RSS

Tag Archives: Petitions Committee

ALL THE LORD PRESIDENT’S INTERESTS: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

Scottish Parliament probe judicial interests & register proposal. A FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament probe into Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate.

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

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition has also secured the support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali, and Gillian Thompson.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

At the hearing, Ms Ali supported the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also backed the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

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

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

The timeline of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458:

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scottish Judiciary Scottish Parliament 8 January 2013

The Committee decided to call for submissions on the petition from the Lord President, the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Crown Office.

Petition PE1458 Register of Judges Interests 5 March 2013 Scottish Parliament

Petition PE1458 by Peter Cherbi calling on the Scottish Parliament to legislate to create a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary was heard today 5 March 2013. The Committee decided to call for further evidence and also to invite the Lord President Lord Gill and others along to speak to MSPs and be questioned on the matter.

Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament 16 April 2013

 

A petition calling for a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary has again been debated at the Scottish Parliament, where upon the Lord President Lord Gill’s refusal to attend the Petitions Committee to give evidence, the Petitions Committee decided to repeat its invitation to Lord Gill to attend, and also agreed to seek the views of the Judicial Appointments Board and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scottish Judiciary 25 June 2013 Scottish Parliament

Members of the PPC decided to invite Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence and also to contact Dr Kennedy Graham MP of the New Zealand Parliament. Dr Graham currently has a bill before MPs in New Zealand calling for a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges. During the debate it was noted Lord Gill has refused to attend the Scottish Parliament to discuss the petition and judge’s interests, but has attended the Justice Committee to discuss court closures in Scotland.

Evidence from Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali on Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament

Moi Ali, Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer gives evidence to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament regarding Public Petition PE1458 calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

Petition 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 28th January 2014

Following a private meeting between Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and the Convener & Deputy Convener of the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament,the Committee agreed today, 28 January 2014 to defer consideration of Petition PE1458 by Peter Cherbi calling on the Scottish Parliament to create a register of judicial interests, pending receipt of a letter from the Lord President.

The Convener, David Stewart MSP and Deputy Convener, Chic Brodie MSP reported back to members on what had been said at the private meeting with Scotland’s top judge who refused to attend the Scottish Parliament to be questioned on his deep seated opposition to the proposal to requie Scottish judges to declare all their interests, hidden wealth, family & business links and other matters which may impact on cases being heard before judges in Scottish courts.

Committee Member John Wilson MSP requested details of the private meeting with the judge be put on the official record of the Committee, and Jackson Carlaw MSP drew attention to the fact had it not been for the Petitions Committee asking tough questions there would not even be any letters forthcoming from Lord Gill.

The petition will be heard once a letter has been received from Scotland’s top judge, who appears to be set against any attendance to face questions on why judges should not be required to register their interests, unlike all other public officials, politicians, Government Ministers and others.

Petition 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Scottish Parliament 4 March 2014

The Committee agreed to seek time in the chamber for a debate on the petition. The Committee also agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee

The Committee agreed to continue the petition, and is seeking a debate in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament. The Committee also agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government for more detailed responses.

The next fifteen video clips are from the debate held at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 09 October 2014, in which MSPs, Scottish Government ministers and members of the Public Petitions Committee spoke in the debate. The full text of the speeches of each MSP can be found here: DEBATING THE JUDGES: Cross party support for proposal seeking a register of interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary as Scottish Parliament holds first ever debate on judicial accountability & transparency

David Stewart MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

David Stewart: The committee’s motivation in giving consideration to the issue and in seeking time in the chamber to debate it is a point of principle and comes from the starting point of there being an assumption of openness and transparency in all areas of public life in order to shine a light, if you like, into every corner of Scottish society.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Roseanna Cunningham: The setting up of a register of judicial interests would be a matter for the Lord President, as head of the judiciary in Scotland. The Lord President takes the view that a register of pecuniary interests for the judiciary is not needed. Furthermore, a judge has a greater duty of disclosure than a register of financial interests could address.

Graeme Pearson MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Graeme Pearson: Until the petition was discussed, there was no knowledge of recusals in the public domain. I welcome the fact that, as of April this year, the Lord President has introduced a register of recusals. It is fair to say that without the petition and the work of the Public Petitions Committee, such a register would probably not have been considered.

Jackson Carlaw MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Jackson Carlaw: It is perhaps difficult to take on the judiciary, because judicial independence is always mentioned. As I said, that is a cornerstone of democracy, but because there has been no separation of accountability and independence, it is easy for the judiciary to say, ‘We are independent, so don’t interfere in that.’ Unless independence and accountability are separated, legislation will continue to include no requirement for more openness and transparency.”

Angus MacDonald MSP Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Angus MacDonald: If we as elected members have to register and declare our interests, I see no reason why members of Scotland’s judiciary should not be subject to a full and publicly available register of judicial interests.

Anne McTaggart MSP Register of Judicial Interests debate – Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Anne McTaggart: In Scotland, claims continue to emerge of trials that have been unfair as a result of religious, ethnic or national bias. As long as those claims continue to exist, it is the Parliament’s job to promote fair government. In conclusion, I declare my support for the petition and encourage support from all the other MSPs.

David Torrance MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct

David Torrance: Although I understand that conflicts of interest are on occasion declared in open court prior to taking on a case, the introduction of a register of interests would provide a more consistent and sound basis on which to move forward.

Neil Findlay MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Neil Findlay: We need to do much more to make our society less secretive and less closed, and I think that the register that we are discussing is just one step towards that end. I, for one, give it my full support and urge other MSPs to do the same.

Joan McAlpine MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Joan McAlpine: I gently suggest to the Lord President, in whose gift it is to set up a register, as we cannot legislate for it in the Parliament, that he should be mindful of the need for the judiciary to move with the times, along with every other public institution, in order to retain the confidence of the public.

John Wilson MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

John Wilson: A register of interests for judges is an area in which we could move forward and build more confidence in the system that we have in place.

Stewart Stevenson MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Stewart Stevenson: I encourage Lord Gill and his successors to think about recalibrating their relationship with Parliament.

Jackson Carlaw MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Jackson Carlaw: Mind you, I would point out that we, too, swear an oath, but we nonetheless still subscribe to a register.

Elaine Murray MSP Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Elaine Murray: “Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity–but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity.” Therefore, the issue is not that anyone doubts the judiciary’s integrity, but that the public need to see that integrity.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Roseanna Cunningham: A number of members referred to the register of interests of MSPs. However, the situation is different, because we are directly accountable to the electorate.

Chic Brodie MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Chic Brodie: There is concern that a register would have unintended consequences—a phrase that has been used often in the debate—for the judiciary’s freedom and privacy and its freedom from harassment from the media or dissatisfied litigants. Those are concerns, but they are no less so for others in public life, including MPs and MSPs, who may be attacked publicly for non-declaration of interests. Although it is argued that the establishment of a register may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the judiciary, it might equally be argued that its absence might have the same effect.

The debate at the Scottish Parliament now returns to deliberations of the Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary:

Register of interests for judiciary Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 28 October 2014

Paul Wheelhouse Register of Judicial Interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 9 Dec2014

Minister for Community Safety Paul Wheelhouse gives evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on their investigation of proposals to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458. Mr Wheelhouse on behalf of the Scottish Government opposes the creation of a register which will inform the public about what judges have, their interests, links to big business, banks, shares in corporations and tax avoidance scams.

Petition 1458 Register of interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament 12th May 2015

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee discussed Petition PE1458 on Tuesday 12 May 2015. The Committee agreed to call Gillian Thompson OBE – Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence on the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Evidence of Gillian Thompson Judicial Complaints Reviewer Register of Interests for Judges Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 23 June 2015

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee discussed Petition PE1458 on Tuesday 23 June 2015. The Committee took evidence from Gillian Thompson OBE – Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer who gave evidence in support of the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Lord Brian Gill evidence to Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 10 Nov 2015

Lord Brian Gill, former Lord President and Lord Justice General of Scotland gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458 calling for a register of interests for judges.Gill refused two earlier invitations to appear before the Public Petitions Committee in 2013 and was dubbed “Lord No No.”. Several times during the debate the 73 year old ‘retired’ Lord Gill called on the panel of MSPs to show faith in the UK judiciary and scrap the petition along with calls for greater transparency of judges interests.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Judges Public Petitions Committee Holyrood 1 Dec 2015

Petitions Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP calls for the committee to invite the new Lord President upon their appointment to appear to give evidence. Convener Michael McMahon MSP agrees to write to the new Lord President.

Petition PE1458 Register of judicial interests Scottish Parliament 23rd February 2016

The Committee decided Lord Carloway is to be called to give evidence, MSPs will also contact Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde for evidence.

Petition PE1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 Sept 2016

The Petitions Committee decided to call Lord President Lord Carloway to give evidence, and also hear from Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for judges Public Petitions Committee 22 Dec 2016

MSP Angus MacDonald (SNP) moves to call Professor Alan Paterson to give evidence to the committee and for msps to consider evidence from the Professor then to contact the Lord President, Lord Carloway.

Professor Alan Paterson Petitions Committee PE1458 19th Jan 2017

Professor Alan Paterson evidence to Public Petitions Committee on creating a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

PE 1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 30th March 2017

Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee decide to invite Lord President Lord Carloway to provide evidence before the Committee at a future date, and to invite Alex Neil MSP to appear before the Committee at the same meeting. The decision was taken after Lord Carloway offered concessions on the recusal register of Scotland’s judiciary – created as a result of this petition.

Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Lord Carloway gives evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on a proposal to create a register of judicial interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The proposal has been investigated by the Scottish Parliament for five years, there is wide support for the register, from cross party msps to the media to both Judicial Complaints Reviewers.

The Petition will next be heard on Thursday 7 December 2017 where the Public Petitions Committee will be asked to consider taking evidence from Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, and to seek further evidence on the operation of Norway’s Register of Judicial Interests.

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

 

Advertisements
 

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

LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services

Ministers, lawyers & legal regulator seek Holyrood probe delay. A PROPOSAL before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland – has received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an ‘independent’ review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers – before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

A letter from the SLCC states: “The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.”

However, in reality the issues raised by the SLCC in a report titled “Reimagine Regulation” do little for consumer protection, leaving complaints and investigations firmly in the hands of lawyers, as was reported last year, here: ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors’ self regulation & complaints system

Meanwhile, representations from the Scottish Government, and an unsigned letter from the Chair of a lawyer dominated review panel – are careful not to demand outright, but infer MSPs halt their consideration of calls to scrap the historically biased system of self regulation of lawyers in Scotland.

The latest submissions from the three pro-lawyer groups come in the wake of a call for evidence by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee on two public petitions seeking to replace self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland with fully independent regulation of legal services – as occurs in England & Wales.

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

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

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

Earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges – and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

In another development, Alex Neil recently branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal – which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

During the debate on the two petitions – on 21 September – members of the Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

It is also open for anyone else to put their views to the Petitions Committee on these petitions, or for constituents to request their MSPs submit material on their constituents behalf.

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

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

The latest submissions from the Scottish Government, the Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are reprinted below:

PE1660/E & PE1661/E Scottish Government submission of 6 November 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on petition PE1660 by Bill Tait with regards to the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and petition PE1661 by Melanie Collins regarding amending the regulation of the complaints about the legal profession.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services, announced in April 2017, has been set up to look into these matters and that we understand that the chair, Esther Roberton, will be responding to the committee separately.

The chair is due to report to Ministers by the end of July 2018 and will include the review findings around the complaints handling system.

PE1660/D & PE1661/D Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services submission of 23 October 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on the calls from Bill Tait to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and from Melanie Collins to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017. I chair the review and my deadline to report to Ministers is by the end of July 2018.

As described in the remit for the review, which is broad, its purpose is to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. We are committed to ensuring that our recommendations focus on consumers, providers of legal services and the market place for legal services in Scotland. The time is right to appraise the regulatory system, which last saw substantial changes as a consequence of the 2010 Act, and which the current regulators and others agree is ready for review.

The panel, made up of individuals with experience in legal services, consumer interests, regulatory systems, and complaints systems have met five times to date.

Gathering evidence from a full range of stakeholders with an interest in our work is crucial to help inform our findings. This includes professional bodies, regulators, consumer bodies, a wide range of providers of legal services, business organisations and others. Stakeholder events will take place in November-December, with a formal call for evidence launching at the turn of the year.

The review is also considering relevant information such as regulation in other sectors and in legal services regulatory systems from other parts of the world, and has commissioned a specific study into unregulated legal services.

I have copied this letter to the Justice Committee and am happy to provide further updates if either committee wishes those in due course.

PE1660/C & PE1661/C Submission from Scottish Legal Complaints Commission of 31 October 2017

Thank you for your letter of 26 September about the Petitions Committee on 21 September about petitions PE1660 (Bill Tait) and PE1661 (Melanie Collins) relating to regulation and complaints in legal services.

We spoke on 27 October. For some reason, which neither of us could identify, we had not received the original letter, although had been expecting it and indeed had emailed on 10 October to ask if we were to receive such a letter. We’re very grateful, therefore, that you allowed us a short extension to respond.

We agree there is a strong case for reform in some areas, we have actively lobbied for this, and we’re confident the current Independent review of the regulation of legal services will address matters.

In this letter the SLCC sets out our general position on reform first, which significantly pre-dates the petitions, and then addresses some specific issues raised in the petitions.

THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is the independent gateway for all complaints about solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys. We have experience of handling over 10,000 complaints, and last year alone awarded consumer redress over £324,000. An independent Consumer Panel also helps guide our work.

For a two-page summary of our work, and its impact on consumers see: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/media/69464/annual review.pdf

OUR PROPOSALS FOR REFORM

The SLCC has actively called for radical change to the regulation of the sector. In July 2016 we published our paper #ReimagineRegulation, which is available on our website: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/reimagine-regulation.aspx. A detailed set of supporting appendices provide, among other things, a history of the Scottish Parliament’s involvement in these issues since the parliament’s creation.

We hope this is of assistance to the Committee.

The SLCC robustly highlighted key areas for change which we believe could deliver better results for the sector and for the consumer:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

Up to four statutory bodies can be involved in a single case, causing duplication and delay. We provide a visual representation of the ‘customer journey’ to highlight the current problems.

2. Reducing statutory detail that focuses on processes, not outcomes for people

Complex and inflexible processes have lost sight of the principles of better regulation and distracted from a focus on the outcomes for the public and sector.

3. Ensuring that when redress is awarded the client receives it

In too many cases redress is awarded but failings in the current system mean the complainer does not receive it, undermining confidence in the system.

4. Targeting risk, and not seeing all legal services as the same

For example, conveyancing is a major driver of all regulatory costs across more than one statutory body – how do we either better support, or more proportionately regulate, in that area to reduce this consumer detriment?

5. Embedding the consumer principles

Professional voices in debates in regulation are always informed, strong, and well resourced. We need to understand consumer’s need, and hear their voice, if regulation is to be credible.

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

Modern regulation is about identifying and targeting risk, and creating proportionate and agile structures to tackle issues in fast moving markets. 10 years after our establishment we too often find it is the same basic issues causing problems with consumers, with little done (it being outwith the SLCC’s remit) to tackle the root cause.

SPECIFIC ISSUES RAISED IN THE PETITIONS

A key question is raised about a single regulator, or at least complaints body, and the SLCC believe this merits serious consideration. The cost and confusion caused by four different bodies, for a sector of only 11,000 professionals, is an issue in its own right.

Even if a single body is not eventually possible, debating that model will more sharply focus the discussion on the core purpose and aims of regulation in the sector, and the key mechanism to reduce risk and support a sustainable market, rather than starting discussion from the perspective of the current fragmented roles and responsibilities.

The SLCC also agrees oversight issues need considered. At the moment there is a fractured framework. For example, whilst the SLCC is overseen by an independent Board of Commissioners appointed by government, is subject to Freedom of Information, and comes within the remit of Audit Scotland, not every organisation involved in regulation is currently so transparent, nor under such financial scrutiny. At the moment no bodies, including the SLCC, come under the best practice promoted by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. As we continue the journey of the modernisation of legal regulation a single approach to oversight, with consistent minimum legislative requirements, would be a positive outcome.

Several statutory levies are payable by lawyers, and the value of the fees, and the balance of spending between regulatory and representative functions, should be considered in the round. None of the bodies currently involved have their budgets approved by parliament. In all governance matters legislation is balancing the need for regulation independent from government with what are appropriate governance structures. As with many issues raised, this may be best looked at in the round, as from the lawyer and consumer perspective it is the total cost of regulation which is key.

The SLCC had already raised concern at the only route of appeal being to the Court of Session. This point was made in our paper last year about reform, and we believe the legislation should be amended to allow a more proportionate mechanism. This is part of reducing the current complaints maze, so there is a single investigation, and single set of decisions, and a single appeal.

The SLCC supports the emphasis placed on independent regulation. We believe expert input into regulation is absolutely essential, and that a regulator must be credible to the profession as well as the public. However, the best model for delivering this has been contentious in previous parliamentary debates. The overwhelming trend in UK terms for regulation has been around an ongoing journey from self-regulation to independent regulation (for example, only today, joint work has been published by the four UK health departments on the evolution of governance in the regulation of health professionals:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/promoting-professionalism-reforming- regulation para 4.18 onwards). These petitions highlight that this is likely to be the expectation of the public.

In all of this public and consumer voices are vital. There is a deeply worrying lack of independent research into consumer needs and detriments in Scotland in the legal sector. The SLCC’s Consumer Panel has been instrumental in flagging this in recent years. However, the government’s own previous review of legal regulation in 2006 had raised this as a concern, and the situation has, if anything, deteriorated further since then (for example with Consumer Focus Scotland no longer in existence and doing work in this field). A top priority should be the creation of a better evidence base from those who use services, alongside the professional voices.

Ignoring those consumer voices has consequences, and this is relevant to one specific issue raised in this petition. In debating the legislation that led to the creation of the SLCC consumer groups valued transparency, and that the SLCC should be able to publish decisions about complaints. However, after extensive lobbying by other interests a decision was made that not only would the outcome of complaints not be published, but that a new criminal offence would be created for any divulgence of information, an offence so wide that it covers even confirming if a complaint has been received. This is out of step with other professions and sectors, and other jurisdictions, where there is more discretion to publish when there is public interest. The SLCC understands the frustration of complainers, but must abide by the current legislative framework. As with most issues covered in the petition, we had raised this ourselves last year in our paper on reform.

LEVY

We noted in the discussion within the committee mention of our consultation on the levy for solicitors last year (the fees all solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys need to pay each year, set to cover the cost of processing complaints).

Although in past years the SLCC had managed to reduce the levy, a significant increase was proposed last year. This was driven by a number of factors, the two biggest of which were a rise in complaints and a judicial review, and 17 appeals to the Court of Session, launched by the Law Society of Scotland.

The rise in complaints had been steep, with a 12% increase in complaints against solicitors within 12 months. This has now been followed in the subsequent year by a further 2% rise, and current predictions are that complaint numbers are continuing to increase. We recognise paying the cost of complaints is not popular with any sector, and as a member led organisation the Law Society would always challenge costs, but a more positive debate would have focussed on how to tackle the common cause of complaints and reduce harm to the public.

In terms of the number of litigations by the professional body, we were pleased to win the ‘test case’, and to have the court confirm SLCC had been acting in a way consistent with ‘good public administration’. We had publicly warned these litigations would cause cost, delay and worry to complainers and practitioners, and were unnecessary, as proved to be the case. We were disappointed that in their lobbying against the levy the Law Society did not mention its own actions were one of the big drivers of cost.

CONCLUSION

I hope our #ReimagineRegulation paper displays a body which is not only ‘up for’ change, but actively trying to stimulate a debate about how parliament, government, consumers and the profession can work together to create a better system in Scotland.

The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC appendices to our main paper

SLCC Annual Review 2017

LAWYERS REVIEW THEIR OWN REGULATION: Third attempt by SCottish Government at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

REGISTER THE JUDGE: Transcript reveals weak & evasive evidence of Scotland’s top judge to Holyrood judicial probe on widely supported proposals calling for judges to declare & register their interests

Lord Carloway failed to make any convicting argument against judicial register. PUBLICATION of a transcript of evidence given by Scotland’s top judge before the Scottish Parliament – has reveal how poorly Lord Carloway faired in attempts to close a five year Holyrood probe on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The now published written report of the meeting at Holyrood – depicts a blundering, weak & evasive performance from Lord Carloway – who gave evidence to members of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on 29 June 2017 – in connection with calls to require judges to declare their interests in a publicly available register similar to MSPs and other branches of Government.

The written transcript of the surprisingly short 36 minute hearing – along with video footage – illustrates how Lord Carloway – lashed out transparency, court users, litigants the press, public, the internet and even social media – as reasons the judiciary should remain exempt from declaring their interests.

Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland)- who earns over £220,000 a year – also declared to MSPs that creating a register of interests for judges would deter recruitment of ‘talented’ lawyers – reported in more detail by The National newspaper and across the media..

During the evidence session, the transcript reveals the full extent of how Carloway dodged question after question – with claims of ignorance on key points of judicial administration in Scotland – and even on the workings of foreign jurisdictions which Carloway himself has links to.

In response to questions from MSPs on comparisons between US judges declarations of interest and the refusal of Scotland’s judiciary to do likewise – Lord Carloway said he had no idea how US judges and their judicial system operated.

However – records of declared judicial overseas travel show Carloway has jetted to North America many times at taxpayers expense for ‘legal conferences’ alongside lawyers & judges from the US, Canada & other nations – reported in more detail here: EXCESS BAGGAGE: Lord Carloway’s £4K trip to Washington DC, Lady Dorrian’s £6K trip to Melbourne – Judicial overseas junkets rocket to £43k as new Lord President abandons Brian Gill’s edict on public cash for judicial jollies

As the top judge fumbled response after response, it became evident MSPs were not buying into Lord Carloway’s dismal, widely criticised stance against the proposals calling for judicial transparency and bringing judges into line with other branches of the Executive – who are all required to declare and register their interests.

Evidence from the top judge reached a low point in the hearing – when Lord Carloway claimed a register of judicial interests is not required – unless scandal or corruption ‘is discovered’ – by the judiciary – and and investigated from within their own ranks.

Lord Carloway’s stuttering performance was brought to a swift end by the Convener after detailed lines of questions from Alex Neil MSP saw Scotland’s top judge bounce from subject to subject, unable to offer a single clear reason as to why judges should be treated any differently from others in public life.

The Scottish Sun newspaper reported Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) slammed Lord Carloway’s “extremely unconvincing” argument. Mr Neil added: “He put no rational case against.”

Lord Carloway’s appearance before MSPs was rated as “poor” by legal insiders, comparing the session to that of his predecessor Lord Brian Gill, who gave evidence to MSPs in November 2015 – after resigning earlier from the post of Lord President in May 2015.

Gill, who had waged a three year battle against the petition, refused to attend the Scottish Parliament on several occasions – a refusal resulting in heavy criticism in the press and from politicians who said Gill had insulted Holyrood.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

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

The move to create a register of judicial interests has also secured the support of two Judicial Complaints Reviewers.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

At the hearing, Ms Ali supported the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also backed the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

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

Lord Carloway evidence on Register of Judges interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee 29 June 2017

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener (Johann Lamont): I welcome you all to this meeting of the Public Petitions Committee. I remind people to switch their mobiles and other devices to silent.

At agenda item 1, we are dealing with a continued petition, PE1458, which calls for a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. We will take evidence from the Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is accompanied by Roddy Flinn, the legal secretary to the Lord President. I thank you both for joining us this morning.

We have copies of a number of recent submissions, including the most recent correspondence from Lord Carloway. In order to make the most efficient use of our time, I suggest that we move straight to questions from members. I will open the questioning.

I want to explore some of the issues that you have identified as potential risks or inhibitions to the administration of justice should a register of financial interests be introduced. One of those is the risk of retaliation by a dissatisfied litigant by way of online fraud. You have commented that that has not, to the best of your knowledge, happened in respect of those judges who are currently required to disclose interest, but that the sample size of those judges is too small to derive comfort from.

In identifying that potential risk, have you given consideration to the experience of other holders of public office who have to declare their financial interests? For example, members of the Scottish Parliament, local authority councillors and members of public bodies all have a role in making decisions that may leave people dissatisfied. Are you aware of any individuals in those categories who have been victims of retaliation by way of online fraud?

Lord Carloway (Lord President of the Court of Session): I am not aware of details of members of other public institutions being subjected to online fraud, but judges are in a peculiar position in relation to this matter. They make decisions that inevitably cause disappointment to one party to a litigation, and those people are, or can be, resentful. I appreciate that that can happen in wider public life, but it is a particular problem for the judiciary.

The losing party can, in some extreme cases, blame the judge for the failure of their case and seek to find a reason beyond the actual decision as to why the judge found against them. It is not unknown for persons to form a malicious or hostile intent towards a judge, or even judges in general, if they are disappointed with the outcome of their case. They can become paranoid or suspicious about the reasons for what is a simple finding of fact in law by the judge, and I would be concerned if they were to source, and potentially damage, the judge’s personal or pecuniary interests.

The Convener: Do you think that there is a general culture of people looking for explanations beyond the decision? Do people do that already, not necessarily in respect of financial matters but by interrogating any connections that judges might have that might explain a decision?

Lord Carloway: It is a relatively common phenomenon, especially with party litigants, who, if they lose their case or a particular aspect of it, may search for reasons as to why that has happened. They will search for reasons that are outwith the obvious—in other words, that they lost the case because they were wrong in law or in fact. They will seek reasons as to why the judge found against them, and they will search for things that are peripheral to the case. That is a problem that we have to deal with—“put up with” is perhaps the wrong expression.

The Convener: Do you think that that is compounded by the world of online communication? Is online fraud now a particular issue?

Lord Carloway: As followers of blogs and so on in relation to judges will know, there is quite a lot on the internet that is, shall I say, not terribly complimentary about particular judges. Again, that is something that we have to put up with on a daily basis. We are subject to basic abuse by litigants of one sort or another on the internet, and that should be guarded against.

In the First Minister’s letter to the convener of the predecessor committee, she specifically referred to the particular need to consider

“judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants.”

That is exactly the type of thing that I am talking about.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. I very much appreciate your attendance at the meeting.

You have identified a possible risk to the inhibition of justice in judicial recruitment or in judges starting to decline positions on bodies such as the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service in the event that judges are required to disclose financial interests. Given the principles that guide conduct in public life, why should a requirement for transparency act as a disincentive for judicial office-holders but not for other people who hold public office, such as MSPs?

Lord Carloway: A judge or a sheriff is, indeed, like many people, a holder of a public office. The critical distinction between a judge and an MSP, for example, is, of course, that the judge has to be independent of any form of Government. That is what we are looking at. A judge is therefore in exactly the opposite position from those whose work has a political dimension.

I hasten to add that the system here has an international reputation for fairness and not being corrupt, and we are extremely keen to protect that reputation. Members might have seen in the papers that the Council of Europe has an anti-corruption organisation called GRECO, which has specifically examined the potential for corruption in the United Kingdom judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary, in recent years. Its findings, which I think I quoted in the papers, were fairly clear. It did not find “any element of corruption in relation to judges” in the United Kingdom, “nor was there any evidence of” judicial “decisions being influenced in an inappropriate manner.”

Because of that, it did not see any necessity to introduce a register of interests specific to the judiciary.

To answer Angus MacDonald’s question a little more directly, we in Scotland do not have a career judiciary in the sense that we have judges who begin their judicial life at the point of leaving university, as judges in many countries on the continent do. We recruit our judges and sheriffs from people who are generally, although not exclusively, in private practice. They are recruited in their 40s and 50s, and perhaps sometimes even a little later as far as the senior judiciary is concerned. We have a relatively small pool of lawyers of excellence who are capable of taking on the job of being a member of our senior judiciary.

Members may be aware that there are currently certain problems with the recruitment of the senior judiciary in particular because of certain steps that have been taken relative to pay and pensions generally. We have particular difficulties with recruitment at the moment and, if I were to say to senior members of the profession, which they are before they are recruited into the judiciary, “By the way, if you wish to become a judge, you will have to declare all your pecuniary interests and open them to public scrutiny,” I have no doubt whatsoever that that would act as a powerful disincentive for lawyers of experience and skill to become members of the judiciary. I assure the committee that we need them more than they need us.

Angus MacDonald: You mentioned the career judiciary. You will be aware that we took evidence from your predecessor, Lord Gill. It is probably fair to say that he did not have a high regard for the system in the United States, where there has been a register of judicial interests, as you will be aware. What is your view of the fact that the United States has successfully introduced a register of judicial interests? Do you agree that it has helped to increase confidence in the judiciary in that part of the world?

Lord Carloway: I am not in a position to make any comment whatsoever about the United States judiciary. I simply do not know enough about it to make a meaningful comment. You will be aware that there are problems in relation to the United States judiciary, but I am simply not qualified to comment on the depth of the situation.

I can comment on something that I am sure that the committee is aware of, which is that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom considered this matter because, previously, as members of the House of Lords, its members were required to have a register of interests. It was decided that members of the Supreme Court should not have to have a register of interests, and I would have thought that, if that is the view of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, we should give some consideration to it, even if, of course, we are not bound by its decisions in that regard.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con): Good morning. In relation to any changes to the current system of recusal whereby it is for a judge to decide whether to recuse, you have commented on the inefficient disposal of business in the courts. I would like to explore the balance between the efficient disposal of business and having systems in place that ensure there is trust in judicial decisions. In that respect, is there any way of quantifying the risks to the efficient disposal of business and, if so, whether your office has carried out an assessment of that?

Lord Carloway: Are you talking about the process of declining jurisdiction, or recusal, as it is put?

Brian Whittle: Yes.

Lord Carloway: I preface my remarks by saying that, as far as I have a concern about this topic, it is not that judges are failing to recuse themselves in particular situations, because I am quite satisfied that they do so when they should. My concern—this is also to do with the disruption of business—is to do with judges or sheriffs who are recusing themselves unnecessarily in circumstances in which they should not do so. That is a much more common phenomenon.

One has to bear in mind that we have litigants who will effectively try to forum shop—that is to say that they will encounter a judge or sheriff who is not to their liking, and they will attempt to remove that judge from the proceedings on pretexts such as their having some remote connection with the case or the people involved in it. That type of thing can cause major problems in the management of business.

In normal cases in which someone is represented by a member of the legal profession, if there is a genuine concern that the judge or sheriff has an interest in the case, that will be raised informally with the clerk of court and, in practical terms, the sheriff court judge will simply decide not to be involved in that particular case. Again, that is not something that can be done in every court—particularly not in courts that only have one sheriff, and especially if it is not raised in advance.

What happens, in the sense of practicalities and reality, is that civil business—which, again, is primarily what we are talking about here—can be allocated relatively late in the day, and a sheriff or a judge might only on the day in question be faced with an application formally in court to decline jurisdiction in that case. If he does so, it is likely that that case will simply have to go off, with all the inconvenience that that involves.

There was a specific point about whether we think that judges should not deal with this question but should pass to another judge. Do you wish me to deal with that point?

Brian Whittle: Yes, please.

Lord Carloway: The answer to that particular problem is this: if a judge does not recuse himself in circumstances in which he should have done, any litigant who is dissatisfied with that and loses the case can appeal that and the matter will be reviewed by three judges. Therefore, there is a form of open, public scrutiny of the decision not to recuse a judge. If there were a system whereby that judge could not decide that matter himself or herself—after all, it is he or she who knows whether he or she has a direct connection with the litigation or the persons involved in it—and that person had passed on the matter to another judge or sheriff, the business in that case would be ceased for the period until that matter was decided. The business that is scheduled for the other sheriff or judge would also be ceased in order that the other judge could take the decision. That other judge is likely to find the decision difficult if he or she does not know the particular facts.

I hope that I am, in a realistic sense, explaining the disruption to business that such decisions can involve. The simplest way to deal with them is the way in which we are dealing with them at the moment. First of all there is the informal route, which means that the judge or the sheriff is not hearing the case in the first place; if that judge decides that he or she should hear the case in any event and is faced with a formal motion to recuse himself, that matter is dealt with transparently in open court and is subject to the appeal process.

Angus MacDonald: We have received a submission on this petition from Melanie Collins, in which she highlights a recusal that had, for whatever reason, not been added to the register of recusals. That was only noticed, or challenged, one year after the omission.

When Lord Gill gave evidence to the committee, said: “To the best of my knowledge, the clerks of court are scrupulously accurate in keeping the register and therefore, wherever there is a recusal, you may depend upon its being recorded in the register.”—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 10 November 2015; c 3.]

Does it not concern you that, in the past, recusals have failed to be listed in the register of recusals? Are you not also concerned that the register is being altered—in some circumstances, years later—and only when members of the public, the media or litigants point out that there are gaps in it?

Lord Carloway: I note that there was an error in not recording one incidence. I am not particularly concerned about that. The position is that all recusals that appear in the register are as a result of events that occur in open court, in a public forum, and they are recorded in the interlocutor of the court concerned. I think that committee members have a copy of the interlocutor of the court order that deals with the recusal. That is a public document, which is open to public scrutiny. It is a result of the hearing in open court in which the parties would be well aware of the decision and they would have a record of it. Therefore, it does not particularly concern me that there was an unfortunate error in transposing that information into a register of recusals, which is for a different purpose.

Angus MacDonald: Is that the only error that you are aware of?

Lord Carloway: It is the only error that I am aware of. The judge or the sheriff will make a decision in open court. The direction to the clerks of court is that they should transmit that to the judicial office, so that it can be recorded in the register. If that was not done—it was not done in this case—that is regrettable, but it is not a matter of deep concern to me. One mistake in many instances does not cause me a concern about the general system.

Angus MacDonald: But you can understand how Melanie Collins would not feel that it was—

Lord Carloway: She was involved in the litigation. She must have known that the decision had been made, because she is the person who was presumably in court at the time. She, or her representatives, would have received a copy of the court order dealing with the recusal.

Angus MacDonald: Okay. Thank you.

The Convener: I welcome Alex Neil MSP to the meeting. He, too, has an interest in this item. I will take committee members first and if Alex Neil wants to ask a question after that he may do so.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. You talked about problems that you perceive there would be with recruitment should a register be introduced. I may have missed a discussion of this in our background briefing, but what is the Law Society’s view on a register of interests?

Lord Carloway: I do not know the answer to that.

Rona Mackay: Fair enough.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. I welcome your indication that you would have no problem extending the register of recusals to cover instances where judges have considered recusal but have made the decision not to recuse. You indicated that what you considered may provide additional transparency—that follows on from Angus MacDonald’s comment. Have you considered options for the ways in which the register could be made transparent when any additions or amendments are made to it?

Lord Carloway: Sorry, what is that in relation to?

Maurice Corry: Options to make it more transparent.

Lord Carloway: Do you mean that we could, for example, put the parties’ names in?

Maurice Corry: Yes.

Lord Carloway: That has been considered, but it is not thought to be particularly necessary or helpful. I return to the fact that all decisions whether to recuse are done in the public forum—they are done in open court. If anyone has an interest in seeing a particular court interlocutor, they can do so. For example, if someone was looking at the register of interests and wanted more details of that, I am sure that we could provide them with those details. However, we are often anxious not to put parties’ names in registers of a public nature such as this, because it is usual for cases to involve considerable sensitivities, such as children and so forth. Therefore, we would be reluctant to do that, but it could be done.

Maurice Corry: It could be done, but it would have to be looked at very carefully.

Lord Carloway: Yes.

Angus MacDonald: Would you be content to see information about the date on which an entry is made or a way of noting amendments to entries in the register, such as to correct clerical errors, which we are aware happened on at least one occasion? Would that enhance transparency?

Lord Carloway: Yes. That is a fair point. We could have a protocol that, if an entry was made after a fortnight, there should be a footnote to say, “Entered on such and such a date.”

Angus MacDonald: That is good.

You will be aware that there was a similar petition in New Zealand two or three years ago, which was eventually withdrawn.

Lord Carloway: I thought that it was defeated.

Angus MacDonald: Yes. Are you aware of whether any register was introduced in New Zealand, along the lines of a register of recusals or a register of interests, after that?

Lord Carloway: I am not. I thought that the matter ended with the defeat in Parliament.

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I apologise for being slightly late. I had to go to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I apologise in advance if I cover ground that has already been covered.

Lord Carloway, as an issue of principle, do you think that it should be left only to a judge to decide whether they are going to recuse themselves, or should you or the keeper of the rolls be able to insist on recusal if you believe that there is a potential conflict of interest?

Lord Carloway: The short answer is that I do not believe that there is any problem with the current system, which is that the judge, who knows what his connection is to the case or the parties to it, should make the initial decision. That decision is made in open court, when the parties are present, and it is subject to review on appeal. In other words, if somebody is dissatisfied with that decision and if the litigant eventually loses the case, the decision will come before three judges who will review whether it was correct. If it was incorrect, the decision on the case would fall.

Alex Neil: The person bringing the case to court may not be aware of any conflict of interest that the judge may have and may never find out that there was one, but the judge may well have been influenced by a particular interest. Surely that is not right. If there is any potential conflict of interest, surely there should be a declaration or commitment by the judge, making an explicit statement that there is no conflict of interest. People may not have the resources to appeal, for example. Is the system not balanced against people who come to court for justice?

Lord Carloway: No, it is not. I go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is very important. Scotland does not have a corrupt judiciary. The matter has been examined by independent persons, notably the GRECO anti-corruption body that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which examined the UK judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary. It was clear that, fortunately, we, as distinct from many other countries, do not suffer from corruption in the judiciary. For that reason, it did not consider that a register of interests was necessary. If one introduces such a measure, one has to be satisfied that it is necessary and also that it is proportionate. If one analyses its proportionality, one has to look at what exactly we are guarding against. If the situation were to be that there was corruption in the Scottish judiciary—which we would discover at some point or another—of course we would have to consider measures to prevent that, one of which might be a register of certain interests. Until such time as it is demonstrated that there is corruption in the Scottish judiciary, I am entirely satisfied that there is no requirement for a register of interests and that it would be positively detrimental to the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the recruitment of judges and especially at the higher level of the judiciary.

Alex Neil: I want to draw a parallel with the register of interests that members of the Scottish Parliament have to sign and regularly update. That came about not because of any allegations or belief that the system was corrupt or that members of the Scottish Parliament are corrupt. In the 18 years that we have been here, I have not heard one allegation of corruption. The register is there not because of allegations of corruption but to ensure that there is no prejudice. If I participate in a debate and I have an interest that I have not declared, I will be open to an allegation not of corruption but of prejudice. Because there is a register of interests and because I have to declare interests in a debate or in a committee meeting such as this one, there is a transparency to ensure that I do not act in a prejudicial fashion.

To go back to the case that Mr MacDonald cited as I came in—the case of Advance Construction and Donal Nolan, in which Lord Malcolm’s son was involved as a lawyer for one of the parties—the issue there was not an allegation of corruption but one of possible prejudice or perception of prejudice. That is a very good example of why either a register of interests or a more robust system of recusal—or perhaps both—might serve the judiciary very well.

Lord Carloway: I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics. I am not sure what is—

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I am aware of the background to it.

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I have read the papers that it involves.

Alex Neil: With all due respect, Melanie Collins and Donal Nolan have written to you on numerous occasions, and at no time have you replied to them, let alone met them, so you have not heard the other side of the case.

Lord Carloway: I am sorry, but I am not aware of letters to me by those particular persons.

Alex Neil: Your office—

The Convener: Alex, let us be careful that we do not get into anything specific on that.

Alex Neil: Yes—absolutely. My point is about how Lord Carloway can reach that conclusion if he has not heard the other side.

Lord Carloway: I have read documents emanating from the persons that you have mentioned. As far as I am aware, they were not addressed to me, but I could be wrong about that. The position is that I am aware of the circumstances of the case. I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s conduct was entirely correct in the circumstances. That is part of the problem that you have perhaps highlighted. That case has nothing to do with a register of pecuniary interests. The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.

Alex Neil: No—we have to register what close relatives do.

Lord Carloway: Can I deal with the difference between MSPs and the judiciary, which I think I dealt with earlier this morning? It is quite a different function. A politician is by nature someone who is not independent in the sense that the public expect the judiciary to be. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. As a generality, judges do not deal with the type of issues that politicians deal with. Politicians have executive power. They are dealing with major economic interests of one sort or another. As a generality, judges are not dealing with that type of thing. They are dealing with issues that are usually between private individuals but can be between private individuals and Government or others. Judges are not dealing with the type of issues that politicians are dealing with such as planning inquiries and so on at a local level or major economic development in society as a whole.

The need for independence in the judiciary is different from the kind of independence that a politician requires, because with a politician it is primarily, as Alex Neil has pointed out, about issues of a pecuniary nature. Those are not the issues that arise in most of the recusal cases with which we are concerned. What we are concerned with as judges is that we appear to be independent of all connection with the case. It is not a question of having a pecuniary interest.

If one looks at the register of recusals in the past year, I do not think that any of them were to do with pecuniary interest at all. They were to do with social connections with people—whether someone is a friend; whether a party to the litigation is a friend of a friend; and matters of that sort. Those are the types of situations that are raised by people in the practical reality of litigation and those are the issues that are being dealt with. Unless you are suggesting a register of one’s friends—and presumably, therefore, one’s enemies—the real issue with recusal in the judicial system would not be addressed.

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil: If I can just finally draw the parallel between our register and what has been talked about in terms of either recusal or financial interest, MSPs—as individuals and collectively—do not have executive power per se unless they are ministers, but what is very important is the perception of fairness and the perception that justice is being carried out.

If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice. It might be very unfair, but the point is to try to ensure that the excellent reputation of the judiciary down the years in Scotland is retained. That reputation is not just for not being corrupt, which we all accept—we are not accusing anybody of corruption. The perception of fairness and the perception of not being prejudiced are also extremely important. I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.

Lord Carloway: I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever. We have very clear rules in our statement of principles of judicial ethics on how to deal with such matters and it is made very clear in that statement that if a relative is the advocate in the case before one, the modern approach is that the judge should not hear the case, or one could put it another way round—the relative should not be presenting the case. Whichever way it happens to be put, the situation that we had 20 or 30 years ago, when it was commonplace for the relatives of judges of one sort or another to be advocating the case, no longer exists.

That practice no longer exists not because it was thought that there was any actual problem with the decision making but, as you say, because of a perception of unfairness. There is a clear judicial rule about that and I am not aware of any case in which it has been breached. I myself have been in a situation in which my son was involved in a firm that was litigating before me. In such a case, the judge would be expected to declare it and the parties would then decide whether to take the point. However, if they took the point and the relative just happened to be a member of the same firm operating in a different department, I would not encourage the judge to recuse himself.

The Convener: There are no final questions, so I thank you very much for your evidence. It has been helpful to clarify many of the issues that you presented to us in written evidence and to have an opportunity to explore some of the issues around prejudice, for instance.

We might ask the petitioners to respond in writing to the evidence to allow us the opportunity to reflect on it, if members are so minded. When we consider the petition at a future meeting, we can consider any further actions that members might deem appropriate having read that response. We might want to make recommendations or suggestions to the relevant decision makers, but it is not within the committee’s powers to implement the action that is called for in the petition. However, we will take a view on the petition and dispose of it to somebody else who will make that decision. Today’s evidence has clarified many of the issues in my mind. Are members agreed to take the action proposed?

Members indicated agreement.

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

 

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

LOOK AFTER LAWYERS: Law Society wants to keep 70 year ‘successful’ system of lawyers investigating themselves – in response to Scottish Parliament petitions calling for UK style independent regulation of legal services in Scotland

Law Society says lawyers should investigate themselves. A PROPOSAL before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland – has heard claims lawyers have successfully investigated themselves for seventy years – and that this ‘arrangement’ should continue.

Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee have now received the views of the Law Society of Scotland , and Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal  (SSDT) – who both want to continue the current system where lawyers maintain their own ‘standards’, write their own rules, and investigate complaints against themselves.

The Law Society of Scotland stated in a letter to MSPs – PE1660B and PE1661B: Law Society of Scotland“the dual role of regulation and professional support has been successfully carried out for almost 70 years”

The Law Society goes on to claim “This issue was considered in depth by the Scottish Government ahead of the 2010 Legal Services Act with a clear conclusion that the model of having a single professional body was right for Scotland.”

However, thousands of complaints a year made against solicitors in Scotland by clients who end up considerably worse off financially after bruising encounters with lawyers even on the most common legal services show the profession’s self regulation model as predominantly dishonest.

The Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – who were exposed in a BBC Scotland documentary for shying away from striking off serially dishonest solicitors – ‘suggested’ in their own letter to MSPs – PE1660 A and PE1661: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – that the Scottish Parliament wait until a two year review is complete before considering the petitions.

The Disciplinary Tribunal said in it’s letter to the Committee: “The Tribunal considers that the issues raised in Petitions PE1660 and PE1661 are being considered in the current Review which includes an examination of the legal complaints system in Scotland and an analysis of legal complaint handling in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it would be appropriate to await the recommendations of the current Review before there is detailed consideration of the issues raised in these Petitions”.

However, the Scottish Government review referred to by the Disciplinary Tribunal –  has already come in for stinging criticism due to it’s dominant complement of vested interests from the legal profession who lobby against any change to the current system of regulation where lawyers investigating themselves.

The letters come in response to petitions being considered by the Public Petitions Committee calling for a radical overhaul of the way complaints against the legal profession are handled in-house by the Law Society and ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

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

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

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

The move by Holyrood to look at the issue of self regulation of lawyers – comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the last debate on the two petitions, members of the Public Petitions  Committee also agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

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

If proposals within the petitions go ahead, this would bring regulation of legal services in Scotland into line with independent regulation as practiced in England & Wales.

The full letter from the Law Society of Scotland to the Public Petitions Committee:

PE1660/B PE1661/B Law Society of Scotland submission of 16 October 2017 REGULATION OF THE SCOTTISH LEGAL PROFESSION

Thank you for your letter of 29 September. We are grateful for this opportunity to feed into the Committee’s consideration of petitions PE1660 and PE1661.

As the professional body for Scottish solicitors, we share the petitioners’ desire to improve the regulation of legal services. The Scottish legal sector has evolved considerably since the introduction of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which is the main legislative framework governing the regulation of legal services. We are clear that reform is needed, both to protect clients’ interests and to ensure the legal sector, which contributes so significantly to the Scottish economy, can be competitive and continue to thrive.

We approach these issues with almost 70 years’ experience of delivering robust regulation of the legal profession. As the principal regulator of Scottish solicitors, we take our duty to protect the public interest extremely seriously, a fact demonstrated through the range of activity which we carry out.

First and foremost, we set high professional standards which all solicitors must meet, including a robust route to qualification along with practice rules and guidance which is regularly reviewed. Our highly trained financial compliance team inspect around 370 law firms each year to ensure compliance with our strict accounts rules. In 2015/16 and as a result of these inspections, we raised 17 complaints of our own to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Additionally we intervene quickly in firms when things go wrong, ensuring clients know who to contact, where their files are and offering the assurances they need. Even when clients choose to no longer pursue an initial complaint against their solicitor, we will raise our own complaint if it is in the public interest and in order to maintain standards. In total we raise around 30 complaints a year against solicitors to the SLCC.

By setting, maintaining and vigorously enforcing standards, we strive to ensure that consumer interests remain the central focus of our regulatory work and that consumer confidence in the Scottish solicitor sector remains high. A poll of the Scottish public in

2016 indicated that 90% of those surveyed are satisfied with the services provided by their solicitor and 82% would recommend their solicitor to others. That poll also demonstrated high levels of trust in the legal profession as a whole.

The case for change: We recognise that, despite the strong system of regulation in place, further work is needed to improve that system. This is particularly true around the area of complaints handling, where processes need to be simpler and consumer protection stronger. Given the regulatory framework and processes involved are set out within primary legislation, we are afforded little flexibility within the existing system. This is why we proactively approached the Scottish Government in 2015, submitting a detailed paper which set out the case for new legislation to better protect consumers and allow the legal services market to thrive . Our proposals include better regulation of legal firms and individual solicitors to improve standards in addition to a wider regulatory reach over other legal professionals.

This is in response to the dramatic changes we are seeing in the Scottish and UK legal services market. New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape that market. Yet most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is approaching 40 years old and did not anticipate the changes we are seeing today.

Whilst taking forward reform, we also believe it vital to preserve the elements and principles of the current regulatory framework which work well – the independence of the legal profession; a single professional body; independent discipline body. These must be protected.

We were delighted that, in response to our proposals, the Scottish Government established the independent review of the regulation of legal services, now being chaired by Esther Roberton. We believe this offers a real opportunity to develop a consensus on what reforms are required and how they can be effectively delivered.

The complaints system: We note the ultimate aim of both petitions is to urge the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to review complaints about providers of legal services in Scotland. We share the petitioners’ concerns and frustration in relation to the complex and unwieldy complaints process that currently exists from the existing legislation.

The introduction of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which opened on 1 October 2008. The SLCC is a complaints handling body which operates independently of the Law Society and Scottish Government. It has important oversight powers in relation to the handling of conduct complaints by the legal professional bodies, including the power of audit in addition to other consumer protection matters. Under the provisions of the 2007 Act, the Law Society retains the responsibility for managing and investigating complaints relating to the conduct of Scottish solicitors.

We regularly engage with the SLCC and enjoy a close working relationship of mutual respect and recognition. We discuss shared matters of concern and ideas for improving the complaints process to the benefit of complainants and the legal profession. We are frequently in discussions with the SLCC and other stakeholders with regard to the various challenges which the 2007 Act raises in relation to legal complaints, in particular the complex processes at the gateway / eligibility stage which result in unacceptable delays.

We believe the whole system for managing legal complaints needs to be changed to make the processes involved easier and quicker for the consumer. We are currently in discussions with the SLCC regarding an interim solution which could be delivered through secondary legislation. This offers the chance to improve the system by speeding up the eligibility stage of the complaints process until such time as more permanent changes can be made.

Given that there is no ability for a complainer to make a complaint on the SLCC’s handling of a service complaint, we strongly believe there should also be independent oversight of the SLCC, particularly as the SLCC perform the oversight functions of the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates relating to conduct complaints.

We note that during the Committee’s meeting of 21 September 2017 a number of members referred to the Law Society’s campaign which resulted in many solicitors contacting their local MSPs to express concerns over the increase in the SLCC’s budget for 2017/18. During this campaign, we raised concerns that the SLCC’s budget could not be formally objected to by Ministers or by Parliament. This emphasises the challenge about the lack of effective independent oversight of the SLCC. I enclose a copy of the standard letter which formed the basis for many of the emails sent to MSPs earlier in the year. We would be happy to provide further background information or meet members of the Committee to further clarify the circumstances that led to the campaign and our position.

We have provided some further information on each petition below:

PE1660:  The petitioner argues that the existing appeals route against decisions by the SLCC, via the Court of Session, forms a barrier to those who wish to appeal.

We fully agree with this view. We recognise that the concept of pursuing legal action against a public body via the court can be a difficult and daunting process.

The requirement to obtain the leave of the Court of Session can put the appeal option out of reach for the majority of complainers, even where they may have fully justified grounds for appealing. This compares starkly to the situation regarding conduct complaints dealt with by the Law Society. Here, if a complainer is not happy with the way we have handled a complaint then they have the option of taking a ‘handling complaint’ to the SLCC. Whilst this does not amount to an appeal, the SLCC can recommend the matter be re-opened for further consideration if due process has not been followed or the decision lacks reasoning. Furthermore, a complainer can appeal a decision directly to the separate and independent Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

There is no equivalent process for those complaints dealt with by the SLCC. The only recourse is through seeking leave of the Court of Session. We believe there is a case for reviewing this and hope the work being undertaken by Esther Robertson and her review group will consider this point.

The petitioner also states that the Law Society ‘appears to desire no involvement, nor introduce quality control’ in the SLCC’s handling of complaints’. It is important to stress that the current legislative framework provides us no role of oversight of the SLCC, its processes or its decisions. Even where there may be occasions that we disagree with a service complaint decision of the SLCC, there are no special mechanisms which allow us to challenge or raise this other than the general provision which are available to the general public.

We also note that comment is made in the background notes on the process by which the SLCC lays reports before Parliament for information only. The provisions of the 2007 Act (Schedule 1 paragraph 16) provide that the SLCC must lay their annual report before Parliament at the end of each financial year. This is in addition to the laying before the Scottish Parliament of the SLCC budget by the end of April each year. These are laid for information only and Parliament has no statutory powers to comment on or amend these in any way. As I have already outlined, we do believe that greater oversight is needed of the SLCC and its performance, a fact which came into stark focus during the budget issues earlier this year.

PE1661: Central to this petition is the call for a wholly independent regulator of legal services in Scotland with no ties to the profession.

The Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of regulation and professional support has been successfully carried out for almost 70 years. This issue was considered in depth by the Scottish Government ahead of the 2010 Legal Services Act with a clear conclusion that the model of having a single professional body was right for Scotland.

At the core of any profession is a commitment to provide the best possible service to the consumer while recognising it has a responsibility to act in the public interest in all that it does. The regulation of the profession is the means by which the profession ensures these aspirations are met.

Our dual role is essential in ensuring that Scottish solicitors deliver the highest practical and ethical standards. To ensure we maintain a practical distinction between our two roles, our regulatory function is clearly separated and works independently of our professional support work. That regulatory activity is overseen by the Regulatory Committee in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. This means it is an independent committee. The Law Society Council is not permitted to unduly interfere with the work of the Regulatory Committee, nor with the work of its sub- committees which are responsible for taking specific regulatory decisions. This is all clearly set out in legislation. To strengthen that independence, the Convener of the Regulatory Committee is chosen by the committee and must be a lay member. Our current convener Carole Ford comes from the teaching profession, bringing both an expertise in standards setting and enforcement but also a clear commitment to the public interest. The committee she chairs has an equal number of solicitor and non-­solicitor members – another element set out in legislation.

The concept of a single professional body, with both regulatory and professional support functions, is a model seen in other sectors in Scotland and also in other legal jurisdictions around the world.

Here in Scotland, we have the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The teaching profession in Scotland recently moved from separate bodies into the single professional body that is the General Teaching Council. There is clear recognition across a number of professions that having a single professional body is the right approach, particularly given the size of Scotland.

Further afield, Law Societies and Bar Associations around the world have dual responsibility for regulation and professional support. These include the Law Society of Ireland, Law Societies in the provinces of Canada and states of Australia as well as bar associations in US states such as California, Florida and Texas. It provides a cost effective, practical, and coordinated professional approach which works in the interests of the consumer.

Nevertheless, we recognise the specific areas of concern which the petitioner highlights. The petitioner’s background information notes how the Law Society of Scotland cannot become involved in the decisions of the independent complaints handling body, the SLCC. If there is concern over the accountability of the existing independent complaints body, we do not agree that the way to correct this is to create a new regulatory body. Rather it would be better to create the kind of effective oversight of the SLCC which I have described earlier, the kind of oversight which the Law Society faces from our own Regulatory Committee, the SLCC, the SSDT and the Courts.

The background notes also assert that over 600 complaints were dismissed as a result of the court ruling in Anderson Strathern vs. SLCC (CSIH 71XA16/15). As a result of the ruling, which affected around 250 complaints already in the system, the Court of Session has now made a further judgment on the way these cases should be dealt with . We are working with the SLCC to implement the judgment which centres on the way the SLCC have categorised complaints.

We have worked constructively and collaboratively with the Parliament and other organisations throughout the passage of the Acts of the Scottish Parliament referred to in the petition background notes. As a professional body which has a statutory duty to protect and further the interests of the public and consumers, we have put forward proposals which demonstrate our commitment to these values.

As I have noted, the Scottish Government appointed an independent group to review the provision and regulation of legal services in Scotland, chaired by Esther Roberton. The Committee may wish to consider contacting the review group regarding opportunities for the public, including the petitioners, to present their views on the complaints process for consideration.

Thank you again for the opportunity to respond to these petitions. If we can provide any further points of clarification or aid the Committee’s consideration of these petitions further, please contact our Legislative Change Executive.

The letter from the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SSDT) to the Public Petitions Committee:

PE1660/A PE1661/A  Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal submission of 13 October 2017

Introduction: The Public Petitions Committee met on 21 September 2017 to discuss petitions PE1660 and PE1661. In short, these conjoined petitions call on Parliament to urge the Government to review and reform the system of legal complaints in Scotland by comparing it to the system in operation in England and Wales. The Committee determined to seek the views of various stakeholders including the Scottish Solicitors ’ Discipline Tribunal.

Current system: It may assist the Public Petitions Committee to understand the place of the Tribunal in the system of legal complaints. Complaints against solicitors in Scotland are channelled first through the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). The SLCC deals with matters of inadequate professional services itself. It refers conduct matters to the Law Society. The Law Society has powers to deal with unsatisfactory professional conduct itself. The Law Society may appoint a Fiscal to prosecute the most serious cases before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal as professional misconduct. Individuals cannot make complaints direct to the Tribunal.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal: The Tribunal is an independent formal judicial body constituted under statute and subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Session. The Tribunal deals with complaints of professional misconduct, complaints that a solicitor has been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or any other more serious criminal offence, appeals stemming from the Law Society’s determinations regarding unsatisfactory professional conduct, and applications for restoration to the roll of solicitors in Scotland. The Tribunal is made up of 12 solicitor and 12 non-solicitor members. At each hearing the Tribunal comprises two solicitor and two non-solicitor members. Hearings are generally held in public.

The sanctions which the Tribunal can impose are censure, fines of up to £10,000, restriction of a solicitor’s practising certificate, suspension, strike off or prohibition on restoration to the roll, and compensation of up to £5,000 for loss, inconvenience or distress if a Secondary Complainer has been directly affected by the misconduct. Every decision of the Tribunal is published in full subject to the terms of paragraph 14A of Schedule 4 to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980. Occasionally publicity is deferred, for example, pending the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

The Tribunal’s mission statement is to ensure so far as possible that all cases brought before the Tribunal are dealt with in accordance with the legislative framework and the principles of natural justice, bearing in mind the importance of protecting the public from harm and maintaining public confidence in the legal profession. The Tribunal endeavours to deal with cases efficiently and expeditiously. The Tribunal has a duty to be independent, impartial and transparent.

The Tribunal is responsible for the most serious cases of misconduct relating to Scottish Solicitors. Consequently, it deals with far fewer cases than either the Law Society or the SLCC. In the year 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016, the Tribunal met on 45 days to hear Complaints. 32 new Complaints were received during that year. The Tribunal made 22 findings of professional misconduct and one under section 53(1)(b). The Tribunal made four findings of not guilty and two were remitted to the Law Society to consider as unsatisfactory professional conduct.

PE1660 and PE1661: The Tribunal considers that the system of legal complaints in Scotland can be complicated, lengthy and expensive. To a limited extent, the procedure has been simplified following the Court of Session judgements in Anderson Strathern v SLCC [2016] CSIH 71 and Law Society v SLCC [2017] CSIH 36. However, there are still areas for improvement.

The Tribunal is currently participating in the Review of Regulation of Legal Services; its Chairman is a member of the Review. The remit of the Review is to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. The Tribunal hopes that this would modernise and streamline complaints handling. The Review’s remit is to focus on the current regulatory framework and the complaints process. Its aims therefore directly cover Petition PE1660 which calls for a review of the operation of the SLCC with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. .

The Review also overlaps Petition PE1661 which calls for reform of the regulation of legal complaints. However, the author of PE1661 calls for this to be done by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with similar powers those held by the SRA, Legal Ombudsman, BSB and SDT in England and Wales. The Tribunal observes that the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal is the direct counterpart of the SDT in England and Wales. Similarly, the SLCC performs a broadly similar though not identical role to the Legal Ombudsman. The Law Society of Scotland’s Regulation Department performs comparable functions to the SRA. The Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal and the Bar Standards Board also have related responsibilities. The role of these bodies in the complaints system is included in the current Review and the Review may make recommendations for changes in this.

Therefore, the Tribunal considers that the issues raised in Petitions PE1660 and PE1661 are being considered in the current Review which includes an examination of the legal complaints system in Scotland and an analysis of legal complaint handling in other jurisdictions. Perhaps it would be appropriate to await the recommendations of the current Review before there is detailed consideration of the issues raised in these Petitions.

LAWYERS REVIEW THEIR OWN REGULATION: Third attempt by SCottish Government at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

DECLARE YOUR JUSTICE: Judicial Office consults with Lord Carloway on including Justices of the Peace in Register of Judicial Recusals – as questions surface over Lord Gill’s omission of 500 JPs from judicial transparency probe

Calls to include Justices of the Peace in Recusals Register. SCOTLAND’S top judge has been called upon to include nearly five hundred members of the Judiciary of Scotland in a Register of Judicial Recusals which was created in response to a five year Scottish Parliament probe on lack of transparency within the judiciary.

The Lord President – Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – is currently being consulted by the Head of Strategy and Governance of the Judicial Office on collecting recusal data from Justices of the Peace courts.

The move comes after journalists queried why JPs were not included in the current register of recusals listing when judges stand down from a case due to conflicts of interest.

The addition of Justices of the Peace to the recusals register follows recent development where Lord Carloway conceded to calls for full transparency on judicial recusals, reported here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

However, amid an ongoing probe on Justices of the Peace – where it has now been established some JPs have undeclared criminal convictions – there has been no explanation provided by the Judicial Office as to why some five hundred Justices of the Peace who comprise the bulk of membership of the Judiciary of Scotland – were left out of the publication of recusals by Lord Gill during the register’s creation in April 2014.

Moves by Scotland’s judiciary to become more transparent and open up the workings of Scotland’s courts and judiciary to the public, have come in response to MSPs consideration of judicial transparency proposals contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The petition, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests.

The creation of such a register would ensure full transparency for the most powerful people in the justice system – the judiciary.

The resulting publicly available register of judicial interests would contain information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

A full listing of evidence in support of the petition calling for a register of judicial interests can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Evidence lodged by Judicial Investigators, campaigners, judges & journalists in four year Holyrood probe on judges’ interests – points to increased public awareness of judiciary, expectation of transparency in court.

The move to create a register of judicial interests has also secured the support of two Judicial Complaints Reviewers.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

At the hearing, Ms Ali supported the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also backed the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

Both of Scotland’s recent top judges – former Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway, have testified before the Scottish Parliament on the petition, both failing to prove any case against creating a register of judicial interests.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

The National newspaper reports on the call to include Justices of the Peace in the Judiciary of Scotland Register of Judicial Recusals.

Campaigner calls on Scotland’s top judge to extend register of recusals

Exclusive by Martin Hannan Journalist The National 3rd October 2017

SCOTLAND’S Justices of the Peace should have to register their recusals when they step aside from cases in their courts due to conflicts of interests, according to the man who is leading a campaign on judges’ interests.

The judicial register of recusals was established by Scotland’s most senior judge in April 2014, former Lord President Lord Gill, and the judiciary website shows all such recusals by judges and sheriffs and the reasons why they stepped away from a case.

Now legal campaigner Peter Cherbi has called for the register to be extended to Justices of the Peace, who are lay magistrates dealing with less serious cases such as breach of the peace or minor driving offences.

For five years Cherbi has been petitioning the Scottish Parliament on the issue of judges’ interests, and he sees a register of recusals as vital for public confidence in all the judiciary.

Cherbi said: “Given there are nearly 500 Justices of the Peace in Scotland who must act in accordance with the same rules laid down for other members of the judiciary, JPs should now be included in the Register of Recusals.

“I am surprised Lord Gill omitted Justices of the Peace when he created the Register of Recusals in April 2014. This was a significant omission, given the numbers of JPs across Scotland, and Lord Gill should have corrected this flaw before he left office in May 2015.

“I note Lord Carloway (left) has not attended to this glaring omission since taking office as Lord President in January 2016 until now being asked to do so.

“The omission of Justices of the Peace from the Register of Recusals has left out a significant portion of the judiciary and therefore concealed a more truer representation of numbers of recusals and interests across Scotland’s judges and courts, which are of significant public interest.

“I shall be informing the Public Petitions Committee of this development and if the need should arise, I will request MSPs write to the Judicial Office and Scottish Justices Association to make enquiries as to when JPs will be added to the Register of Recusals, and to seek an explanation why they were originally left out from the data, despite it being a relatively simple operation to include JPs in the recusals statistics.”

The National contacted the Scottish Justices Association, which represents the Justices of the Peace, but no reply had been received by the time we went to press.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

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

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

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

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

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

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

Scottish Parliament Action

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

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

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

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

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

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

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

Scottish Government Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review should include judiciary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

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

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

SUPREME SECRETS: UK Supreme Court refuses to publish recusal data – Court rejects release of info on UKSC justices conflicts of interest in response to Freedom of Information recusals probe on top UK court

Top UK court obstructed Scots media judicial recusals probe. THE UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has refused to disclose how many of it’s justices have recused themselves from court hearings over conflicts of interest or requests to step aside from cases.

And, the top court’s refusal to disclose the information only came about after the Information Commissioner (ICO) decided to issue a decision notice forcing the Supreme Court to respond to Freedom of Information requests submitted in May 2017.

Unlike in Scotland, where the Judiciary of Scotland publish a Register of Judicial Recusals– listing judges who have stood aside in cases for certain conflicts of interest (not including financial, wealth or other status related interests), the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in London does not publish any recusal information.

However, Freedom of Information requests seeking disclosure of the UK Supreme Court’s recusal data encountered obstacles after UKSC officials took a decision to refuse to respond to Scottish journalists FOI requests.

And, it can also be revealed the Ministry of Justice – the body in charge of all courts in England & Wales followed the Supreme Court’s anti-transparency position – refusing to respond to a similar FOI request again sent from Scotland in May 2017.

Four months after the original Freedom of Information request was made to the UK Supreme Court, and amid numerous reminders to UKSC officials, the Information Commissioner’s office was contacted in July for assistance.

After discussions with ICO staff, the Information Commissioner gave the top court an extra month to reply.

However, the Supreme Court again refused to respond to any Freedom of Information requests from Scotland on the subject of recusals.

A legal insider claimed the refusal to reply to the requests originated over fears the material was to be referred to at the Scottish Parliament in connection with a five year probe on judges’ interests and a call to create a register of judicial interests – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, after the Information Commissioner again contacted Scottish journalists making the requests, the ICO confirmed it would issue a determination to order the UK Supreme Court to respond to the requests.

In an email of 25 August 2017, Matthew Cresswell of the Information Commissioner’s office informed journalists seeking the recusal information: “As the Supreme Court have failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10(1) of the FOIA, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case. A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Coverage of the case then appeared in The National newspaper on 30 August – which prompted the Supreme Court to finally issue a response to the Freedom of Information requests.

However, the UKSC refused to divulge any details of UKSC justices’ recusals, citing cost grounds of gathering the information.

Paul Brigland, for the UK Supreme Court claimed logging errors where the real reasons for a lack of reply to the FOI requests, rather than a determined policy by the UK Supreme Court not to respond to a Scottish Freedom of Information request.

Paul Brigland, the Head of Office and Building Services & Departmental Records Officer said: “Firstly, I would like to apologise for the mishandling of your request and the failure to reply. This is entirely due to an error in our logging process in which this request was incorrectly marked as dealt with, but had in fact been mistaken for a separate request you made under the FOLA at the same time which we responded to within the correct time limit. I hope you will accept our apologies for this error. I should also explain that since you made your request we have changed the way in which we log and handle FOI requests, so this situation should not arise in the future.”

Paul Brigland then confirmed the UKSC held information relevant to the request.

Mr Brigland said: “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

However, Paul Brigland claimed the work involved and cost would prohibit the information being disclosed.

Brigland added: “In order to provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so.”

“Section 12 of the FOLA makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

“I am sorry that on this occasion I cannot suggest ways in which you could narrow the scope of your request to bring it within the cost limit. This is because any information sought under a revised request, for example requesting information for a shorter time period, would still be exempt under section 32 (court records).”

“However, outside the terms of the Act, and to be helpful, I can explain the following.”

“Where there are reasons that a Justice considers there might be an issue of recusal, that information is sent to the Justice chairing the panel (normally the President or Deputy President) and then a letter is sent to the parties. I can confirm that there have been no instances where we have written to parties that has subsequently led to a request from the parties for a Justice to stand down.”

“Similarly, I can confirm that there have been no instances where a Justice has recused themselves following a request initiated by a party to a case.”

However, the explanation offered by the UKSC does not actually confirm if any justices have refused to recuse themselves following any request from litigants or parties to do so.

And, as no register of recusals currently exists at the UK Supreme Court, legal insiders have suggested the explanations from the UKSC on recusal data should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A legal insider has suggested legal teams operating in the UK Supreme Court are dissuaded from – or not minded to ask for recusals.

The source said “ justices do not take well to their position being questioned to recuse from a hearing”.

A solicitor from England who has now come forward on the issue said he was aware of certain cases at the Supreme Court which may have necessitated a recusal.

The solicitor, who has studied the details contained in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals said it was clear in some cases before the UKSC, comparable examples of justices links to issues do exist, and therefore should be acknowledged in a similar register of recusals at the Supreme Court.

However, the solicitor cited the Supreme Court’s determination to avoid declaring justice’s interests in a register of interests as one reason which the UKSC is avoiding publishing any data on it’s justices’ recusals.

Amid the Supreme Court’s refusal to release information on recusals, Scottish journalists asked for a review of the decision, which was handled by William Arnold, the Head of Corporate Services.

Mr Arnold did not provide a review response on material with the UK Supreme Court logo, instead responding by email in the following terms.

Willian Arnold said: “As Mr Brigland explained, the UK Supreme Court does not maintain any formal central register of requests  to Justices to recuse themselves  from particular cases, since there has never been any operational need to do so.”

“Identifying the record of any such requests would therefore entail reviewing all the case papers in every case heard since January 2014 to the present date. I am satisfied that Mr Brigland was correct in assessing that carrying out this review would require staff resource input, which would exceed the cost limit for answering FOI requests of £600.”

“As Mr Brigland went on to say, this would be a pointless exercise in any event, because any such recusal request, if one was found, would form part of the records of the individual court case; and in Section 32 of the FOI Act Parliament has enacted an exemption of court records from the FOI regime. This exemption is not subject to any kind of public interest test, so the UKSC would not in any case be able to release any such recusal request, if one was found, to you under the FOI regime. I agree with this analysis.”

“In order to try to be helpful, Mr Brigland, however, went on to tell you, outside the provisions of the Act, since this is not recorded information which the UKSC holds, that the practice is that where a Justice considers he might have interests which might generate a request for recusal, a letter is sent to the parties outlining those interests.”

“Nobody here of those staff who have been at the UKSC since its inception in 2009 can remember any instance where such a letter has resulted in a request from a party to a case for a Justice to recuse themselves. Equally nobody here can recall any instance where a party has ever initiated a request for a Justice to recuse themselves, so the question of acceding to or rejecting such a request has never arisen.”

Mr Arnold went on to contradict Paul Brigland’s initial explanation where he stated the UKSC did hold material in relation to recusal information.

William Arnold stated: “The only sentence in Mr Brigland’s letter which I do repudiate is on page one  where he says “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

“He may have been thinking of the letters we send to parties, where a Justice believes they have interests they should disclose, as set out above, but it is not clear to me that these are strictly relevant to your request; and I cannot find any other evidence which leads to the conclusion that the UKSC ‘holds some information relevant to your request’.”

“Indeed I have reached the opposite conclusion – that we likely do not hold any such information, although we could not be formally sure of that without carrying out the review of all our cases, which on cost grounds, as set out above, we have declined to do.”

A barrister who studied the correspondence from the UK Supreme Court, including the initial FOI response and the UKSC’s review – said the responses were evasive.

He also noted the UKSC’s position on holding no recusal data revolved around process where a letter is sent out to parties in relation to a justices’ conflict of interest – rather than an interest being raised by a party or legal representative.

The barrister said: “The UK Supreme Court has existed for eight years. I think it highly unlikely not one single request for a recusal at the Supreme Court has been made during such a considerable length of time.”

While the UK Supreme Court remains determined to refuse any further disclosure of information on judicial recusals, the Information Commissioner has been contacted again over the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to answer similar requests for disclosure of recusal information from the English courts.

A decision from the Information Commissioner on this matter is awaited.

However, the position Scottish users of the UK Supreme Court now face is that judges in Scotland are required to publish their recusal data, while the UKSC has decided against any such transparency – leaving Scottish court users at a considerable disadvantage.

The National reported on the battle to obtain recusal information from the UK Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice in two articles, published below:

Victory for Scottish information campaigner in battle with Supreme Court

Martin Hannan Journalist 30th August

THE UK Supreme Court will be ordered by the Information Commissioner to reply to question from a Scottish legal rights campaigner, after it refused to say whether it had a register of recusals by court justices.

Recusal is the term used when a judge has to step aside from a case because of a possible conflict of interest. It is thought that various Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from numerous cases, but no such information is made public.

The National can reveal the Information Commissioner has decided to act after the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales failed to reply to blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi’s request for information.

A register of recusals has been in existence for several years in Scotland – it can be viewed online – and Cherbi wants to see the system extended to all the judiciary in the UK.

The Information Commissioner told Cherbi, above: “As the Supreme Court has failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case.

“A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Sources at the Supreme Court have indicated that the decision notice has not been received by the court, but that it will be acted upon.

Cherbi’s long-term aim is to see the creation of a register of judicial interests similar to that which MPs, MSPs and police officers must complete. His petition calling for that register has been debated by MSPs for nearly six years, and a decision is due next year. He feels the delay is an attempt to stop the register of interests. The National can reveal that lawyers in London support Cherbi’s case, but think judges will oppose it.

One legal source said: “They fear recusals up here in Scotland are inevitably leading to a register of judicial interests and it will lead to the same thing happening in England and Wales.”

The Supreme Court has already decided against a register of interests, stating: “The justices have decided it would not be appropriate, or indeed feasible, for them to have a comprehensive register of interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them.

“To draw up a register of interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal code of conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the court’s website.

“In addition, all the justices have taken the judicial oath … which obliges them to ‘do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

“And, as is already the practice with other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves, whether it is a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.”

Cherbi said: “Refusing access to information is not accidental. We are looking here at a coordinated attempt to thwart the introduction of Scottish judicial transparency to the rest of the UK.”

The Ministry of Justice referred The National to the Supreme Court where a spokesman confirmed that they were awaiting the Commissioner’s formal decision.

Supreme Court finally responds to Scottish FoI request about recusals … and rejects it

Martin Hannan Journalist 06 September 2017

THE UK Supreme Court has refused to issue information on how many of its justices have stood aside from cases because of a conflict of interest.

The National revealed last week that the Information Commissioner in England had ordered the Supreme Court to deal with Scottish law campaigner Peter Cherbi’s freedom of information request after it failed to reply to him in time.

Now the Supreme Court has written to Cherbi apologising for failing to deal with his request timeously but saying it will not give him the information as it would cost too much to provide it.

“That’s just ludicrous,” Cherbi said yesterday, “and it just makes people all the more suspicious that the Supreme Court is covering up something that the public should have the right to know.”

In another development, Cherbi is to ask the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to invite the new President of the Supreme Court to give evidence as to why she and her fellow justices oppose a register of interests for the judiciary similar to that for MPs and police officers.

The committee has been discussing Cherbi’s call for a register of judicial interests in Scotland for almost five years.

Cherbi said: “I would like Lady Hale to come to Holyrood and explain why the UK Supreme Court’s members are so set against a register of interests.

“We have already seen Scotland’s top judges opposing it, and it would be good to know why the UK Supreme Court opposes it – after all, the Supreme Court sits in judgement on Scottish cases all the time, so why should the public not be able to see what interests, financial and otherwise, that judges have?

“As the President of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale will be able to give a substantive account of why Supreme Court justices no longer consider they require to adhere to the expectation of completing a register of interests as they did pre-UK Supreme Court days as Law Lords in the House of Lords.

“After all, we ask our MPs and MSPs and police officers to register their interests so that everything is seen to be above board, so why not the judges in the highest court in the land?”

Cherbi also wants Lady Hale to tell the committee why the Supreme Court does not keep a register of recusals (when judges step aside from a case) as happens in the Scottish courts.

In its delayed response to Cherbi, the Supreme Court said: “To provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so. Section 12 of the Freedom Of Information Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600.

“This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

A legal expert told The National: “The information on recusals certainly exists, so all that needs to be done is to send an email to the justices and their assistants and the information could be gathered in a day.”

Cherbi said: “We have a register of recusals in Scotland. It’s time they had one for the Supreme Court and all English and Welsh courts.”

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

Recent reforms to the way in which judicial recusals are recorded and entered in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals were reported here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

 

 

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