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FAILED TO JAIL: Law Society’s self regulation ‘failed public’ as ex solicitor who posed as colleague to lure clients has jail sentenced quashed by Court of Session

Banned lawyer John O’Donnell escapes jail A BANNED SOLICITOR who was given a three month custodial sentence earlier this year for posing as a colleague to lure clients has had his jail sentence quashed during an appeal hearing at the Court of Session earlier this week.

John Gerard O’Donnell (64) was found guilty of breach of interdict and sentenced in February by Lord Stewart after the court heard details of O’Donnell’s eleven year trail of ruined clients and consistent failures by the Law Society of Scotland to protect the public & clients from rogue solicitors.

But earlier this week – Appeal judges admonished O’Donnell after hearing of mental health problems and lack of proof over criminal motive.

Lady Dorrian, who sat with judges Lord Drummond Young and Lady Clark, ruled that Lord Stewart acted incorrectly when he ordered O’Donnell to be sent to jail.

Lady Dorrian added: “We are satisfied that the Lord Ordinary erred in his approach to sentencing. We think a period of imprisonment is excessive.We propose recalling the sentence imposed and impose an admonition.”

Lady Dorrian’s assertion that sentencing O’Donnell to there months in jail was “excessive” comes after Lord Stewart claimed in his February 2015 sentencing statement that “In order to punish Mr O’Donnell and to deter others, the court must impose a custodial sentence.”

Yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland claimed it had done all it could to protect consumers from O’Donnell and others like him who prey on members of the public and fleece taxpayer funded legal aid.

Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland said: “By holding himself out as a solicitor permitted to practice, John O’Donnell engaged in a course of conduct that breached a court order and flouted the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and provisions of the statute that regulate the legal profession’

“The Law Society did all it could and should have done in relation to protecting the public and reputation of the profession by taking breach of interdict action against John O’Donnell.  Mr O’Donnell had breached an order of the court and it is therefore for the court to determine what sanction is appropriate.”

Jack continued: “It is essential to protect members of the public seeking legal advice and ensure they can continue to put their trust in solicitors. We will always take action against individuals if we have good reason to believe they are misleading people by holding themselves out as a solicitor when they are not entitled to do so.”

Legal insiders countered there was no real protection of the public interest, and the Law Society’s system of self regulation – where lawyers investigate their own – had once again failed.

Among many examples of O’Donnell’s activities, it was revealed in court he took the identity of a solicitor colleague – Colin Davidson – in order to dodge a five year ban imposed by the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2009 after they found O’Donnell guilty of professional misconduct for a third time.

Despite the ban – O’Donnell started working for a firm on Glasgow’s south side – operated by solicitor Colin Davidson.

O’Donnell impersonated Mr Davidson, using his name to sign legal documents and posed as Davidson to clients. O’Donnell also gave instructions to an advocate – giving the impression that he was allowed to work as a solicitor.

John O’Donnell’s identity was only revealed after a client visited Diary of Injustice and read of media investigations into the solicitor’s murky past.

One of O’Donnell’s victims – widow Elizabeth Campbell (71) discovered O’Donnell was not Colin Davidson after she visited the Diary of Injustice law blog and saw his picture along with media investigations into O’Donnell’s decade long trail of client scams.

An investigation by the media also established Mrs Campbell was referred to John O’Donnell by Gilbert S Anderson – employed at Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau in a position funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Letters obtained by the Sunday Mail newspaper & Diary of Injustice – revealed Anderson sent O’Donnell a handwritten note saying “possibly in my mind a cash for Colin £3000” indicating he hoped O’Donnell would be able to scam fees from the elderly widow.

Diary of Injustice reported on the case involving John O’Donnell & Gilbert Anderson, here : Crooked lawyer impersonates DEAD COLLEAGUE to lure clients in fraud scam.

Gilbert Anderson was the subject of further investigations, reported here: BREACH OF TRUST : Citizens Advice investigates taxpayer funded Hamilton CAB lawyer

John O’Donnell featured in numerous media reports spanning over a decade relating to multiple negligence claims, and continuing investigations into his conduct for over a decade which the Law Society of Scotland was unable, or unwilling to prevent.

LAWYERS BEHAVING BADLY:

An investigation by BBC’s Lawyers Behaving Badly featured the case of John O’Donnell.

The programme – aired in January 2014 to much consternation of the Law Society, certain parts of the legal profession and elderly aggrieved legal hacks – revealed staggering differences in how dishonesty is tolerated in the Scottish legal profession in comparison to cases in England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Featured in the investigation was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn’t complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn’t stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

Previous reports on John G O’Donnell can be read here John G O’Donnell – how one solicitor held up the Law Society

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From Bad to Worse : Complaints against lawyers up 16%, few cases upheld, Board members on £20K expenses, reports anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2012 annual report

Jane Irvine SLCC ChairIt’s goodbye from her – Jane Irvine’s final term as SLCC Chair since 2008 did little for Scots clients caught in rogue lawyer trap. COMPLAINTS AGAINST SOLICITORS have shot up 16% in 2012, according to the latest 2012 ANNUAL REPORT issued by the ‘independent’ lawyer controlled Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which spent £2.7 million pounds up to 30 June on ‘investigating’ crooked lawyers. The fourth & final report under the Chair of Jane Irvine, whose term expires on 31st December 2012 also reveals the SLCC, which has not yet claimed one single solicitor being struck off as a result of its work over the past four years, was conveniently able to throw out a third of the complaints made to it by members of the public whose lives have invariably been ruined by the actions of rogue lawyers still working in the legal profession.

The report states that of the 1,264 complaints received by the SLCC during 2012 and 566 in hand at the start of the year, a suspiciously high number of complaints (486) were thrown out by the SLCC as being ineligible for investigation, while the report lists that 128 more complaints were withdrawn or resolved before an eligibility decision was made.

Included in the totals were 144 conduct complaints against members of the legal profession, which were then referred to the appropriate professional body (such as the Law Society of Scotland), and 289 eligible complaints were dealt with and closed by the SLCC, leaving 783 still in hand at the end of the year. The most common reasons for the SLCC branding complaints under the heading of “ineligibility” were “totally without merit” (200 cases), time bar (174) and prematurity (115).

Complaint Statistics SLCC annual Report 2012Complaints trends show House sales, Litigation, Wills & Executries remain big factors in clients ripped off by lawyers. The SLCC revealed that cases going all the way to a full determination totalled 146, of which 44 were upheld in whole or in part and 92 not upheld. A total of £37,042 was awarded in compensation across 33 cases, averaging out £1,122 per case yet clients face further hurdles in receiving compensation after the SLCC revealed solicitors had not complied with its rulings, forcing the SLCC to engage Sheriff Officers on particular occasions. The report stated : “We have seen an increase in cases of non-compliance where practitioners fail to pay awards which have been made against them by the SLCC. We take a firm line on this and use sheriff’s officers and the small claims court processes to enforce the outstanding sums.”

The SLCC said it was in talks with the Law Society of Scotland about its solicitors refusing to comply with compensation orders, stating : ”We are in discussion with the relevant professional organisations to ensure their support in tackling non-compliance. In addition, we have found that complainers sometimes have to wait a considerable length of time to receive compensation or fee rebates where a judicial factor or trustees have been appointed. Since this does little to build public confidence, we have started to work with the relevant professional organisations to assess options to address this issue.”

Worryingly, the annual report also reveals the SLCC refused to use its powers to abate or zero fees charged by lawyers who had given poor service to their clients, where only in 17 cases, fees were abated and fees totalling a paltry £3,851 were abated, an average award of only £227 per client.

The 2012 audited accounts of the SLCC also reveals that despite throwing out a third of complaints made to it, and the poor use of powers over fees, the SLCC’s board members continued to be paid what can only be described as lavish remuneration, listed as up to £20,000 each during 2011-2012, quite a contrast to the financial losses suffered by Scots clients of rogue solicitors.

A number of case examples are, for the first time, included in the SLCC’s latest annual report, although no identities of solicitors or law firms who have failed their clients have been revealed, marking the SLCC’s continued policy of refusing to name & shame rogue Scottish solicitors & law firms who consumers would be better to avoid.

The SLCC’s 2012 Annual report can be viewed online HERE or downloaded from the SLCC’s website HERE while the 2012 Annual accounts revealing the SLCC’s financial position, expenditure & remuneration of its staff, board members etc can be viewed online HERE or downloaded from the SLCC HERE.

The SLCC issued a Press Release on its 2012 Annual Report HERE

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (“SLCC”) laid its fourth Annual Report before the Scottish Parliament on 7 December 2012. The report covers the period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012 and highlights the number and types of complaint coming to the SLCC; the SLCC’s achievements both as a gateway for legal complaints and a supporter to high standards in the legal profession.

Commenting on the SLCC’s challenges and achievements, Chair Jane Irvine said: “It stands as a huge tribute to the skills and hard-work of all our Staff and Board Members that we have achieved all we have this year. Our commitment remains unfailing despite the increasing demands placed on us and our resources, growing case loads and increasing financial pressures, along with the added complications deriving from transitional arrangements and backlog of earlier cases.”

Commenting on the work of the organisation during the year, Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers said: “My colleagues and our Board Members are committed to making the SLCC even more effective and efficient in handling complaints and more influential and impactful in improving legal services.

Mr Vickers, the fifth Chief Executive of the SLCC also went onto claim, laughably that “The SLCC exists to strengthen public trust and confidence in our legal services.”

In reality however, the SLCC, commonly regarded by most in the know as a joke, has demonstrated itself to be as anti-client as the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland issued its own Press Release praising the SLCC for its work in protecting solicitors from client complaints.

Commenting on the publication of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission annual report, Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We will look at the report in detail to see where we can assist the commission on working with the profession to improve complaints handling. The new use of case studies in this year’s annual report are a great way of showing solicitors examples of good practice in complaint handling at an early stage, and further down the line.”

Ms Jack was also grateful for the SLCC’s whitewash of the Law Society’s “Guarantee Fund”, long known as a corrupt compensation scheme which fails to pay out to ruined clients of crooked lawyers.

Ms Jack went onto congratulate the SLCC over their ‘review’ of the Guarantee Fund, saying : “Following a thorough audit of the Guarantee Fund by the Commission as part of its oversight role, we are pleased to see recognition that claims on the fund are being handled properly and impartially by the Society. We have always made it clear that all claims on the fund are considered on a case by case basis and on their own merit, regardless of the funds held and the audit has confirmed this.”

Ms Jack ended by saying : “It is reassuring that the commission is driving efficiencies as our members are tightening their belts during these straightened times.The Society will continue to work with the Commission to seek to reform the legislation to make complaints a better experience for all involved.”

A CLIENTS LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE :

In reality, clients of Scottish solicitors who are put in a position of having to make a complaint to the SLCC about their solicitor’s conduct or service, are in a no better position in 2012 than they were in two decades ago.

Little compensation on offer for solicitors stealing from clients, or negligent service, regulators poor use of powers to completely negate fees, hardly any complaints being fully upheld, few solicitors struck off, a claims system via the Master Policy that is just as corrupt as it was twenty years ago, a Guarantee Fund compensation scheme which puts tax dodging in the Cayman Islands to shame, regulators who are so anti-client, anti-public & anti consumer they cant see past their expenses claims , and amidst it all, lazy politicians at the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government who value legal freebies, and paid-for social occasions with lawyers & regulators too much to help constituents in dire need of assistance … the same old story from 1990 to 2012 repeats itself once again …

Previous coverage of the SLCC’s annual reports, which tell a similar story can be found HERE

 

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A £2.2 billion rip-off for YOU while Law Society Chiefs follow Salmond in ‘grubby’ Dubai tour promoting Scots legal market for vested interests

Seeking business for bent lawyers : Law Society of Scotland in Dubai to promote Scots Law as a safe haven for crooked vested interests. AS SCOTTISH CONSUMERS begin to wise up to the rife corruption in Scotland’s legal profession, where dealing with a lawyer on virtually ANY legal matter means a client is going to be ripped off one way or another, with no hope of recompense or resolution to a complaint, the Law Society of Scotland’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack & current President Cameron Ritchie tagged along on the coat tails of the First Minister’s recent trip to the Gulf States promoting Scots law firms with their own lobbying trip to DUBAI, one of those places in the world where even its own Police Chief reckons state firms are rotten to the core and one would surely expect to find an organisation as dirty & corrupt as the Law Society of Scotland.

Alas, with the Law Society’s core Scots membership beginning to run out of clients back home in Scotland to fleece & ruin, due in part to the recession and in part because consumers are finally waking up to the perils of even walking past a lawyer’s office, a Press Release was issued by the Law Society of Scotland covering Mr Ritchie & Ms Jack’s trip to Dubai to promote the Scottish legal profession and its ranks of paid up & not necessarily honest ‘expert witnesses’ who will sell or twist their testimony to the highest bidder at the top of the vested interest feeding chain.

Law Society of Scotland promote Scots legal system for vested interests : An event held for over 100 delegates in Dubai last night, Thursday 3 November, marked the end of a successful week for the Law Society of Scotland at the IBA annual conference.

Banging the drum for lawyer lobbying in Dubai : Cameron Ritchie, current Law Society President & ex Crown Office Procurator Fiscal. The Law Society’s president, Cameron Ritchie, and chief executive, Lorna Jack, have spent time promoting Scotland as a hub for expert legal services at the week-long international conference. Mr Ritchie said: “This has been an excellent opportunity for us to promote the Scottish solicitor profession and emphasise that our legal system sits within an excellent business environment, with over 1,500 overseas companies investing and operating in Scotland. More than 100 guests attended our event, including a number of our members who are working in the Middle East and IBA conference delegates from several overseas law societies and bar associations.”

Mr Ritchie continued : “Scotland has a modern, progressive legal system with a reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness. We provide a flexible and cost effective location for international legal services and, with the passing of the Arbitration Act and establishment of the Scottish Arbitration Centre, can offer a globally competitive place for dispute resolution.We have met a great number of delegates from jurisdictions around the globe this week and been able emphasise the breadth and depth of experience across our legal firms who also provide value for money, have multi disciplinary capability, access to global networks and particular expertise in financial services, oil and gas, renewable energy and life sciences.”

A modern, progressive legal system, as in one easily twisted to the requirements of vested interests, and as far as having any reputation for honesty, integrity or fairness goes, well, the years long battle over asbestos compensation payouts for pleural plaques along the multitude of lawyers trying to justify the use of tainted blood products and the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s own takedown of justice in the Civil Courts Review seems to sum up the civil justice system quite well, while the Lockerbie Trial and all its attendant fit ups with bribed witnesses & tampered evidence will do for the Scottish criminal justice system, matters which Mr Ritchie will know very well as he is a former employee of the Crown Office, that institutionally closed-ranks organisation which protects its own from prosecutions, even when deaths are involved.

Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, replaced the ‘more fun’ Douglas Mill who resigned after staff interfered in court cases & claims against crooked lawyers. Chief executive Lorna Jack said: “We have had a great reception at the conference this year and it was especially pleasing to be able to attend the opening of one of our most successful firms, McGrigors, new office in Qatar. We shouldn’t underestimate the contribution of Scottish solicitors’ profession either at home, where it is estimated to bring £2.2 billion to our economy and employ approximately 18,000 people, or the role it can play on an international stage. Despite the current and ongoing financial difficulties, there are opportunities for our members which we want to encourage and support.”

Needless to say, while the £2.2 billion estimate may be a little more than reality, a great deal of client’s money well over a billion pounds flowing into the coffers of the Scottish legal profession is one of the main reasons there is no regulation of lawyers who are free to rip anyone off, and by the dozen. It was exactly the same with the bankers, who bought politicians, and bought the regulators. As we saw earlier in the year, even the lawyers who commit legal aid fraud, running into millions are not prosecuted for stealing from the public, such is the influence and lobbying power of the Law Society of Scotland over all in authority.

However, at least with the Law Society promoting Scottish Arbitration (recently exposed as little more than a platform for vested interests, corrupt insurers & disgraced judges who fell from grace in scandals) and ‘so-called’ expert witnesses who will alter their testimony to suit vested interests for a price, clients & consumers in Scotland and abroad are well warned to avoid litigating in the Scottish justice system, where injustice is a business and corruption, from the judiciary down to the High Street lawyer is an unregulated money making enterprise of criminal proportions.

Remember where we all live, in a country where expert witnesses and even doctors from the legal profession will argue that “asbestos is good for you” and be happy to say it in front of our own elected politicians in the Scottish Parliament because they know their profession carries too much influence and power for all our own good.

When the legal profession gets to such a stage as the Scottish legal profession have now become, common sense should tell you to save some money and walk out of your lawyer’s office along with all your papers, wills and titles. You, the consumers & clients across Scotland really are better off looking after your own.

 

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‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s 2010 annual report

SLCCThe Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received 1452 complaints last year, however it only fully upheld one single complaint. ANYONE hoping for a crackdown on ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scotland will be in for a shock today after the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, revealed in yesterday’s announcement of the SLCC’s 2009-2010 Annual Report (pdf), it fully upheld only ONE SINGLE COMPLAINT against an ‘unknown legal practitioner’.

The SLCC’s evident unwillingness to tackle head-on the many well known rogue elements of Scotland’s legal profession appears to be the staggering product of a decade long consumer campaign & the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government’s attempt to bring ‘independent’ regulation to Scotland’s legal services industry in the form of what is now widely regarded as little more than a quango staffed by lawyers, ex-lawyers, retired senior Police Chiefs, legal academics and other multi-job quangocrats.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 How we dealt with complaints Page 14Musical chairs or musical complaints ? For the second year running, the SLCC sent most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland. The amazing figures released yesterday in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s second annual report also show the famously anti-client SLCC yet again sent most of the complaints it received this year back to the Law Society of Scotland, just as it did last year. The second annual report, covering the period from 1 July 2009 until 30 June 2010 reveals the SLCC received a total of 3,561 enquiries during that period, resulting as it claimed, in 1,452 cases classified as “legal complaints”. However, the majority of these cases (928) were sent back to the Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates under the SLCC’s controversial policy of refusing to deal with any legal business or cases involving instructions given to solicitors which occurred prior to 1 October 2008, the date the SLCC formally began operating, while others were apparently closed ‘as being out of the SLCC’s jurisdiction’.

After sending the majority of the “legal complaints” back to the Law Society of Scotland, the overfunded Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has also received millions of pounds of taxpayers money during 2007-2008, revealed it is now carrying a whopping current cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’) of nearly two millions pounds while only managing to accept a meagre 204 complaints to be dealt with by its highly paid staff & board members, some of whom are pocketing salaries of around £1,300 per week.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 Complaints statisticsComplaints, and how they were handled by the SLCC. Of the 204 complaints the SLCC reported it had or was actually dealing with during the last year, amazingly, the law complaints quango only managed to fully uphold one single complaint, along with a handful of others being ‘mediated’ or ‘resolved’ in ways not fully described. The Annual report states : *17 complaints were resolved through mediation and 17 others still under consideration for mediation at the end of the year; * 170 complaints went to investigation, of which 92 were still in hand at the end of the year; * of these, 23 were resolved at or before the stage of an investigation report; * seven were withdrawn by the complainer; * 48 complaints were referred for determination, of which eight were partially and one fully upheld, 15 were not upheld, one was withdrawn, and 23 were still being considered at the end of the year.

Rosemary AgnewChief executive Rosemary Agnew said the number of enquiries and complaints coming to the SLCC was lower than originally predicted. She commented: “This may be due to a number of factors such as the economic downturn. We have responded by adopting a cautious approach to recruitment, expanding only to meet the needs of our current workload, and at the end of the financial year, we employed 29 members of staff instead of the predicted 45, which was the anticipated figure prior to our opening in 2008.”

Ms Agnew continued : “We have successfully established the ‘gateway’ for all complaints about legal practitioners and deal directly with complaints about inadequate professional service. In line with our aim to resolve complaints at the earliest opportunity, we continue to develop our mediation function and aim for resolution through both formal and informal approaches.”

SLCC Annual Report 2010 Performance Page 0013Breakdown of complaints made against solicitors to the SLCC. The SLCC’s media release reported that the largest proportion of complaints received related to residential conveyancing, areas of business not specified, followed by litigation, Employment Law, Executries & Wills (a favourite client rip-off) and family law. Complaints about a solicitor’s or advocate’s conduct are still referred to the relevant professional body. In the year there were 142 such complaints against solicitors and two against advocates. In addition 216 cases were accepted under the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman jurisdiction, and 180 opinions completed.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 reveals 1.8million reservesSLCC’s 2010 Annual Report (page 19) revealed the quango currently holds a whopping £1.86 million in ‘reserves’. The SLCC, attempting to play down its controversial gigantic cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’), reported the figure it was currently holding, of £1.86 million, (£1,867,000.) compares with one of over £1.5m for the first nine months of the SLCC’s operation, following which the Commission cut the annual levy payable by solicitors to £235 for the current year. The SLCC went onto claim that “actual reserves” at year end were £1.12m, or just under five months’ operating costs” as it had decided to ring-fence some £740,000 to underwrite the generally levy in the 2010/11 operating year by transferring it from reserves to income – in other words, the SLCC is, of sorts going to hand back £740,000 to the legal profession when it reduces next year’s levy on all legal practitioners which are covered by its regulation.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee said the SLCC should be ‘taken over’ by the Law Society. The reported surplus of £1.86 million now confirmed in the SLCC’s 2010 Annual Report also pokes significant holes in the Law Society of Scotland/SLCC takeover spat which hit the headlines last year, when the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee alleged the SLCC was supposedly carrying a gigantic six million pound surplus, with Society representatives apparently going onto suggest in the same newspaper stories that the Law Society of Scotland should, in the name of saving the taxpayer some money, take over both the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even more worryingly, the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Readers can find out more about the battle between the Law Society & the SLCC over a suggested takeover, and dubious media fiddling regarding a now wholly untrue surplus figure, here : Dailly’s Law : Law Society ‘takeover plot’ for SLCC & Legal Aid Board backfires over leak of law complaints quango’s alleged £6 million surplus. The idea of a Law Society takeover was, however swiftly rebuffed by one of Scotland’s leading QCs, Paul McBride, who compared the idea to putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory, reported here : Doughnuts, principles and no £6m surplus : Law Society’s backroom plot to take over Legal Aid Board attacked by top QC Paul McBride. The argument was closed down when the Law Society issued a media manipulation directive, reported HERE which may well also be aimed at me, bless their souls (if they have any).

Jane IrvineSLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine wrote in her annual message about providing a complaints service. Jane Irvine wrote : “Our priority this year has been to provide a complaint service. In my view, the range of legal services provided means our complaints are very diverse. The range can include complaints about limited advice on dog control, complaints that poor representation was provided in a murder trial or complaints regarding badly drawn up title deeds in a multimillion pound international property development. Every case we receive involves something important to the person who raises it and the person who provided the service, and just like diverse complaints, diverse people’s’ needs do not always fit rigid systems. As a result we must flex our complaint handling powers to ensure we work in a way that meets multiple needs.”

On the issue of the many legal challenges to the SLCC’s powers over complaints in Scotland’s Court of Session, Ms Irvine went onto say : “It is inevitable that new legislation will be challenged. Our board prepared for this by setting aside money to fund any legal processes and during the year, we received 11 challenges with the majority still being heard in the Court of Session at the year end. The outcomes of these appeals are important to us”.

Readers can compare the ‘progress’ the SLCC has made in a year by reading last year’s SLCC Annual Report, which can be read in more detail, here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals it passed most complaints about lawyers back to Law Society, has failed to act on Master Policy report where the quango revealed it was then carrying a surplus (now called a ‘reserve’) of £1.565 million pounds The SLCC’s full audited accounts for 2009-2010 can be found HERE (pdf)

The Law Society of Scotland’s almost simultaneous Press Release responding to the publication of the SLCC’s Annual Report quickly called for further reductions in the charges levied on all its member solicitors, charges which fund the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Lorna JackLorna Jack Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, revealed in emails to have apparently bullied Communities Minister Fergus Ewing into threatening the SLCC over the question of its levy rate earlier this year, said: “We are pleased that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has said they will be “asking for less” when they set the levy for solicitors later this year. We hope this will be a meaningful reduction given the Commission’s reserves now stand at over £1 million.

Ms Jack continued : “It is important for the Commission to work as efficiently as possible and carefully manage its budget, particularly in the current economic climate when the solicitors who fund the Commission still face tough business decisions. The consultation on the Commission’s budget will begin shortly and we are urging solicitors to contact us so their views can be included in our own submission to the Commission as part of that consultation.”

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation & previous Director of the Society’s ‘Client Relations Office, well known for its brutal, even deadly treatment of clients who dared complain about their solicitor, said: “It is good to see a fall in the number of complaints made against solicitors compared with last year, which we believe has been party driven by firms dealing more effectively with complaints at source. However, more work needs to be done to ensure a better understanding of the reasons behind this reduction.”

While the legal profession pats itself on the back for yet another year which has seen such successes as the SLCC board member’s lavish expenses claims, its continuing failure to monitor the Law Society of Scotland’s infamously corrupt Master Policy & Guarantee Fund after more than two years of operation, an unrivalled anti-client attitude openly displayed by many of its board members & staff, and of course, its mounting troubles in the Court of Session with lawyers openly seeking to challenge its remit, any thoughts of consumer protection appear to have taken a back seat against the many rogue lawyers who remain working in Scotland’s legal services market.

One single complaint fully upheld in a year. Its not much of a badge of success now, is it. We don’t even know which law firm this one complaint involves, nor do we know the identities of all the other law firms, solicitors & others reported to the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates. However, in England & Wales, their new Legal Ombudsman may soon be publishing the names of solicitors & complaints decision. Now … how about bringing some of that openness to Scotland, so consumers really do know what they are getting into when they walk through the doors of a lawyers office ?

Kenny MacAskillJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill spent over £2 million of public funds on the SLCC’s lavish start-up costs. I’d also like to suggest, as we are in a recession, and since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is so flush with cash, the SLCC should now begin to pay back its start-up costs of two million pounds to the public purse. After all, two million could be better used for hospitals, community care, or even other parts of the justice system such as Policing & anti-crime measures, rather than continuing to give taxpayers money to the legal profession and its anti-client regulatory regime which is anything but independent.

My earlier coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its much less than expected performance as a regulator of complaints against Scotland’s legal profession, can be read here : The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – The story so far

 

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Emails reveal Law Society Chief Executive Lorna Jack ‘called the shots’ over Fergus Ewing’s Ministerial threat to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunities Minister Fergus Ewing was lobbied by Law Society Chief to deliver reduction in lawyers complaints levy. REASONS why the Scottish Government’s Communities Minister Fergus Ewing threatened the ‘independence’ of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission earlier this year over an apparent ‘bust up’ with the Law Society of Scotland regarding the annual complaints levy charged to all solicitors to fund the SLCC’s investigation of complaints have now been answered by a second disclosure of key parts of emails between the Law Society & the Scottish Government in response to a request for a review under Freedom of Information legislation.

Jane IrvineScottish Legal Complaints Commission Chair’s Jane Irvine was told to expect ‘a review’ by Minister if levies for solicitors were not reduced. As many observers to the bitter squabble between the two law complaints regulators & the Scottish Government suspected, simply, the Minister did exactly as the Law Society’s senior officials suggested, making it plain to the SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine there would be problems for the SLCC if there was no reduction in the annual complaints levy for Scottish solicitors, citing the SLCC’s huge £1.5m cash surplus as a reason to reduce complaints charges. The Minister’s letter was subsequently published by the SLCC on its own website and widely reported in the media.

Law Society to Scottish Govt - SLCC surplus & complaints levyLaw Society of Scotland’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack ‘suggested’ Minister write to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ‘by Friday’. Lorna Jack’s now published email to the Scottish Government stated : “It was good to have the brief conversation that we did today. As promised some more info re how the SLCC might resolve their reserves/bank deposits issue. First 9 months as you know saw them end with £1.6m of reserves and £3.8m of cash [REDACTED] They tell us that they will make a deficit in year 2 of some £400k and then plan another £100k in the budget under discussion but even then if they further reduced the levy for this year alone by £50 they should still have over £0.5m in reserve .and a very healthy bank balance of over a £1m. We have left them with a proposition to do this and await their response.” However, a previously redacted part of this email, today released by the Scottish Government reveals the Law Society Chief Executive states [REDACTED]. “If Government are also minded that they are sitting on unnecessary reserves then you will need to make your views known to them by Friday when I think they plan to make any additional changes.”.

Lorna JackLaw Society’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack wrote email to Scottish Government suggesting they pile on the pressure to the SLCC. This new information which partially lifts the veil on secret communications between the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Government, goes a significant way to explaining why the Communities Minister Fergus Ewing sent a letter to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 22 February 2010, five working days after Lorna Jack asked the Minister to make the Law Society’s ‘his’ views known over the Law Society’s demands the SLCC should use their huge £1.5m cash surplus to, in effect, give a cash back payment to solicitors by reducing the annual complaints levy.

My initial report on Fergus Ewing’s apparent Ministerial threat to the SLCC on behalf of the Law Society can be read here : ‘Ministerial Interference’ as Fergus Ewing demands SLCC’s £1.5m reserves be handed to lawyers after Law Society lobbied Scottish Government, also reported in the Scotsman newspaper HERE, with my later report on the continuing investigation into how the Minister’s actions actually came about, where papers released in July under Freedom of information legislation portrayed the Scottish Government as siding with the Law Society, can be read here : Undue Influence : Freedom of Information reveals how Law Society used Scottish Government Ministers to reduce complaints levy for crooked lawyers.

A senior official from one of Scotland’s Consumer organisations commenting on the Scottish Government’s latest release of information said : “The Law Society’s Chief Executive writes an email to the Scottish Government suggesting it contacts the SLCC to share its remarkably similar view to the Law Society regarding a reduction in the annual complaints levy. A Minister surprisingly other than the Justice Secretary then writes to the SLCC a few days later threatening a review of the SLCC’s independence if the complaints levy is not reduced. What more evidence could anyone want the Law Society effectively controls the SLCC and is still in charge of regulation of complaints ?”

LSS to SG email 15 feb - attachmentLaw Society’s Director of Regulation Philip Yelland ‘calculated SLCC’s complaints levy’ over a weekend. A further document in the form of an attachment released by the Scottish Government under Freedom of Information legislation stunningly depicts Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Director of Regulation’ making his own calculations as to how much the supposedly independent SLCC should reduce the complaints levy by. Director of Regulation Philip Yelland’s ‘suggestions’ to the Scottish Government of the complaints levy charges the Law Society would like to see :

1: Reduction in the top rate levy by £ 50 to £ 225 If you apply this across the Board and the appropriate waivers per their budget the sum to be taken from reserves to meet this would be £ 413,078 on top of the figure of £ 370,000 which they are already planning to use to keep the levy at the same level as this year. The net effect would appear to be to reduce their reserves by just over 2 months running costs (on the basis that it costs approximately £ 200,000 per month to run.

2: Reduction in top rate levy by £ 25 to £ 250 If you apply this across the Board to would cost the Commission £ 206,539 or just over one month’s running costs. It may also be worth making the point that to date evidence suggests that the number of solicitors in the pot to pay at 30th June will be higher than the number we give them in November/December. PY 14th February 2010”

A legal insider studying the full FOI releases from the Scottish Government commented : “If a member of the public writes to the Scottish Government regarding problems with the Law Society or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, I doubt they will receive such attentive service, accompanied by a Ministerial threat of review if difficulties were not addressed ….”

He continued : “Clearly the Law Society still pull the strings at the SLCC and it appears, the Scottish Government.”

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing’s letter in full to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission threatening the SLCC’s independence over reductions in the complaints levy, apparently on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland :

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 Feb 2010 Complaints levy  page 1Community Safety Fergus Ewing writes to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, demands reduction of complaints levy for lawyers. The letter from Mr Ewing to the SLCC, recently released, states : “I note that you have used some of your reserves to offset any increase in the general levy and that is commendable, but I am strongly of the view that this does not go far enough. I understand that this financial year you have generated income of around £2.3m and that your predicted costs of £2.9m are now forecast to be £2.6m. The shortfall between income and expenditure will be met by your contingency fund should that remain untouched and in effect your budget will balance this year. However the surplus finds generated during your first 9 months of operation recorded as £1.5m are likely to remain untouched.”

Mr Ewing continued : “Whilst I recognise that during your initial year of operation the workload and consequently expenditure was difficult to predict, having built up an significant reserve fund in this financial year, it is essential that the Commission takes full account of this reserve in determining the amount of annual general levy and the complaints levy that is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure for the next financial year. When the Commission has existing reserves, it must ensure that, taking one financial year with another, the amount of the proposed general levy and complaints levy is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure, in particular, any estimated shortfall including for contingencies.”

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 Feb 2010 Complaints levy  page 2Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing threatens a review of Ministerial powers over the SLCC if it refuses to lower the complaints levy. Fergus Ewing continued in his letter to the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine : “I do not think it is sufficient to use these reserves to merely off-set an assumed increase in the proposed amount of the annual general levy for next year. I therefore invite the Commission to give early and serious consideration to reducing the proposed amount of the annual general levy and the complaints levy to ensure that these do not, taking one financial year with another, exceed what is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure.“I appreciate that this is important for the SLCC to manage their financial risks and hold some contingency funding and I know that officials here would be happy to discuss how this could be achieved in ways which do no to rely on large reserves. I appreciate also that, as the legislation stands, the levy is a matter for the SLCC to determine, and that Ministers have no powers to order the SLCC to take any particular action in respect of the levy. It is for the SLCC itself to ensure that the level of charge is justifiable, in the light of the demands on it. I trust that you will exercise that discretion appropriately, having regard to the views expressed by consultees.”

Fergus Ewing ended his letter with an apparent threat : “I would wish to give fair notice that Ministers will review the situation following the setting of this year’s levies to see whether any change in the respective powers of Ministers and the Commission is desirable.”

The end result was .. the SLCC dropped the complaints levy charges as the Law Society wished, setting the figures at : Solicitors with 3 plus years experience £235, Conveyancing & Executry Practitioners with 3 plus years experience £235, Solicitors within first 3 years experience £118, Conveyancing & Executry Practitioner within first 3 years of practice £118, Practising outwith Scotland £78, In-house Conveyancing & Executry Practitioners £78, In-house Lawyers £78, Advocates £118, Association of Commercial Attorneys £78.

There is real difficulty in describing the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as an independent regulator of complaints against the legal profession after this, and many more incidents … however, given no prosecutions or even a striking off of a solicitor have yet taken place after two years of complaints handling by the SLCC .. one may very well legitimately question why the SLCC even exists.

 

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Undue Influence : Freedom of Information reveals how Law Society used Scottish Government Ministers to reduce complaints levy for crooked lawyers

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunities Safety Minister Fergus Ewing demanded ‘independent’ law complaints quango give solicitors a break on complaints charges. DOCUMENTS REVEALED under Freedom of Information legislation of a meeting chaired by the Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Law Society of Scotland over arguments relating to ongoing court cases between the two regulators and the costs of the contentious Penman Levy ‘complaints levy’, will leave no one in any doubt about the close relationship between the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Government on issues the legal profession demand are raised in its favour.

I reported on Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing’s intervention on behalf of the Law Society to reduce the complaints levy in an earlier article during April, here : Ministerial Interference’ as Fergus Ewing demands SLCC’s £1.5m reserves be handed to lawyers after Law Society lobbied Scottish Government, however the recent release of the actual minutes of the meeting now reveal the extent of Mr Ewing’s involvement which resonates throughout the two pages as being clearly biased in favour of the Law Society’s stance over complaints levies and court challenges against the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over complaints appeals.

Meeting between Fergus Ewing, Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 April 2010Documents reveal meeting demanded by the Law Society secured Ministerial interference to reduce complaints levy. Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, himself a former solicitor & member of the Law Society of Scotland opened the meeting, held on 22 April at the Scottish Parliament, allegedly claiming its purpose was not to interfere with the duties of the SLCC or the Law Society, despite the Law Society having itself called for the meeting, which was attended by the Society’s current Chief Executive, Lorna Jack & Director of Regulation Philip Yelland. However, insiders today revealed the only issue the Law Society wanted to discuss (appearing as item 8 in the minutes) was the complaints levy and the massive £1.5 million surplus held by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which the Law Society had asked the Scottish Government to consider while seeking a reduction in complaints levy charges for solicitors.

Item 8 of the released minutes read : “The Law Society confirmed that the points they had made previously about ‘over provision’ of reserves stood. The Scottish Government was concerned that the SLCC were being over cautious on risk, particularly given that most of the risk will be substantially mitigated in the course of the year.”

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government had received ‘numerous representations from the Law Society on the complaints levy. A Scottish Government insider today confirmed the Law Society had made numerous representations, both written & ‘in person’ to the Scottish Government over the society’s desire to further reduce the complaints levy, and on issues relating to the society’s court of session challenges against the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. However he said “there was about as much chance of getting hold of these documents in an FOI request as the Edinburgh Trams project finishing on time”

A legal insider, studying the terms of the minutes, disputed the Community Safety Minister’s version of why the meeting had taken place and his attempt to distance himself from appearing to intervene on the part of one regulator against another.

He went on to point out Mr Ewing’s claim of not wishing to interfere in the running of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was very misleading, to the point of being dishonest, considering Mr Ewing had already sent a letter to the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine, threatening there would be Ministerial intervention if the SLCC did not accede to the Minister’s wishes on the complaints levy & reserves, wishes which coincided with those of the Law Society of Scotland.

Fergus Ewing to SLCC - Ministerial threatTale of a Ministerial Threat : Community Safety Fergus Ewing demanded reduction of complaints levy as Law Society had requested. The letter from Mr Ewing to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, where insiders recently branded the letter ‘Ministerial intervention on behalf of the Law Society’, stated : “I note that you have used some of your reserves to offset any increase in the general levy and that is commendable, but I am strongly of the view that this does not go far enough. … I therefore invite the Commission to give early and serious consideration to reducing the proposed amount of the annual general levy …. I would wish to give fair notice that Ministers will review the situation following the setting of this year’s levies to see whether any change in the respective powers of Ministers and the Commission is desirable.”

There have been successive reductions in the SLCC’s complaints levy since the ‘independent’, scandal-hit law complaints quango was created in 2007 as a result of the passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – legislation which was passed after a collective campaign by many individuals, consumer organisations & campaign groups to reform widespread corruption in regulation of Scotland’s legal profession.

The complaints levy initially stood at £409 in 2008, a levy charged to each solicitor to fund the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s work investigating complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’. However, after a year of bickering between the SLCC & Law Society, the SLCC’s complaints levy was reduced dramatically in 2009 from £409 to £275, and the £200 charge for mediation between solicitors (who were involved in complaints) & their clients, dropped.

Lorna JackLorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society. The Law Society welcomed Fergus Ewing’s intervention to reduce the complaints levy, issuing a press release a few days after the meeting took place, apparently rubbing in their ‘Ministerial assisted’ victory over the SLCC. Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, announced : “We are delighted the representations made by the Society have resulted in a reduction in the levy on our solicitors. The Society did make strong representations to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on behalf of the profession.”

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission were branded ‘liars’ by Law Society over Court actions. Ms Jack went on to chastise the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over what she viewed as ‘necessary’ court challenges against complaints decisions : “Whilst we are pleased that they have listened to some of our points, we are extremely disappointed that the SLCC has used the excuse of the unknown outcome of appeals currently at the Court of Session as a reason for keeping their budget and reserves so high. These appeals were necessary and indeed the only course of action open to the Law Society to clarify a difference of understanding of the law which the Society and SLCC have over whether certain complaints are conduct complaints that the Society can investigate.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society ended Press Release with ‘veiled threat’. Ms Jack ended her press release with a veiled threat against the independent SLCC, inferring the Law Society would be back in the fight to get its way further on complaints levies : “We will continue to talk to the SLCC about how they can work within the legislation and improve their structures and systems to avoid this type of issue arising in future at an unfair cost to the profession. The Society has a right to challenge the SLCC’s budget, as one of the professional bodies representing the legal profession which pays for its running costs, and we think the SLCC have failed to take a proportionate approach to the risk involved.”

A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said today the terms of the meeting, taken in context with the earlier letter from the Community Safety Minister to Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chair, made for a venue of intimidation likely to produce “a favourable result for the Law Society of Scotland, which is in fact, what has occurred”.

He said : “I think consumers would rightly view it is entirely inappropriate for the Scottish Government, acting on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland to intervene with the independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, where there is without doubt a clear bias in favour of the Law Society who had approached the Minister for help in seeking a reduction in the complaints levy & the amount held by the SLCC in its reserves.”

He continued : “The Scottish Government, let alone a Government Minister would never even consider offering to chair meetings between consumers who are having problems with either the SLCC or the Law Society where either or both regulators have failed to properly investigate complaints made against Scottish solicitors.”

“Mr Ewing’s interference has effectively killed the SLCC’s public credibility and put the Law Society on notice it can call in Scottish Ministers at any time to get its own way. A poor example for Mr Ewing to set considering the long history of problems with regulation of the legal profession.”

A Justice Department insider, asked today if the FOI released minutes truly reflected the tone of the meeting & what had all been discussed, replied with a wry smile, saying : “What do you think ?”

Well, I know what I think … and coincidentally of course, the SLCC did agree to freeze the complaints levy, as well as draw down on their reserves, just as the Law Society of Scotland had demanded the willing Scottish Government Minister ensure took place;

So, as easily as a gamekeeper may call his Jack Russell Terrier to heel before ordering it down a rabbit hole, details of meetings demanded by the Law Society over financial benefits for its member solicitors indisputably show Scottish Government Ministers will apparently follow the society’s wishes to the letter, in this case, where the Law Society had demanded further reductions in the annual complaints levy charged to all solicitors which funds the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

What chance is there of independent, transparent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, when the Law Society can call in Scottish Ministers to bully any regulator into speedy subjugation ? No chance at all … and consumer protection against inadequate legal services ? in Scotland .. such an idea is a myth under the current administration.

 

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Scottish Government back down on lay appointments to Law Society Council as lawyers vested interests threaten to break pro-consumer legal services bill

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government backed down after threats from lawyers. AFTER TWO WEEKS of bitter campaigning by solicitors who threatened to derail passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill through the Scottish Parliament over certain powers which allowed Ministers to appoint non-lawyers to the Law Society’s ‘decision making’ Council, it has been revealed the Scottish Government has caved in to demands from the legal profession who want the Law Society’s ‘decision making’ Council to remain an exclusive lawyer-only affair.

The sudden climb-down by the Scottish Government, who are now also expected to cave into more demands from the legal profession intent on watering down the Legal Services Bill proposals to retain their long held monopoly over the public’s access to justice in Scotland, come after an intense two weeks of campaigning by solicitors, law firms, and even the Law Society of Scotland, who, while officially supporting the Legal Services Bill, were privately threatening to kill off the bill’s chances of securing a successful passage in the Scottish Parliament, after it became known several MSPs had been contacted by Law Society officials & individual solicitors keen to see the bill would not accumulate enough support for its passage into law.

Fergus EwingFergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Communities & Safety was wheeled out at a Law Society ‘road show’ to announce to angry solicitors their beloved ‘Council of the Law Society of Scotland’ would remain a lawyer-only club, making the following announcement :“The power of Scottish Ministers to make regulations specifying the proportion of lay members and the criteria for selection was intended as a fall-back, only to be used in the unlikely event that there would be a need to resolve any disagreements regarding the proportion of lay members.”

Mr Ewing continued : “Following representations from the Law Society of Scotland, in which it re-affirmed its commitment to lay appointments, I no longer consider it necessary for Scottish Ministers to have this fall-back power. Therefore, I intend to bring forward an amendment at Stage 2 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to delete section 92(4), (5) and (6) of the Bill.”

Ian SmartIan Smart, still pulling the strings against wider transparency at the Law Society. Ian Smart, President of the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the Scottish Government’s capitulation to lawyers vested interests, saying : “This is an important concession and very good news for the profession. The government promised to listen to the Society and the profession’s representations and they have done so. We, along with others, have pressed hard for changes to key aspects of the Bill and I am very pleased that the first of these have been taken on board and that amendments will be made.”

Mr Smart continued along the theme of putting a gun to the head of the Legal Services Bill & wider consumer rights of access to justice : “We’ve had a constructive working relationship with the government which we want to continue, and we will be seeking further amendments. Independence of the legal profession is essential and we have stressed throughout the ABS debate that, along with the profession’s core values and principles, it cannot be compromised. We have also maintained that consumers must be protected and that access to justice is a priority – legal services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity.”

Mr Smart seems to think the way in which Scottish solicitors fleece the public with expensive, poor quality legal services should not be treated as a purely commercial activity, rather he casts up these non-existent ‘core values & principles’, of what one may ask ? What values do solicitors have these days when consumers have a better chance of winning the Euromillions lottery than finding an honest law firm in Scotland who wont rip them off ?

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society wins the day again after the usual threats of a split & intimidation of Scottish Government. Section 92 of the Legal Services Bill had required the Law Society to appoint a number of non-solicitor members to its Council to represent the public interest – a joke, surely as the Law Society have never represented the public interest. The now withdrawn proposals would also have allowed Scottish Government Ministers after ‘consultation with the legal profession, to set limits or requirements on how many non-solicitors would sit on the Law Society’s Council.

The proposals drew bitter arguments from within the legal profession, which boiled over onto television with arguments between the Law Society’s current president, Ian Smart & Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre, who along with several other law firms aligned to the Glasgow Bar Association threatened to split from the Law Society over the issue of control of the Law Society’s Council and perceived Ministerial interference, which it was claimed, would lead to a fundamental loss of the legal profession’s independence.

I reported earlier on the arguments within the profession which led to today’s climb-down by the Scottish Government, here : Lawyers squabble over control of legal services monopoly & regulation as Scots consumers forced to wait for wider access to justice, accompanied by a video clip, worth watching again :

Law Society’s Ian Smart & Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly argue the toss on Legal Services reform :

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society wins the day again after the usual threats of a split & intimidation of Scottish Govt. While it may look to some the bitter arguments between lawyers & the Law Society threatened to disturb the ‘harmony’ of the legal profession, seasoned observers are well used to these kind of tactics, where part of the profession will break off in an outburst against Government proposed reforms, while the Law Society feigns support to a certain degree for the disputed Ministerial plans. A few days or weeks later, the plans are then quietly (or as in this case, spectacularly) dropped by Scottish Ministers, allowing the legal profession to regain its harmonious outlook of ripping off consumers and getting away with it.

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission : ‘A Government Agency’. Earlier this week, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was even dragged into the fight against the Legal Services Bill by lawyers desperate to retain their monopoly over regulation of complaints and the public’s access to justice, when the Law Society’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack launched attacks at the hapless law complaints quango, branding it a “Government Agency”.

Lorna JackAttempt to deflect attention from Law Society’s woes ? Lorna Jack attacked Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Lorna Jack said earlier this week in comments issued to magazines & newspapers : “We also need to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. The easiest way to split the functions would be pass regulation to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. That would remove a huge amount of control from the profession and hand it to a government agency – and that could be a serious own-goal.”

The usual turn of events then ensued after Ms Jack’s comments appeared in the media, with other ‘personalities’ emerging from the legal profession’s blood stained woodwork to issue veiled threats if the Scottish Government handed over all the Law Society of Scotland’s present regulatory functions to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, there would be more trouble in store for the Legal Services Bill and anyone supporting it …

Replying to Ms Jack’s outbursts against the SLCC and pleas for solicitors unity, Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre said the Law Society should combine with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in a new, slimmed down regulator, with representation left to existing & new professional associations. Personally, I doubt that could work, as Mr Dailly is simply proposing a Law Society take-over of the SLCC, which already appears to have happened without anyone particularly noticing ….

Mr Dailly in his online blog at “The Firm” is also reported to have called for Ian Smart to step down as Law Society President, for, as Mr Dailly alleges, failing to promote the interests of solicitors – above everyone else by the sounds of it …

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is no fan of independently regulating fellow solicitors. Given the equally hapless Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has made it be known he has no intention of creating an independent regulator of legal services in Scotland – presumably because Mr MacAskill fears independent regulation as much as any of his more crooked colleagues in the profession itself, we can expect the Scottish Government to settle for ‘the quiet life’ and back down yet again, giving the Law Society total control over regulation once again, as if it already doesn’t control the SLCC as things currently stand …

Today, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refused to comment on Ms Jack’s ‘Government Agency’ jibe, preferring to point out in a statement “The SLCC does not intend to comment on the article that appeared in the Scotsman. The status of the SLCC is defined in the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, Schedule 1 Sections 1 (1) and (2) and there is a link to the Act on the SLCC website.” – sounds as if they have a lot of confidence in themselves …

Given the developments of this past week .. it may well be that Scots are not going to receive much of a fairer deal for access to justice or access to legal services, certainly if the legal profession & the Law Society of Scotland have their wicked way once again …

 

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