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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 scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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JUDICIAL CAPITAL: Court clash over £400m Heather Capital collapse reveals suspended judge received £200K from Gibraltar law firm involved in £28.4m offshore cash transfers

Court hears Sheriff received £200K from law firm. DETAILS of a £200,000 payment made to a suspended Scottish judge have emerged in a court clash between liquidators of the collapsed £400m Heather Capital Hedge Fund & Glasgow based law firm Levy & Mcrae – who are being sued for £28.4million in relation to transfers of cash to offshore companies.

In an opinion issued by Lord Woolman at the Court of Session, it was revealed suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) – a former partner in Levy & McRae – received £200,000 from the client account of Hassans – a Gibraltar based law firm on 23 December 2008.

The payment to the suspended Sheriff came to light in court documents which also revealed a trail of cash transfers from Levy & Mcrae to offshore companies based in Panama, Monaco & Gibraltar.

The court also heard Gibraltar based Hassans- acted in the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by Gregory King – who launched Heather Capital in 2004.

Details from the court opinion further revealed “One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company. On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.”

Liquidators of the now defunct hedge fund contend Heather Capital was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The court also heard claims Levy & McRae provided “dishonest assistance” to Heather Capital’s founder – Gregory King – now based in Spain.

Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young – who are handling Heather Capital’s affairs – is demanding  £28.4million from Levy & McRae, Mr Watson and other partners of the firm

During the hearing, legal agents acting for the liquidators also sought to obtain an order requiring suspended Sheriff Watson to disclose his involvement with Heather Capital.

However, Lord Woolman refused the request, expressing fears that granting the order would ‘encourage litigation’.

Lord Woolman said in his opinion: “I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers. There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative ‘deep pocket’ litigation.”

Since 2010, Ernst & Young have been battling to recover investors cash from the demise of Heather Capital.

In court documents filed in the Isle of Man as part of a negligence claim against accountants KPMG over their role in Heather Capital – it is claimed Heather Capital were operating a Ponzi scheme to dupe investors.

Documents allege that as early as 2006, senior KPMG staff feared Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather.

KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”.

In July 2011, the Scottish Crime & Drug Enforcement Agency obtained search warrants to recover material from the Glasgow based Cannon Law Practice – run by Frank Cannon – as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of millions of pounds of cash. Much of the allegedly stolen money passed through Cannon’s client account.

The move by Police followed a financial audit of Cannon’s Law Practice – conducted by the Law Society of Scotland in 2010, during which it was discovered millions of pounds had passed through Cannon’s client account in relation to a series of offshore transactions involving their client – Gregory King, a director of Mathon Ltd & Heather Capital.

It is unknown at this time if the Law Society of Scotland have conducted any financial audit of law firms mentioned in the latest court proceedings – where it is alleged tens of millions of pounds have passed through client accounts to offshore companies.

A report from Police Scotland naming Gregory King, Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar & Scott Carmichael is still being considered by the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland & Scotland’s Crown Office. However, no decision has yet been made public on the case since the Crown Office confirmed it was considering Police reports filed with prosecutors some time during 2014.

SHERIFF, SUSPENDED:

Peter Black Watson (61) – a partner in Levy & Mcrae at the time of the transactions – was suspended from judicial position of Sheriff by Scotland’s top judge Lord Brian Gill earlier this year – after an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper prompted the Lord President to demand sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae.

As no register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary currently exists, top judge Lord Gill was unaware of Sheriff Watson’s involvement in Heather Capital until the Scottish Sun newspaper contacted the Judicial Office directly.

Watson offered to temporarily step aside from his judicial duties – while the litigation concluded – however a spokesperson for the Judicial Office told the media: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland read: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings. Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter. Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

Watson – who remains suspended from the judicial bench, was a director of Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire. The suspended Sheriff who now works out of PBW Law, also held shares in Aarkad PLC – a company based in the Isle of Man which channelled money into Heather Capital.

Watson was also a director of a “King & Company” – a Private Bank set up by Gregory King in Gibraltar. However, Gibraltar’s Financial Services watchdog revealed the banking license application for “King & Company” was withdrawn after two years in 2010.

In his capacity as a solicitor, and during the time Watson acted as a Sheriff – his clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond, former Rangers owners Sir David Murray, ex-Glasgow City Council leader Stephen Purcell and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.

The full opinion from Lord Woolman in the latest round of litigation in the Heather Capital case at Scotland’s Court of Session:

OUTER HOUSE, COURT OF SESSION [2015] CSOH 115: CA207/14

NOTE BY LORD WOOLMAN

In the cause

HEATHER CAPITAL LIMITED (IN LIQUIDATION) Pursuers; against

LEVY & McRAE AND OTHERS Defenders:

Pursuer:  Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC;  Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP
Defenders:  Clark QC, J Brown;  Simpson & Marwick
14 August 2015

Introduction

[1]        Heather Capital Ltd (‘HC’) was incorporated in the Isle of Man in 2005.  Prior to its liquidation in 2010 it had received investments exceeding $400 million. The present action has been raised in its name by the liquidator. The first defender is the firm of Levy & McRae. The other defenders are eight individuals, who were partners in the firm in the period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008.

[2]        The liquidator contends that the company was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The scheme involved the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by one of HC’s directors, Gregory King.  A firm of solicitors in Gibraltar, Hassans, acted in these transactions.

[3]        According to the liquidator, in early 2007 HC’s auditors raised queries about these transactions.  Subsequently, Mr King sought to conceal their true nature.

[4]        One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company.  On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.

[5]        On 23 December 2008 a payment of £200,000 was made to the eighth defender, Mr Peter Watson, from Hassans’ client account.

[6]        The liquidator pleads that HC was the client of the first defender at the material time. Accordingly, the defenders owed HC certain fiduciary duties, together with an obligation to exercise the knowledge, skill and care of reasonably competent solicitors.

[7]        It is also important to notice the terms of the pursuer’s ninth plea-in-law. It states:

“the pursuer having suffered loss, injury and damage by reasons of the defenders’ dishonest assistance of Gregory King in the latter committing breach of his fiduciary duties owed to the pursuer … decree should be pronounced”

[8]        The liquidator seeks to recover the sum of £28.4 million from the defenders. He intimated the claim on 23 June 2013.  There followed extensive pre-action correspondence before the summons was served on 23 October 2014. During that period, the liquidator did not request clarification of the membership or constitution of the firm of Levy & McRae as it existed from time to time.

[9]        The summons called on 10 February 2015.  The defences were lodged a week later. They stated that three of the defenders had been wrongly convened, because they had been assumed as partners after June 2007.  They are Mr Alasdair Gillies (1 July 2007), Mr Andrew Sleigh (1 December 2008), and Mr Gary Booth (1 January 2011).

[10]      The defenders raised this matter at the preliminary hearing on 5 March, and the continued hearing on 8 May. They said it involved significant reputational damage to those three individuals. They asked for early disposal of this discrete issue.

[11]      I fixed a hearing to take place on 13 August.  About a week before the hearing, the liquidator enrolled a motion to allow a minute of amendment.  It sought to add five further individuals as defenders, on the footing that they had been partners in the first defender in the period from 4 January 2007 to date.

[12]      The liquidator gave the following reasons in support of his motion:

“The pursuer’s agents wrote to the agent for the defenders on 7 May 2015 and 7 July 2015. In those letters, the pursuer’s agent requested:

    confirmation that the defenders had adequate insurance cover in place to meet the pursuer’s claim if it was successful;
copies of the partnership agreements for each defender that the defender’s agents maintain have been wrongly convened; and
details of each defender’s capital contribution to the firm

The defenders have failed to provide any of this information to the pursuer. The pursuer has identified a further 5 current and former partners of the firm who require to be convened.

Without confirmation that the defenders have sufficient insurance cover, or evidence as to why the defenders do not incur personal liability (which depends on the circumstances of each case), the pursuer seeks to convene these partners and former partners to the action as they may be jointly and severally liable for the debts of the firm.” (emphasis added)

Liability of new partners

[13]      The liability of new partners is governed by section 17(1) of the Partnership Act 1890:

“A person who is admitted as a partner into an existing firm does not thereby become liable to the creditors of the firm for anything done before he became a partner.”

[14]      In their Joint Consultation Paper on Partnership Law (2000), the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission state in relation to Scots law (at 10.65):

“Where the business taken over is substantially the same as the old firm, and where that business is continued without interruption, there appears to be a general presumption that the new partnership takes over the whole liabilities as well as the assets.”

[15]      Lord Hodge considered this point in Sim v Howat & McLaren [2011] CSOH 115 at [31]:

“The presumption does not arise unless there are facts and circumstances which bring it into play. The continuation of substantially the same business without interruption is necessary for the presumption.”

He suggested a number of other relevant facts and circumstances. They included whether the new partner had made a substantial capital contribution, whether he had paid or acknowledged any of the prior debts, and whether separate accounts were kept for the new and the old firm.

[16]      Lord Hodge determined at paragraph [29] that the appropriate test was whether a new partner had “accepted liability either expressly or tacitly” for the claim.

[17]      Who is responsible for averring those facts and circumstances? The answer is clear. In Thomson Balfour v Boag & Son 1936 SC 2 Lord Fleming stated (at p16) that “it was for the pursuers to prove” that a new partner had accepted liability for the debts of the old business.

[18]      Similarly in Miller v Macleod 1973 SC 172 Lord Justice Clerk Wheatley stated (at p183):

“whether in the circumstances the pursuer has established by presumption or by proof of facts and circumstances that the new firm agreed to adopt the old debts and become liable for them. Of course, the establishment of the presumption itself is dependent upon sufficient facts being proved to sustain it, and this in my opinion entitles the Court to look at all the facts, whether they occurred before, at or after the establishment of the partnership.”

[19]      In the present case, the liquidator does not offer to prove such facts and circumstances.  Instead, he states in condescendence 1:

“the defenders have been called upon, but failed, to provide to the pursuer the evidence (including a copy of the relevant partnership agreement(s) and copies of the accounts showing capital contributions made by the partners joining the partnership after December 2008) that any new partners who joined the partnership of Levy & McRae have not, in fact, undertaken liabilities of the partnership which were in existence prior to them joining. Accordingly, all the defenders are properly convened.”

[20]      In my view, that averment fails to satisfy the test identified by the Inner House. There are no averments that would allow the liquidator to lead evidence that the three individuals either expressly or tacitly agreed to take over the existing liabilities of the previous firm.  It does not set out the basis upon which the three individuals are convened. Instead it inverts the normal rule that the pursuer must plead his case.

[21]      Given the serious nature of the allegations and the size of the claim, the liquidator required to identify the basis upon which each defender had been convened.  He also had to differentiate between the acts of those individuals who had been partners at the material time and those who had been assumed after 2007.

[22]      I shall therefore sustain the defenders’ first plea-in-law to the extent of dismissing the case, so far as laid against the third, sixth and seventh defenders.

[23]      In doing so, I observe that on 25 March, the defenders’ solicitors wrote three separate letters to the pursuer’s solicitors and stated:

“In terms of his partnership agreement, no obligation was imposed on [the relevant defender] in respect of acts or omissions prior to his assumption, nor did he provide any indemnity in respect of such matters.”

Minute of Amendment

[24]      In the minute of amendment, the pursuer seeks (a) to alter the dates for the partners called as defenders to 4 January 2007 to date; and (b) to add five individuals, all of whom have been partners of Levy & McRae at some stage in that period. The relevant dates are as follows: Anne Bennie (2000 – 2008), Calum Anderson (1 July 2014) Laura Salmond (3 November 2014), Graham Craik (5 January 2015), and Stephen Hay 2007 (c6 months in late 2007).

[25]      The minute does not include any substantive averments to indicate the basis upon which these individuals are said to have taken over prior liabilities.  Accordingly, for the same reasons as given in relation to Messrs Gillies, Sleigh and Booth, I refuse to allow receipt of the minute.

[26]      The pursuer has had ample opportunity to investigate the position. Standing the very serious nature of the allegations, and the absence of a proper basis for seeking to add the five individuals as partners, I hold that it is not in the interests of justice to follow that course.

Disclosure of the Insurance Position

[27]      The pursuer seeks an order requiring the defenders to answer questions about the insurance position.  First, will the policy cover the claim?  Second, have the defenders notified a claim to insurers?  Third, have the insurers accepted the claim?

[28]      At the May hearing, the pursuer’s then senior counsel accepted that he was not entitled to ask for that information.  Lord Davidson, however, explained that the application had been made to elide the difficulty of identifying the correct defenders.  If the claim is covered by insurance, then that issue is much less important.

[29]      There is no Scottish authority in point.  In England the matter has been considered in the context of the court’s powers under the Civil Procedure Rules.  In West London Pipeline & Storage Ltd v Total UK Ltd [2008] EWCH 1296 (Comm), David Steel J refused to allow disclosure, although he also stated at [30]:

“The trend is strongly towards a more open approach to litigation. Albeit the potential for prejudice to the defendant and his insurers must be borne in mind, in the modern age of ‘cards on the table’ the question is readily posed why should not the one factor which may be key to a claimant’s view of the merit of pursuing a claim, namely what is the limit of cover and will the costs eat it up anyway, be known?”

[30]      In XYZ v Various [2013] EWHC 3643 (QB) Thirwall J ordered very limited disclosure to demonstrate that the defendant had sufficient insurance to fund its participation to the end of the trial.  The Court of Appeal has indicated that the matter is not free from doubt: Dowling v Griffin [2014] EWCA Civ 1445.

[31]      Lord Davidson suggested that I could use the wide powers contained in rule of court 47 to order disclosure.  I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers.  There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative “deep pocket” litigation: West London at [30].

Further Procedure

[32]      I shall allow a further period of ten weeks for open adjustment, with the qualification that all substantive adjustment should be completed within eight weeks.

[33]      That lengthy period is justified by three factors.  First, there have been recent extensive adjustments to the pleadings. Second, a hearing is due to take place before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar on 24 September in respect of a Letter of Request to recover the files of Hassans.

[34]      Third Lord Tyre has reserved judgment following a recent debate in similar proceedings raised by the liquidator against Burness Paul. Mr Clark said that the decision may have a significant bearing on the present action, as the arguments on prescription and loss are very similar.

[35]      Having regard to that third factor, I shall also fix a diet of debate.  Mr Clark estimated that it would last three days. Apart from the plea of prescription, the defenders mount eleven separate challenges to the relevancy of the pursuer’s averments.

[36]      If the defenders are successful and obtain dismissal, that may save each party a considerable sum of money. Mr Clark estimated that a proof before answer would last about six weeks and cost each side several hundred thousand pounds.

Request for a witness statement from Peter Watson

[37]      The pursuer asks the court to ordain Mr Watson to provide a witness statement to explain the circumstances in which the sum of £9.5 million was paid to Hassans and the purpose of the payment of £200,000, made to him from Hassans’ client account on 23 December 2008. The pursuer seeks the statement to make his own averments “more pointed”.

[38]      I would be slow to order one witness to produce a statement in advance of the other statements. I find no compelling reason in this case to depart from the normal rule that there should be a simultaneous exchange of witness statements.  I therefore refuse the application.

 

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WIGS IN A TWIST : Quashed convictions row as court staff forced to apologise to judges over claims of ‘wrong data’ released to media

Judges ScotlandBugled FOI release questions quashed convictions figures for Scottish judges. A ROW has broken out between the Judiciary of Scotland and the Scottish Court Service (SCS) over the release of information in response to a Freedom of Information request which sought data on appeals against conviction and sentence at High Court and Sheriff Court level.

The data, which revealed numbers of quashed convictions against senior judges and a former Lord Advocate who also sat as a judge, has already forced apologies from the Chief Executive of the SCS to members of the judiciary and a partial retraction of the information provided via FOI legislation. However the SCS has since been ordered to review what information it did release, and publish a ‘correct’ version as soon as possible.

The now much debated information provided by staff from the SCS claimed that in the past five years, former Lord Advocate & Court of Session Senator Lord Hardie, now retired and sitting as a peer in the House of Lords, allegedly had eight convictions and 20 sentences successfully appealed.

More worryingly, the current number two in the Scottish Justice system, the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway who supports the removal of a long held safeguard of corroboration from the Scottish criminal justice system, was revealed in the now allegedly defective information provided by the SCS as having seven convictions overturned against his judgements since 2008 and eight sentences successfully challenged.

Another well known judge, Lord Brailsford, recently in the news relating to twitter threats made by a family member, was revealed in the SCS statistics to have had four convictions quashed and 15 sentences challenged in the last five years.

Overall, the figures provided by the SCS showed that between 2008 and 2012, there were 301 successful appeals in High Court cases, including 86 overturned convictions.

The figures for legal challenges in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts revealed there were 1,619 appeals granted with 130 convictions quashed, with Sheriff Lindsay Foulis, who sits at Perth Sheriff Court, having two convictions and 39 sentences successfully challenged while in another example, the now retired Sheriff John Herald, who presided at Rothesay Sheriff Court had four convictions overturned and 20 sentences appealed successfully.

However, already up to their necks in controversy over secret financial dealings and undeclared interests in court case after court case, members of Scotland’s judiciary apparently blew several fuses over headlines in the media relating to the numbers of quashed convictions, demanding apologies & retractions over the information released by the Scottish Court Service.

The apology was swift, but for the most part it’s detail appears to rely on the fact that some of the information provided by the SCS exceeded the “five year” term of the FOI request itself … which does not exactly lead to a convincing retraction of claims already published widely in the media.

And in a somewhat humiliating move, the Chief Executive of the SCS was forced to personally write in one newspaper earlier this week in an effort to have his two week old apologetic statement published (reprinted below) … perhaps the delay was caused by everyone wondering what the judges are really up to for their £200K plus a year, expenses and a blank slate for interests on the side …

The Judiciary of Scotland were asked for comment, although none has been provided at time of publication.

There is a solution of course – publish the statistical records of judges, their judgements, legal challenges and successful appeals on a live basis and the Scots public will be able to see for themselves exactly how our wealthy, well paid, & secretive judges are actually performing in our clogged up “Victorian” Scottish courts system.

The apology : Information on Appeals – Statement by Chief Executive, Eric McQueen

On 18 June Scottish Court Service (SCS), in response to a request for information made in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act provided data on appeals against conviction and sentence at High Court and Sheriff Court level. The data provided was by appeal type and by judge in respect of cases ‘overturned on appeal in each of the last five years’.

Since the data was originally released a number of serious discrepancies have been identified. Additionally, the SCS did not provide important contextual information as to the date of the original court decision in many cases the court decision which was subject to appeal was made more than five years ago.

SCS apologises to those affected. Specifically, SCS apologises to those members of the judiciary whose position has been misrepresented as a result of the data provided. The data attributed to the Lord Justice Clerk includes cases originally decided more than five years ago and includes cases in error.  In the course of his judicial career, which commenced in 2000, Lord Carloway has had three cases in which the conviction was overturned and all of these predate 2008.

Likewise the data attributed to Lord Hardie contains errors in that the data indicated that he had eight conviction appeals listed as being sustained when the correct figure is five.

It is also considered likely that the data in relation to Lord Brailsford and Lord Woolman may contain similar inaccuracies and this is currently being checked.

The position in relation to sheriffs is being considered separately.

SCS is now reviewing all the data and will publish a correct version as soon as possible.

 

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Questions over ‘Victorian’ Justice delays as Court of Session set to rule on SIXTEEN YEAR medical injury claim against Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council

Motherwell CollegeCourt of Session ruling expected on 16 year civil damages claim after 8 weeks of hearings over 2 years. THE COURT OF SESSION is soon expected to issue a ruling in a SIXTEEN YEAR battle for justice in a medical injury case against Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council. The case, which is the longest of its kind on record, regarding a workplace injury which occurred in 1995, has taken a staggering sixteen years out of the life of Mr Martin Wilson, a Music Lecturer who suffered severe back injuries after help was denied to him in the course of his duties by its now former Principal Richard Millham, who was dubbed a “Bully Boss” by national newspapers after Motherwell College lost a string of unfair dismissal claims brought by College staff.

Members of staff at Motherwell College were reported to have described ‘a strong climate of fear which is still there’. One of several unanimous decisions by Employment Tribunals against the College confirmed that Mr Wilson was unfairly dismissed while on long term sickness leave.

Lord WoolmanLord Woolman is the presiding judge in the present claim of M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01). Investigations conducted by the media have revealed the case has generated thousands of pages of transcripts along with numerous hearings before the Court of Session where internationally acclaimed expert medical witnesses from the UK and abroad disputed the testimony of Motherwell College’s own ‘experts’. As the hearings ‘progressed’, many legal observers to the case indicated matters could & should have been resolved years ago, some expressing opinions the case appeared to have been prolonged by legal teams solely for the purpose of generating legal fees from Motherwell College totalling HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS, ultimately paid for by taxpayers.

An in-depth investigation into the case carried out by Scottish Law Reporter, compiled with the help of observers to the legal proceedings and senior legal insiders, berated Motherwell College and its legal representatives for wilfully delaying for THIRTEEN YEARS after Mr Wilson’s injury before commissioning an expert ergonomics report in this manual handling claim, and then only after Mr Wilson had managed to gain access to the defenders premises, something no fewer than FOUR ‘normally reliable’ law firms which included the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson & the Glasgow based Harper Macleod who had previously ‘represented Mr Wilson’s best interests’ had failed to do during the thirteen years since the summons was served on Motherwell College.

Damning evidence from interviews with legal observers to the proceedings revealed instances where despite the court suggesting the defenders make the “expert ergonomics report” available to Mr Wilson as soon as possible, the legal agents acting for Motherwell College, Simpson and Marwick, withheld the report until approximately 72 hours before the Proof was scheduled to begin in June of 2008, and then only handing it over on Court premises during a procedural hearing before Lord Penrose.

After being told of the report being withheld from the pursuer, Lord Penrose claimed that the defenders had been “playing fast and loose with due process in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage” and “had rendered the scheduled proof hearing unsafe”. Lord Penrose then invited Motherwell College representatives to apply for a postponement, which they did, and despite the party litigant being prepared to continue regardless – he had paid for distinguished expert witnesses to travel from destinations as far afield as the Western United States.

Taking the defenders legal representatives conduct into account, Lord Penrose described the situation as ‘unfortunate’ yet amazingly, no penalty was imposed on the defenders and these tactics, widely viewed as cynical delaying tactics, led to a further delay of over a year, the hearings finally getting started in November 2009 at the Court of Session under Lord Woolman. Later that month, and only after the Proof hearings had begun, a ruling in the Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & others case heralded in the appearance of Scotland’s first Civil Law McKenzie Friend in a Court of Session case.

According to legal observers, hearings in the case continued “sporadically” and one year later in November 2010 Motherwell College’s legal team told the court they were withdrawing their “expert ergonomics report” and would not be relying on it, leading many observers to view the defender’s case as being “unsustainable”.

The report by Scottish Law Reporter also revealed that out of a total of some SIXTEEN LAY WITNESSES to be called by Motherwell College, only FOUR eventually appeared, and none of those included the key player in Mr Wilson’s earlier successful Employment Tribunal Decision against the College, it’s disgraced former Principal, Richard Millham.

Astonishingly the defenders suddenly decided at the last minute in January 2011 not to call the College’s former Health and Safety Officer in a manual handling claim, – a consequence perhaps of the defenders failure to produce a single risk assessment or manual handling record. Observers to hearings of the case described the testimony of Motherwell College’s expert witnesses as “lacking any credibility whatsoever”, “highly scripted”, and “unusually combative”.

North Lanarkshire Council & Motherwell College were represented throughout hearings at the Court of Session by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick. Senior Counsel for Simpson & Marwick was Ian MacKay QC, Junior Counsel was Calum Wilson both of Compass Chambers.

Richard Millham Jack McConnellPolitical connections ? Former Motherwell College Principal Richard Millham, pictured (left) with the then First Minister Jack McConnell (right) in Motherwell FC awards ceremony. While the Court of Session is expected to issue its ruling soon, there remain significant questions over who or what delayed a civil damages claim for approximately 16 years against scandal hit Motherwell College. Senior legal insiders have indicated the case may well form part of an effort to have the Scottish Parliament look at the regular and unjustifiable delays in access to justice in the Scottish courts while some have raised questions over the possibility influence of a political nature may have been exerted on law firms to delay Mr Wilson’s access to justice.

BACKGROUND TO MOTHERWELL COLLEGE CLIMATE OF FEAR & 16 YEAR JUSTICE BATTLE :

College's 300K Bully Bill Sunday Mail June 15 2003Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in earlier coverage by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won £4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : “He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there .”

Scottish Law Reporter reported in earlier coverage : “From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson’s claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.”

I have reported on this case in previous articles, here : FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day and here : Access to Justice ? Law Society’s insurers Marsh UK linked to SIXTEEN YEAR Court of Session civil damages claim against Motherwell College

 

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Access to Justice ? Law Society’s insurers Marsh UK linked to SIXTEEN YEAR Court of Session civil damages claim against Motherwell College

Marsh UK, the UK subsidiary of the US insurance firm Marsh & McLennan companies which saw some of its directors plead guilty as a result of an investigation by the New York District Attorney’s Office of bid-rigging and price-fixing in the insurance industry has now been linked to Scotland’s longest running civil damages action claim, now in its SIXTEENTH YEAR in the Court of Session, involving Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council after the local authority released details in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman hears Scotland’s longest running civil damages claim. Now in its Sixteenth year in the Court of Session, fresh hearings in the long running civil damages claim in front of judge Lord Woolman began earlier on Tuesday of this week. M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01) which has its origins in the mid 1990’s and brought about Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in late 2009, involves a sole party litigant, Mr Martin Wilson, a former Music lecturer of Motherwell College who, according to media reports was forced out of his job after sustaining severe back injuries during the course of his duties as a music lecturer during his time at the College in the 1990’s.

Responses obtained by Diary of Injustice in reply to Freedom of Information enquiries reveal that Marsh, the insurance firm who insure all members of Scotland’s legal profession without exception, now also insure North Lanarkshire Council, who operate Motherwell College.

An official from North Lanarkshire Council replying to an FOI request admitted : “I can advise that North Lanarkshire Council’s Insurance Brokers until 30 September 2007 were AON, and from 1 October 2007 this service has been provided by Marsh. I can advise also that Travellers Insurance Company Limited have provided employers liability cover for the whole period of your request.”

In what is now Scotland’s longest running civil damages claim, Mr Wilson, the party litigant, has been forced to represent himself after several of Scotland’s leading law firms suspiciously abandoned his case at the very last minute. Mr Wilson is facing North Lanarkshire Council and their indemnity insurers, Travelers Insurance Co Ltd who are both being represented in court by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick. Senior Counsel for Simpson & Marwick is Ian MacKay QC, Junior Counsel being Calum Wilson both of Compass Chambers.

Now, following further investigations by Diary of Injustice and despite the outrageous time it has taken for Scotland’s civil justice system to hear their testimony, hearings in the Court of Session have shown that many internationally acclaimed experts have supported the party litigant’s claims.

I first reported on Mr Wilson’s case late last year, here : FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day where legal insiders who attended previous court hearings reported that Mr Wilson, who had been put in the position of having to represent himself after several big name law firms, who were at the time & are currently all insured with Marsh UK, withdrew from Mr Wilson’s case at the last minute prior to scheduled hearings of the Proof. Mr Wilson had also encountered repeated & numerous refusals of ‘expert witnesses’ from Scotland to assist his case as long as he was unrepresented. As a party litigant without representation, Mr Wilson was, according to court observers, forced abroad to Japan and the United States for supportive expert medical reports.

According to court documents seen by Diary of Injustice last October, Mr Wilson was previously represented by the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson, who were appointed by Scotland’s largest teachers & lecturers Union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), who spent tens of thousands of pounds assessing Mr Wilson’s injury as a valid claim, and that it should proceed to court. Amazingly it took the EIS almost THREE YEARS to lodge the summons against Motherwell College.

Papers studied by legal insiders reporting on the case revealed that Balfour & Manson, after being appointed by the EIS spent a staggering EIGHT YEARS working on Mr Wilson’s injury claim, and then at the last minute, decided to withdraw from acting for their client with only weeks to go before scheduled Proof Hearings in the Court of Session.

Balfour & Manson’s withdrawal from acting for Mr Wilson then became a suspicious pattern followed by further four law firms, including the Glasgow based Harper Macleod also withdrawing at the last minute, some eighteen months after representing Mr Wilson. Harper McLeod claimed they had ‘suddenly discovered’ “a commercial difficulty” in that they had an annual retainer from Motherwell College for several years, and had represented the College in Mr Wilson’s Employment Tribunal hearing over his unfair dismissal, which Mr Wilson won on a unanimous decision. Motherwell College also appealed the Employment Tribunal decision on Mr Wilson’s case and lost again.

A further two legal firms took on Mr Wilson’s case and then were apparently persuaded to drop their client, amazingly even returning fees paid to them for their service.

College's 300K Bully Bill Sunday Mail June 15 2003Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in recent coverage of the case by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won £4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : “He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there .”

According to Scottish Law Reporter who last year reported on the case, “From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson’s claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.”

Simpson & Marwick, who are representing Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council, are themselves famed for their representation of solicitors accused of professional negligence & client swindling, all supposedly covered by the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, operated by Marsh to defend against negligence claims raised by clients. The Master Policy and its administration, operation was linked in 2009 to client suicides in an independent report published by the University of Manchester’s Law School.

One of Simpson & Marwick’s partners, Dr Pamela Abernethy famously appeared at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee during 2008, telling msps that pleural plaques, an asbestos related condition, could actually be good for people. I reported on Dr Abernethy’s incredulous claims in September 2008, here : Insurance lawyers argue against laws to help asbestos victims asserting part of their suffering ‘is a good thing’

Marsh UK, the British end of the gigantic US insurance operation appear to be linked to many insurance deals in the public & private sector, ranging from multiple services provided by local & national government including law & order, to the private sector. Marsh also enjoy a monopoly on the insurance of all solicitors in Scotland through the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘brutal enforcement’ of the Master Insurance Policy arrangements where all solicitors are required to pay into the professional indemnity insurance scheme if they want to practice any form of law.

Marsh appear to have heavy political influence in the UK, with Conservative Lord Ian Lang now the Chairman elect of Marsh & McLennan companies, according to his register of interests published as per his duties as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Lord Lang joined the Marsh & McLennan board in 1997 and has assiduously refused all invitations to comment since news of the ‘Marsh Frauds’ broke, frauds which were accompanied by valid injury and disability claims being routinely denied. More on Lord Lang’s position at Marsh & McLennan and his career history, along with documents detailing serious allegations against many directors of Marsh including Lord Lang, can be viewed at Scottish Law Reporter, HERE

This reporter and the Scottish Law Reporters team will continue to follow this case closely.

 

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A very Judicial success : McKenzie Friends to hit Scotland’s Sheriff Courts soon, Law Society agrees on ‘automatic right to use lay assistants’

Lord GillScotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s reform proposals helped bring McKenzie Friends to Scots Courts system. THE FINAL CHAPTER in the long running campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to all of Scotland’s courts, which began with the consideration of the issue in 2007 by Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review, has now finally been written, as the Sheriff Court Rules Council announced this week it had finalised its consideration of rules on the use of McKenzie Friends across Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, with enactment allowing unrepresented party litigants to apply to use a lay assistant expected within a matter of weeks.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff Court Rules Council stated : “The Sheriff Court Rules Council further considered draft rules for the use of a McKenzie Friend at its meeting on 5 November. The Council agreed the substance of these and they will be submitted to the Court of Session for consideration later this month.”

The Scottish Parliament have also been briefed by the Sheriff Court Rules Council, who wrote to MSPs stating : “Current plans are for rule changes to be included within a miscellaneous instrument to be made later this month, but this of course depends on (a) when the Council’s proposed rules are finalised: and (b) the view taken of them by the Court of Session.”

However, further investigations & enquiries by Diary of Injustice have now established the original suggestion by the Sheriff Court Rules Council that McKenzie Friends be allowed to receive some form of payment for their services in the Sheriff Courts, has now been abandoned, and a similar set of rules forbidding the remuneration of McKenzie Friends, as was passed in the Lord Hamilton’s Act of Sederunt announced earlier in February of this year, which approved the use without remuneration of McKenzie Friends in the Court of Session in mid June 2010, will now also be used in the Sheriff Courts. I reported more on the remuneration issue during July, here : Lord President softens rules on Scottish McKenzie Friends, remuneration issue still out of step with England & Wales

A spokesperson for the Sheriff Court Rules Council answered enquiries on the remuneration point, saying : “The Council proposes that a similar provision in relation to the matter of expenses as to that which is already in place in the Court of Session Rules should be provided for in the sheriff court rules.”

A legal insider commented this was a rather unusual step, given there was already case law in England & Wales [N (A Child) [2009] EWHC 2096 (Fam)] to support the right or entitlement of a McKenzie Friend to charge or at least receive some form of remuneration for their services.

He said : “Personally I feel we could have done without this fuss over a McKenzie Friend being able to charge a fee or not. Forbidding it sounds almost anti competitive, and will at any rate, restrict the numbers of qualified individuals offering themselves up as McKenzie Friends. It is a counter productive attitude, and perhaps one which could be challenged later on under ECHR, with it possibly being open to interpretation of denying a party litigant the right to a fair hearing – if they cannot secure a qualified McKenzie Friend because of such a restriction.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland now support a presumed right for party litigants to use a McKenzie Friend in Scotland’s courts. Meanwhile the Law Society of Scotland followed suit, its Civil Justice Committee stating “…there should be an automatic right to use a McKenzie Friend. However, it should be within the court’s discretion to insist on a withdrawal of a McKenzie Friend if it determines that the position is being abused.” which sets out an almost identical position to that of McKenzie Friends in England & Wales.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations who have consistently spoken in favour of McKenzie Friends commented on the Sheriff Court Rules Council announcement, welcoming the changes. He said : “I view this as a positive step in ensuring many consumers in Scotland who for various reasons do not have access to a solicitor can now enjoy a significant measure of assistance to help them as party litigants present their case in the Sheriff Courts.”

He continued : “The Civil Courts Review team and Lord Gill are to be commended for pursuing the question of McKenzie Friends in their two year investigation of civil justice in Scotland. I would also like to say the Scottish Parliament’s scrutiny of the issue also played a part in ensuring its speedy implementation.”

Civil Courts Review Consultation Paper 2007 - McKenzie Friends for Scotland2007 Civil Courts Review consultation raised McKenzie Friends issue. The question of McKenzie Friends was first raised in the 2007 Civil Courts Review Consultation Paper (pdf) launched by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill to being the Civil Courts Review. In the paper, Lord Gill stated : “The courts in England and Wales have for over 30 years allowed party litigants to be assisted in court by what have become to be known as “McKenzie friends”. They do not take on the role of a lawyer, but provide support in court such as making notes, prompting or giving advice on the conduct of the case. There have been occasions where the Court has gone further and, in particular circumstances, allowed the McKenzie friend to address the Court.148 In such cases the court has to exercise its statutory powers and grant a right of audience to the McKenzie friend. The desirability of permitting a party litigant to be represented in court by a person without a right of audience is a matter that the Review will consider.”

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland have supported the idea of McKenzie Friends in Scottish courts for years. The Scottish Consumer Council (now renamed Consumer Focus Scotland) responded to the consultation paper in March 2008, over a year before a petition was filed at the Scottish Parliament on the issue, backing the call to introduce McKenzie Friends. The Scottish Consumer Council’s response stated : “We would welcome recognition by the Scottish courts of the need for discretion to allow some form of ‘McKenzie friend’ to accompany and possibly represent a party litigant in appropriate cases.”

Which logoWhich? also backed McKenzie Friends. The Which? consumer organisation replied to the consultation paper in April 2008, also supported the introduction in Scotland of McKenzie Friends, stating : ”Some litigants cannot afford or cannot find a lawyer to represent them and may find it beneficial and useful to be represented by a non lawyer. We feel this should be permitted. We support the idea of Scottish courts allowing ‘McKenzie friends’ to accompany and perhaps represent a litigant where appropriate, provided appropriate safeguards are introduced.”

Lord Gill recommends McKenzie Friends captionsLord Gill’s Civil Courts Review recommended the implementation of McKenzie Friends for Scotland. The results of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review were published in August 2009., his report finally recommended the implementation of McKenzie Friends in Scottish Courts, stating : “If the court considers that it would be helpful in any case, a person without a right of audience (a ‘McKenzie friend’) should be permitted to address the court on behalf of a party litigant. The court should have discretion to refuse to allow any particular person to act as a McKenzie friend on grounds relating to character or conduct and to withdraw a permission to at as such at any time. The rules of court should specify the role to be played by such persons and should provide that they are not entitled to remuneration.”

Ian Hanger QC submission to Scottish Parliament McKenzie Friend petition 1247A little help from Australian Barrister, Ian Hanger QC supported McKenzie Friends for Scotland. Lord Gill’s recommendations on McKenzie Friends also had a timely note of support from the original McKenzie Friend himself, Ian Hanger QC, who wrote to the Scottish Parliament, supporting the introduction of McKenzie Friends into Scottish Courts. Ian Hanger QC wrote in his letter : “In Australia, most of our courts have the power to permit a non-qualified person to, in effect, represent a litigant. A McKenzie Friend does not have a right to address the court. That right is confined to quietly assisting the unrepresented litigant. The Australian experience has been that it has worked successfully. … I cannot see that the floodgates would be opened by permitting, in appropriate cases, the presence of the McKenzie Friend to help the unrepresented litigant. In some cases you will get a brilliant law student who will provide enormous assistance to the Court .. I would urge the Parliament to permit the appearance of the McKenzie Friend.”

Insiders at Holyrood and from the legal profession point to Ian Hanger’s invaluable and timely letter to the Scottish Parliament in support of McKenzie Friends as ‘having sealed the deal’ on McKenzie Friends coming to Scotland.

Lord WoolmanLord Woolman granted Scotland’s first Civil Law McKenzie Friend request Two months after Lord Gill had recommended the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Courts, and nearly 40 years since they were introduced to England & Wales, the first ever civil law McKenzie Friend in Scotland’s Court of Session was granted by Lord Woolman in a long running civil damages action which named Motherwell College, North Lanarkshire Council & Edinburgh Law firm Simpson & Marwick as defenders. The case, a medical injury claim M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01) was again recently in the headlines, here : FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day

Lord Hamilton judicialMcKenzie Friends made official in Court of Session by Lord Hamilton. In June of 2010, Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton implemented rules & guidance on the use of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Court of Session as of 15 June 2010. This speedier than expected implementation came about after intense media coverage online and in the national press, ensuring after Lord Hamilton’s Act of Sederunt announced earlier in February of this year finally took effect, anyone who cannot obtain legal representation for litigation which demands a place in Scotland’s highest court, now have the right to file a motion requesting the services of a McKenzie Friend to assist their case.

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandThe final chapter is now written for McKenzie Friends in Scotland. This time, despite occasional judge bashing, Holyrood bashing, attempted & thankfully unpublished bashing of a senior Scottish Minister for not supporting a petition, media bashing, Law Society bashing, and even claims by some for credit for something which was already set in stone at least a year before (that pushing at an open door feeling), the legal system got it right … or perhaps ‘mostly right’, albeit having to be spurred on by individuals cases who have greatly been denied access to justice for so long in the Scottish Courts. We all, of course, have a great deal to thank Lord Gill for in his Civil Courts Review conclusions and his comments which have led to speedier than usual reforms in the Scottish justice system.

We should also not forget the help from our Australian cousins, Scottish politicians such as MSPs Margo MacDonald & David Whitton who both raised the political profile of the McKenzie Friends issue, the Scottish Government who have introduced a ‘talking McKenzie Friend with rights of audience’ via the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (pdf), the significant media coverage, both online and in the national press, the help of consumer organisation Which? and the dedication of those working for our Scots consumer champion in the form of Consumer Focus Scotland, which the Westminster based coalition Government plans to axe, in what must certainly be an act of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, or perhaps, limit the powers of consumers to stand up to big business & vested interests.

I don’t know about you, but I’d call that team work, all the way from the benches of Scotland’s Court of Session on a bleak winter’s day, to the great cities of Australia, which are no doubt about to enjoy a long luxurious summer. As a journalist, its been fun, and hopefully informative & helpful to all, to write about it. This McKenzie Friend has now left the building.

 

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FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day

Court of Session EdinburghScotland’s Court of Session to hear lecturer’s 15 year wait for justice against Motherwell College. IN a fitting tribute to mark the poor state of Scotland’s civil justice system on the European Civil Justice Day held every 25th October, a record breaking personal injury civil damages claim against Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council in the Court of Session which has its origins in the mid 1990’s and last year brought about Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend is now set to be followed by an unprecedented thirteenth year of litigation with further hearings scheduled for 2011 in what some claim is a considerable abuse of the court process & the individual’s right of a fair hearing within a reasonable time as enshrined in Article 6 of European Human Rights laws.

The case in question, M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01) involves a sole party litigant, a former Music lecturer of Motherwell College, pitched against the might of North Lanarkshire Council and their indemnity insurers, Travelers Insurance Co Ltd who are both being represented in court by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick, themselves famed for their representation of solicitors shielded by the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, operated by Marsh to defend against negligence claims raised by clients.

Legal insiders who have attended the court hearings report that Mr Wilson, who has been put in the forced position of having to represent himself after several big name law firms withdrew from his case at the last minute prior to scheduled hearings of the Proof, has also encountered repeated & numerous refusals of ‘expert witnesses’ from Scotland who refuse to assist his case as long as Mr Wilson is unrepresented. Instead, Mr Wilson has been forced abroad to Japan and the United States for supportive expert medical reports, leading to charges many in Scotland’s ‘expert witness’ groups “may have been nobbled or scared off” and will not provide their services to unrepresented party litigants such as Mr Wilson.

According to court documents seen by Diary of Injustice, Mr Wilson was previously represented by the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson, who were appointed by Scotland’s largest teachers & lecturers Union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), who spent tens of thousands of pounds assessing Mr Wilson’s injury as a valid claim, and that it should proceed to court. Amazingly it took the EIS almost three years to lodge the summons against Motherwell College.

Papers studied by legal insiders reporting on the case reveal that Balfour & Manson, after being appointed by the EIS spent a staggering eight years working on Mr Wilson’s injury claim, and then at the last minute, decided to withdraw from acting for their client with only weeks to go before scheduled Proof Hearings in the Court of Session.

Balfour & Manson’s withdrawal from acting for Mr Wilson then became a suspicious pattern followed by further four law firms, including the Glasgow based Harper Macleod also withdrawing at the last minute, some eighteen months after representing Mr Wilson. Harper McLeod claimed they had ‘suddenly discovered’ “a commercial difficulty” in that they had an annual retainer from Motherwell College for several years, and had represented the College in Mr Wilson’s Employment Tribunal hearing over his unfair dismissal, which Mr Wilson won on a unanimous decision. Motherwell College also appealed the Employment Tribunal decision on Mr Wilson’s case and lost again.

A further two legal firms took on Mr Wilson’s case and then were apparently persuaded to drop their client, amazingly even returning fees paid to them for their service.

College's 300K Bully Bill Sunday Mail June 15 2003Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in recent coverage of the case by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won 4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : “He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there .”

During all this time and many forced appearances at the Court of Session as a party litigant, court staff have indicated in comments they believe Mr Wilson’s health has diminished considerably, one insider claiming to Diary of Injustice the former lecturer looked like he had aged 30 years in the last year alone.

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman to hear case in a few weeks time. Hearings on Mr Wilson’s personal injury claim are scheduled to start again in a matter of weeks at the Court of Session under Lord Woolman. Legal insiders say many are now taking a strong interest in the Wilson/NLC case and its final outcome, especially in the wake of the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s recommendations in his Civil Courts Review to reform what he described as Scotland’s “Victorian justice system”, which appears to be so Victorian, cases can float around in the justice system literally for decades with party litigants such as Mr Wilson failing to get anything near approaching “a fair hearing within a reasonable time”.

It is worth noting the solicitors acting for North Lanarkshire Council & Motherwell College, the Edinburgh law firm of Simpson & Marwick in their representation of insurers in connection with claims for asbestos related health diseases attained public notoriety last year in their appearance before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in September 2008, where one of their senior partners, Dr Pamela Abernethy of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers famously argued with MSPs that symptoms of Asbestos contamination were ‘good for people’.

It is also worth noting last year, the Master Policy, of which Simpson & Marwick often act as lead solicitors, often representing fellow solicitors facing negligence claims from clients, was investigated by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School linking the secretive ‘Master Policy’ insurance scheme to the deaths of clients who had attempted to claim damages from ‘crooked lawyers’.

The SLCC’s report on the Master Policy and my earlier coverage on the revelations can be found here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

The report from Scottish Law Reporter on Mr Wilson’s 15 year quest for access to justice in the Scottish Courts follows :

Record 15 year wait for justice approaches for lecturer in Court of Session showdown with former Motherwell college ‘Bully Boss’ principal

Motherwell College's 300K bully bill Sunday Mail 15th June 2003A staggering 15 year wait for Justice by a music lecturer against Motherwell College may see its disgraced former Principal appear in court. FIFTEEN YEARS later in what is Scotland’s longest running civil damages action involving Motherwell College, the disgraced former Principal & CEO of Motherwell College Richard Millham, dubbed the “Bully Boss” by the media due to a string of allegations of bullying involving college lecturers, may be back in the dock soon, this time in Scotland’s Court of Session in a civil damages action claim against Motherwell College, brought by Mr Martin Wilson, a former Music Lecturer at the College.

“Bully Boss” Richard Millham who was alleged in media reports ‘to have targeted Mr Wilson in a strong climate of fear’, was forced to resign after widespread press coverage of the many Employment Tribunal decisions lost by the College under his stewardship – some estimates put the cost of these at a staggering £300,000 pounds of taxpayers money.

One of several staff members who fought back against the bullying culture at Motherwell College was the Music Lecturer Martin Wilson, who has braved the Court of Session as a party litigant in a 15 year attempt to gain justice in his civil damages claim against Motherwell College, who are represented by Simpson & Marwick, who famously argued against the Damages (Asbestos) Bill at the Scottish Parliament, claiming to MSPs asbestos related illnesses were actually good for victims who suffered from ‘pleural plaques’, a condition that forms as a result of exposure to asbestos

From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson’s claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.

Undeterred, the Board of Management of Motherwell College has continued to spend thousands of pounds more of taxpayers money for the last 13 years opposing Mr Wilson’s Personal Injury claim, the longest running civil case of its kind, the new Principal Mr Hugh Logan losing appeals before the FOI Commissioner and the Pensions Ombudsman along the way.

Mr Wilson has still not received his correct ill-health pension entitlement some 15 years after he was injured, all of which adds further substance to Lord Gill’s recent criticisms of the Scottish Civil Justice system as ‘failing society’ and often involving ‘scandalous delays’.

In an age of fairness and public sector cuts it is difficult to imagine how Motherwell College’s obstinacy can be justified. However it might have something to do with the important precedent the case will establish if successful and the attitude of the College’s disgraced insurer Travelers Insurance Co Ltd, who have also been fined hundreds of millions of dollars in connection with workers claims for asbestos injuries, one of many subpoenas alleging it had acted “maliciously” using “fraud, deceit and outright lies,” designing and orchestrating their claims settlement practices to “intentionally delay,” and raising defences that they knew would never succeed in order to settle claims for less money.

 

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