contradicts judge. DOCUMENTS obtained by the media from a legal complaints investigation – reveal a senior QC was unable to produce substantive evidence against allegations he stripped out a £4m head of claim & legal and professional expenses without consulting his client.

The overall tone of responses from John Campbell QC to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) give a series of contradictory accounts to legal regulators of services he provided in a case now linked to serious failings of the judiciary.

In one lengthy explanation Campbell claims he did not act without instruction, however, the senior QC refuses to produce any evidence of said instructions.

In another exchange, the long time QC dismisses the appearance and evidence from a star witness Cabinet Secretary – Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts).

Campbell personally took the top politician’s precognition and had him set to appear on the first day of the proof, then failed to call the Cabinet Secretary in a move now raising serious concerns over the performance of the once ‘top’ rated Planning Law QC.

And, in a bizarre twist to the case the senior QC – now the subject of media coverage – claimed he had no professional relationship with Mr Nolan’s partner – even though evidence has since been published in the press Campbell demanded and obtained cash sums of £5,000 from his client’s partner.

The cash payments sought by John Campbell QC are in breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates – who stipulate fees can only be paid via solicitors to Faculty Services. A full report on Campbell’s cash demands can be read here: Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case

In an attempt to answer allegations he removed a £4m head of claim & legal expenses from the high value damages action in the Court of Session on the last day of proof – the senior Planning Law QC gave the SLCC a laboured account of events without being able to back up his position.

Complaints against Campbell’s reduction of the claim relate to sweeping statements made by Court of Session judge Lord Woolman in his 2014 opinion of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

An evidence review of court documents, including transcripts from the case, and now John Campbell’s response to the SLCC indicate Lord Woolman’s statement – that Nr Nolan “vastly” reduced the claim on his own – is incorrect.

Woolman’s opinion, of 17 January 2014 stated “In the course of the proceedings, Mr Nolan has greatly narrowed his claim. In June 2012, he deleted his conclusion for specific implement. At the close of the proof, he abandoned his claim for lost development value, which he had originally valued at £4 million. He also accepted that some elements of the claim for investigative costs are properly classified as litigation expenses.”

However, and in a move which now discredits key parts of the Woolman opinion – John Campbell failed to produce to legal regulators – any evidence of a consultation with his client or evidence that he obtained proper authorisation to strip out key parts of a £6m damages claim – rendering the judge’s now unfounded statements  worthless.

A study of material from the SLCC complaint file handed to investigators at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals a set of exchanges and written testimony handed to the regulator which show John Campbell QC acted on his own, and without instruction when he removed the £4m head of claim along with legal and professional expenses on the last day of a proof hearing.

The sudden, and unauthorised move by the QC stunned the court and even the judge – who had acknowledged on the preceding day Mr Nolan had a valid claim.

However, Mr Campbell’s own client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer Donal Nolan was kept in the dark by the senior QC and his assistant – Advocate Craig Murray of Compass Chambers.

Responding to allegations Campbell acted on his own, the QC claimed: ”I did not act without instructions. The Court adjourned while I took instructions on this very matter. Mr Nolan was not in attendance.”

“I asked that he be brought to Court. The Court’s Minute of Proceedings discloses that i sought and obtained an adjournment for that purpose. The same day, I wrote a Note for Mr Nolan.”

However, an email presented to the SLCC as part of the complaints file reveals a much different version of events where John Campbell writes in an email to Mr Nolan’s solicitor saying he does not want to see his client.

Campbell’s email to his client’s solicitor reads: “Melanie has given instructions to do without Steven Brown. I am content with those instructions. Craig is getting them in writing and l will write a Note of Advice. You DO NOT need to bring Donal through here this afternoon”

In reality, the ‘instructions’ Mr Campbell referred to in his email – never existed.

Advocate Craig Murray – mentioned in the email and who was serving as Junior Counsel – later denied he ever received any written instructions from Mr Nolan’s partner with regard to dealings with the witness referred to by Campbell.

And despite repeated requests by the pursuer for Mr Campbell and other members of the legal team to produce such written instructions to the SLCC investigation, none were forthcoming.

Campbell’s explanation goes on to say: “I also have a verbatim note of proceedings on that day, taken by junior counsel, which demonstrates quite clearly that I sought and obtained an adjournment to take instructions on this matter, and to have the pursuer himself attend. I can make that verbatim note available if the SLCC wishes to see it …”

However, the additional “verbatim note” referred to by John Campbell – was never produced despite repeated requests.

Campbell further attempted to justify his removal of the £4.1m head of claim.

John Campbell wrote: “Further, the decision to proceed without this part of the claim was fully explained, first to Mrs Collins, and then subsequently to Mr Nolan. It was endorsed by junior counsel, and understood by the solicitors. I am in no doubt at all that it was fully understood by all.”

However, a media investigation and study of the case file has concluded there is NO discoverable trail of consultation or any subsequent written or verbal authorisation for removal of the £4.1m head of claim between the QC, the Edinburgh Agents Drummond Miller, the solicitor in charge of the case or the client – Mr Nolan.

In the same letter to the SLCC, John Campbell attempted to blame the client’s solicitor for a failure to include the words “without prejudice” in a letter to Levy & Mcrae – the defender’s legal agents – even though it was Campbell himself who drafted the letter and had omitted to put in the words now under dispute.

Mr Campbell then claimed he discussed with his client – the possibility of capping the site at Branchal in Wishaw – the same site the defenders had accepted their dumping of the contaminated material had been unlawful.

Capping – a technical term of dealing with dumped material refers to layers of soil placed over the dumped material. However, if the material is contaminated, this method of dealing with hazardous waste renders a site unusable.

An interview with the client – Mr Nolan, has established no such discussion with Mr Campbell on the subject of ‘capping’ ever took place.

And expert testimony seen by reporters has revealed any ‘capping’ of the Branchal site would have rendered it worthless for future development.

In the same response to the SLCC, John Campbell claimed bombshell evidence from a North Lanarkshire Councillor – who alleged bribes or inducements had been offered for him not to give evidence in court – “was in the end irrelevant to the issues which the judge had to determine”.

The Councillor gave a precognition to Campbell’s Junior – Craig Murray of Compass Chambers. Murray is now an ad-hoc Advocate Depute for the Crown Office in the High Court. Also present during the Councillor’s precognition was Fiona Moore – head of litigation for Edinburgh law firm Drummond Miller.

Both Craig Murray and Fiona Moore have been asked questions by the press over their involvement in the case, however both refused to comment.

A full report on Craig Murray’s involvement in the case features here: Second version of Advocate Depute’s letter to legal regulator ‘removed bribe offer’ in evidence considered by Faculty under ex-dean, now Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC

In respect of the evidence relating to bribery, legal insiders speculate if the court had heard the evidence of an attempt to bribe an elected councillor – it is most likely hearings would have been halted while a criminal investigation by Police Scotland took place, along with attendant media interest.

And, a recent press interview with the councillor has since established the offer of an inducement did in fact, take place, naming two individuals connected to companies involved in the court action.

Serious questions remain as to why this evidence relating to bribery was not introduced during the court case, and the motives of Mr Campbell in omitting such headline grabbing material from the court.

One witness who has since spoken to journalists said he felt Mr Campbell had an “alternate agenda” in the lines of questioning he had previously indicated would be asked compared to what questions Campbell eventually asked of witnesses in court..

On the point of calling a star witness in the case – Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP – John Campbell writes “The evidence of Mr Neil MSP was not required. I accept responsibility for not calling him”

However, it is likely the headlines generated by a Scottish Minister with the rank of Alex Neil – who was Cabinet Secretary for Health at the time – would have generated headline attention to his evidence which in turn may have led to developments in the case.

Papers obtained by journalists including a witness list from the case – have now established the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing was to be called as a witness on the first day of the proof in Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

The move to call Mr Neil on the first day gave a clear indication of the importance placed on Mr Neil’s evidence.

However, the Cabinet Minister was kept waiting in the witness room for around four hours by senior counsel John Campbell – to a point where it became clear Mr Neil was not destined to appear that day.

Mr Neil then had to leave the court for a meeting, and was not called again by Campbell QC.

A study of evidence from Mr Campbell’s written explanation to the SLCC clearly indicates the senior QC never had any intention of calling Mr Neil despite all the plans made to do so and the expectation of his client.

Despite Campbell’s claim to the SLCC the evidence of Alex Neil was unimportant and not relevant to the case, it has now emerged John Campbell personally took Alex Neil’s precognition statement – an unusual move but one indicating the emphasis placed on testimony of such a high ranking politician.

Ultimately, the episode involving Mr Neil not being called as a witness could be viewed as symptomatic of John Campbell’s treatment of the case and his client.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, Mr Nolan’s partner has indicated a clear and consistent line of dishonesty ran throughout their dealings with the Senior counsel.

Further material now handed to journalists on the case includes a copy of an audio interview with John Campbell QC, Advocate Craig Murray, Gregpr McPhail, the pursuer’s solicitor and the pursuer’s partner.

The explosive audio recording – in which Campbell admits taking instructions from Ms Collins – even though he claimed to the SLCC he had no professional relationship with her, is set to be submitted to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates in a revamped complaint against the senior QC.

And now, additional material passed to journalists which covers work done by Edinburgh law firm Drummond Miller on behalf of Mr Nolan – raises serious concerns as to their conduct and work carried out on behalf of their client.

In a letter dated 9 October 2014 from Fiona Miller – Head of Litigation for Drummond Miller – to Simpson & Marwick (now Clyde & Co) who were now defending John Campbell QC against the complaints raised in relation to his provision of legal services, Fiona Moore confirms “Many consultations and meetings took place between Mrs Collins and counsel which we [Drummond Miller] were not party to.” – blowing apart claims by Campbell to the SLCC he had no relationship with Ms Collins.

However, Fiona Moore then goes on to state to Simpson & Marwick “I trust this assists and that the complaint is successfully defended. If you require anything further, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

The tone of Fiona Moore’s letter raises serious questions over Drummond Miller’s relationship with their own client, Mr Nolan and the law firm’s apparent willingness to engage in a concerted attempt to thwart investigation of the complaints against the QC.

The firm’s willingness to side with their legal colleague came even though all parties had been aware Campbell was regularly breaking Faculty rules and ostensibly wanted to control the case on his own rather than use proper channels of solicitor, Edinburgh agents to speak to his client.

It has also been pointed out Drummond Miller frequently appear in the Court of Session for clients – and would easily have been aware of the identify of Lord Malcolm, who is reported to have heard the Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd case no less than eight times, while failing to declare a conflict of interest.

Yet when asked questions as to why Drummond Miller did not alert their client – Mr Nolan – to any potential conflict of interest between Lord Malcolm and the solicitor who represented the defenders – his son – Ewen Campbell, Drummond Miller partner Fiona Moore refused to comment.

With the complaints file now being available for study and full publication – there is a possibility of further complaints against Craig Murray and other legal agents involved in the case who sought huge fees and legal aid for their work being made to legal regulators.

A recent attempt to illicit comment from John Campbell QC failed, marking a consistent line of silence from the senior QC in response to questions from the press.

Asked for a comment, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission said it would give no further statement to the press on this case.

The Faculty of Advocates have also refused to speak to the press on Mr Campbell’s actions and their previous investigation which it has since been confirmed relied on a second, highly edited version of written evidence given by fellow Advocate Craig Murray – which Murray now contests ever existed.

Journalists are now studying a series of damning environmental reports from Court of Session papers – which accuse North Lanarkshire Council, and two construction companies – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd and Graham Construction Ltd of being responsible for the dumping of contaminated material at Branchal.

The investigation has so far revealed John Campbell QC had sight of the material but failed to make proper use of the damning reports – raising concerns he was not presenting the full facts of the case as instructed by his client.

The reports – due to be published by the press in full – also raise serious questions about the conduct of Scotland’s environmental regulator – the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – whose failures in this case could not be categorised as ‘accidental’.

“The National” newspaper carried an exclusive investigation into the Nolan V Advance Construction Ltd case, here: Couple’s human rights breach claim raises questions about how judicial conflicts of interest are policed. The newspaper’s investigation revealed there are moves to take an appeal to the UK Supreme Court at a date to be decided.

BURNING QUESTIONS: QC fails to answer queries from Media

The QC at the centre of the cash for services scandal – John Campbell QC has consistently refused to talk to any media.

Campbell’s silence comes after publication of his own communications revealed the senior QC demanded sums of £5,000 at a time be paid to him in cash or cheque form – a breach of the rules as laid down by the Faculty of Advocates.

Journalists put the following questions to the senior QC, however John Campbell failed to reply to all requests for comment.

1. In a letter dated 5th of June 2014 sent to the SLCC you state to the SLCC that you had no professional relationship with Mrs Collins who is Mr Nolan’s partner. Any comment on this?

2. In a letter sent to Simpson Marwick dated 9th of October 2014 from Fiona Moore she states clearly that as you are no doubt aware , the case was in any event being run by Melanie Collins, Mr Nolan’s partner and that it was she who gave all the instructions in the case. This is clearly at odds with what you state to the SLCC. Any comments on this?

3. Returning to your letter to the SLCC you state you did not act without instructions    Who gave you these instructions? Any comment on this?

4. Copy correspondence also received from the instructing solicitor to Ms Collins clearly states no instructions were ever given by him to remove this part of the claim. Drummond Miller also state they gave no instruction to drop any part of this claim. Any comment on this?

5.It is clearly evidenced by court transcripts that Mr Woods of DMHall was only in court to speak to productions D5 and D 10 which were valuations he prepared for the Heritable Creditor the Clydesdale Bank and nothing else. Any comment on this?

6. Again in your letter to the SLCC page 2 you state the decision to proceed without the blight claim was fully explained to Mrs Collins, Mr Nolan and Mr Falls when in fact I have now been passed an audio tape recording where you clearly state you removed this claim yourself without any instructions. Any comment on this?

7. Lastly, the emails you sent to Ms Collins asking for collections of £5k in fees at a time, again you stated you had no professional relationship with Ms Collins yet frequently broke Faculty rules by demanding collection of fees in cash to be provided by her. How can it be you claim no professional relationship with Ms Collins yet seek to engather fees? Any comment?

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

CASHBACK, QC: 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

John Campbell QC – Faculty rules breached by payments from clients. A MEDIA investigation has revealed a senior Scots Queen’s Counsel who claims to be at the top of his field in Planning law – demanded and collected cash stuffed envelopes from clients involved in a Court of Session case now linked to serious failures of the judiciary to declare conflicts of interest.

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed John Campbell QC (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers – sent emails to his clients demanding the cash be handed over “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 QC then collected the cash stuffed envelopes from clients in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw.

The Branchal site became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Ltd – who later admitted in court they dumped highly contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

John Campbell QC emailed his demands for cash. “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?”

The reference to the “legal team” within Campbell’s email confirms other legal figures who were part of the same team received payments from the cash collected directly by Campbell.

One member of that team is ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers. Murray has previously refused to answer any questions on his role, or disclose how much cash he received from John Campbell.

Another email from Campbell QC to his clients, seeking another £5K – reads: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John, but I need to collect £5000 from you, in any form (except beads!)”

However, the demands for cash payments by the QC are a direct breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates who forbid their members from demanding cash and bungs for legal services – even though the practice is well known to occur in both criminal and civil cases.

Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Further rules from the Code of Conduct state clearly that fees to QCs and Advocates acting as counsel can only be collected by solicitors, and then paid over to clerks and Faculty Services.

“Normally Counsel’s fees are negotiated between the clerk and the solicitor. All fees should be paid to Counsel’s clerk.”

Additional guidance designed to cover over any direct payments ‘collected’ by Advocates states: “If any fee happens to be paid direct to Counsel, Counsel must account for it forthwith to his or her clerk.”

However, an ongoing investigation into a series of invoices issued by the Faculty of Advocates has since revealed at least one of the invoices – which had no date – was sent to the client’s solicitor.

The move by the Faculty to issue an undated invoice is now subject to allegations this is an attempt to cover up the dates of a cash collections by John Campbell.

It can also be revealed some of the payments to Campbell in cheque form were made out to to Oracle – a firm founded and co-owned by John Campbell QC and John Carruthers.

Mr Campbell and solicitor advocate John Carruthers set up Oracle Chambers in the mid 2000’s in order to create – as they claimed at the time – “a more modern, commercially responsive organisation” than they felt was provided by Faculty Services Ltd, the service company of the Faculty of Advocates.

Former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who is backing his constituents in their quest to obtain justice, has now called for a full probe into the allegations against Campbell.

The Sunday Mail Investigation report on John Campbell QC:

 ‘We gave top QC £5000 cash in an envelope four times’ Couple claim law expert broke guidelines as MSP calls for probe

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 2 APR 2017

A couple claim one of Scotland’s leading QCs breached strict guidelines and asked for legal fees to be paid direct to him in cash.

Melanie Collins and partner Donal Nolan said they made the unusual payment after John Campbell told them he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Melanie said she and a friend met Campbell, who once represented Donald Trump’s Scottish business, in a restaurant in Dalkeith where she handed over the sum in banknotes.

She said she paid the QC – one of Scotland’s top planning law experts – three further sums of £5000 in cash at other meetings.

The method of payment is a breach of strict guidelines issued by the Faculty of Advocates – the ­professional body all advocates and QCs belong to.

The couple’s MSP last week called for a probe into the payments.

Campbell wrote in an email to Melanie on October 10, 2012: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John but I need to collect £5000 from you in any form.”

The man referred to is solicitor advocate John Carruthers, who assisted in the case.

Four days later, Melanie received another email from Campbell which said: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet at Dalkeith on Tuesday morning when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team.”

Melanie, 62, a former land developer, of Bonkle, Lanarkshire, said: “I and a friend met with Mr Campbell at a restaurant in Dalkeith where I gave him an envelope containing £5000.

“There were three other ­occasions when I paid him £5000 cash in envelopes.

“One was at the Dakota hotel in Lanarkshire, one was at my home in Bonkle and one was a site in Cambusnethan in Wishaw relating to the court case. Looking back it might seem odd – but I had never had any dealings with a QC before and just assumed this was the way they worked.

“I paid two further cheques, one to Mr Campbell and one to a law firm, of £5000 and £4000. The total was £29,000.”

The payments related to a civil case Donal initially planned against a construction firm in 2011. The case was heard at the Court of Session in 2013.

Melanie said: “We won the case but were awarded £20,000. Our total legal fees were in the hundreds of thousands.”

She reported the cash payments claims to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2014.

The SLCC said at the time: “The complaint has been considered carefully by the SLCC. It has been decided … will not be investigated as it has not been made within time limits, for the reasons set out in the attached determination.”

The couple’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “All these allegations have to be investigated.

“If there has been malpractice at any stage this has to be dealt with by the appropriate ­authorities. Donal and Melanie’s problem up until now is that they’ve not been listened to when they have made the complaints.”

The SLCC could not be contacted for comment.

The Faculty of Advocates’ guide to conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever 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.

The Faculty of Advocates refused to comment last week.

Campbell, 67, said: “I have no comment to make.”


John Campbell QC:

The case in which Campbell represented Mr Nolan is that of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd, a high value damages claim in the Court of Session.

A media investigation recently revealed Inner House judge Lord Malcolm (Colin Malcolm Campbell) sat on the case no less than eight times while his son held an interest and represented the defenders – Advance Construction Ltd.

There is no recorded recusal by Lord Malcolm in the case, even though he stood aside during 2012 after he ‘realised’ his son may have been a ‘potential witness’.

Court papers obtained by journalists have since revealed alarming inconsistencies in hearings which cast doubt on the conduct of legal figures in the case – spanning eight Court of Session judges – one (Lord Malcolm) a member of the privy Council, several Sheriffs, high profile QCs and Levy & Mcrae  – the Glasgow law firm now subject to multi million pound writs in connection with the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

At the time the case began, during late 2011, Advance Construction Ltd were represented by a judge – the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson, and the son of a judge – Ewen Campbell – who both worked for Levy & Mcrae.

It was only discovered well into hearings in the case that Ewen Campbell was the son of the judge Lord Malcolm, who sat on the case a total of eight times, and unprecedently returned to the case after stepping aside, to hand over £5K lodged by a third party for an appeal.

And, it can be revealed a recent key ruling in the Court of Session delivered by the same Lord Malcolm – scrapped a 30 year policy of regulating service & conduct complaints against members of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & post 2008 – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The 2016 ruling by Lord Malcolm, reported here: CSIH 71 XA16/15 – appeal against a decision of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently allowed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to scrap 700 complaints against lawyers, advocates and QCs, and shattering the hopes of clients poorly served by their legal representatives.

Among the complaints to be taken advantage of by Lord Malcolm’s ruling and subsequently closed by the SLCC was the complaint against John Campbell QC – which included evidence presented to investigators in relation to Campbell’s demands for cash payments.

The complaint against Campbell also included allegations and evidence in relation the QC’s conduct and service in the proof heard by Commercial judge Lord Woolman.

During the second last day of the proof, Lord Woolman stated the pursuer – Mr Nolan – had a claim as the he had lost the use of his gallop and grazing.

Campbell then acted on his own – and significantly altered Mr Nolan’s claim in the Court of Session – removing Mr Nolan’s £4m head of claim. Unusually, John Campbell also removed a claim for legal and professional expenses.

There is no trace of any legal instruction from Mr Nolan to undertake this course of action in court, nor was there any consultation with Mr Nolan’s solicitor – who would have to had provided Mr Nolan with legal advice in relation to any proposed alteration of the claim by John Campbell QC. Similarly there is no trail of any communications between Mr Nolan’s solicitor, the Edinburgh Agents and Mr Campbell.

When a complaint against John Campbell QC was lodged with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, enquiries established the legal regulator heavily relied on a letter from Craig Murray to exonerate the aging QC.

However, enquiries by journalists have established two versions of Craig Murray’s letter now exist. Both versions of the same letter were used by legal regulators to exonerate Mr Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates.

Refusals by Murray to clarify the two separate versions of his letter have raised questions and concerns over his status as a prosecutor working for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), amid claims he enjoys success prosecuting criminal trials in the High Court of Justiciary.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe has yet to act on the allegations involving Campbell and Murray.

James Wolffe is now caught in a conflict of interest situation given  his role in the matter of the Faculty of Advocate’s investigation of Campbell and their failure to act after evidence of the cash demands were presented during Wolffe’s time as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Investigations into the case are set to continue amid growing calls for a full probe of Mr Campbell’s activities, and demands for Lord Carloway to act to preserve public confidence in the judicial and legal system in relation to decisions taken by members of the judiciary and certain events which took place in the Court of Session.

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TO PARLY, M’LORD: Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway finally offers to give evidence to Scottish Parliament probe on register of judges’ interests – amid growing calls for full judicial transparency

Lord Carloway to face Holyrood on judicial transparency. SCOTLAND’S top judge has made an offer to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee who are conducting a FIVE YEAR probe on proposals to create a register of judges’ interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

Lord President Lord Carloway made the offer in a detailed letter offering some concessions to MSPs – which has now been published by the Scottish Parliament.

In his letter to MSPs, Lord Carloway said: “I indicated in previous correspondence that I felt I could add little more to the views previously expressed. That remains my view. However, if the Committee wishes me to provide this evidence orally, I will do so.”

Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) also claimed in his letter to MSPs – that the subject of “online fraud” should also be considered as a reason to keep judges links to big business and significant wealth away from public gaze.

However, MSPs have been reminded the subject of online fraud has proved no obstruction to the thousands of registers of interest already in operation across the public sector – from local councillors and workers on local government right up to the Prime Minister, politicians and even members of the security services.

And, while Lord Carloway remains bitterly opposed to full judicial transparency – which would see the creation of a register of judicial interests to match all other branches of Government and those in public life including MSPs – the top judge has given a further concession to the petition in a decision to expand the current “recusals register” – where judges step aside from cases due to a conflict of interest.

Writing to the Petitions Committee, Lord Carloway said: “I would have no difficulty with the proposition that the register of recusals could be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused himself, and when he has declined to do so. The additional burden, which will fall upon the clerks of court, should not be great, and I agree that this may provide additional transparency.”

The concession from the Lord President comes after growing calls from those who support the judicial transparency proposals to give full information to the public on why judges are asked to recuse themselves in cases where conflicts of interest arise in court.

Since 2014 – when the then Lord President Lord Brian Gill created the register of recusals in an attempt to head off demands by MSPs and the public to bring in the register of interests for judges, there have been over 70 recusals from members of Scotland’s judiciary in cases throughout Scotland.

The recusals have occurred on issues where conflicts of interest have arisen – such as membership of charities, relationships between judges and those appearing before them in court, and other ‘conflicts of interest’.

In one case during 2014, Lord President Lord Gill was forced to step aside from a court hearing after he realised his son – Advocate Brian Gill, represented one of the parties in a court action which the Judicial Office have refused to give any further detail on since the recusal took place in late June 2014.

However, a recent investigation by the media has revealed judges are refusing to recuse themselves in high profile cases in the Court of Session – where inks to the judiciary permeate right across the court room.

An investigation published by Diary of Injustice earlier this month revealed Court of Session judge Lord Malcolm heard a case eight times, where his own son Ewen Campbell had an interest as a representative and adviser to the defenders – construction company Advance Construction Ltd.

Investigations by journalists has revealed there is no written record of any recusal by Lord Malcolm (real name Colin Malcolm Campbell) – who only stood aside from considering the action well into the hearings after he ‘realised’ the involvement of his son in the case.

Lord Malcolm then handed the case over to Lord Woolman – who heard the proof in the case – which has now become the subject of increasing questions after material was handed to the media suggesting key parts of the evidence founded upon by Lord Woolman have no evidential basis.

In an unprecedented move, Lord Malcolm then returned to the case for an eighth hearing to hand over money which had been lodged by a third party as caution for an appeal.

It is thought this is the first incidence of a judge returning to a case he previously stood aside from, yet there are no details contained in the current register of recusals, even though the pursuer lodged an appeal against Lord Malcolm’s reappearance in the damages claim.

The move has been frowned upon by legal observers – many of whom agree a judge should not be allowed to sit on a case they have previously recused themselves from, and calls are now being made to the Lord President to establish such a rule in the code of Judicial ethics and conduct, ensuring similar events do not take place in the future.

And, in relation to media enquiries seeking an explanation for Lord Malcolm’s decision to return to the case, the Judicial Office have refused to give any details on why Lord Malcolm refused to consider his position as a recusal matter.

The high value civil damages claim – Donal Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd – initially heard in Hamilton Sheriff Court and then transferred to the Court of Session for a ‘speedy’ resolution – involved the dumping of 16,500 tons of contaminated waste by the defenders from a North Lanarkshire Council PPI project on the land of Donal Nolan – the well known & respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer.

At the time, the defenders solicitor – Ewen Campbell – worked for Glasgow based Levy & Mcrae – a  law firm linked to Scotland’s judiciary and more recently named in a writ in relation to the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

Papers now lodged at Holyrood reveal Ewen Campbell reported back to former Levy & Mcrae senior partner and suspended Sheriff Peter Watson on the day to day running of the case for Advance Construction Ltd.

Details of the shocking case – which has seen no less than seven additional judges hear motions and interlocutors, has now been made to MSPs studying the plans to create the register of interests – which would also require members of the judiciary to disclose their links to others in the legal profession, links to business and other information.

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

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

Lord Carloway’s letter to the Public Petitions Committee is now published in full, here: Letter from Lord Carloway to Public Petitions Committee re Petition PE1458


I refer to your letter of 23 January. I have taken some time to review the evidence provided to the Committee by Professor Alan Paterson and to reconsider the position.

I note that you request a response on three specific issues, as follows:-

• First, whether there have been any inhibitions to the administration of justice arising in relation to those members of the judiciary who have to register financial or other interests in connection with other roles.

Scotland has a relatively small judiciary and only a very small proportion of those judges and sheriffs sit on bodies which require disclosure of financial interests. For example, only four- one senator, the Chair of the Scottish Land Court, one sheriff principal and one sheriff – sit on the Judicial Appointments Board, while seven judges – three Senators including myself, a sheriff principal, two sheriffs and a JP – sit on the Board of the SCTS. I am aware that my predecessor, Lord Gill, in his letter of 5 February 2013 noted that a register of judicial interests could have other consequences. He said:

“Consideration requires to be given to judges’ -privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals including dissatisfied litigants. It is possible that the information held on such a register could be abused.”

All senators and all sheriffs exercise a civil and criminal jurisdiction. I am concerned that, at a time when online fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, a dissatisfied litigant, or a convicted person, may choose to retaliate by these means. A register of judicial interests may provide a starting point for that. That has not, to the best of my knowledge, happened with the small cohort of judges who have disclosed financial interests through JABS or the SCTS Board, but that sample is so small that no comfort can be derived from that. Rather, I expect that judges will become increasingly vigilant about the risks of personal information appearing in the public domain.

Accordingly, one possible inhibitory effect on the administration of justice is that judges may start to decline positions on important public bodies such as these if that requires the disclosure of financial interests. In the same way, a register of judicial interests may have a damaging effect on judicial recruitment. You may be aware that, partly because of major changes to pension arrangements, difficulties have arisen in the recruitment of the senior judiciary. Revealing personal financial information is likely to act as a further powerful disincentive.

• Secondly, whether a decision on “recusal” should rest with a judge other than the individual who has been challenged or who has been identified as having a potential conflict of interests.

I assume that the proposition here is that the decision on declinature of jurisdiction should be made by someone other than the judge hearing the case, presumably another judge, or judges. At present, if a judge is asked to decline jurisdiction, and does not do so, then that decision can be reviewed, on appeal, by the appellate court. Any other system would not be an improvement. Cases are often allocated to judges, both in the Court of Session and the sheriff courts, at short notice. A party or a judge may not be aware of the circumstances in which the issue of declinature must be considered until the morning of the case. If he then requires to pass that issue to another judge, for consideration, the case is likely to be adjourned for that purpose, to the disappointment of litigants and the inefficient disposal of business in the courts.

The present system whereby a judge, having seen the papers and being aware of the precise extent of any interest financial or otherwise he may have, makes the decision on recusal, is the preferred option. Judges are invariably prudent in declining jurisdiction appropriately, but the right of appeal ensures that in, any rare case where that is not done, redress is available.

I should add that, as a generality, the problem, if there is one at all, rests with an over cautious approach to declinature: ie with judges or sheriffs declining jurisdiction and thus prompting an adjournment and causing delay when they should, in accordance with their duty, have heard and determined the cases placed before them.

• Thirdly, whether it would be in the interests of greater transparency for the “Register of Recusals” to be extended to cover instances where recusal has been considered or requested but jurisdiction has not been declined.

I would have no difficulty with the proposition that the register of recusals could be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused himself, and when he has declined to do so. The additional burden, which will fall upon the clerks of court, should not be great, and I agree that this may provide additional transparency.

I hope this is of assistance to the Committee. I indicated in previous correspondence that I felt I could add little more to the views previously expressed. That remains my view. However, if the Committee wishes me to provide this evidence orally, I will do so.

Responding to the letter from Lord Carloway, the petitioner has lodged a reply with MSPs.

The petitioner endorsed Lord Carloway’s offer to give evidence before the Committee, answered Lord Carloway’s concerns in relation to online fraud.

Moves by the Lord President to expand detail in the current recusals register were also welcomed by the petitioner, who suggested Lord Carloway add the same level of detail to the register of recusals which also appears in court opinions published on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website.

Writing to the Petitions Committee, the petitioner said:

Noting Lord Carloway’s offer to give evidence in public session, I urge members to invite the Lord President to an evidence session so the Committee and public can hear from the current Lord President on this petition and evidence submitted to the Committee.

Regarding Lord Carloway’s concerns about online fraud and the proposal to create a register of judicial interests, I would point out the subject of online fraud has not particularly affected or precluded other branches of public services and government, including the Scottish Parliament, from maintaining registers of interests which include financial and other details – for a considerable length of time.

Online fraud is a matter which everyone in society must deal with. Information readily published by the courts, the Crown Office and other bodies within the justice system in relation to court opinions or verdicts, contain financial, location or other personally identifiable information of significantly greater detail than is currently published about any member of Scotland’s judiciary.

With regards to concerns in relation to judges declining positions on public bodies which require the disclosure of financial details, I wish to point out judges are wealthy, well connected and influential members of the most powerful group of people in society – the judiciary. The viewpoints they hold, their status, power, and their part in decision making goes on to form public policy or law, impacting on all areas of public life.

Members of the judiciary who hold positions on public bodies, remunerated or not, should be required to declare their financial and other interests, like other members of those bodies, as there is a public expectation of transparency in all decision making and branches of Government.

Noting Lord Carloway’s comments on the current system of judges deciding whether to recuse themselves or not, this system has been proved to hold significant failures, where cases have been heard by judges who refuse to recuse themselves or, have failed to declare an interest.

The Committee has already been made aware of such cases where in one example an individual was denied their liberty, then an appeal judge who threw out the appeal, claimed in a newspaper investigation he forgot he prosecuted the same individual who was appealing his conviction.

A new system of someone else deciding if a judge should recuse themselves, along with a full and open account of the recusal decision, should be created. I do not believe such a system would pose unwarranted financial expense or considerable delays to cases.

Noting Lord Carloway’s acceptance of my previous suggestions to widen the scope of the recusals register, I support the inclusion of details where a judge is asked to recuse, considers recusing on his own, or refuses to recuse.

Further, I suggest it would be no great effort to include case reference numbers, and parties in the publication of details in the recusals register (the subjects of cases permitting), in similar form as already regularly appears in court opinions on the Scottish Courts website.

The routine publication of such detail and data should be standard practice of a transparent and accountable justice system so when a recusal request or decision occurs, court users, legal representatives ,the public and media know exactly why and for what reason a decision was taken.

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders

Judicial Interests probe – Lord Malcolm heard case involving his own son. AN INVESTIGATION by MSPs into proposals to create a register of judges’ interests has received evidence which contradicts claims by top judges – that members of the judiciary recuse themselves when they have conflicts of interest in court.

Papers lodged with the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in relation to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – reveal Court of Session judge – Lord Malcolm – real name Colin Malcolm Campbell QC – took part in multiple hearings on a case which began with his son – Ewen Campbell – providing legal representation to building firm Advance Construction Ltd.

However, Lord Malcolm did not recuse himself from any of the hearings, and no one in the court made the pursuers aware of any relationship between Lord Malcolm and Ewen Campbell until years into the court case.

The high value civil damages claim, initially heard in Hamilton Sheriff Court and then transferred to the Court of Session for a ‘speedy’ resolution – involved the dumping of 16,500 tons of contaminated waste by the defenders from a North Lanarkshire Council PPI project on the land of Donal Nolan – the well known & respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer.

At the time, the defenders solicitor – Ewen Campbell – worked for Glasgow based Levy & Mcrae – a  law firm linked to Scotland’s judiciary and more recently named in a writ in relation to the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

Papers now lodged at Holyrood reveal Ewen Campbell reported back to former Levy & Mcrae senior partner and suspended Sheriff Peter Watson on the day to day running of the case for Advance Construction Ltd.

Crucially, answers lodged by the defenders in relation to an appeal by the pursuer in 2016 – finally confirmed the relationship between the judge hearing the case and the defenders solicitor, admitting Ewen Campbell was Malcolm’s son, and had been acting for the defenders in court in earlier hearings.

However, the admission of the relationship between the judge and the defenders solicitor came years into the case, and questions are now being asked as to why the judge, and no one else in court informed the pursuers of this potential conflict of interest at a much earlier stage in the action.

A quote from a motion raised by the defenders in 2016 stated: “Lord Malcolm’s son, namely Ewen Campbell, was formerly an assistant solicitor at Messrs Levy & Mcrae, Solicitors, Glasgow. That firm is the principal agent instructed by the Defender and Respondent. Ewen Campbell was formerly involved in the present cause as an assistant to the partner handling the case.”

Pleadings to the court reveal Lord Malcolm heard the case on eight separate occasions, listed as 3 May 2012, 11 May 2012, 24 July 2012, 4 October 2012, 13 March 2013, 11 April 2013, 20 May 2013 and  on 16 March 2016.

However, there is no record of any recusal by Lord Malcolm in the case.

During the 11 April 2013 hearing, a note of the decision written by clerk Kate Todd reveals Lord Malcolm appointed Lord Woolman to hear the proof.

The move to appoint another judge is now subject to debate and questions from the pursuers and legal observers, given the fact Lord Malcolm had already taken part in no less than five hearings in Mr Nolan’s case without any recusal with regard to his son’s interest as legal agent for the defenders.

According to normal procedure, the appointment of Lord Woolman to the proof should instead have been undertaken by the Office of the Keeper of the Rolls of the Court, and not by another judge.

Lord Woolman has since come in for criticism after key parts of his 2014 opinion have been subject to concerns in relation to a lack of evidence and ‘unauthorised’ actions attributable to a senior QC.

However the saga of Lord Malcolm’s appearances in the case did not end with the proof being handed over to Lord Woolman in 2013.

Lord Malcolm returned to the same case during 2016 for another hearing – in order to hear and grant a motion handing money to the defenders – which had been lodged for an appeal by a friend of Mr Nolan.

The return of a judge to a case in which MSPs have been told he should have stood aside due to a conflict of interest – has now prompted concerns over the integrity of information currently supplied by the Judicial Office since 2014 relating to judicial recusals – and previous claims by judicial figures to politicians that judges had recused themselves when required to do so prior to the creation of the recusals register in 2014.

And, it has been pointed out – Lord Malcolm’s position on such an obvious conflict of interest contrasts starkly with action taken by former Lord President Brian Gill – who avoided the same situation when forced to step down from a case in June 2014 when Lord Gill’s son – Advocate Brian Gill – appeared in the same court acting for a party in a hearing.

With increasing calls for transparency on judges’ declarations and interests, questions are also being asked why a judge was allowed to sit unchecked so many times on a case in which his own son provided legal representation for the defenders.

The case involving Lord Malcolm – has now been brought to the attention of members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are involved in a five year probe on the judiciary and proposals put forward to require judges to register their interests.

Writing in a submission to MSPs, Mr Nolan’s partner – Melanie Collins – said had a register of interests for judges existed in Scotland, the existence of such a register would have resulted in Lord Malcolm recusing himself from hearing the case.

Ms Collins also highlighted links between the same judge – Lord Malcolm – and a ruling affecting hundreds of solicitors and members of the public which toppled over 700 investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission against solicitors and law firms accused of wrongdoing.

Ms Collins informed MSPs the SLCC were at the time investigating a complaint in relation to issues surrounding Mr Nolan’s case.

However, the ruling by Lord Malcolm ‘coincidentally’ closed down the legal regulator’s investigation into solicitors involved in the case, and hundreds of other cases after the judge struck down a 30 year policy where the Law Society of Scotland and SLCC investigated “hybrid complaints’ comprising of conduct and service issues against solicitors since before 1980.

Now, Ms Collins and her partner Mr Nolan both have the support of their constituency MSP Alex Neil and backing to bring their experiences to the Scottish Parliament.

The full submission from Melanie Collins: PE1458/CCC: SUBMISSION FROM MELANIE COLLINS

I would like to make the following submission in relation to the current system of judicial recusals.

In my view the system is not transparent about the circumstances in which judges should recuse themselves, such as circumstances in which a judge could be perceived as having a potential bias, or the instances in which a judge may be asked to consider recusing themselves but decide not to do so. My experience demonstrates that the recusal register is not working and that a register of interests being put in place is both necessary and correct to allow the public to have faith in the judiciary and transparency of the judicial system.

My views arise from a case raised on my partner’s behalf and in which a senior judge did not recuse himself, in circumstances in which the existence of a register of interests may have resulted in him having done so.

The matter, which I note has already been mentioned in a submission by the petitioner and has been aired by Committee members, has relevance to a recent ruling in the Court of Session a recent ruling in the Court of Session carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission .

In a civil case raised in the Court of Session, on behalf of my partner, Mr Donal Nolan, Lord Malcolm (Colin Campbell QC) heard and ruled on evidence in the case.

His son, Ewen Campbell, who at the time was with Levy & McRae, was an assistant solicitor involved in the day-to-day running of the case, providing the defenders with advice and representation in court. Ewen Campbell reported back to Peter Watson, formerly a senior partner of Levy & Mcrae, and (at the date of this submission) currently suspended as a temporary sheriff.

In the case raised on behalf of my partner Mr Nolan, had a register of interests for members of the judiciary existed prior to the case coming to court, this may in my view have resulted in Lord Malcolm having recused himself.

In relation to the impact of this on the ruling in the case involving the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the SLCC were investigating matters in relation to this case which the ruling by Lord Malcolm had the effect of changing the hybrid complaints process which resulted in numerous cases not being concluded.

There are examples in the judicial recusals register of judges recusing themselves, particularly the instance where former Lord President, Lord Brian Gill, recused himself on 26 June 2014, after his son appeared in the same court acting for a respondent.

It is not clear to me how this instance differed from my case where Lord Malcolm did not recuse himself and on which Lord Brodie’s opinion concluded that the circumstances did not satisfy the test for apparent bias or that there was a question of interest on the part of Lord Malcolm. This lack of clarity about when recusal is appropriate does not help in assuring public faith in the judiciary and transparency of the judicial system .

Members may also wish to note I have written to the current Lord President Lord

Carloway, to make him aware of concerns in relation to my own experience before the Court of Session.

No action has been taken by Lord Carloway to address the matter, which in my view is of significant concern where there is a potential conflict of interest, and where the transparency of the judicial system could be improved. In a response from the Lord President’s Office, information about the complaints mechanism for judges was not provided.

As members of the Committee have previously been made aware of certain details of this case, I would very much welcome the opportunity to give evidence in a public session, and also that my MSP, Alex Neil whose assistance has been invaluable in advancing matters, be invited to give evidence before the Committee.


THE UNRECUSED: The judge, his son, conflicts of interest and failure to recuse – undermines public confidence in Court of Session:

An ongoing investigation into a case in which a judge did not recuse himself from seven hearings on a case where his own son represented the defenders, and returned for a eighth hearing in 2016 to hand over sums lodged as cation for an appeal – is eroding confidence in Scotland’s top court –  the Court of Session.

Journalists examining papers relating to Lord Malcolm’s eighth appearance to the case of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd – have revealed a motion lodged by pursuer Mr Nolan for permission to appeal the decision by Lord Malcolm to hand over the £5,000 lodged as caution for expenses was blocked by Lord Brodie – but only after the judge appeared to be talked out of considering the pleadings by the defender’s QC.

The appeal raised by Mr Nolan against Lord Malcolm’s decision to hand over the cation – raised a conflict of interest and human rights, stating “grounds of justice and all persons who have an interest in the case should have been declared”.

This appeal was lodged during 2016 – only after the pursuer had been alerted to the fact a solicitor – Ewen Campbell – who acted for the defenders was actually the son of the judge – Lord Malcolm – who had presided over the case on seven previous hearings.

During hearings in relation to the initial lodging of the £5K cation by a friend of Mr Nolan – the QC, Roddy Dunlop acting for defenders Advance Construction Lrd asked Lord Menzies to increase the amount of the cation to around £35K.

However, Lord Menzies denied the defenders their motion to increase, and thought £5K was sufficient for to advance the appeal.

Then, in a later hearing, Lord Brodie said the money for the appeal should have been left in situ after the pursuer entered pleadings – requesting the cation be returned to the third party.

However Balfour & Manson – acting on behalf of Levy & Mcrae – for Advance Construction Ltd – presented a motion requesting the money be handed over to the defenders.

It was at this hearing, Lord Malcolm returned for the eighth occasion after earlier recusing himself from the case – to hand over the cash to the defenders.

The pursuer – Mr Nolan – then sought a written opinion from Lord Malcolm for his decision on 16 March 2016 to hand over the cation – however none was forthcoming from the judge or his clerks.

An opinion by Lord Brodie from the Court of Session – dated 20 May 2016 which the Scottish Courts Service has refused to publish – reveals Lord Brodie – who previously ruled on parts of the case, returned to hear Mr Nolan’s motion requesting for leave to appeal Lord Malcolm’s decision to the UK Supreme Court.

In the difficult to obtain opinion, Lord Brodie appeared to be going for the pursuer’s pleadings in that the test was met for a fair minded observer to conclude a conflict of interest existed on the part of Lord Malcolm.

However, as Lord Brodie’s opinion continues, the judge is then persuaded against granting the pursuer’s request for leave to appeal by the defender’s QC – Roddy Dunlop.

Commenting on the developments at the Scottish Parliament, the petitioner suggested the rules around judicial recusals should be improved to ensure a judge who has already recused themselves from a case should not be allowed to return to the same case at any later date.

The petitioner further stated: ”It appears Mr Nolan had no chance of obtaining justice at the Court of Session in a situation where the father of the defender’s legal agent was the presiding judge, the law firm acting for the defenders had senior partners who were judicial office holders and therefore colleagues of the presiding judge, and a QC who was representing the defenders has family links to the judiciary.”

“Had a register of judicial interests already existed, most or all of these relationships should have been caught and properly dealt with if public scrutiny and the test of fair mindedness of external observers were able to be applied to events in this case.”

As investigations into the case continue, papers currently being studied by journalists are set to reveal further issues:

* a senior QC sent emails to the pursuer and his partner demanding cash payments outside of the process where Advocate’s fees are normally paid through solicitors to Faculty Services. At the time of these demands for cash payments, the current Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC – was the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and fully aware of the QC’s irregular requests for cash.

* a set of desperate emails from a senior QC demanding possession of a recorded consultation during which, among other issues the pursuer’s legal team seem aloof of developments in major contamination & planning related cases.

* Evidence of Advocates’ demands for cash payments and falsified documents handed to James Wolffe QC – the then Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and now Scotland’s top prosecutor – the Lord Advocate – were not acted upon or properly investigated.

* North Lanarkshire Council paid out £2 million pounds of public cash which ended up with the defenders after they were paid in a subcontract agreement – yet the contaminated material dumped by the defenders on Mr Nolan’s land is still there and no action has been taken to remove it while the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) ‘looked the other way’.

* Mr Nolan had obtained a Soul & Conscience letter from his doctor due to ill health, lodged as document 148 of the process. The existence of the Soul and Conscience letter meant Mr Nolan should never have been put a position to address a court under the circumstances but was forced to do so.

* the blocking of an appeal to the UK Supreme Court by Lord Hodge – who failed to declare he previously sat on the Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd case at least eighteen times while he served as a judge in the Court of Session.

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


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Independent regulation ‘only solution’ to feuding solicitors’ regulators as court rules against Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland wins court victory against ‘independent’ SLCC. THE DANGER of having two regulators of complaints against solicitors in Scotland has been brought into sharp focus with a recent Court of Session ruling over a decision by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to send a complaint from a third party against a solicitor to the Law Society of Scotland. The judges ruled by a majority verdict in favour of the Law Society, stating the SLCC should have rejected the complaint as totally without merit.

I initially reported on the Law Society’s court appeals against the SLCC in an earlier article during April of this year, here : Bitter feud between regulators as Law Society of Scotland take Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to Court of Session over complaints role

The complaint made by Mr Glenn McIntosh and Mrs Janet McIntosh to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, stated they had received “an overly aggressive, intimidating and threatening letter” from a firm of solicitors, Mr Alistair Dean, solicitor, of the Alistair Dean Law Practice Ltd, Edinburgh, alleging trespass and threatening interdict proceedings over the McIntoshs’ alleged access through land owned by Mr Dean’s client, Mr Allan Pryde of Pryde Homes Ltd. The letter accused the McIntoshs’ of damage to a septic tank and drainage, which was denied in the McIntoshs’ complaint to the SLCC.

The McIntoshs’ told the SLCC : “We have received an overly aggressive, intimidating and threatening letter dated 6 July 2009 from adlp which was delivered while we were on holiday. In this letter we are accused of a continuing transgression through land allegedly owned by an Allan Pryde, Pryde Homes Limited. … We admit to accessing the field to the north which is owned by a local farmer Mr Miller, via the boundaries of our neighbour’s property, in this letter you will see we are accused of causing damage to the septic tank and drainage and that access is prohibited, you will see our response to this in the letter we sent to adlp dated 28 July 2009 to which we have not yet had a reply. We also enclose a copy plan showing exactly where the equipment referred to is situated.”

“The majority of this letter is based on inaccurate facts and untruths and we think it is an absolute outrage that solicitors are sending this type of correspondence to people. My wife has shown the letter to Trading Standards who were equally shocked by the content and this has prompted our communication with you”.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission considered matters, and determined the complaint should be remitted to the Law Society of Scotland for investigation and determination as a conduct complaint in accordance with section 6 of the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007. The Law Society challenged the SLCC’s decision, and filed the resulting appeal at the Court of Session.

While Lord Kingarth & Lord Reed both sided with the Law Society of Scotland, finding the complaint to be totally without merit, and the SLCC’s decision to send it onto the Law Society wrong, Lord Malcolm gave a differing view, supporting the SLCC’s actions, detecting no error of law in the Commission’s approach to the complaint.

Lord Malcolm’s opinion in full : The appellants’ (Law Society) concern is that in general the respondents (SLCC) are too reluctant to consider the merits (or demerits) of a complaint when assessing whether it is or is not “totally without merit” for the purpose of deciding whether to refer it to the professional body for investigation and determination. On the other hand the respondents stress that the public interest in the proper regulation of the profession demands that it should be alerted to any circumstances where there might be professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct. The present case has been selected from a number of appeals which raise similar issues.

His Lordship continued : [48] Parliament has decided that, notwithstanding the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (“the Commission”), the relevant professional body (in this case the Law Society of Scotland) should remain responsible for the investigation and determination of a conduct complaint. This suggests that when considering whether or not a complaint is “frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit” in terms of section 2(4) of the 2007 Act, any inquires carried out by the Commission should be no more than is required to allow it to answer that question. Were it otherwise, there would be a risk of duplication of effort, unnecessary delay, complexity and confusion. The Commission might be drawn into an investigation and consideration of the merits of a complaint, something which is specifically the responsibility of the Society. It was plain from the discussion at the hearing on the appeal that the Commission is anxious to avoid usurping the exclusive jurisdiction of the professional body to police conduct issues.

[49] A flavour of the correct approach to the phrase “totally without merit” can be gained from the link with “frivolous” and “vexatious” complaints. In my view, the test of “totally without merit” is different from a test of “without merit”. The latter would require consideration of the substance of the matter, allied to any necessary investigation. The statutory formula does not require this. It allows the sifting of complaints which, on their face, are obviously unworthy of any consideration or investigation by the professional body. It covers hopeless complaints where it is clear that further inquiries could make no difference. A conclusion that a complaint is unlikely to succeed would not meet the test for dismissal by the Commission at the preliminary stage. (“Succeed” may not be the correct word since it connotes a dispute or adversarial process akin to litigation, whereas for a professional body the fundamental purpose of a complaints system is to facilitate its duty to protect the public and to promote proper professional standards). The hurdle set by the phrase “totally without merit” is very low. While not exact, the nearest equivalent which occurs to me is the “clearly unfounded” test for certification of an asylum claim under section 94 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, around which there is a developed jurisprudence. It stresses that certification should be granted only if it is absolutely clear that, if put before an immigration judge, the claim would be bound to fail. Anything more than a fanciful prospect of success, perhaps after and depending upon the outcome of appropriate investigations, would prohibit certification: see A K (Sri Lanka) [2009]

EWCA [Civ] 447.

[50] Contrary to a submission made by counsel for the Commission, for rejection of a complaint as totally without merit under section 2(4) it is not necessary that it be identified as an abuse of process. That submission is based on an unwarranted gloss on the statutory wording. A complaint may be totally without merit, yet not an abuse of the process. An example is given later in this opinion.

[51] The creation of the Commission and its “single gateway” role was, at least in part, prompted by a concern that the previous regime was “run by lawyers for the benefit of lawyers”. Such perceptions were damaging to the standing of the profession. The policy was “to build public confidence in the system for handling complaints against lawyers” by instituting procedures which “put the users of legal services at the heart of regulatory arrangements” (paragraphs 6 and 26 of the Policy Memorandum relating to the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act Bill). Thus the Act set up a body independent of the profession which, amongst other things, would decide whether the relevant professional body should be required to investigate a complaint. Previously the Justice 1 Committee of the Scottish Parliament had offered the view that such a system “could reassure the public that complaints could not be unfairly rejected as invalid by the professional bodies”, there having been expressions of concern that they were too quick to find reasons for declaring a complaint to be ineligible (paragraph 5.8 of the Report “Reforming Complaint Handling, Building Consumer Confidence” May 2005).

[52] This background suggests that, when dealing with complaints, the Commission (and the relevant professional body) should try to keep in mind how things might appear to a lay person. Whatever the outcome, it should try to resolve complaints in a manner which avoids a feeling on the part of complainers that their concerns have been swept under the carpet. This indicates that a complaint should be rejected by the Commission as being “totally without merit” only in a clear and unambiguous case. One approach would be to ask whether a sensible person could think that there may be something to be gained from a referral to the professional body.

[53] There may be cases which, though not focused by the complainer, raise topics of general concern or interest, which the professional body might consider to be of value or significance from the point of view of reviewing and perhaps improving standards and general practice. Proper professional conduct is not set in stone. The present case might prompt the Society to reflect on what is to be expected of a solicitor who is instructed to write a letter directly to lay people threatening court action on the basis of alleged wrongdoing. For example, guidance might be given that solicitors should make it clear that they cannot and do not associate themselves with the allegations, but are simply acting on the instructions of and on the basis of information provided by their client. While lawyers may understand all this, lay people may not. If the allegations are unwarranted, the recipients may consider that they are being bullied and intimidated by a professional person. For many people, a letter in such terms from a solicitor will be an unusual and worrying thing. In most people’s eyes it will have a special status. Furthermore, language which appears normal and measured to a lawyer may well come across quite differently to a lay person. The court was informed that throughout the whole process the solicitor made no response to either the complainers or the Commission. In these circumstances the Society may wish to consider whether it is satisfactory for the solicitor to ignore rebuttal letters, especially if in the meantime he neither raises the threatened court proceedings nor says anything further on the subject, thereby leaving the people concerned in a state of uninformed limbo.

[54] In summary, if a complaint raises issues which may be of general interest to the professional body with responsibility for reviewing conduct and standards, I would not expect it to be rejected by the Commission under section 2(4). The contrary approach would involve an overly restrictive concept of the term “merit”. All of this follows if it is understood that such a complaint is not analogous to an adversarial dispute, nor to a summons in a litigation. A summons necessarily imports notions of onus, specification and relevancy, but in my view it would be wrong to translate similar concepts to the present context.

[55] During the hearing there was some discussion as to whether, for the purposes of section 2(4), “the complaint” should be restricted to the specific concerns focused by the complainer. Given the wider public interest issues involved, I would not expect the professional body to consider itself so constrained if it identified other matters deserving of its attention. I would not expect a complaint to be dismissed as being wholly without merit simply because, for whatever reason, the complainer had not articulated a matter which deserves investigation. Typically complainers will not be lawyers. I see no reason to adopt a different interpretation of the provisions of the Act, including section 2(4). Thus, in my view, the Commission should not adopt a narrow view restricted to the specific concern or concerns as expressed by the complainer. Rather it should decide the preliminary issue on the basis of the whole circumstances arising from and relating to the complaint. The same will apply if the court is considering whether to exercise its powers under section 22 of the Act to substitute its decision for that of the Commission.

[56] The 2007 Act expressly allows for complaints of “unsatisfactory professional conduct”, a much broader, easier to establish concept than the more serious matter of professional misconduct. When considering its task under section 2(4), the Commission should ask itself whether there is any possibility that the relevant professional body would consider that the complaint merits consideration, with or without further inquiries. In other words, and putting the matter colloquially, “might there be something in it?”. If the answer is “possibly yes”, the hurdle is cleared and the Commission must refer the complaint to the professional body. An example discussed at the hearing where the answer to this question would be “clearly no”, concerned a complainer criticising his advocate for referring the judge to a recent Supreme Court authority adverse to his client’s interests, which had been overlooked by his opponent’s counsel. It is wholly understandable that this might irritate the client, and leave him feeling aggrieved. Such a complaint could not be described as frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process. However, it is beyond doubt that counsel was simply fulfilling his duty to the court and no amount of further investigation could alter that fact. This would be an example of a complaint which was totally without merit within the meaning of section 2(4).

[57] Where the Commission is of the view that further investigation is needed, it does not follow that the Commission must carry out that investigation before it can determine the section 2(4) issues. On the contrary, a need for investigation is likely to demonstrate that the complaint is not totally without merit. This remains so even if the likelihood is that further investigation will exonerate the solicitor. In my view, the phrase “whether or not” in section 2(4) does not compel the Commission to resolve any uncertainties. In a case where further investigation might be relevant, it is the professional body, not the Commission, that should undertake that investigation.

Contrary to what might be deduced from certain submissions made on behalf of the Society, it is important that when considering its task under section 2(4) the Commission does not reach conclusions as to what the outcome of such investigations might be, for example because of assumptions that the solicitor will not have acted improperly. The dangers of such an approach are obvious. Equally, neither the professional body nor the practitioner should be offended or disturbed by a decision by the Commission to refer, since this involves no judgment on the merits of the complaint.

[58] In the grounds of appeal the Society emphasises the stress and other difficulties which a complaint can cause for a solicitor. No doubt an investigation by one’s professional body can be stressful and unwelcome, but there are powerful public interest considerations lying behind Parliament’s decision that conduct complaints should be fully and properly considered by other members of the profession. The emphasis should be on protection of the public and safeguarding the reputation of the profession: see Graham v Nursing and Midwifery Council 2008 SC 659 (Extra Division) at paragraph 13.

[59] Notwithstanding all of the above, I am of the view that counsel for the Commission was wrong when he appeared to suggest that once a complaint is lodged the Commission can ask no further questions of the complainer. That submission is contradicted by the terms of section 17 of the Act. Even without that provision, I would have concluded that the Commission has an implied power to seek clarification of the complaint or the factual basis for it, though, as indicated earlier, any such inquiries (“investigation” is perhaps the wrong word) should be no more than is necessary to allow the Commission to decide the preliminary issue under section 2(4). With regard to the hypothetical example proffered by counsel for the Society during the hearing, if a complainer says only that X is a thief, there is nothing to stop the Commission from asking “why do you say that?”. If the answer is because X is a red head and all red heads are thieves, then clearly the complaint should be dismissed as frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit, or perhaps all three.

The Present Appeal
[60] Turning now to the circumstances of the present appeal, when considering whether the complaint is or is not totally without merit, I would expect the Commission to have in mind two matters. Firstly, that it is possible that the allegations in the letter sent to Mr and Mrs McIntosh are wholly inaccurate, and that it might be understood by them as the solicitor asserting that the allegations are true, particularly having regard to the terms of the first, second, sixth and penultimate paragraphs. Secondly, that it is at least possible that the Society would take the view that a solicitor should appreciate that the recipients might be alarmed and distressed on receiving such a letter from a solicitor. I have in mind the statement that “if there is a repeat of your accessing the land in question, our client has instructed us to raise court proceedings, in the form of an interdict action, without further notice”, allied to the reference on the next page to a report of malicious damage to the police. Given the terms of the reply from Mr and Mrs McIntosh to the solicitor, the view may be taken that he should have appreciated that if he failed to reply to that letter, then they may be left in a state of worry and uncertainty. Further, and especially should the true facts be as asserted by them, absent any response to their letters, and with no court proceedings being raised, they may be left with the overall impression that there was never any real intention to bring the matter to court, and that a solicitor’s letter was simply being used to bully and intimidate them. It was common ground at the hearing that it would be at least unsatisfactory conduct for a solicitor knowingly to participate in such an exercise. In these circumstances the complainers might expect the Society to at least check that the solicitor was not privy to or party to any such objective. In my view the issue is not whether the solicitor had instructions, but what those instructions were. An outright rejection of their concerns by the Commission without any consideration by the professional body may well leave the complainers with the impression that their concerns had not been addressed.

[61] None of this involves any assertion on my part that there has been unsatisfactory or improper conduct on the part of the solicitors. However, in the overall circumstances, I agree with the Commission’s decision that the complaint should not be dismissed at this stage. Such a decision is wholly neutral as to the proper disposal of the complaint. If the matter was referred to the Society, it would remain open to it to conclude that on no view of the facts has the solicitor transgressed any rule or fallen below a satisfactory standard of conduct. Further, a referral does not oblige the professional body to any course of action other than to apply its mind to the complaint, carry out such inquiries, if any, as it thinks fit, and reach a reasoned decision on the complaint. I do not interpret section 47 of the Act as imposing an elaborate procedure where none is required. However, at a minimum, one result of a referral might be some consideration as to whether a solicitor should make it clear in letters such as that sent to Mr and Mrs McIntosh that he is simply acting on the basis of information provided to him, and, when a detailed response is received, that the threat of interdict proceedings should not be left hanging in the air. At the hearing, counsel for the Society indicated that a solicitor would be expected to respond to a letter from another solicitor. Without some explanation from the Society, members of the public are unlikely to understand why a lay person is not entitled to the same courtesy.

[62] The Society’s grounds of appeal suggest that a solicitor can never be expected to do more than proceed on the basis of a state of facts presented to him by his client when writing a letter alleging wrongdoing. (A contrast is drawn with the obligations on a solicitor when drafting court pleadings). I am reluctant to endorse that as an absolute rule in all circumstances, and it can be noted that the letter did threaten interdict proceedings without further notice. I do not interpret the complaint as an allegation that the solicitor should have, in effect, warranted that the stated facts were true before writing the letter. Plainly that would be impracticable and beyond any reasonable requirements on a solicitor asked to write such a letter. Also, I am not suggesting that after receipt of the letter from Mr and Mrs McIntosh the solicitor was then obliged to adjudicate on the dispute. However, I would disagree with any proposition that, whatever the circumstances, a solicitor’s obligations begin and end with his duties to his client, fellow professionals and the court. There is no such limitation in the phrase “unsatisfactory professional conduct” which, in broad terms, is defined in section 46 of the Act as covering sub‑standard professional conduct. Obviously from time to time lawyers cannot avoid writing letters which will cause upset, but equally I do not agree with counsel for the Society’s submission that, when considering a complaint of this nature, the likely effect of the letter on its recipients must always be treated as wholly irrelevant.

[63] At least some of the above considerations were in the mind of the author of the Commission’s document headed “Determination under section 2(4)”. Writing in November 2009 he observed that there had been “no response of any kind received by Mr and Mrs McIntosh to their letter of 28 June 2009”. He also noted that the solicitors had made no response to a second letter of 14 August, which was sent on the advice of the Commission. From the terms of paragraph 3.4 of that document it is plain that there was a concern that the terms of the solicitor’s letter were too assertive as to the accuracy of the information being supplied to the solicitors, and “gave no opportunity to Mr and Mrs McIntosh to explain their version of events”. For myself I see no defect in the reasoning contained in the determination when, as the author clearly stated, the only question was whether the complaint was or was not totally without merit. For the reasons explained above I also have no difficulty in following the potential relevance of the solicitor’s failure to respond in any shape or form to the letters of 28 June and 14 August.

[64] I detect no error of law in the Commission’s approach. Even if, as indicated in the opinion of your Lordship in the chair, there was an element of misunderstanding in the author’s mind as to the proper role and duty of a solicitor in these circumstances, nonetheless, for the reasons given earlier, it would not cause me to regard the decision itself as vitiated, nor to substitute a different one. In the whole circumstances, I regret that I find myself unable to agree with your Lordships. I would refuse the appeal.

Despite winning the appeal, the Law Society of Scotland strangely did not issue the usual media release promoting itself as the world’s worst best regulator of solicitors, it’s 20 year reigning Director of Regulation Philip Yelland choosing rather to make a brief comment in the Journal Online.

Rosemary Agnew, the interim Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a brief statement : “Although the Lords found for the Law Society of Scotland by majority, and so the Commission lost the appeal, we recognise the opinions expressed in the decision are of vital importance to our future operations and are giving the matter measured consideration.”

However, a source close to the SLCC said the blame for origins of this case, and others of a similar nature currently going through the Court of Session lay firmly with the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee’s consideration of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill during 2006.

She said “As the Justice 2 Committee considered the LPLA Bill during 2006, MSPs & the Scottish Executive must have realised from testimony the Committee heard the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should have been put in charge of all complaints against solicitors, rather than the Law Society being allowed to retain conduct complaints & discipline. These failures are now causing significant problems for the SLCC’s complaints handling remit.”

I reported on the progress of the LPLA Bill during 2006 on many occasions, reporting on the bill’s final passage through a Scottish Parliament vote, here : Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill finally passed by Scottish Parliament, with amendments. Make no mistake, the LPLA Bill was as butchered by the Law Society of Scotland then, as the current Legal Services Bill is being butchered by the same vested interests bent on retaining their power over what is little more than a money making ‘business’ to the legal profession, which the Scots public must rely on for access to justice.

A legal insider commenting on the Court of Session’s ruling said it set a dangerous precedent for the treatment of third party complaints raised by non-clients.

He said : “Firstly I would like to make clear I believe there must be an effective mechanism for dealing with third party complaints against the legal profession. However, one has to wonder at the motives of the SLCC for sending this particular complaint to the Law Society in the first place, when one of its own staff had already judged the complaint to be without merit.”

He continued : “It is a matter of record there are now two recent favourable rulings to the legal profession in terms of how the Law Society & the SLCC handle complaints. Both these rulings do not in my view benefit the public, rather they show a pattern of both regulators apparently trying to gain court backing for their handling of complaints, necessitated by the ludicrous situation of having two regulators handling complaints against the legal profession, both vying for the spot of top dog, while doing little to instil any public confidence in their operation.”

A solicitor speaking this morning to Diary of Injustice said : “Questions must now be asked regarding the SLCC & the Law Society’s conduct in this case and the other appeals, which are ultimately being funded by the profession in a rather odd situation where solicitors are effectively paying a complaints levy to see two regulators run up huge court costs over questionable decisions. I for one am not happy with this state of affairs.”

Clearly independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland would resolve these problems where the SLCC finds itself having to send off conduct complaints to the Law Society of Scotland, for what we all know amounts to a complaint’s certain death, however, as we have witnessed over the past two years, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has underperformed on an almost unimaginable scale in terms of its public expectation of cleaning up complaints against solicitors.

If fully independent regulation of the legal profession is to come in Scotland, the SLCC is not in my view the body to be trusted to do it, and the Scottish Parliament appears too weak to create an effective truly independent body which could live up to the task. After all, one really has to ask oneself what kind of people, after hearing the kinds of testimony which came out during Holyrood’s consideration of the LPLA Bill would be stupid enough to leave a discredited regulator such as the Law Society of Scotland in charge of even a duck house …?


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,