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“Transparency is part of accountability” says Law Professor to MSPs – as General Pinochet case, failures to recuse and a judge presiding over cases defended by his own son in the Court of Session – add to calls register of judges’ interests

MSPs hear top judges need register of interests. A SENIOR Scots Law Academic – Professor Alan Paterson – has told the Scottish Parliament there is an expectation accountability applies to the judiciary as a branch of the state, and there is a need for judges in the highest courts to declare their interests.

In evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee during the latest hearing of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde told MSPs “..the question of a register of interests comes back to the role of the judiciary in a democracy. It is a branch of government or the state and, in a democracy, we expect the wielders of state power to have a form of accountability.”

Professor Patterson later added: “To me, transparency is part of accountability. The prime things that we require for accountability, generally speaking, are that judges give reasons for their decisions and that they identify who is making the decisions. That is part of transparency, and the question of a register of interests is part of the issue of transparency.”

MSPs also heard from the legal academic on one of the “shakiest moments” of judicial interests and recusals – in relation to the General Pinochet case – now the standard example of what went wrong when a judge in the House of Lords – Lord Hoffman – failed to declare an interest.

In responses to questions, Professor Paterson said he thought if a register of judicial interests had existed, it would have caught Lord Hoffman’s chairmanship of the Amnesty International Committee – the undeclared interest which sparked an appeal by General Pinochet’s lawyers against extradition to Spain in 1998.

Significant concerns were raised by the Committee in relation to the ‘Recusals Register’ created by former Lord President Lord Gill in the spring of 2014 – a move at the time Gill had hoped would closed down calls for judges to declare their vast interests and wealth in a publicly available register of interests.

In a key moment during the meeting, Deputy Convener Angus Macdonald MSP (SNP) raised a hypothetical scenario of a judge in the Court of Session failing to recuse himself after discovering his own son was acting as a litigation solicitor for one of the parties.

Quizzing the Law Professor, Angus Macdonald enquired: “On the issue of recusals, let me throw a hypothetical example at you. The son of a judge is the litigation solicitor for a defendant in, for example, the Court of Session, but the judge fails to recuse himself and to highlight the family connection to all interested parties. Clearly such a situation could be avoided were the decision on recusal not to be taken by the judge presiding over the hearing himself. We would look to avoid such a situation, and the register would help.”

An awkward response from Professor Paterson suggested this scenario had occurred “in the past” and that “As long as everybody knows about it and it is declared, it should not mean an automatic disqualification.” In such situations, all the parties usually know and no objection will be made.”

However, it has since emerged new evidence from the Court of Session is set to reveal more judges have failed to recuse themselves on numerous occasions where direct family members appeared in cases heard by their own parents.

In one key case which may significantly impact on calls to create a register of judicial interests, several MSPs are now believed to be aware of a series of failures by a judge to recuse himself in a case where a solicitor – acting on behalf of a law firm linked to the multi million pound collapse of a Gibraltar based Hedge Fund – appeared in front of a judge who turned out to be his own father – on multiple occasions.

The case – details of which are to be made public – has the potential to blow apart the integrity of Lord Gill’s ‘Recusals Register’ due to the sheer number of appearances by the same judge in the Court of Session – while his own son was the acting solicitor for the defenders.

Documents from the case now being studied also reveal a shocking fact – it has now been established millions of pounds of public money was paid out by a Scottish local authority to the defender’s main contractor after a ruling by Lord Woolman in January 2014.

The public cash was then to be paid to the defenders under a sub-contract agreement in an issue relating to why the case was brought to court in the first place.

However, the pursuer received not a penny despite the defenders admitting in court papers to illegal dumping of contaminated waste on someone else’s land.

Construction firms who hold contracts with numerous local authorities, and Scottish Government agencies including the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) are known to be heavily involved in events which led to the case ending up in the Court of Session – yet for some reason, opinions by several judges involved in hearings have not been published and are “difficult to obtain” from the Scottish Courts Service.

Tackling the issue of costs, over the issue of ensuring a fair hearing – MSP Maurice Corry (West Scotland) Scottish Conservative) asked Professor Paterson if he thought developing the recusal system in a way which required someone other than the judge hearing the case to decide on a recusal would add extra costs and delays to cases being heard in the courts.

Responding to Mr Corry, Professor Paterson said it could, but pointed out the failings of the current recusal register where little information is given away on the actual recusal and whether a judge refused to recuse himself in a case.

Professor Paterson told Mr Corry: “We have a register of how often judges recuse themselves but, as I have pointed out, we do not know how often they do not recuse themselves, so we cannot form a view on whether they have always got it right or whether there are situations in which they did not get it right.”

Mr Corry – who had earlier moved the petition be closed down at the meeting of the Petitions Committee on 29 September 2016 – also asked Professor Paterson for examples where a case may have been caught by a register of interests.

Professor Paterson replied stating “The Hoffmann case is the standard example of something going wrong.”

At the conclusion of the most recent evidence heard in relation to Petition PE1458, the Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Lord President Lord Carloway and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Gillian Thompson OBE.

Video footage and full transcript of Petition PE1458 – Scottish Parliament 17 January 2017

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener: Agenda item 2 is consideration of continued petitions. First, we will take evidence from Professor Alan Paterson on petition PE1458, on a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary. As members will recall, the petitioner suggested that the committee might wish to invite oral evidence from Professor Paterson, and he has agreed to appear this morning.

Welcome to the meeting, Professor Paterson—we appreciate your attendance. If you wish to make some opening comments, you may do so for up to five minutes. After that, we will take questions from members.

Professor Alan Paterson: Thank you, convener. I am happy to answer any questions that the committee might have on this topic.

I see a register of interests for the judiciary in Scotland as an important issue but, as I have said in my written evidence, it is an issue on which I have not reached a concluded opinion. I have expressed an opinion in relation to the Supreme Court, where the balance probably tips towards the need for a register of interests. I have explained why I think that both in my written evidence and in the Hamlyn lecture.

For me, the question of a register of interests comes back to the role of the judiciary in a democracy. It is a branch of government or the state and, in a democracy, we expect the wielders of state power to have a form of accountability. It is also very important that, in a democracy, the judiciary is independent; judicial independence is a vital part of any democracy. We must therefore balance those issues of judicial independence and accountability. Indeed, issues such as recusal, criticism of judges, discipline of judges, complaints against judges and a register of interests are all areas where we try to strike that balance between accountability and independence.

The Convener: Thank you. Do you think that there is a third factor—simple transparency? That is not in conflict with independence; it is just about basic standards and reasonable expectations of openness.

Professor Paterson: To me, transparency is part of accountability. The prime things that we require for accountability, generally speaking, are that judges give reasons for their decisions and that they identify who is making the decisions. That is part of transparency, and the question of a register of interests is part of the issue of transparency.

The Convener: Do you have a view on what types of information should be included in a register of pecuniary or other interests?

Professor Paterson: As I have said, I do not have a concluded view on whether we should have a register of interests for the Scottish courts but, as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, there is the example of the American Supreme Court. Some might say that that is a slightly more political court than our courts but, nonetheless, its judges have to register their interests. They have to declare their financial interests, their shareholdings, their hospitality, what gifts they receive and what tickets to American football matches they get. All sorts of things have to be declared including membership of golf clubs and so on. At the start of their Supreme Court career, they also have to provide a detailed account of the clubs they are members of, their trusteeships, whether they are masons and all those issues. From time to time, the system throws up issues, but it works.

The House of Lords was the precursor to the Supreme Court, which started in 2009. Before that, the judges in the House of Lords formed a supreme court, and they had a register of interests. The judges who were members of the House of Lords then became Supreme Court judges. For example, we had Lord Hope of Craighead, who has since gone back to the House of Lords and is now on that register of interests. People can look up the register on the website and see what his interests are, but they could not do that when he was in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has been very good at transparency, and rightly so; in general, it has been much better at transparency than the House of Lords was. It is much more open. Moreover, the proceedings are televised; when the Brexit judgment comes down on Tuesday, we will be able to see it. We will be able to watch everything happening. It just does not have a register of interests, even though the judges had one before—and will have it again if they go back to the House of Lords.

The Convener: That is interesting. Thank you.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con): Good morning, Professor Paterson. An issue that has been raised in evidence is whether a register would capture circumstances in which a conflict would make it inappropriate for a judge to hear a case. However, a judge might become aware of a conflict only when they saw a witness list and were able to identify a social relationship with a witness. Do you have any views on that?

Professor Paterson: The judicial oath and the judicial code of conduct, which are very important in Scotland, mean that a judge who knows that they have an interest—for example, a relative who is a party in a case is going to appear before them—will be expected to stand down. At its best, a register of interests would identify some conflicts and either remind the judge or alert others to the fact that they potentially have an interest, although not necessarily in the case of relatives.

One of the curiosities of the American Supreme Court is that, once or twice a year, the justices, including the chief justice, overlook a shareholding that they have. A corporation in which the shares are held comes up in litigation; they get involved in the litigation, only for somebody to suddenly remember that they have shareholdings in the corporation. That is not venal or deliberate and there is no attempt at bias; instead, someone has made a mistake and overlooked something. The strength of a judicial register is that it allows fair-minded, independent and external observers to say, “Haven’t you got a potential interest here?” and the matter can be aired before the case starts. If you do not have a judicial register of interests, everything is left to the judge and the judge’s memory. Even at the level of the American Supreme Court, the judicial memory occasionally fails—although not very often.

Maurice Corry: Thank you.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): Good morning. Can you expand a wee bit on examples of judicial office-holders registering their interests in connection with other roles? The petitioner has noted that in connection with the board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and you have mentioned the Supreme Court. Are you aware of any issues that have arisen for those judicial office-holders in being able to hear cases in connection with registered interests? What precedents are there that you know of in that field?

Professor Paterson: I am not sure that I have an answer to that question. Do you know what the petitioner was getting at and can you elaborate a little more on what was troubling him? Nothing springs to mind.

Rona Mackay: I think that he raised the whole subject in connection with the board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. You mentioned the similarity between those on the Supreme Court and the former law lords, so I wanted to tease out your opinion on what issues could arise from that.

Professor Paterson: I apologise for being unhelpful, but nothing on that immediately springs to mind.

Rona Mackay: That is fine.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con): Good morning. The former judicial complaints reviewer commented on the possible implications of the publication of recusal information in respect of possible conflicts of interests only becoming apparent after a case has been heard. Her view was that a register of interests could avert complaints by enabling any perceived conflicts to be addressed before or at the time when a case was heard. What are your views on that?

Professor Paterson: Let me go back to the House of Lords and the Supreme Court. One reason why I raise an eyebrow at the stance of the Supreme Court on this issue is that one of its shakiest moments was the General Pinochet affair. General Pinochet came to the UK for medical treatment and a Spanish judge using appropriate international processes arranged for him to be arrested for alleged crimes in the junta in Chile. His case then went up to the House of Lords. At relatively short notice, the membership of the panel that was to hear the case had to change and Lord Hoffmann was brought in as the next most senior judge. The fact that Lord Hoffmann’s wife worked for Amnesty International in some capacity was—we think—known by the senior law lord when they organised the panel. However, it was all done with some haste, and it is not at all clear that the panel was aware—they said that they were not aware—that Lord Hoffmann acted on a committee that raised funds for Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is relevant here because of its views on torture; it had asked to become an intervener in the House of Lords, and this was the very first case in which an intervener had been allowed. That meant that Amnesty International, although not technically a party to the case, was allowed to address the court on issues to do with torture and what had happened in Chile. Lord Hoffmann did not declare that he chaired a committee that raised funds for Amnesty International although his wife’s position, as someone who worked for Amnesty International, was known to the authorities.

Anyway, the case went ahead, and the vote went three to two against General Pinochet, with Lord Hoffmann in the majority. A little while later, General Pinochet’s lawyers discovered that Lord Hoffmann had that interest but had not declared it, and they asked for a rehearing. It had never happened before, but they got a rehearing, and the court very strongly made it clear that Lord Hoffmann should have declared the interest. Indeed, as I read it, even if he had declared the interest, the parties could not have waived it—it would have led to an automatic disqualification. That is the line that the court took, and another court had to be convened to rehear the whole case.

It all meant a lot of time being taken up, a lot of concern and a lot of bad publicity for Britain and for the House of Lords. Relations among the judges in the House of Lords were quite strained for a number of years thereafter. That one failure to declare an interest had a very substantial impact on a whole variety of issues, and I have never quite understood why the Supreme Court, knowing that lesson—which was hardly 10 years old by the time the court was set up—did not decide that it should have a register of interests.

We can have a debate about whether a register of interests would have caught Lord Hoffmann’s chairmanship of the committee, but I think that it would have, certainly under the rules under which the House of Lords now operates. It is not entirely appropriate, but if you want to see what a possible register of pecuniary interests might look like, you can look on the House of Lords website, where you will find a very detailed series of 12 headings under which interests can be recorded. Not all are appropriate for judges, but some of them certainly are.

The Convener: A second interesting point arising from the Lord Hoffmann case is not the judge’s own involvement but the spouse’s occupation. That would not go on a register, would it?

Professor Paterson: Possibly not, but, as I understand it, that was known about in the Hoffmann case.

The Convener: So that was not the issue.

Professor Paterson: That is my understanding of the case.

The Convener: That is very helpful. Thank you.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): Good morning, Professor Paterson. The example that you have just given backs up the suggestion in your written submission that the decision on recusals should not be taken by the judge who has been challenged. Would you expand on that?

Professor Paterson: Again, that is an area on which I do not have a fully formed mind. Like the author R Grant Hammond, who has written the standard work on judicial recusal, I take the view that, as far as appellate courts are concerned, there is an argument for saying that if one member of the court is challenged, he or she should not be the one that makes the decision. However, that might be the counsel of perfection. When it comes to a sheriff in a rural part of Scotland, it might be quite impractical to suggest that another person make that decision. As I have said, I do not have a concluded view on it.

I can see the case for such a move, and it would be easier at the appellate level. There are examples where courts have, when challenged on a particular interest, excluded that interest from the body deciding that interest. I can see the argument for that, but there are issues of practicality to be borne in mind.

Angus MacDonald: On the issue of recusals, let me throw a hypothetical example at you. The son of a judge is the litigation solicitor for a defendant in, for example, the Court of Session, but the judge fails to recuse himself and to highlight the family connection to all interested parties. Clearly such a situation could be avoided were the decision on recusal not to be taken by the judge presiding over the hearing himself. We would look to avoid such a situation, and the register would help.

Professor Paterson: It might—and if we are talking about a criminal defendant, it would be the High Court. Generally speaking, a relationship would be known to the parties. In the past, it was not unknown for an advocate who was a relative—a son or daughter—of a judge to appear before that judge. In a small country such as Scotland, saying that such a thing could not happen would make things a bit tough. It used to happen. As long as everybody knows about it and it is declared, it should not mean an automatic disqualification. In such situations, all the parties usually know and no objection will be made.

Maurice Corry: What consideration have you given to the potential for additional costs or delays to cases being heard if the recusal system were to be developed in the way that is proposed?

Professor Paterson: You are right to raise the issue—that is why I highlighted the practicality issues. Recusal is one of those areas in which it is necessary to have an appropriate balance between transparency, accountability and independence. We have a register of how often judges recuse themselves but, as I have pointed out, we do not know how often they do not recuse themselves, so we cannot form a view on whether they have always got it right or whether there are situations in which they did not get it right.

The test to be applied is whether a fair-minded, fully informed independent observer would think that there was a possibility of bias. It is a case not of whether the judge thinks that there is a possibility of bias, but of whether an independent, fair-minded, reasonable observer—probably a layperson—would think that there was a possibility of the tribunal being biased. It is therefore possible for a judge to take one view and an independent person to take a different one, which is why we must take a hard look at the issue of recusal.

Do I think that the introduction of a register of interests at appellate level would lead to a massive number of challenges and cause real problems? If a system were introduced whereby somebody else had to decide that, I think that it might. As I have said, I think that practical considerations might make my counsel of perfection, whereby in the ideal world somebody else would make the decision, unrealistic. I think that it is more possible at the appellate level.

Maurice Corry: Are you aware of any serious examples of cases in which the issue has been a significant problem, indicating that the setting up of such a register is necessary?

Professor Paterson: The Hoffmann case is the standard example of something going wrong. From time to time, challenges to the courts receive a degree of publicity, but I am not aware of any that were as significant as that one.

The Convener: There are no further questions. Thank you for your helpful and balanced evidence, which has given us an interesting insight into the issues.

Does the committee have a view on what further action we might take?

Angus MacDonald: Given the evidence that we have heard this morning, I think that we need to seek a further response from the Lord President, Lord Carloway. I, for one, would like to hear his views on today’s evidence, either by letter or in person, and I am particularly keen to find out his view on whether the recusal decision should not be taken by the judge who has the interest that has been challenged. Another suggestion has been put into the pot that would be well worth our consideration.

The Convener: We can look at the most convenient way for the Lord President to provide that response, because we do not want to cause unnecessary inconvenience.

Rona Mackay: We would not be re-asking the previous question. We would be going back to him with a new request.

The Convener: Is there anything else that we might do?

Angus MacDonald: There was also the suggestion that we ask the judicial complaints reviewer for her view on the evidence that has been given today. We should go down that route, too.

The Convener: Do members agree to take those actions?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener: Again, I thank Professor Paterson for coming to the meeting. It has been very helpful.

I suspend the meeting for a couple of minutes. 09:25 Meeting suspended.

RECUSALS REGISTER – Scottish Judges are failing to disclose interests, and even when they do, some continue to hear cases where there are measurable conflicts of interest:

A number of additional cases documented on the petition webpage maintained by the Scottish Parliament aired in written submissions also provide evidence where litigants and defendants in Scotland’s civil and criminal courts are not being made aware of judicial relationships or conflicts of interest.

The frequency by which court users are not being made aware of such conflicts of interest within the judiciary appears to suggest such omissions are not happening by accident.

Misgivings on the attitude of members of the judiciary to reveal conflicts of interest are on the rise – particularly after one case revealed a senior judge – Lord Osborne – heard (and denied) the appeal against conviction of a man he had earlier prosecuted while working at the Crown Office.

Asked to comment on the matter, Lord Osborne claimed to a Sunday Mail investigation that he “forgot” he was the Prosecutor who put the man away for an alleged crime – which has been the subject of a long running and widely supported miscarriage of justice appeal.

Another case revealing the limitations of allowing judges to decide themselves whether to recuse from a case or not, was revealed in an investigation by the Sunday Herald newspaper after it emerged Sheriff Principal R Alistair Dunlop heard a case involving supermarket giant Tesco – while he held shares in the same company.

A a further investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper revealed the same Sheriff Principal R Alistair Dunlop – held shares in a number of companies convicted of criminal offences at home and abroad, including Weir Group – subject of Scotland largest Proceeds of Crime cash seizure after the company was convicted of bribing their way into contracts with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Dunlop – who formerly sat on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Board retired after the headlines, but was then brought back into service by the Lord President – to sit in the new Sheriff Appeals Court.

Recusals and the General Pinochet effect on proposals to require judges to register their interests:

In early 1999, Law Lords from the House of Lords who handled judicial functions now assigned to the UK Supreme Court – attacked their colleague Lord Hoffmann who failed to declare links with a human rights group before ruling in a key hearing on General Augusto Pinochet.

In the Law Lords written judgement on the Pinochet Appeal – Opinions of the Lords of Appeal for Judgement in the cause RE: Pinochet, they give their detailed reasoning for overturning a ruling by a previous panel of Law Lords which had denied the former Chilean dictator freedom from prosecution.

The Law Lords said the links between Lord Hoffmann – who sat on the original panel that ruled to allow General Pinochet’s extradition in November – and the human rights group Amnesty International were too close to allow the verdict to stand.

One of the lords who ruled in the appeal case, Lord Hope, said: “In view of his links with Amnesty International as the chairman and a director of Amnesty International Charity Limited he could not be seen to be impartial.”

At the conclusion of the latest consideration of Petition PE1458, MSPs who sit on the Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Lord President Lord Carloway and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Gillian Thompson OBE.

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

 

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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Scottish Parliament probe on judges’ register of interests hears from top Law Professor – room for widening transparency to include more than pecuniary interests, current recusals register is not complete.

Register of judges’ interests good for transparency. A TOP legal academic has told the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee there is room for improvement in proposals to create a register of interests for Scotland’s ultra secretive judiciary as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

In a written submission to MSPs, Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde told the Public Petitions Committee “in terms of accountability there is a clear link between the thinking behind calls for a Register of Judicial Interests and the concept of Judicial Recusal”.

However, the Law Professor criticised the weakness of content of the current “Recusal Register” – set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs.

Professor Paterson told MSPs: “The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.”

“In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.”

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

A full debate in Holyrood’s main chamber 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 widely supported by MSPs from all political parties.

The written evidence from Professor Paterson to MSPs comes after the Petitions Committee were informed of the Law Professor’s work on judicial transparency.

Published as quotes on the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee’s website, references from a publication by Professor Paterson: “Lawyers and the Public Good: Democracy in Action” – give an account of how registers of interest could enhance judicial transparency.

In the book, Professor Paterson writes: “Slightly surprisingly, the justices of the UK Supreme Court, who have rightly in my view been praised for being more transparent on a range of fronts than the House of Lords, have chosen on this front to be less transparent than they were in the House. In the House they were subject to a Register of Interests, but  in  February  2010s5 they indicated that they  had  decided  not  to  have  a Register of Interests in the Supreme Court since (1) other judges in the United Kingdom do not have to complete a Register of Interests and (2) it would not be appropriate or indeed feasible for there to be a comprehensive register of the interests of all the justices. With the greatest of respect to the justices, I wonder if they have got this one right.”   

“The Supreme Court along with the rest of the (senior) judiciary is an arm of government, and democratic accountability normally means that we expect those who govern us to declare  their  interests  –  and not just on an as and when basis. A detailed Register of Interests might even have obviated the Pinochet affair.”

“My third route to enhancing the accountability of the judiciary is to introduce greater measures of disclosure and transparency. Each and every justice of the US Supreme Court has to complete a detailed annual return setting out all their financial interests, including all shareholdings and offices held in other organisations. Moreover, when they have been nominated for appointment they are  required to complete a very detailed questionnaire  about  their interests, publications and membership of organisations whether it be the masons, churches or golf clubs (single sex or otherwise).” 

“Recusal is a tricky area and I’m not sure that the answer is always to leave it to the judge who has been challenged to determine whether he or she has a disqualifying interest. I am confirmed in this   line of thinking by Grant Hammond, the judicial author of what is now the leading textbook in the area. The legal test is that laid down in Porter v. Magill* namely, would the hypothetical fair-minded, fully informed independent layperson having  considered the facts conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased. My difficulty  is  how  the  judges  are  to  know  the  answer to that question.”

PE1458/XX Judicial Register of Interests Petition PE1458

Writing in a letter to the Public Petitions Committee prior to the summer recess, Professor Patterson told MSPs: I refer to your letter of 18 March 2016 requesting that I write to you indicating my views on the action called for in the petition. I am not sure that I have a great deal to add to what I said in my Hamlyn lecture – A Paterson, Lawyers and the Public Good (Cambridge University Press, 2012) at pp.152-4. I indicated there, that at least at the level of final appeal courts there was an argument for enhancing the accountability of the judiciary by introducing greater measures of disclosure and transparency.

Each and every Supreme Court justice in the US Supreme Court has to complete a detailed annual return setting out their financial interests including gifts and hospitality. When appointed they also have to complete a comprehensive questionnaire about their interests, publications and memberships of clubs and organisations (including the Masons).  I am not aware that these requirements have caused particular problems in the USA.

When they were members of the House of Lords, the Law Lords had to complete a register of interests (which has since been considerably strengthened) and it was therefore a surprise to me that these same judges when they became UK Supreme Court Justices declined to have a Register of Interests, a position which they still adhere to. This despite the fact that Lord Hoffmann by failing to declare his involvement with Amnesty International (which might now appear in a Register of Interests) precipitated an unprecedented crisis in the House of Lords, the aftermath of which was felt for nearly a decade.

That said, whether a Register of Judicial Interests which is limited to pecuniary interests would be a worthwhile introduction for the Court of Session and the Sheriff Court is a difficult issue (as the evidence provided to the Petitions Committee has demonstrated) and one on which I am not sure I have a concluded view.

However, in terms of accountability there is a clear link between the thinking behind calls for a Register of Judicial Interests and the concept of Judicial Recusal. Here I think there is room for improvement in Scotland, particularly if there is to be no Register of Judicial Interests. 

The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.

In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.

I am confirmed in this line of thinking by Grant Hammond, the judicial author of what is now the leading textbook in the area Judicial Recusal (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2009).

Just as we no longer leave decisions on contempt of court which relate to attacks on the judge to be decided by the judge in question, so it could be argued that requests for judicial recusal should be handled on an expedited basis by a bench of at least two different judges.    

I hope these thoughts have been of assistance. Yours sincerely Professor Alan Paterson OBE

While Professor Paterson said in his letter to MSPs he had no concluded view on whether a register limited only to pecuniary interests of judges would be worthwhile, it is widely understood in the media the proposals before the committee do actually call for a much wider and encompassing register of interests for the judiciary – similar to the same registers of interest which exist for politicians and public bodies across the country.

The petition’s call for a more complete register of interests was brought to the fore during an evidence session with Lord Brian Gill held in November 2015 – during which Committee member John Wilson made it clear in questions to the judge that any register of judicial interests proposed by the petition was expected to include much more than pecuniary interests.

The lengthy Scottish Parliament probe on judicial interests – now about to enter it’s fourth year – has previously heard evidence from key players in the justice system who all support the introduction of a register of judicial interests.

During an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali, Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR)- backed the creation of a register of judicial interests – providing MSPs with a powerful first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson also backed plans to require judges to declare their interests, during an evidence  session of the Public Petitions Committee held in June 2015.

However, the move to create a register of judges’ interests was bitterly resisted by retired top judge Lord Gill, who spent two years of his short three year term as Lord President –  fighting the Petitions Committee on moves to have him appear before MSPs to give evidence.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on written evidence provided by Scotland’s latest top judge – Lord Carloway to the Public Petitions Committee on plans to require judges to declare their interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) is a known opponent of the judicial transparency proposals.

Earlier this year, Lord Carloway told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The move by Scotland’s latest Lord President to undermine the Scottish Parliament’s efforts to increase judicial transparency follows a bitter three year campaign against the petition – led by Carloway’s former boss – Lord Brian Gill – which culminated in an ‘aggressive’ evidence session with the former top judge at Holyrood in November 2015.

Lord Gill – who spent two of his three year term fighting the judicial transparency proposals – was dubbed “Lord No-No” for his refusals to give evidence to MSPs on judges’ undeclared links to big business, secret criminal records & hidden wealth, handed the claim to the Scottish Parliament.

Refusing several invitations from MSPs to attend the Petitions Committee in person, the top judge sent a series of letters to MSPs – demanding the judiciary remain exempt from the public’s expectation of transparency in Government and those in public life.

As the petition was debated at Holyrood in the Lord President’s absence, it was revealed Lord Gill billed taxpayers for a five day state visit to Qatar. The top judge also travelled to numerous other international destinations – all charged to taxpayers.

An investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper also revealed Scotland’s top judges spent £26,000 on thirty three international trips funded by taxpayers – including journeys to destinations such as Russia, Israel, Switzerland,Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania.

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

 

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More ‘jobs for the boys’ than action on ‘crooked lawyers’ : What it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCCBoard Members of the do-little Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have record numbers of ‘other jobs’. IT MAY COME as no surprise the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and the Law Society of Scotland have been busy priming their well-oiled media spin machines for the imminent publication of the hapless SLCC’s latest annual report, which is expected to show the number of complaints have dropped against solicitors in Scotland with the SLCC apparently being left with almost little to do by way of regulating anything past a dog biscuit.

Yet while complaints have dropped, and thumbs are twiddled at the SLCC’s lavish Stamp Office Edinburgh HQ, the SLCC is, as I reported in November 2010 about to attempt to hype itself as being more effective in dealing with complaints against crooked lawyers, than it actually is in reality, adding four new Board Members to its already over-the-top line of quangocrats & lawyers who, in some cases, are currently holding down more than 10 jobs each.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will soon announce new additions to SLCC’s expensive expense claiming board. While the new appointments are yet to be officially announced by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in the usual fanfare, according to information seen by Diary of Injustice, the SLCC’s now overdue annual report attempts to spin around the real reasons for the fall in complaints against solicitors & law firms, reasons which appear to be mostly due to the financial downturn, with clients being unable to afford to use solicitors, along with a general downturn in property sales, and perhaps a slightly increased willingness on the part of some law firms to discuss & resolve client difficulties before the matter develops into complaint and attracts unwanted media attention, rather than any sudden increase in the standards of legal services offered to consumers in Scotland by legal practitioners.

SLCC RECRUITMENT APPOINTMENTS November 2010Whopping expenses claims by SLCC’s Board Members expected to increase with additional appointments. With the further imminent announcements of the latest appointments to the SLCC’s Board of three ‘non-lawyer’ board members with legal & ‘consumer’ backgrounds at £209+ a day along with one extra lawyer board member to ensure the legal profession continues to have its way against client complaints, it is perhaps fitting to reflect on exactly what it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, along with all that lolly money one can expect by way of expenses claims for ensuring the vast majority of complaints made by members of the public or clients against solicitors & law firms which operate in Scotland’s notoriously hugely expensive yet poor quality legal services market succumb to the same whitewash treatment typical of the Law Society of Scotland’s tenure as self regulator of lawyers in Scotland, a tenure which has led to thousands of financially ruined clients while even the most negligent solicitors (in some cases with criminal records) remaining in practice, unbeknown to their clients …

Jane Irvine

Jane Irvine
• Immediate past Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.
• Professional contact with solicitors’ firms Burness, Leslie Deans & Co and Allan McDougal.
• Professional contact with advocates Derek O’Carrol and John Campbell QC.
• Director, Daleway LTD.
• Deputy UK Pensions Ombudsman.
• Chair of the Disciplinary Board of the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries (from January 2010).

WATSON 2

Douglas Watson
• Former lay member of a Law Society of Scotland Committee dealing with Access to Legal Information. The role was unpaid.
• A cousin, Bruce Minto, is a partner in Dickson Minto, Solicitors.
• Formerly a Chief Superintendent with Lothian and Borders Police.

Dr Linda Pollock

Dr Linda Pollock
• Executive Nursing Director (1989 -2006).
• Interim Board Nurse Director (2002-2003).
• Chief Nursing Officer’s Professional Advisor on nurse prescribing (2005-6).
• Past External Examiner with Robert Gordon’s University and Queen Margaret University.
• Research Honorary Fellow in the Social Science Faculty of Edinburgh University.
• Formerly, a part time nurse member of the Mental Welfare Commission (1997- 2005).
• Currently, working as a Primary Care Consultant, undertaking research work commissioned by the Queen’s Nursing Institute in Scotland.
• Registrant member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Appointments Board.
• Member of the Royal College of Nursing.
• Dr Pollock has a track record of authorship and chapter contributions in professional books, and continues to write articles in nursing journals.
• Board Member of the Accounts Commission (from 1st October for three years).
• Chair to a UK-wide Advisory Board with Pain Concern (from Jan 2010).

georgeirving

George L Irving CBE
• Director of Social Work North Ayrshire Council 1999-2000. • Chair of Ayrshire Council on Alcohol.
• Ex-President of the Association of Directors of Social Work (Scotland).
• Chair of NHS Ayrshire and Arran from 2001-2006.
• Led the National Support Team, Management of Offenders 2005-2007.
• Visiting Professor to Glasgow Caledonian University School of Health.
• Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.
• Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
• Member of the Rotary Club of Alloway.
• Member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon OBE, QPM, LL.B (Hons)
• Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland (from 1 February 2010 for four years).
• Member of the Registration and Conduct Sub Committees of the Scottish Social Services Council. Appointed by the Council on 29 April 2010 for 3 years.
Payment from Scottish Social Services Council.
• Associate Professor in Policing for Charles Sturt University (Australia)
• Director (Trustee) of Blairgowrie and Rattray Regeneration Company (BARRC)
Registered Charity – Not remunerated.
• Member of Rotary International
• Retired Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police.
• Formerly Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS)
Professional Standards Business Area.
• Formerly Vice-Chair of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 email

Margaret Scanlan
• Consultant, Russells Gibson McCaffrey, Solicitors.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland and holder of current practising certificate.
• Husband is a senior partner Russells Gibson McCaffrey.
• Husband is a member of the Law Society of Scotland and holder of current practising certificate.
• Past Chair of the Family Law Association.
• Former member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

David Smith SLCC

David Smith
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Former member/partner of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP, Solicitors. Retired on 30/04/08.
• Non-Executive Director, Value and Income Trust Plc.
• Wife is a Senator of the College of Justice and a non practising member of the Faculty of Advocates.

David Chaplin SLCC

David Chaplin
• Former member of Anderson Fyfe LLP, Solicitors. Retired on 30/04/08.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Director and shareholder in Baliol Properties Limited.

AlanPaterson

Alan Paterson
• Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Studies at Strathclyde University.
• Research adviser to the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Professional contact with Guild & Guild, Solicitors and McCash & Hunter, LLP.

Master Policy Report Suicides revealedSLCC report on Master Policy revealed clients had committed suicide at the hands of crooked lawyers but still nothing has been done after two years. Having all these second, third & forth jobs appears to have got in the way of the SLCC doing its job, particularly when it comes to monitoring the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy (the Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme run by the infamous insurers Marsh to cover solicitors negligence), which was revealed by an independent report carried out by Manchester University of Law School to have caused the deaths of clients, simply to ensure lawyers could sleep at night. More on the Master Policy report can be read here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’ and the latest attempt by the SLCC to fulfil its ‘monitoring role’ over the Master Policy adds to its long running failure to attend to its legislated duties, reported here : Law Society’s ‘Killer Insurance’ in the dock as solicitor says only way ‘adversarial’ Master Policy will be revealed is if it ends up on Wikileaks

Going on the above evidence, it clearly would take more than 9 people at the SLCC to change a light bulb, never mind attending to consumer expectations of independent regulation of legal services in Scotland and all the safeguards which come with independent regulation, which at least, the English seem to be enjoying via their own Legal Ombudsman, as I reported last October, here : Scots consumers stuck with ‘crooked’ self-regulation of lawyers as England & Wales go fully independent with new Legal Ombudsman

 

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FOI Chief Dunion orders Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to release board member’s anti-client jibes, Master Policy study secrets

Kevin DunionScotland’s Freedom of Information Chief Kevin Dunion. SCOTLAND’s FOI COMMISSIONER Kevin Dunion has ordered the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to release information relating to its research on the Law Society of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt Master Policy, the insurance protection scheme designed to protect the ever growing number of crooked lawyers in Scotland again claims for compensation to cover the millions of pounds of funds misappropriated from clients each year by solicitors in Scotland without recompense.

Frequent Flyers SLCCSLCC’s David Smith expressed anti-client jibes in emails around the anti-consumer law complaints quango. Among the papers ordered to be disclosed in a decision published late last week by Mr Dunion are emails containing anti-client jibes from one of the SLCC’s board members, David Smith who was personally appointed to the SLCC by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Mr Smith, a lawyer who served much of his career at law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, who themselves often act for the Master Policy in protection of questionable solicitors against negligence claims, referred to participants in the Master Policy survey & deceased clients who had committed suicide as a direct result of involvement with the Master Policy, as “Frequent flyers”, a term (among many unprintable) apparently widely used among SLCC Board members & staff against anyone who submits complaints against solicitors.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailEvidence from earlier FOI releases featured in newspapers points to SLCC’s anti client culture among board members & senior officials. The redacted, but readable emails from David Smith to SLCC staff including the SLCC’s Chief Executive Eileen Masterman , who resigned recently in mysterious circumstances after a 6 month absence from work, support evidence from earlier FOI releases which featured in the national media, there is a hate fuelled anti-client culture operating at the highest levels of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has seen other board members such as Glasgow divorce lawyer Margaret Scanlan who was revealed in emails to have rubbed victims of crooked lawyers as “complete chancers” while of course, having nothing to say about her legal colleagues conduct. In additional emails, other board members chastised consumer organisations, and sought to exclude them from the Master Policy investigation, no doubt for fear of what would be revealed …

My earlier article on the SLCC’s demands that Scotland’s FOI Commissioner shield David Smith’s anti-client jibes, which can be read here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission demand judge’s husband’s insults against solicitors clients be shielded from FOI investigation

Master Policy Report Suicides revealedSLCC’s Master Policy report revealed client suicides, board members were more interested in attacking victims instead of helping them. Mr Dunion’s decision, commenting on the SLCC’s argument to withhold the already visible written attacks by its board member David Smith against participants of the Master Policy survey stated the SLCC had argued against disclosure of the information, including Mr Smith’s anti-client remarks, saying : “In citing section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA, the SLCC noted its concern that, if disclosed, the terminology used in this email exchange could be misinterpreted, and argued that effective working relationships with key stakeholders outwith the SLCC requires a certain amount of private space for discussions to take place.The SLCC went on to argue that not being able to discuss cases freely and openly in email for fear of being misinterpreted would affect the way it records information in the future, requiring change to its whole way of working and adding expense and delay which would substantially prejudice the free and frank exchange of views.”

Basically, the SLCC are arguing that it’s staff & board members just want to sit there and rip the living daylights out of consumers who fall victim to rogue lawyers while board members shower £135K a year on themselves in lavish expense claims and staff earn anything up to £1350 per week. It sounds reminiscent of the orgy of client hate which fuels the Law Society of Scotland … so its clear where the SLCC has learned its nasty habits from …

Mr Dunion rejected the SLCC’s arguments to keep secret its board member’s bitter attitude towards consumers, and ordered the release of the information relating to Mr Smith’s anti-client jibes, along with a further eight documents withheld by the SLCC relating to the Master Policy research carried out last year which I reported on here : ‘Ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers and also here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Mr Dunion’s decision in full can be read here : Decision 089/2010 Mr Peter Cherbi and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : Master Policy and Guarantee Fund Research

A separate issue which was raised in the investigation – that of the SLCC’s poor quality redactions which led to the identification of individuals names, locations & contact information was dealt with ‘as a separate issue’ by Mr Dunion, and apparently no action was taken by Mr Dunion against the SLCC in this respect, even though individual’s home addresses had been disclosed by the SLCC’s failure to properly redact several documents released under FOI.

A legal insider speaking this morning on condition of anonymity dubbed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as ‘nothing more than a den of bitterness against those who complain about their solicitors’.

He said : “Clients who are forced to complain to the SLCC about their solicitors should be in no doubt they are hated at all levels of the organisation.”

He continued : “It is common knowledge there are those at the SLCC who constantly slur, insult and tell jokes about clients who have written into the organisation after being put in the most difficult circumstances by their solicitor’s failings. I’m sure these poor clients would not be impressed if they knew what was being said about them behind their backs”

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations which is now receiving letters complaining against the SLCC itself, alleging the quango is covering up for crooked lawyers, said this afternoon : “It is clear from the public feedback we are receiving, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is not the solution to resolving the historical problems of bias in the regulation of Scotland’s legal profession which now date back many years.”

slcc suicides1Advice ? Don’t trust a regulator that hates consumers. Based on my previous articles reporting on news & consumer difficulties with the SLCC, I also would not advise any member of the public to trust the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to investigate any complaint against a solicitor. Those who complain may well get the results of an investigation but you can bet there are so many get-out-of-jail clauses for the solicitor concerned, it wont be worth the paper its printed on. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is, as so many now say, nothing more than a front organisation for the Law Society of Scotland and crooked lawyers.

Only fully independent regulation of legal services in Scotland will bring any protection for consumers and I urge anyone who can, to campaign for independent regulation of the legal profession – its in everyone’s interests to do so.

As for Mr Smith and the others at the SLCC who apparently hate clients who dare complain about their solicitors, well, why don’t you all resign and make way for people who the public can trust, instead of people who just sit there insulting everyone and keep taking the expenses & salaries cheques for doing so … what is that called again ?

 

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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s Eileen Masterman quits, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh

Eileen MastermanSLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman. In an eerie reflection of events two years ago which forced the resignation of former Law Society Chief Douglas Mill, EILEEN MASTERMAN, who was appointed Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in 2008 on a salary of £1,350 a week, is to resign after only one year of being in the controversial post at the scandal-hit regulator which deals with consumer complaints against Scottish solicitors. Ms Masterman has been absent from her post for six months, as I reported yesterday here : £70K Chief Executive ‘missing for 6 months’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Secretary dodges questions on scandal-hit law quango

Insiders at the SLCC confirmed late yesterday evening Ms Masterman was leaving, apparently on grounds off “ill health” and that an official announcement would be made soon revealing Rosemary Agnew, the SLCC’s “Head of Investigations” as the new Chief Executive.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailEileen Masterman was caught in anti-client insults scandal at SLCC, reported in the press. During Ms Masterman’s tenure as Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, it was revealed through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act she had slated consumer organisations & campaigners in bitter exchanges with SLCC board members including Glasgow Divorce lawyer Margaret Scanlan & the well known Law Professor Alan Paterson, from Strathclyde University, expressing resentment at campaign organisations who questioned the integrity of Scotland’s legal profession. I reported on that story in an earlier article, here : Insults fly at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Law chiefs launch bitter tirades against campaign groups & law reformers, later picked up by the national media as I reported here : MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members ‘booze culture conduct’ reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney revealed he felt Ms Masterman had mislead him over accounts of meetings. However, Eileen Masterman’s resignation leaves questions over increasingly bitter exchanges between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief, John Swinney, on a matter which I have previously reported where further documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation revealed the SLCC had clearly mislead Mr Swinney over secret meetings between its officials including Ms Masterman and officials from Marsh, the Law Society’s Master Policy insurers.

John Swinney 09032009 to SLCC 1Cabinet Secretary Swinney demanded explanations of SLCC’s minutes contradictions. Letters written by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney dated March 2009 to the SLCC’s Chief Executive Eileen Masterman brand her explanation ‘contradictory’ to details in the Commission’s own minutes : “In your response on the 12th of December to *** subsequent letter on the 2nd of December in which *** had stated ‘clearly you are saying that no date has yet been arranged for the Marsh presentation’. You indicated that a meeting took place with RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) in July 2008 but that no meeting had occurred with Marsh.”

Mr Swinney then went on to state : “*** has drawn to my attention the fact that the minutes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 11th of March 2008 and 7th July 2007 indicated firstly in March 2008 that ‘Jane Irvine confirmed she had arranged an introductory session from Marsh’ and the minutes in July said that a meeting had taken place with RSA. I have to say that I feel there is a contradiction between the correspondence you have sent to *** dated 1st and 12th of December and the minutes of the SLCC meetings of March and July.”

The SLCC’s Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, herself a former Law Society of Scotland Committee member, issued the following statement in response to queries over Mr Swinney’s communications : “As you know, the SLCC came into existence on 1 October 2008 and a few weeks later, in early November, I attended a meeting with the SLCC’s Head of Investigations and a representative from Marsh. I considered that it was necessary and entirely appropriate for us, as senior members of the SLCC’s team, to apprise ourselves of the nature and workings of the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund as these come within our area of responsibility. However, the meeting did not relate to the means by which SLCC would ultimately exercise its oversight function.“

John Swinney 03062009 to SLCCSLCC’s answers to Cabinet Secretary Swinney were far from clear. Ms Masterman’s responses to Mr Swinney’s allegations of contradictions in correspondence between himself, a constituent and the SLCC, to keep secret any meetings with the insurers, fell through after details of the secret meetings emerged in board minutes of meetings of the Commission, leading to further correspondence between the SLCC & Mr Swinney, who went onto brand Ms Masterman’s explanations as “far from clear” after Ms Masterman informed Mr Swinney in letters dated 15 January 2009 “The SLCC has not consulted with Marsh or the Royal Sun Alliance about the operation of the Master Policy” which was contradicted by emails from November 2008 between Ms Masterman & the then Head of Investigations Rosemary Agnew, which read : “We received our tutorial yesterday on the Master Policy from Marsh”.

Eileen Masterman then wrote to John Swinney in a letter dated March 2009 claiming “I have not met with Marsh”, clearly contradicting the course of events where SLCC officials including Ms Masterman had in fact met Marsh.

The increasingly bitter exchanges on the issue of the SLCC’s involvement with Marsh continue between the SLCC, Mr Swinney and his constituent where legal insiders who have read the documents already available through FOI disclosures agree there appears to be a clear intention to mislead inquiries made by Cabinet Secretary Mr Swinney.

SLCC report headerScottish Legal Complaints Commission report on Master Policy revealed clients had committed suicide over conduct of ‘crooked lawyers’ & Marsh. The disputed ‘secret meetings with Marsh’ were held prior to a survey commissioned by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission into the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, which are ‘managed’ by the Law Society to compensate clients of negligent and crooked lawyers, but which in reality never pay out financial compensation for terrible loss inflicted on clients by rogue lawyers. The results of the report, conducted by the University of Manchester’s Professor Frank Stephen, and Dr Angela Melville, revealed that : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Douglas Mill 4Douglas Mill resigned as Law Society Chief Executive after revelations of secret ‘anti-client’ dealings with insurers Marsh. Ms Masterman’s resignation, while officially over ‘ill health’ almost identically mirrors a similar chain of events after Mr Swinney revealed a set of Mr Mill’s own memos, showing secret communications & meetings between the Law Society of Scotland & its Master Policy insurers, Marsh UK which eventually led to the resignation in January 2008 of the then Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill, after video footage of the confrontation between John Swinney & Douglas Mill before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee was posted to You Tube. I reported on Douglas Mill’s own resignation, here : Breaking News : Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill who lied to Parliament, pursued ‘personal vendetta’ against critics – to resign

The memos, written by Mr Mill and his associates at the Law Society depicted a sequence of events where officials including Mr Mill were apparently engaged in operations to target and deny clients any access to legal representation in cases involving the recovery of financial claims against ‘crooked lawyers’. The costs of claims against ‘crooked lawyers’ are met by the Master Policy, operated by Marsh and funded by insurers Royal Sun Alliance PLC.

Cabinet Secretary Swinney was asked for comment on Ms Masterman’s resignation and the discussion between his office & Ms Masterman over the meetings between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Marsh. His spokeswoman said in response : “John Swinney has no comment to make on this matter.”

The Scottish Government & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were both asked for comment today on Ms Masterman’s resignation. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said : “We do not comment on individual staffing cases.”. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission did not give a comment at the time of publishing.

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - Eileen Masterman steps down  as Chief  Executive 19 April 2010SLCC statement on CEO Eileen Masterman. In an update to the original article, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a public release on 19 April 2010 regarding Ms Masterman’s position, stating : “The SLCC has now informed its staff and stakeholders that after a period of illness, Eileen Masterman, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has left the organisation. The Commission wishes her well for the future. Jane Irvine, SLCC Chair, confirmed that Rosemary Agnew, the SLCC Head of Investigations, will continue in her role as Accountable Officer and Acting Chief Executive until further notice. The position of Chief Executive is filled through the Public Appointments process run by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland (OCPAS). The recruitment process will commence in due course.”

 

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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to repay £1.7million public funds as board member revealed to sit on Government Accounts scrutiny quango

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission refuses to repay millions in public funds. IT HAS EMERGED through investigations that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who are angrily refusing calls from consumers & politicians to repay the huge sums of public funds, over £1.7million so far put in by the Scottish Government to create the hapless complaints quango, have a currently serving board member who also holds a paid position on another Scottish Government quango, the Accounts Commission for Scotland which inspects public finances in Scotland’s local government sector, claiming to help achieve ‘best value’ in public services.

lpollockDr Linda Pollock, paid for SLCC & Accounts Commission quango appearances. Documents now reveal that Dr Linda Pollock, a board member personally appointed to the hugely expensive, scandal clad Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, receiving over £209 per day for putting in appearances to the limited number of SLCC board meetings currently published, also receives a staggering £6,216 a year for only 24 days work as an appointee to the Accounts Commission, whose main role is to secure the audit of local authorities in Scotland and to help those bodies to achieve Best Value in their activities. The Accounts Commission website also reveals Dr Pollock holds another quango position within the Nursing and Midwifery Council for which she receives £260 per day remuneration

From the release of the SLCC’s board members expenses claims by the Scottish Government, it can be revealed today that Dr Pollock claimed a staggering £15,635.39 in expenses during the first nine months of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s work during the time it received nearly £2 million from the Scottish Government, and before the law complaints quango even did any work on consumer complaints against members of the legal profession. The figures also show that collectively, the SLCC’s board members claimed a staggering £130K in expenses for the first nine months of 2008 on everything from travel, hotel rooms, to lunches and even car parking.

Best Value ? : SLCC Board members Expenses – What the public paid for.

SLCC EXPENSES CLAIMSInterestingly, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission fought against the release of the above information, claiming its board members would suffer ‘mental health’ problems if the public & legal profession were told just how much was being claimed in expenses. I covered this in an earlier article, here : Expenses secrecy scandal as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission seeks ban on information requests to protect lawyers ‘mental health & safety’

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine. Jane Irvine of the SLCC was asked for comment on whether the SLCC intended to repay the public purse from the vast surplus funds currently held by the Legal Complaints Commission, who insiders now confirm are studying ways of possibly using the millions held by the quango to appease calls from the Law Society of Scotland to reduce the ‘complaints levy’ which pays for the SLCC’s operational costs of considering complaints made by the public against solicitors & law firms in Scotland. However, the SLCC refused to comment, and are rumoured to be very angry the issue of repaying the near £2 million taxpayer funded start up costs has resurfaced in the public arena.

You can read my earlier coverage of the SLCC’s first annual report, announcing the gigantic surplus of £1.5 million here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals it passed most complaints about lawyers back to Law Society, has failed to act on Master Policy report and the Law Society of Scotland’s call to use the surplus to pay back solicitors, instead of many financially stricken public services in Scotland, who could do with the money more than lawyers back pockets, here : Consumer protection ‘a low priority’ as Law Society demand Legal Complaints Commission’s ‘crooked lawyer’ complaints levy be reduced

Politicians and consumer organisations have now joined the call for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to repay the vast amount of public funds which helped to start up the quango.

david_whittonDavid Whitton, Labour MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden David Whitton, MSP for Strathkelvin & Bearsden commented on calls for the law complaints body’s 1.5million surplus to be used to reduce the levy instead of repaying public sector input of nearly 2 million said : “I most. Certainly do not believe the surplus should be used to reduce the levy. If there is a surplus of that size it could be used to greater effect elsewhere in the justice system say in funding more drug and alcohol rehab facilities or running more stringent community sentence orders.”

Mr Whitton went on to call for intervention from the Justice Secretary in the row over the huge amounts of money held by the SLCC, saying “The Justice secretary should be getting involved to ask why the money is not being put to the use it was intended for.”

A senior official with one of Scotland’s main consumer organisations said today he believed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should repay taxpayers the full amounts pumped in by the Scottish Government to start the hapless law complaints body.

He said : “Clearly the SLCC are being selfish in refusing to repay money which could be better spent on public services such as education, health and local government services, who are all being forced to cut back on jobs and the services they provide. It is very unfair for the SLCC to be sitting on that much money when the rest of the country is in trouble.”

When asked about the revelations that SLCC board members also sat on the Audit Commission quango, he said : “If I were in that position, I would find it very difficult to reconcile my duty to ensure best value for public services while at the same time sitting on a quango which is sitting on nearly 2 million pounds, mainly for its own benefit or that of the legal profession.”

The Accounts Commission have refused to make any detailed comment, but were visibly angry in communications over the revelations. Their spokesman would only say : “As the Accounts Commission has no statutory role in regulating or scrutinising the SLCC, this is not an issue over which it can take a position.”

No one was available at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to answer further questions this afternoon and the question of whether the SLCC can be made to repay the millions put in by taxpayers will now be taken up by politicians & campaigners.

Better giving the money to hospitals, education and keeping us all safe & sound, rather than simply emptying it into board members expenses claims and the back pockets of the legal profession ?

 

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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals it passed most complaints about lawyers back to Law Society, has failed to act on Master Policy ‘client suicides’ report

slcc_logoScottish Legal Complaints Commission passed most complaints back to Law Society. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION have issued their first annual report (pdf), revealing a wasted year for Scots consumer protection against ‘crooked lawyers’ with figures showing the SLCC shockingly passed most complaints it had received back to the Law Society of Scotland for more closed shop investigations by solicitors colleagues, which have resulted in many complaints being ‘whitewashed’, a long standing problem the hugely expensive Commission was formed to prevent occurring in the first place.

Complaints stats Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionComplaints against crooked lawyers get a reluctant hearing at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The statistics in the annual report reveal that 3,355 ‘enquiries’ during the nine month period were received by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and of these, 1217 legal complaints were processed by the SLCC’s Gateway Team. However, it transpires that few of these were actually investigated by by the Commission itself, as its own board members had decided to refuse to investigate any complaints or issues arising from legal service provided to consumers prior to the date 1st October 2008, conveniently cutting off most complaints from the SLCC’s remit and allowing the quango to pass the buck back to the Law Society for more of the usual dodgy closed shop complaints hearings.

slcc suicides1SLCC – Client suicides over Master Policy claims are low priority. Even worse, after nearly one year on from the first ever investigation into the Law Society’s Master Policy carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the report also reveals the Commission have still to decide what to do after revelations the Law Society of Scotland operated the Master Policy as a means to ‘allow lawyers to sleep safely at night’ resulting in the suicides of clients, which had been covered up by the Law Society until I reported on the issue in July of last year, which you can read here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Master Policy Report Suicides revealedReport on Master Policy revealed suicides – SLCC still to act after a year of indecision after client deaths were reported by University’s Law Professor team. Stunningly, while Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville of the University of Manchester’s Law Department investigated many aspects of the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, even commenting the suicides of clients caught up in the notoriously corrupt claims system of the Law Society’s Master Insurance Policy – the Professional Indemnity Insurance for solicitors which clients must claim from in the event of negligence or other poor service, the only comment so far from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in its brief annual report neglected to mention the Master Policy report in detail, leaving a distinct impression the SLCC is unwilling to investigate or do anything about the suicide issue, for fear of upsetting the Law Society.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chair. Jane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission speaking on the release of the SLCC’s annual report, made no mention of the suicides and other dire revelations from the Manchester University report by Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville, which was completed in May 2009, rather indicating the SLCC still had a long way to go on its general duties, before even considering doing anything on the Master Policy.

Jane Irvine said : “It was an intense period of time with everyone contributing a huge amount of work to put in place procedures and policies for dealing with enquiries and addressing complaints under the terms of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007.”

Ms Irvine continued : “One of our key objectives is to fully understand the function and purpose of the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund and to understand the experiences of the individuals who have made a claim. The commissioning of research was a first step towards the SLCC exercising its oversight role. The research created an important starting point for the SLCC’s oversight role, which we intend to develop.” So, one year later, and still no action on the Master Policy .. even a garden slug manages a faster pace.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailSLCC Board Member Margaret Scanlan’s bitter email exchanges against consumers led many to conclude the Commission is of little use to the public. The first year of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was surrounded by controversy, in-fighting between staff, and public outbursts revealed in documents which depicted lengthy bitter hate fuelled exchanges between board members and the SLCC’s most senior officials over the exclusion of consumer groups & law reformers from the quango’s investigations into its own duties. There were even media reports of drunken officials who flew into caustic rages against critics in emails between board members, which I reported on here : MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members ‘booze culture conduct’ reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers and I covered just how intense 2009 was for the SLCC here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : The story so far

Eileen MastermanEileen Masterman, SLCC Chief Executive gets £1350 per week to pass complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland. On the issue of the SLCC’s handling of complaints against solicitors from members of the public, Jane Irvine went on to reveal that most complaints the Commission has received so far, have horrifyingly, been passed back to the Law Society of Scotland, after the SLCC decided itself it would exclude any complaint for investigation prior to 1st October 2008 – a highly prejudicial decision which has confirmed to many the SLCC’s board members are too close to the Law Society of Scotland and the legal profession itself.

Jane Irvine said : “We received 3,355 enquiries during the nine month period, and of these, a small proportion were dealt with as complaints under the 2007 Act. The majority were registered by the SLCC, but were dealt with under old powers because the complaint originated prior to our opening on 1 October 2008.

“The majority of complaints were referred to the relevant professional body with the SLCC able to investigate how the professional body dealt with the complaint but not the actual complaint. Two hundred and three of these “handling” complaints originated prior to 1 October 2008 and were dealt with by the SLCC under the powers of the former SLSO.”

A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today condemned the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s attitude towards consumer protection, claiming it was ‘little more than a clearing house for complaints back to the Law Society’.

She said : “As far as I am aware it was not the intention to create an allegedly independent body to regulate complaints against solicitors, which has spent its first year passing most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland who are at the heart of the complaints problems raised by many members of the public to us. However, from the statistics released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in their annual report on actual investigations they undertook, this appears to be all they have done so far.”

She continued : “We are now in a position where we are receiving complaints from consumers against the SLCC itself, with many people alleging the Commission is not independent and is failing to live up to public expectations. From the unwillingness the Commission has shown in its approach to serious issues such as monitoring the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, we do not believe that consumers have any reason at this time to have confidence in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

A client who had a complaint investigated by the SLCC today branded it useless and an affront to Scotland.

He said : “I put in a complaint about my lawyer thinking this new SLCC would treat me better than the Law Society but all they did was pass the complaint back to the Law Society who let my solicitor off the hook. I am now left in a position where I cannot sell my house as the solicitor refuses to hand back my title deeds and is demanding a huge fee for doing work he never did. I think the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is just another apologist for crooked lawyers and the Government should step in to clean it up.”

These latest revelations from the SLCC fit in with an earlier article I published back in November 2009 : Calls to scrap ‘complaints laundering’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as expensive anti-consumer quango revealed as talking shop for lawyers

The SLCC report also revealed the quango has a staggering £1.565 million pounds as surplus, which Lorna Jack, the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland has attacked, branding the sums “unacceptably high”. Ms Jack went onto further attack the SLCC’s lack of work, and demanded a reduction in the complaints levy Penman Levy forced on all Scottish solicitors to pay for the quango’s upkeep & operation.

Lorna JackLaw Society Chief Exec. Lorna Jack. Lorna Jack of the Law Society said : “Considering the small number of complaints which the SLCC handled in its first 9 months, solicitors are right to question how the levy is being used and how efficiently the SLCC is managing its budget, funded mainly by solicitors. We need to ensure that the SLCC offers value for money for everyone involved in complaints. We will continue to work on behalf of solicitors to press for the levy to be reduced for 2010-2011. We believe that the reserves are still too high and should be used to keep the cost of the levy down.”

In response to the Law Society’s demands for a reduced complaints levy, Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s chair commented on the Commission’s financial state, saying : “We are conscious that our set up costs came from the Scottish Government and our ongoing funding comes from a levy paid by individual practitioners and a levy paid when a complaint is upheld. With this in mind, the SLCC has taken a measured approach when recruiting staff and our workforce will only increase in line with the level of work coming to us.”

Ms Irvine concluded her annual report statement by saying “I am confident that the hard work of the SLCC Board Members and staff has laid the foundations of an excellent complaints handling service, built on our core values of accessibility, independence and impartiality.”

MacAskill tight lippedSLCC should repay Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s £2 million of public money for start up costs. However, calls are now being made for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to use their surpluses to repay the nearly TWO MILLION POUNDS OF PUBLIC MONEY pumped in by the Scottish Government to start up the law complaints quango, which could be better spent elsewhere. Repaying the Scots public purse would be a more useful and conscientious use of the SLCC’s vast surplus during these challenging financial times for critical public services, rather than simply handling over surplus millions to lawyers back pockets.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked earlier today, given their gigantic surplus of £1.5 million, would they consider paying back the start up costs from the surplus, if not in one payment, over several payments. The SLCC is yet to give its formal response.

I for one, think the SLCC should fully repay the public purse as hospitals & public services need it and deserve it a lot more than lawyers do …

 

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