RSS

Tag Archives: Mathew Vickers

COMPLAINTS FLICK: Law Society of Scotland & ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission team up to produce video on how to complain about a rogue lawyer

Legal regulators SLCC and Law Society launch complaints process video. IN A MOVE seen as an attempt to combat publicity about poor regulation of the legal profession and few if any prosecutions of dodgy lawyers ripping off their clients, the Law Society of Scotland and the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) have teamed up to produce a public video explaining the process for making a complaint about a solicitor in Scotland.

However, people who have actual experience of the solicitor complaints process as administer by the Law Society & SLCC have criticised the video as bearing little comparison with reality to how clients of rogue lawyers are treated after making a complaint.

The ‘help’ video, which begins with a claim that most people are happy with their solicitors and have no reason to question services provided, or demands for sky high legal fees without any real evidence of work, can be viewed on the SLCC’s website here: SLCC and Law Society of Scotland joint video on the complaints process or on the Vimeo hosting website directly here: Making a complaint about a solicitor

The video on how to complain about a rogue solicitor appears along with another video clip – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – Mediation video, also produced by the SLCC which claims to document the process of mediation. However, some users of the mediation service have referred to their mediation experiences as less than satisfactory, and little more than a delaying tactic used by law firms who attempt to escape complaints investigations.

One client involved in a bitter five year struggle with the Law Society described the video as “an attempt to limit a person’s expectation of justice.” He went on to say the video “looks like it has been made by crooks to save crooks”.

The ‘how to’ complain video comes on the heels of revelations that solicitor Clive Franks, a senior partner of Edinburgh based Franks Macdam Brown and a key member of the Law Society of Scotland’s infamous Complaints Committee regime, committed suicide on November 10, 2014.

It has since been revealed in the media the Law Society of Scotland were investigating Clive Franks over fraud allegations relating to client funds. Mr Franks was involved in defending a controversial case involving a challenge to the will of building tycoon Alfred Stewart. It was revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper Franks was a trustee of a will which was changed at the last minute to cut out members of the family of the deceased.

Law Society Complaints Committees – of which Franks was a key player, form a key role in protecting corrupt lawyers from complaints lodged by members of the public and it is likely the Complaints Committees were consulted in some way on the video productions.

Making a complaint about a solicitor – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

 

Mediation – Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

 

Commenting on the video, Matthew Vickers, the current Chief Executive of the SLCC said: “Having dealt with legal complaints over the past six years, we appreciate that the current process is complex and can be a difficult one for clients to understand.   I welcome this video – which we have made in partnership with the Law Society of Scotland – as a valuable tool to inform the public about how the legal complaints process works, and the stages within it.”

Carole Ford, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Regulatory Committee, welcomed the video: “The vast majority of people are very happy with the service they receive from their solicitor, but it’s important that those who are not satisfied know that they have somewhere to go, and that there are processes in place that can help resolve any issues.  The Law Society has worked closely with the SLCC on this joint venture and I think we have successfully produced a valuable tool that could go a long way to helping the public understand the complaints process from start to finish.”

Susan McPhee, Citizens Advice Scotland’s Head of Policy and Communications added: “We welcome this video from the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.  Consumers in Scotland need clear routes to resolve issues they have with solicitors – and these routes need to be easily understood by consumers.  This video provides a gateway for consumers to find out what they need to do, and what their solicitors are obliged to do if there is a disagreement.  I hope it is used by consumers to ensure rights are respected and protected.”

MEDIA EXPOSE LAWYERS BEHAVING BADLY:

Legal insiders say the SLCC & Law Society decided to make the video clip in response to increasing media coverage of dodgy solicitors and the public’s reaction to constant legal rip offs and poor regulation which came into focus with the BBC’s Lawyers Behaving Badly programme – which featured reports on poor regulation of Scotland’s legal profession, along with a host of crooked lawyers still going about their business.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Of note in the programme 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.

English QCs speaking on the programme were unequivocal that dishonesty is a striking off offence south of the border, while the appearance through the years in Scotland has been Scots lawyers are simply given a slap on the wrist, or a merit badge for dishonesty by their colleagues in the regulation game.

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 no matter what. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty astounded viewers, and 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.”

This article has been updated with new information, and comments from individuals currently involved in complaints investigations being conducted by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Law Society of Scotland.

If you are making a complaint about a solicitor and feel you are being treated unfairly by the SLCC & Law Society of Scotland, please consider publicising your difficulties, to help protect your own interests and others. You can contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com. Any material provided will be treated as confidential and will not be published without your consent.

Advertisements
 

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

“Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission appoints latest Chief Executive. THE Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the quango set up by Holyrood msps and the Law Society of Scotland to ‘independently’ regulate crooked Scottish lawyers yet who’s highly remunerated board members have openly branded members of the public “frequent flyers”, “chancers” and demanded consumer groups be excluded from studies into the effects on clients of rogue lawyers has announced the appointment of it’s latest and now FIFTH in FOUR YEARS Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers.

Mr Vickers a former British Consul in the Canary Islands & Madrid, takes up the post on 5 June 2012 replacing Rosemary Agnew who left the legal complaints quango to be Scotland’s new Information Commissioner in charge of Freedom of Information laws.

In an announcement on the SLCC’s website, Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC, who was recently revealed to have met lawyers accused of professional misconduct in meetings where it had been agreed no records would be kept of discussions, said: “The SLCC is delighted to appoint Matthew as our new Chief Executive Officer. Matthew will bring fresh thinking to the SLCC just as we really start to push our performance for the benefit of all our service users – legal practitioners and consumers. In our search, in keeping with our aspirations for the SLCC, we set our sights high and were delighted to be able to select Matthew from an exceptionally strong field of candidates.”

Matthew Vickers, who will join the SLCC as Chief Executive Officer on 5 June 2012, said: “Customer service and efficient and effective ways of working have been themes throughout my career, and I hope to help a talented and enthusiastic team build on what the SLCC has already achieved. As the gateway for legal complaints, the SLCC must inspire trust and confidence in the legal complaints system. It’s vital that consumers and legal practitioners recognise us as impartial, accessible and independent if we’re to continue to do so.”

A biography published by the SLCC of Mr Vickers states :

Matthew is forty years old and originally from Merseyside. Matthew studied Modern History at Merton College, Oxford before a Master’s in Industrial Relations at the LSE. Matthew later returned to Oxford for doctorate entitled “Civic Image and Civic Patriotism in Liverpool 1880-1914” and joined Safeway on graduate scheme in 1998 working at Ferry Road store in Edinburgh. Matthew moved to McCurrach UK in 2002, made Board Director in 2004 and later joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2009.

On completing doctoral research on the history of Victorian Liverpool, Matthew joined Safeway where he held head office and regional roles specialising in customer care and customer insight. He later joined McCurrach UK, serving on the Operating Board and taking overall responsibility for in-store execution for AG Barr Scottish and Newcastle.

In 2009, Matthew joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as British Consul in the Canary Islands, subsequently moving to take up the role of Consul in Madrid. Last year he was awarded the Foreign Secretary’s Award for Service Delivery recognising his significant contribution to improving the support which the FCO offers to Britons abroad.

The latest Chief Executive of the beleaguered SLCC, widely viewed as anti-consumer from it’s failure to prosecute or strike off even a single crooked lawyer since 2008 (an even worse record than the Law Society of Scotland) certainly has a task ahead of him to improve the SLCC’s image if Scots consumers are to be able to trust the SLCC to carry out effective regulation of complaints without the usual inherent bias for lawyers. One SLCC insider dubbed Mr Vickers “a visiting fireman” amid hopes by some in the organisation he can repair the law quango’s image & functionality.

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy over the four year period of the hugely expensive yet under achieving law complaints quango which has burned up at least TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money and taken a further TWELVE MILLION POUNDS from the legal profession in the form of of complaints levies paid by solicitors, which in turn are recouped from hikes (or spurious additions) in legal fees demanded from clients.

mkmc slcc openingMasterman meets MacAskill who backed secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. A previous SLCC Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and resigned her position at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Mrs Masterman then returned to work for the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) in a “complaints reviewer” role, and was recently accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of Baby MacKenzie, which Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper reported on here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive, Richard Smith, also resigned from the role after disagreements about the way the SLCC was heading as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman got the role, then after a few months the job was handed over to Rosemary Agnew. all reported by Diary of Injustice here : The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role

MIND YOUR P’s, C’s & D’s – SLCC attempt & name & shame flounders in alphabet soup

As the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission announced it’s latest Chief Executive, a number of bizarre ‘investigation examples’ & ‘determination examples’ using letters of the alphabet to refer to [crooked’ lawyers and consumers who made complaints about their lawyers have been published on the law quango’s website, in an effort to show the public what to expect from the SLCC.

However the ‘examples’ published by the SLCC fail to identify a single solicitor or law firm, in stark contrast to the policy of the Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales to publicly name & shame law firms & lawyers who fail their clients in more fuller & detailed publications of complaints. Complainers are also not identified.

In none of the examples published  by the SLCC to-date, some of which are reproduced below, are there any references to any recommendation that a law firm or solicitor should be investigated for prosecution by the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

All examples featured by the SLCC, appear to show a series of slaps on the wrist for lawyers & law firms who are not required to alert any of their other clients to complaints made against them and poor service they have given to previous clients forced by their predicament to complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

A legal insider who drew the SLCC’s case examples to the attention of Diary of Injustice claimed the public should in no way take these examples as being genuine …

Determination Example 3

Mr C complained about the service Mr P provided in relation to divorce matters, ailment and contact with his children. He alleged that Mr P failed to: represent and argue his case properly in court, act on his instructions regarding his ex-wife’s failure to comply with a court order for contact, arrange acceptable alternative representation in his absence.  At a court hearing he arranged for his ex-wife’s (the defender’s) solicitor to represent both parties

The Determination Committee considered afresh a wide range of information which included the Firm’s file, Mr C’s comments, Mr P’s comments and the Service Standards.

The Determination Committee did not uphold any element of the complaint.  Its view was that Mr P had exercised his professional judgement in relation to the representation and saw no evidence that this was improperly done.  The Committee understood that it may have appeared odd to Mr C that his ex-wife’s solicitor was instructed to provide alternative representation but this was not inadequate professional service.  It is standard and acceptable practice for one party’s agents to represent both parties where a case like this was calling in regard to a non-contentious matter, and it was appropriate in this case. There was no substance to the complaint about failure to follow instruction.  Not only was Mr C was unable to clarify or provide any evidence of all of the instruction he claimed he gave to Mr P but where instruction was given, records demonstrated it was followed.

Investigation Example 1

Mr C complained about the service Mr P and his Firm provided in relation to his separation.  He complained about the way the Firm advised him on costs and subsequently charged him.  He alleged they charged nearly double the verbal quote and that they did not tell him when the costs became higher than the limit he was able to pay, even though they had agreed to. The Firm did not respond to his requests for a breakdown of costs for over ten months, they did not take payments from his debit card even though he instructed them to do so and the amounts they charged him differed between invoices without any explanation as to why.

Mr C was also unhappy with the poor communication and delay in dealing with his case.  It took five months to draft a document Mr P told him was straightforward, by which time it was out of date.  The Firm did not keep him informed or updated as the terms of business letter said they would. Nor did they respond to his complaint about the delay and the fees. At the point Mr C complained to us, the Firm had started to chase him for payment of his fees and although he paid them in full, did not acknowledge receipt.

The SLCC investigated this complaint by examining the Firm’s files and all the information Mr C sent.  We spoke directly with both parties and took into account all they had to say. We found that that Mr C’s case was not as straightforward as it appeared to be.  There were unavoidable reasons for the delay and although the fees were higher than originally quoted, it was clear the work was both necessary and instructed by Mr C.  The SLCC did not uphold the allegations about these aspects of the service.

However, it was apparent that neither Mr P nor his Firm kept Mr C informed.  Their communication with him was sporadic, did not answer his questions and contained a lot of jargon that he may not have understood easily.  There was no evidence they had answered his complaint.  Had they communicated more regularly and effectively with Mr C to help him understand why there were delays and why the matter was more complex than originally thought, they may have avoided the complaint, and would not have caused Mr C the inconvenience of writing to them or of complaining.

We reported these findings to both parties and recommended a settlement that they both accepted.  The Firm apologised.  It also paid Mr C £550 compensation for the distress and inconvenience caused by the poor communication.  We did not recommend a rebate of fees because although they were higher that Mr C was expecting, the service and advice provided in relation to his separation were not found to be inadequate.

Investigation Example 3

Mr and Mrs C complained about the way Ms P and her Firm dealt with their house purchase.  They were unhappy with her alleged failure to settle on the date they were expecting, 21 October 2010 which they agreed the week before in a telephone call.  They called the Firm on 20 October to confirm everything was in order and were told by Ms P that she was not expecting to settle until 22 October.  She said that settlement could not take place unless a new disposition was issued and delivered to the purchaser’s solicitor for the next day.  This was quite late in the working day. Mr and Mrs C decided they wanted settlement to take place on 21 October as planned.  Ms P prepared a new disposition which was hand-delivered.

The settlement took place followed by settlement late afternoon on 21 October.  This meant Mr and Mrs C could not complete their move and had to pay their removal company for an extra day.

When the SLCC examined the Firm’s file and the information that Mr and Mrs C provided, it emerged that the conveyancing was not straightforward.  There were problems with the sale of Mr and Mrs C’s current property resulting from the completion of remedial works identified by their buyer’s survey.  We could see that Ms P had raised doubts in her letters about being able to settle on 21 October and had kept Mr and Mrs C informed. Equally, it was evident that she was aware that 21 October was their desired date.  The consequence of the uncertainty about the settlement date meant that Ms P was unprepared for settlement on 21 October and as a result settlement was not until late in the afternoon of 21 October.

Our view was that the service was adequate and did not breach any Service Standards.  We appreciated it was a stressful time for Mr and Mrs C and that they had done everything they could.; We could also see that the Firm had made strenuous efforts on their behalf and had managed to settle on the day they wanted.  We considered very carefully the matter of the extra costs for the removal company, but did not recommend these be compensated as they were not the consequence of inadequate professional service.

Although we did not uphold the complaint, our findings and recommendations were accepted by both parties and no further action was taken.

 

Tags: , ,