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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’

Review panel to consider self-regulation of lawyers. THE Scottish Government has 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 regular 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.”

Speaking yesterday to journalists, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil generally welcomed the review, adding 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”

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),

At pains to point out the ‘independent’ nature of the review, the Legal Affairs Minister said: “This independent review will consider what changes may be needed to the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services to protect consumer interests and promote a flourishing legal sector. This includes ensuring that consumers properly understand the options open to them when something goes wrong and that the regulatory framework is proportionate for legal firms. I look forward to receiving its recommendations in due course.”

Chair of the review – Esther Roberton said: “I am delighted to have been asked to undertake this review. Our legal profession and legal services in Scotland are the envy of many around the world. We should be just as ambitious for our system of regulation of legal services. I would hope we can simplify the current complaints process to maximise consumers’ confidence in the system. I look forward to working with the panel members who bring a broad range of experience across a range of sectors.”

However, questions have surfaced over the actual intentions of the review after legal insiders revealed today the proposals only came about after long discussions between the Scottish Government and the Law Society of Scotland – the legal profession’s main lobby group in Scotland who enjoy the greatest benefit of self regulation.

Legal insiders have suggested the review is not widely seen as a serious move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation.

Rather, this third attempt at addressing failures of regulation and poor legal services provided by increasingly less qualified legal representatives is a reaction to the failure of Scotland’s legal services sector to put it’s own house in order amid diminishing business, a reduced client base, rising numbers of complaints.

The latest Government sponsored shot in the arm of lawyers – which one solicitor said this morning “may end up calling for more public cash and an increase in the legal aid budget” – comes on the back of a complete failure to attract international litigants who are wary of entering Scotland’s famously unreliable, expensive and poor legal services market.

Access to justice and legal services in Scotland are internationally well known as being hampered by slow proceedings in courts dubbed “Victorian” and “out of date” by both of Scotland’s recent top judges.

VESTED INTERESTS – Legal Profession welcome their own review:

The SLCC welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs of a review of how best to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling in Scotland.

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson, one of the review panel members, commented “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this review, in line with the manifesto commitment.  We hope our Reimagine Regulation legislative change priorities paper, which we published last year, will be one helpful contribution to the review.  In that paper we looked at some of the innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions, so we are especially delighted to see that expertise represented in the review panel alongside huge knowledge of the legal sector.   We look forward to this range of experience and expertise being shared as part of this process, and a collaborative approach to identifying priorities and opportunities for reform.”

SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge added, “This will be an excellent opportunity for all the key stakeholders involved to come together in supporting the review as it considers the regulatory landscape in order to support growth in the legal services sector and strengthen consumer protection.  Despite many strengths to the current system, the Board of the SLCC believe there are significant opportunities to make regulation more targeted, more effective and more efficient.”

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement today, Tuesday, 25 April, of an independent review of legal services, saying that current legislation governing the legal sector is no longer fit for purpose.

Law Society of Scotland president, Eilidh Wiseman said: “There have been huge changes in the legal market over recent years.  Changing consumer demands and new business structures are transforming the way legal services are being provided.

“This is why we have argued so strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation which covers the regulation of legal services in Scotland.  The main Act of Parliament governing solicitors is more than 35 years old and simply no longer fit for purpose.  We know the processes for legal complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients.  There are gaps in consumer protection, contradictions and loop holes in the law.  This is why change is so desperately needed to allow the legal sector to thrive and ensure robust protections are in place for consumers.

“The Scottish Government’s independent review offers the chance to build a consensus on how reforms should be taken forward.  It is vital for the work of the group to move as quickly as possible so new legislation can be introduced before the Scottish Parliament.”

The Law Society has highlighted its concerns about areas of legal services which remain unregulated in Scotland.

Wiseman said: “One area we will highlight to the review group is the growing level of unregulated legal services where consumers are at risk if something goes wrong. Many people are unaware that some types of legal services are not regulated – for example, receiving employment advice from a non-solicitor.  They may have little or no course of redress if something goes wrong. Consumers deserve the same level of protection whether they choose to go to a solicitor, and are therefore covered by Law Society client protections, or to use another legal services provider.”

Two former Law Society presidents, Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris, will serve on the legal services review panel.

Wiseman said: “I am particularly delighted that Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris will be part of the review group. With their considerable board-level expertise alongside their combined insight and knowledge of the legal sector, they will prove invaluable to the review process. They understand the need for reform and, having both served on regulatory sub-committees, bring a deep commitment to the public interest.”

Christine McLintock, as former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, was responsible for the firm’s in-house legal service, professional risk management and compliance. Christine joined the Law Society’s Council in 2005 and has served on the Society’s Board since its inception in 2009. Prior to that, she was a member of the Strategy and Governance Group and was Convener of the Education and Training Committee, before to serving as President in 2015-16. She is currently part of the team working on the regulation of licensed legal services providers and is Convener of the Law Society’s Public Policy Committee.

Alistair Morris was appointed CEO of Pagan Osborne in 2005, having built extensive expertise in private client work at the firm. He was elected to join the Law Society Council in 1992, becoming one of its longest serving members at 24 years. Alistair also served as a board member between 2009 and 2016, and was Convener of the Guarantee Fund Sub-committee (now Client Protection Fund Sub-committee) prior to his election as President in 2014. Alistair currently sits on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

The Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, has responded to an announcement by the Scottish Government of an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services.

Mr Jackson said: “I welcome that this review is taking place. It is very important that the legal profession retains the confidence of the public. I know that the Faculty of Advocates has earned that confidence, and that this thorough review will demonstrate that an independent referral bar has been, and will continue to be vital in maintaining an effective and fair justice system.

“The Faculty will willingly co-operate fully with the inquiry and I am confident that the considerable experience of the Faculty’s representatives, Laura Dunlop, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, will be of great value.”

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

 

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POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

Former SPA Board member & crusading JCR Moi Ali. A FORMER Board member of the Scottish Police Authority SPA) – who resigned after raising concerns over a lack of transparency at the Police watchdog – has been invited to give evidence to MSPs investigating secrecy and a lack of accountability at the Police supervisory body.

The decision by the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament to invite former SPA Board member Moi Ali to give evidence – came after a meeting on Thursday, where bosses at the Scottish Police Authority faced tough questions from MSPs on secrecy, alleged cover-ups and the “appalling” treatment of critics.

During the stormy evidence session with MSPs, Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority was forced to admit he withheld a letter from colleagues which criticised plans to hold board committee meetings in private, leading to accusations the chairman was treating other board members “like infants”.

In animated exchanges during the meeting held on Thursday last week, Former Cabinet Minister & Committee member Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) told SPA Chairman Andrew Flanagan he was running a “secret society”.

Mr Neil said: “This is not the Kremlin you are running, it is supposed to be an open public body. We have this secret society … inside the board … deciding on transparency of governance and the whole thing is done without public knowledge, without people out there being able to hold this board to account.”

Replying to Alex Neil on the matter of not sharing the letter, Mr Flanagan said “I didn’t think it was necessary to circulate the letter itself.”

However – Mr Neil told Mr Flanagan he had breached “every rule in the book” by refusing to share the document with the rest of the SPA Board.

Alex Neil went on to describe the Scottish Police Authority as “a shambles”.

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

The full transcript of the meeting has now been published, available here: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

A revealing sample of the Official Report, where Committee member Alex Neil MSP questions witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority & Scottish Government follows:

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I want to address the issue of the letter dated 9 December 2016 from Derek Penman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, to Andrew Flanagan,chair of the board, in which Mr Penman makes a number of substantive points about the governance of the SPA. When was the letter dated 9 December circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan (Scottish Police Authority): I do not think that it has been circulated to the board.

Alex Neil: It has not been circulated to the board. The letter is from the chief inspector of constabulary about the governance of the SPA, in which he makes substantial points. He specifically says: “I accept that it will properly be a matter for the Board to approve the Corporate Governance Framework and my comments are intended solely to inform members ahead of their decision next week”, which was five days after the letter was sent. Why was the letter not circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan: That was because the issues themselves had been well trailed and were well known. Derek Penman’s position on those matters had been expressed to members of the board and so was known. Therefore, I did not think it necessary to circulate the letter itself.

Alex Neil: It is not within your remit to make a decision like that. Under the guidelines and under statute, every board member is entitled to know what the chief inspector of constabulary says. Those were substantive points that, in many respects, were very critical of the governance review. Surely to goodness the letter should have gone to every board member before the meeting in December.

Andrew Flanagan: As I have said, the board members were already aware of the comments that Derek Penman expressed. That had been discussed at our meeting on 5 December and a number of the matters had been covered at that point.

Alex Neil: I find that very unacceptable indeed. It breaches every rule in the book about the role of a chair, particularly of a public organisation, and about the issuance of letters to board members. Every board member should have had a copy of that letter and it should have been discussed at that board meeting in December. You are not running the Kremlin; the SPA is supposed to be an open public body in which you are accountable to the board members. The view of the chief inspector, who has statutory responsibility for such matters, as it was set out in that letter, should clearly have been sent to every board member.

Andrew Flanagan: The letter was addressed to me and I believed that the matters had already been covered by the board and that members were aware of them.

Alex Neil: It was addressed to you, but Mr Penman said clearly that he wanted the letter to go to every board member. He specifically said that the letter was to inform board members at their meeting next week before they reached any decisions, but you took a unilateral decision not to circulate that to board members.

Andrew Flanagan: Yes, I did. As I said, the contents of it were well known to board members.

Alex Neil: That is not the point. The letter should have been circulated. Mr Foley, did you know that it was not being circulated to board members? Did you see the letter?

John Foley (Scottish Police Authority): I do not recall seeing it at that particular point in time.

Alex Neil: So the chief executive did not see the letter either.

John Foley: I may have seen it, but I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: You may have seen it. It is a very important letter from the chief inspector of constabulary. Either you saw the letter before the meeting or you did not. Yes or no, did you see the letter before the board meeting?

John Foley: I am telling you that I do not recall seeing it. I recall having conversations with Mr Penman around that time and him expressing his views to me clearly. Having seen the letter and read it in recent days, I find that it is in accord with a conversation that I had at the time, in which Mr Penman expressed his views.

Alex Neil: So you have seen the letter only in recent days.

John Foley: No, I do not recall seeing it at that point in time, but I might have seen it. A large number of letters come through my office. I just do not recall seeing that one.

Alex Neil: To be honest, given the three years of failure at the SPA, I find it hard to believe that its chief executive does not recall seeing a letter of that importance and with those contents. You do not recall whether you saw it. You are the chief executive and the accountable officer.

John Foley: Mr Neil, I cannot tell you that I did if I do not recall it, and I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: Presumably, every time that you receive a letter, it is date stamped. Is that correct?

John Foley: They usually come in via email. That letter is not addressed to me. I am saying that I might have seen a copy of it. It might have been sent to me; I do not know. I do not recall it, but I did not see an original letter that came in at that time, addressed to the chair.

Alex Neil: Right, so the chief executive did not see the letter—or does not recall doing so. Mr Johnston, when did you become aware of the letter?

Paul Johnston (Scottish Government): I cannot give a specific date when I was aware of the letter. I have discussions with Derek Penman, as chief inspector of constabulary, and I have certainly been aware of some of the concerns that he has had and of the issues that he has raised with the SPA. Indeed, he will shortly undertake a full inspection that will cover those matters. Don McGillivray might wish to say more about the sequencing of when the Scottish Government received particular pieces of documentation.

Don McGillivray (Scottish Government): I saw the letter at the time. The Scottish Government received it at the time, as a courtesy side copy, in hard copy from Derek Penman, on an informal basis. It was passed to me very informally, as a hard copy.

Alex Neil: We learned from this morning’s Herald that the Scottish Government gets a copy of all the board papers before each board meeting. Is that correct?

Don McGillivray: Generally, yes.

Alex Neil: Generally. So you would have picked up that the letter was not in the board papers.

Don McGillivray: Yes, we would have been aware of that at the time.

Alex Neil: Did you mention it to Mr Foley or Mr Flanagan? The letter was clearly intended for every SPA board member. Did you draw to their attention the fact that it had not been circulated?

Don McGillivray: I think that we would have regarded that as a matter for the chair to decide on.

Alex Neil: You would have regarded that as a matter for the chair.

Don McGillivray: Yes.

Alex Neil: The SPA was under attack, as it has been—rightly—for the past three years for incompetence after incompetence, including, it would appear, trying to cover up forcing a board member to resign, and yet you did not think that it was important that the letter from the chief inspector had not been circulated to board members.

Don McGillivray: I am clear that the decision on which papers go to the SPA board is for the chair to make.

Alex Neil: Yes, the decision is for the chair. However, in your role as head of police in the Scottish Government, did you not draw attention to the fact that the letter had not been circulated? The letter clearly states that it should go to board members. You knew that it had not gone to board members, because you get the board papers but, despite the importance of the contents, you did not speak to Mr Flanagan or Mr Foley and say, “Would it not be wise to make sure this letter goes to board members?”

Don McGillivray: Again, I would not have seen that as the role of Government. At the time, I would have seen that as the role of the chair.

Alex Neil: Why, then, do you get the board papers?

Don McGillivray: We get the board papers primarily for information. It is simply to make the Government aware of issues that are coming up at the board.

Alex Neil: And you never comment to the board, the chair or the chief executive on the board papers before they go to the board.

Don McGillivray: We occasionally make comments on the papers, but that is usually on matters of factual accuracy more than anything else.

Alex Neil: Nobody in the civil service thought that, given the controversies, it might be a good thing for the chief inspector’s letter to go to board members. Nobody thought to mention it.

Don McGillivray: Again, I would see a difference in the functions of the Government and the SPA in that respect. I am pretty clear that, under the governance framework that exists between the Government and the SPA, it is for the chair and the chief executive to decide on what papers go to the board.

Alex Neil: It is very clear in the rules, however, that a letter such as the one from Mr Penman has to go to board members specifically. The chief inspector asked for it to go to board members, but nobody thought to make sure that the rules were kept to.

For more on Alex Neil’s questions to witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Government, see the full transcript: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

As the meeting went on, Public Audit Committee members also criticised SPA Boss Andrew Flanagan – over the treatment of former SPA Board member Moi Ali – who raised concerns about a lack of transparency at the Police Authority during a public meeting.

Flanagan then wrote to Moi Ali – expressing his “dismay” over her public objections to holding more meetings in private.

The SPA Boss commented in the letter that she would not be able to participate in key committees as a result.

Ms Ali complained of attempts to silence her – after she warned that public meetings held by the SPA would end up as a piece of theatre.

Ms Ali said such meetings would be a “theatrical playing-out of decisions” that had been reached in private meetings.

In late February of this year, Moi Ali resigned from her position on the board of the Scottish Police authority.

The Sunday Herald newspaper reported Moi Ali’s resignation, stating: “A Scottish Police Authority board member has resigned after believing she was punished for raising concerns about transparency at the watchdog. Moi Ali was informed by SPA chair Andrew Flanagan that it would not be fair for her to participate on the body’s committees after she objected to plans to hold meetings in private. Speaking exclusively to the Herald, she said: “I’m resigning because I don’t think that it is right for anybody to try to silence board members from expressing their views in public.”

As Thursday’s meeting went on, SPA Chief Andrew Flanagan was asked whether he had considered resigning, Mr Flanagan said he had not.

He added: “I think we are becoming more effective, I think it is important that we recognise that there is already a significant degree of openness through public board meetings that we have.”

The Scottish government has also been accused of political interference in the SPA – after it became known Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Government’s Justice Department received board papers including private documents before meetings took place or material was circulated to board members.

During the Committee meeting on Thursday, Mr Don McGillivray –  a civil servant based at the Police Division of the Justice Department – admitted that the government “occasionally” made comments about reports before publication.

Moi Ali and other former board members of the Scottish Police Authority have been invited to give evidence at a future date to be arranged by the Public Audit & Post Legislative Committee.

Moi Ali – Transparency comes first.

Moi Ali – well known for her previous role as Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – is a well established champion of transparency in legal and justice related bodies from the judiciary down.

As JCR, Ms Ali gave backing to the widely supported proposal to create a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Moi Ali evidence Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament

 

Serving as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

Ms Ali gave a full account of her role as Judicial investigator to MSPs, and went on to describe oversight of Scottish judges as “Window Dressing”.

At the hearing, Ms Ali also backed proposals before the Scottish Parliament 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.

The full transcript of evidence from Moi Ali during her appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be found here: Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary,

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.

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.

During her three year term as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali published three hard hitting reports on the lack of transparency and accountability in Scotland’s judiciary:

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012,

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

Further coverage of Moi Ali’s time as Judicial Complaints Reviewer along with reports of her support for transparency and accountability in the justice system can be found here: Moi Ali – Transparency and accountability for Scotland’s judiciary

 

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ECO-JUNKETS: Scotland’s Environment regulator SEPA spends £53k & more time on overseas trips, hospitality & junkets in one year – than going after corporate polluters & illegal dumping

Green regulator spends more time in air than going after polluters. SCOTLAND’S ‘guardian of the environmental’ spends more time in the air on overseas trips and forking out public cash for junkets & air travel than going after polluters & construction companies caught dumping highly contaminated material across sites including housing estates and farmland across Scotland.

Records obtained via Freedom of Information reveal the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) spent £53k in just one year on overseas air travel and expenses associated with the trips, on destinations all across the globe for ‘some’ of the agency’s 1,200 staff.

Additional records disclosed to a media investigation, and now published in this article include a lengthy hospitality register, with entries detailing dinners and events on offer from industries, companies and lobby groups often accused of damaging the environment such as Whisky distilleries.

SEPA staff also attended dinner & hospitality events provided by an alcohol industry lobby group – the Scotch Whisky Association – who bitterly fought against the Scottish Government’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing.

While SEPA staff were being wined, dined & given hospitality by Whisky producers, the green watchdog condemned seven Scotch whisky distilleries for their failure to meet pollution guidelines.

SEPA – Documents reveal Overseas flights & expenses: SEPA – Overseas Expenses 2011 to 2016

SEPA – Documents reveal Gifts & Hospitality:  SEPA – Gifts & Hospitality Register 2011-2016

A report in the Sunday Herald revealed : Diageo, the £11 billion drinks giant and world-leading whisky producer, has admitted breaching seven out of eight of its environmental targets to cut pollution and waste.

One of Diageo’s most polluting plants – with some of the highest emissions of any industrial site in Scotland – is the Cameronbridge grain distillery at Leven in Fife. The plant’s carbon dioxide pollution has risen in recent years to a record high.

SEPA’s latest pollution inventory shows that the distillery belched out 134,211 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013. Emissions were the highest they had been for ten years, rising every year from 2009 to 2013.

The high mileage hospitality ridden environmental regulator once came under the responsibility of former Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

Mr Wheelhouse, who later moved to a legal affairs portfolio, attended an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee. Mr Wheelhouse went onto claim judges should not declare their interests claim judges should not declare their interests because SEPA staff had allegedly faced threats from gangsters.

However, an investigation by the Sunday Herald newspaper debunked the gangster claims by Wheelhouse – after documents passed to journalists revealed no instances of gangster threats, although one SEPA official had faced a farm gate being slammed shut.

SEPA also faced widespread criticism in the media after environmental journalist Rob Edwards revealed the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had kept the locations of 87 polluters a secret, enabling mistakes to be covered up.

In an assessment of environmental performances for 2013, SEPA had refused to identify 1,187 water suppliers and 287 sites handling radioactive materials “for reasons of national security“. But it has rated 83 of the water suppliers and four of the radioactive sites as “poor” or “very poor”.

An ongoing media investigation into the dumping of contaminated waste by Advance Construction Ltd in areas covered by North Lanarkshire Council, has established the Scottish Environment Protection Agency appears to have turned a blind eye to multiple instances of fly tipping and dumping by a variety of companies including Advance.

Papers passed to journalists appear to include warning letters from SEPA on the dumping of material by the firm, yet no action appears to have been taken.

The Scottish Sun on Sunday reports on expenses junkets, & overseas trips of SEPA:

GLOBEROTTERS: Quango blasted over green junket flights

SEPA racks up 420,000 miles in jets in 3 years: Staff travel same as journey to moon and back

Exclusive By RUSSELL FINDLAY Scottish Sun 05 April 2015

JETSETTING civil servants racked up 420,000 air miles in just three years flying on international jaunts to discuss green issues.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency staff took hundreds of trips to destinations like Nairobi in Kenya, Dubai, Thailand, New York and Canada — often to talk about climate change.

And they flew to European conferences held in the likes of Paris, Dublin, Rome, Malta and Copenhagen — covering enough ground to fly to the Moon or 17 times around the earth.

Campaigners blasted the taxpayer funded quango for its globetrotting. Green MSP Alison Johnstone, far right, said: “Sepa do an important job but I’d urge them to think carefully about whether such extensive air travel is necessary to carry out their work.

“I’d be interested to see a breakdown of what these flights were for. “Government agencies should be leading by example if they’re serious about reducing transport emissions.”

Staff travelled to pow-wows such as the “Strategic meeting towards an enhanced coordination of environmental crime prosecutions across the EU” in Amsterdam, and the European Reservoir Safety Regulation forum in Trondheim, Norway.

Eben Wilson, of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “Sepa is finding things to do abroad when it should focus on the local environment in Scotland.

“Overseas jollies which may seem valuable to Sepa really don’t gel with what the public think environmental protection should be about.”

The green watchdog has a £40million annual budget for carrying out duties including monitoring of air and water, enforcing green regulations on businesses and issuing flood warnings.

The agency’s 1,200 staff are led by outgoing £110,000-a-year chief exec James Curran, below left.

Its annual statement says: “It is our duty as an agency promoting low carbon growth to set a good example. “We have continued to look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our business travel.

“Our success in reducing the use of domestic flights by 96 per cent since 2006 was praised during the year in a report by Transform Scotland.”

But the report does not mention international flights taken between April 2011 and March 2014 uncovered by The Scottish Sun.

Sepa insisted the mileage was only 352,000 and added: “In order to protect the wider environment and tackle environmental crime, staff have to work with other countries.

“Our experience and expertise are held in high regard internationally.

“Overseas travel is authorised by senior management and the decision balances environmental benefits of the work with the impact of travel.”

and all for the environment DUBLIN – Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) Working Group C – WFD Groundwater AMSTERDAM – Strategic Meeting “Towards an enhanced coordination of environmental crime prosecutions across the EU: the role of Eurojust” PARIS – Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Interest Group of NEPA (CCSIG) MALTA – 5th IMPEL conference on implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation: “Working together to improve and innovate” COPENHAGEN – Citizen Science Workshop GOTHENBURG – Scotland/Sweden District Heating Mission NAIROBI – Interpol Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee (ECEC) TRONDHEIM – European Reservoir

SEPA: Junket ridden agency puts freebies before environment

In material published on their website, SEPA claims to be a “high performance organisation”

The regulator states: “We will continue to transform our approach to environmental protection, with an aspiration of delivering world- leading services for the people of Scotland. This will be enabled, in part, by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act and we will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government on regulatory reform. We will be making some significant improvements to how we set ourselves up to deliver our services, informed by work we have carried out on organisational design. This will help us to improve delivery and provide better value for money.”

“We will continue to improve our own business processes, so that our services are recognised as excellent. Our new digital strategy will ensure that technology helps us improve our customers’ experience. We will also help communities to participate in the key decisions that affect them.”

“Our people are at the heart of our success as their knowledge and expertise is our greatest asset. Our goal is to transform into an organisation that people are clamouring to work for. We value diversity in our workforce as it brings a range of talents and perspectives. Over the next few years our key focus will be on developing our staff to create an organisation that lives our six Organisational Characteristics.”

“As we change our ways of working, our estate needs to be flexible; as we modernise our estate we will continue to provide the best working environment we can for our staff and we will seek to share our buildings with partners wherever possible.”

SEPA priorities for this year

• Enabling delivery of high quality, consistent and customer-focused services

• Developing and retaining high performance people

SEPA ON CLIMATE CHANGE, NO MENTION OF JUNKETS:

Further promotional material on the SEPA website states: “Scotland is preparing for a sustainable future and is taking steps to limit climate change Society on earth has progressed to the point where we live as if we had three to four planets to exploit. We don’t have three to four planets; we have one planet with a growing population and depleting resources. For everyone to be able to enjoy a good standard of living, now and in the future, we need to ensure that we do not develop in ways that destroy our ecosystems, because that will undermine our potential for future development.”

“The three pillars of sustainable development are the economy, society and the environment. The role of a 21st century environment protection agency is to find ways to advance the goals of all three at the same time. To achieve this we will increase our engagement with businesses and communities to understand their goals, and to show them how focusing on sustainable development can help them achieve those goals. We want to play our part in helping communities see the environment as an opportunity to create social and economic success. We also want to work with our partners to help businesses realise the benefits of taking an approach that reduces carbon, water use,materials use, and waste production.”

“Through our leadership role, we will do everything in our power to help Scotland address climate change to ensure its environment, economy and communities flourish. Our advice and regulatory activity is based on sound scientific evidence allowing us to help Scotland both reduce and adapt to the effects of climate change. Our work will help Scotland achieve its ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and support the transition to a low carbon,resilient and sustainable Scotland.”

SEPA priorities this year

• Acting to combat climate change

• Championing sustainable resource use

Have you dealt with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency? Tells us about it in confidence to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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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

Judicial register required for openness in court. EVIDENCE accumulated as a result of a four year probe by the Scottish Parliament on proposals to require judges to register their interests – points to the inescapable conclusion there is a need for a fully published and publicly available register of interests for the judiciary.

The overall impression reached by many involved in the debate around judicial interests is that creating such a register with full declarations by judges will enhance public trust in judges, and bring the judiciary into line with transparency rules which apply to all other branches of Government.

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.

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 history, list of evidence, Parliamentary hearings and submissions from all sides of the debate including campaigners, legal academics, both of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers, law related organisations, the Scottish Government and Scotland’s top judges in relation to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary is published for readers and those with an interest in how the judiciary operate, below:

Date Petition Lodged: 07 December 2012

Note: This article will be updated as new submissions and evidence are published by the Petitions Committee.

Petition aim: Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament) or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.

Petition History:

Summary:

8 January 2013: The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Lord President, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland. Link to Media report – Declare your interests M’Lords

5 March 2013: The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President to give evidence at a future meeting and seek further information on the proposed New Zealand legislation. Link to Media report – ‘Methinks the Lord President doth protest too much’

16 April 2013: The Committee agreed to write again to the Lord President and seek views from the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Link to Media report – What is there to hide?

25 June 2013: The Committee agreed to invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence at a future meeting. The Committee also agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP, New Zealand Parliament. Link to Media report – top judge ‘should reconsider his position on Scotland Act’

17 September 2013: The Committee took evidence from Moi Ali, Judicial Complaints Reviewer. The Committee agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP, New Zealand Parliament, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Court Service and the Scottish Government. The Committee also agreed to consider the debate that took place during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 on section 23. Link to Media report – evidence of Moi Ali, Judicial Complaints Reviewer

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests

26 November 2013: The Committee agreed to defer future consideration of the petition until after the meeting between the Convener, Deputy Convener and the Lord President. Link to Official Report 26 November 2013

28 January 2014: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the petition pending receipt of a letter from the Lord President. Link to Media report – Private Parly

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. Link to Media report – Recuse me not

6 May 2014: The Committee agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government. Link to Media report – MSPs seek views from scripted top judge

9 October 2014: The Committee held a debate in the Chamber on the subject of the petition. Link to Media report – Debating the judges – full debate at Holyrood, video & official report

28 October 2014: The Committee agreed to write to the Lord President and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. The Committee also agreed to invite the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to give evidence at a future meeting. Link to Media report – Secretary for the judge

9 December 2014: The Committee took evidence from Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, and Kay McCorquodale, Civil Law and Legal Systems Division, Scottish Government. The Committee agreed to consider the petition again in the new year to reflect on the evidence received today, the annual report of the previous Judicial Complaints Reviewer and the new rules and guidance to be published by the Lord President. The Committee also agreed to write to the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Link to Media report – Too many secrets

12 May 2015: The Committee agreed to invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence at a future meeting. Link to Media report – You ran M’Lord

23 June 2015: The Committee took evidence from Gillian Thompson OBE, Judicial Complaints Reviewer. The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, Lord Gill and, when appointed, the new Lord President. Link to Media report – Register, M’Lord

JCR Gillian Thompson OBE evidence to Scottish Parliament: Register of Interests for Judges Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 23 June 2015

10 November 2015: The Committee took evidence from Rt Hon Lord Gill, former Lord President of the Court of Session. The Committee agreed to reflect on the evidence heard at a future meeting. Link to Media report – Judge Another Day

Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015

1 December 2015: The Committee agreed to write to the new Lord President once appointed. Link to Media report – Evidence, M’Lord

23 February 2016: The Committee agreed to include the petition in its legacy paper for consideration by the Session 5 Public Petitions Committee. In doing so, the Committee agreed to write to Professor Alan Paterson, University of Strathclyde. Link to Media report – Declare it, M’Lord

29 September 2016: The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President and Professor Alan Paterson to give oral evidence at a future meeting. Link to Media report – Question Time, M’Lord

22 December 2016: The Committee agreed to consider what further action to take on the petition once it has taken oral evidence from Professor Alan Paterson at its meeting on 19 January 2017. Link to Committee video footage: Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for judges Public Petitions Committee – Scottish Parliament 22 Dec 2016

19 January 2017: The Committee agreed to write to the Lord President and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Link to Media Report: “Transparency is part of accountability” says Law Professor to MSPs

30 March 2017: The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President to provide oral evidence at a future meeting. Link to Media Report: Top judge Lord Carloway to face Parliament probe on register of judges’ interests

Click on each link to view written Submissions to the Scottish Parliament:

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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DISHONESTY RULES: Rogue solicitors guilty of fraud, embezzlement and theft from wills receive soft censures from pro-lawyer Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and courts

Consumers are not protected by lawyers regulating lawyers. SCOTLAND’S legal profession and anyone connected to it – including the judiciary –  often praise the system of self regulation where lawyers look after their own – to the point of taking over and closing any public debate on creating independent regulation of solicitors.

And, of course lawyers will continue to regulate themselves in Scotland – because self regulation is too protected by vested legal interests, because it allows a solicitor to rip off their client, to be judged by his colleagues and to walk away from it, no matter what was done to the client.

Time and again, lawyers look after their own, investigate themselves, appear in front of their friends at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), and, at most, receive a censure, or slap on the wrist from the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the SLCC refuses to identify corrupt lawyers within determination decisions which are only published after being approved by the Law Society of Scotland, featured here: FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

The SLCC print lists of doctored histories of complaints against lawyers, and then refuse to identify the solicitors who ripped off their clients – how corrupt is that!

Compare this to England & Wales, where decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to identified law firms and names of solicitors can easily be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Striking’s off rarely occur, only as a last resort for the members of Scotland’s legal profession must protect their own.

The slick SSDT website invites you, the public – to have confidence in the ways lawyers look after their own.

Yet in decision after decision, the extent of dishonesty during proceedings renders much of what is published in Tribunal ‘interlocutors’ as clever forgeries of the acts of wilful, determined and well practiced thieves – far more determined than will ever be told in public.

The noticeable lack of action by the SSDT to report solicitors to the Police & Crown Office for prosecution, does, as the years go by, verify the position that the SSDT seeks to protect solicitors from the full weight of criminal law – which applies to everyone else.

However, on that rare occasion where solicitors do appear in court, you just know they are not going to jail.

In a prime example of the above, earlier this week Scotland was meant to weep like a child after the Law Society sought to publicise the fact Paul O’Donnell – a solicitor from the law firm of Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge – had sold his house to repay more than £21,000 he pled guilty to embezzling from the Edinburgh law firm Thorley Stephenson, in South Bridge .

O’Donnell, 35, had previously been warned he was facing jail for the embezzlement but the judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe – allowed him to remain free as he had repaid the £21,485 he had obtained dishonestly.

In court –  O’Donnell’s defence lawyer –  Murray Robertson told Sheriff Crowe that his client had sold his house, moved in with relatives, and the money had been repaid to Thorley Stephenson.

Sheriff Crowe was also told O’Donnell had been sequestrated, was declared bankrupt and is no longer practising as a solicitor.

In response, Sheriff Crowe told O’Donnell that cases of this nature usually involved a sentence of imprisonment but, as  O’Donnell had co-operated and admitted his guilt, arranged the sale of his house and returned the money to Thorley Stephenson, Sheriff Crowe avoided sending O’Donnell to jail and instead confined him to his current address from 9pm to 6am for six months.

You may be forgiven for thinking how amazing a lawyer who stole, avoided jail.

However, in the rare occurrences when solicitors do come before our courts, jail is always a last resort for the judge – who are themselves, lawyers.

So, with facts in hand that our courts take a shine to lawyers with tears in their eyes, it should be of little surprise the latest rulings by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal offer mere censures and fines for executry and will fraud, theft and embezzlement – which are crimes to ordinary people in the real world.

Law Society-v-Euan Maxwell Terras

This case involved a solicitor in his writing and executing a Will in which his family were the Primary Beneficiaries. An amazing story, yet only punishment is a fine.

Read the ‘published’ details of the hearing here Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Euan Maxwell Terras

Edinburgh 29 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Euan Maxwell Terras, Sprang Terras, 64 Kyle Street, Ayr; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his acting in the purchase of a property with the ancillary execution of a Minute of Agreement and the drafting of a Will where his son was the residuary beneficiary and found that in doing so (1) he acted in an actual conflict of interest situation in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement where he had a personal and/or financial interest in both; (2) he did not insist that Miss MM consult other solicitors either in the purchase of the property or the execution of the Minute of Agreement when both were actual conflicts of interests; (3) he could not discharge his professional obligations to solely look after the interests of Miss MM both in the purchase of the property and the execution of the Minute of Agreement given the actual conflict of interest in both between him and Miss MM; (4) he called into question his personal integrity/independence in taking instructions and/or drafting the second Will which benefitted members of his family and in terms of which they would derive significant benefit; and (5) his advice, given the terms of the draft second Will, was not free from external influence and placed him in a conflict of interest; Censure the Respondent; Fine the Respondent the sum of £8,000 to be forfeit to Her Majesty; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal.

Law Society-v-Philip Simon Hogg

Philip Hogg was one of a two-partner Kirkintilloch firm – Alder Hogg. His co-partner was his twin sister Alison Hazel Margaret Greer. The case relates to massive overcharging of clients. – usually defined as fraud if not involving a solicitor.

The following is for one client: The Interlocutor final amount is that for £129K of legal work they charged £219K for £90K more than they should have. So, for this one client, in relation to Mr A’s executry, it is accepted that £90K was overcharged, however the Tribunal does not explain why a staggering £129K of executry fees was deemed acceptable.

Read the full ‘published’ version of events in this shocking case here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Philip Simon Hogg

Edinburgh 25 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 22 April 2016 as substituted by the Complaint dated 25 August 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Philip Simon Hogg, residing at 9 Crossdykes, Kirkintilloch, as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure in his obligation to see that the firm in which he was a partner complied with the accounts rules, his failure in his duty to supervise the firm’s office manager and cashier, his failure in his duty to take steps to satisfy himself that fees being charged to executries were properly so charged, his failure to see that at all times the sums at credit of the client account exceeded the sums due to the clients and his continuing to draw from the firm while it was being financed by the overcharges to clients; Suspend the Respondent from practice for a period of five years and Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the suspension shall take effect on the date on which these findings are intimated to the Respondent;

Law Society-v-Jane Elizabeth Steer

Elizabeth Steer worked for a Falkirk firm RMS Law. She previously worked for Russell & Aitken and now works for Allan McDougall & Co.

Ms Steer was accused of falsifying an Affidavit.

Affidavits MUST adhere to the following: 1. both parties must be physically present at the signing i.e. the solicitor (notary public) and their client 2.it must be signed at the locus specified in the Affidavit

The affidavit complied with neither of these tests, instead Ms Steer sent it to her client in England to sign and return.

Problems with the affidavit only came to light when the client gave evidence stating that she had not been in Scotland for a while – but when at Avizandum the Sheriff realised that the Affidavit was signed in Scotland at a time when the client swore she was in England.

To make matter worse, Miss Steer also tried to mislead the Law Society during the Investigation. Read the full published Interlocutor here: Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Jane Elizabeth Steer

Edinburgh 16 August 2016.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 31 May 2016 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Jane Elizabeth Steer, Messrs Allan McDougall, 3 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh as amended; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of her failure to act with trust and personal integrity in connection with the preparation of an affidavit which she purported to notarise on 29 October 2012, submission to the court for lodging an affidavit which contained false or misleading information on 5 November 2012 and subsequent failure on 29 June 2014 to provide a full and candid explanation to the Law Society in connection with the preparation of the affidavit and its sending to the Secondary Complainer; Censure the Respondent;

And remember, readers – wherever there is dishonesty, there is a Scottish solicitor, and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

THE DISHONESTY FACTOR:

An investigation by BBC Panorama –  Lawyers Behaving Badly – featured the case of John O’Donnell, and went on to reveal the startling differences in how dishonesty in the Scottish legal profession is treated lightly compared to England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

 

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AXIS TO JUSTICE: ‘Treat lawyers like Hospitals & Police’, Democracy ‘at risk’ if state refuses to fund litigants – Law Society & Faculty of Advocates attack plans to make secretive, slow Scots courts self funding

Fund lawyers like nurses & public services – say lawyers. DURING TIMES of financial crisis, Brexit woes and growing demands on nurses, doctors, the NHS, Police, education and everything else. public services should be forced to take an equal seat to the spiralling billions of pounds of public cash lavished on lawyers, the courts and legal aid – according to claims from the legal profession.

The demand for equal treatment to public cash comes from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates – who, along with other legal vested interests – are calling for the state to fund all court actions and treat lawyers in the same ‘deserving of public funds’ category as medical care provided by the National Health Service, education, social care and Police.

The latest call from the Law Society of Scotland to increase – by millions more – the flow of public cash into legal business and struggling lawyers pockets – comes in answer to plans by the Scottish Government to hike court fees by up to 25% and turn the closed shop, secretive, slow and unjustly expensive Scottish courts run by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) into a self funding operation.

However, under the guise of defending ‘access to justice’ – loosely translated to ‘public cash for lawyers’ – the Law Society state in their response: “Plans to introduce the full recovery of civil court costs in Scotland would be damaging to access to justice, particularly for those bringing forward personal injury cases and more vulnerable people.”

The Law Society of Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Court Fees goes on to state “any move towards full cost recovery should be avoided” and “that the state has a duty to help people in achieve ‘equality of arms’ in the courtroom.”

The Law Society also claims that a proposal to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would be ‘unjust and unjustifiable’.

Syd Smith, from the Law Society of Scotland’s Remuneration Committee, representing the views of pursuers’ solicitors, said: “We believe it is essential that the courts should provide an independent and impartial forum for resolving disputes between people or organisations and that the state has a duty to help those involved have equality of arms when their cases go to court.”

The Law Society has said that any new system for court fees would have to ensure they were proportionate, taking into account Lord Gill’s Review of the Scottish Civil Courts, and the findings of Sheriff Taylor in his Review of Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation in Scotland.

Mr Smith said: “We think the focus of any review of court fees should be on redressing the balance between claimants and defenders in personal injury cases. However if the government’s aim is to have a system where 100% of the cost of the courts are covered by fees paid by those involved in the actions lodged, it will be vital to have proportionate fee levels.

“The consultation option to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would represent an unjust and unjustifiable increase which would create a very real barrier to access to justice for claimants especially vulnerable people who have suffered life changing personal injuries.

“Any change to the current system also needs to recognise that there is not a level playing field between personal injury claimants and the insurance companies who are the defenders in those claims. Any changes which fail to recognise this problem risk widening the existing gap.”

Going a little further, and backing up their legal vested interest colleagues, the Faculty of Advocates response to the Court Fees consultation claims democracy could not function if the state did not pay for litigants to sue everyone under the sun in the same way convicted mass murderers and fraudsters empty hundreds of millions of pounds of Criminal legal aid from the public purse.

A submission from the Faculty of Advocates to the Court Fees consultation states: “The civil justice system should be funded by the state from general taxation…(it) is a cornerstone of a democratic state…(and) is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant,”

“No part of our democratic society could function without our civil law being maintained by the operation of our courts. There is no warrant to shift the cost of the courts entirely on to litigants when the whole of society benefits from them,”

“As a matter of principle, the civil justice system should be funded by the state, not litigants,” it said.

“The civil justice system is a cornerstone of a democratic state. It is the duty of the state to provide an accessible civil justice system…To the benefit of society at large, the law is made, declared or clarified daily by the civil courts. The civil justice system is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant. The benefits to society justify it being funded in full from general taxation.

“Many state-provided services are funded from general revenue, on the basis that these services benefit the whole of society, and not just those in immediate need of them. Our society accepts that, without regard to their means to pay, individuals should have access to medical care, and that every sort of person should be served by the police and emergency services.

“The Scottish Government has recognised that charging tuition fees to students limits access to higher education for many and that charging for prescriptions might deter people from seeking medical assistance. The Faculty considers that access to the courts is of equal importance.”

The Faculty believed that the proposed increases would be likely to impede access to justice, and that requiring a person to pay expensive court fees could be a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects access to a court.

“The funding of the civil justice system by litigants rather than the state does not protect access to justice, it hinders it.

“If even a few people are deterred from litigating a good claim or defence, that is seriously damaging justice. There may be many more than a few who are so deterred, of course,” said the Faculty.

“The system of court fees exemptions is inadequate to protect access to justice…the thresholds for exemptions are set very low.”

So, the next time you need emergency medical care, the Police, education for your children, help with homelessness or any other public service – remember not to call the well trained and dedicated people who staff these vital arteries of life.

Instead, call a lawyer and insist your taxes, your hard earned savings (if any) and dwindling assets are handed over to fund a solicitor, court clerks, a struggling Sheriff on £160K a year or a £230K a year Court of Session judge – just like the Law Society of Scotland said – because you know – lawyers have your interests and ‘access to justice’ as their priority.

GIVE CROWN OFFICE MORE MONEY – Law Society to MSPs.

In a second take on the more public cash for lawyers approach, earlier this week the Law Society of Scotland also demanded more public cash be given to the struggling Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – who are forced to eek out an existence on a staggering £112 million a year.

In written evidence to a Scottish Parliament Justice Committee inquiry into the workings of Scotland’s “Institutionally corrupt” Crown Office, the Law Society of Scotland has said that consideration will be needed to ensure that the service provided by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and others is accessible and inclusive for all members of society.

In its response to an Inquiry on the role and purpose of the COPFS, the Society also stated that all participants involved in the criminal justice system have responded to a number of reforms during a time of significant financial pressure.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Criminal Law Committee, said: “It’s important that the criminal justice system evolves and makes use of new technology which can help improve the service particularly when there continues to be financial pressures alongside increasing numbers of serious crime reported to the COPFS and legislative developments.

“However it is important to be aware of the potential impact on core services at a local level and on access to justice. There will need to be careful consideration on how best to ensure the service provided by the COPFS and others within the criminal justice system is accessible and inclusive to all member of society.

“Lack of resources has had an impact on the preparation and the time available for presenting criminal prosecutions in our courts. The number of prosecutions resulting in court disposals has decreased in the past five years, however the complexity of the impact of recent legislation, and the complexity of certain types of cases reported, means more preparation and court time is required.”

Previous reports on how much the Law Society of Scotland values your ‘access to justice’ and their vested interests, can be found in the archive of reports, here: Law Society of Scotland

 

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PUBLISH & BE JUDGED: As Lord President, Lord Hamilton gave nod to transparency after media interest prompted decision to publish judges’ expenses claims

Former Lord President Lord Hamilton, now of Qatar court. TRANSPARENCY has not always been the perceived sworn & deadly enemy of Scotland’s jet setting, boozing, partying, public-funds-cheating & tax avoiding-island-hopping-bank-fiddling Judiciary of Scotland  – as one former Lord President proved when confronted by journalists investigating the veil of secrecy around our ermine clad public servants.

For the story of how Scotland’s judiciary finally surrendered details of their own cash splurging expenses claims – began with an investigation by Diary of Injustice during 2010 – prompting a decision by the then Lord President – Lord Arthur Hamilton – to publish judges expenses claims on a quarterly basis ever since.

The task – to break the secrecy around how much public cash our judges were burning up for junkets here, there and everywhere – was admittedly difficult.

The Scottish Government – initially claimed they held no such figures – and none existed.

The same was true of the Scottish Courts Service – eager to keep the open wallet policy of throwing cash at the judiciary out of the headlines.

But, there was Freedom of Information – a tool to be used by all – media and public alike – to break the secrecy of our public institutions no matter how high up the ladder they regard themselves.

Compared to England & Wales – where the judiciary were required to publish their expenses claims and had done so for many years, going that little bit further in Scotland appeared almost impossible, with the resistance encountered from public bodies responsible for  the figures.

The more resistance, the more suspicion there was … something to hide.

On top of judicial salaries in 2010 – around £6.1 million, the judges were topping up their positions with cumulative expenses claims of £200K.

Admittedly perhaps not in the Westminster Parliament’s expenses fiddling league – but getting there – if left secretive and unchecked.

However, once told of the queries – Lord Hamilton – the top man – was having none of it – and the Scottish Courts Service were ordered to make the figures public on a rolling basis – every quarter.

And since 2010, on a more often than not regular basis, the public are able to read up on how much Scotland’s eerily secretive, not-very-diverse-or-representative-of-the-wider-community judges plunder from the public purse by clicking here: Judiciary of Scotland – Judicial Expenses Claims

In one quarter alone this year – from 1 April to 31 June, our Court of Session Senators on salaries of up to £225K a year – claimed a whopping £17,331.57 extra in expenses.

Lord Carloway – who is otherwise occupied in fighting proposals before the Scottish Parliament to create an even greater and more effective level of transparency – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – claimed £1315.66 expenses in the last quarter available.

Lady Dorrian – The Lord Justice Clerk – claimed a mere £338, Lady Smith – £176.55. Lady A Carmichael- £121. Lord Kinclaven claimed a whopping £6,195.35 – most of which falls under the heading of “accommodation and subsistence”. Lord Brailsford required £14.85 from the public purse – the same judge whose name appears on the title deeds of the Laigh Hall – as a “trustee” for the Faculty of Advocates who swiped it from public ownership. Lord Matthews claimed £308.70. Lord Pentland claimed £385.86. Lady Stacey claimed £741.50. Lord Tyree claimed £490.52. Lord Stewart claimed £3,990.75. Lord Burns claimed £103.80.Lord Armstrong claimed £2,709.50. and Lady Rae claimed £439.53. Bringing a grand total of £17,331.57 for a mere three months work for a handful of judges.

It’s a tough life being a Senator of the Court of Session.

All that jet setting, sitting in court, gatherings with the legal crowd at taxpayers expense. resisting declaring their interests.

A tough life indeed – but at least Lord Hamilton allowed the media and the public the chance to peer a little deeper into how our cash flowed out on judicial jet set junkets and judicial expenses claims.

Since retiring as Lord President, Lord Hamilton now serves on the supplementary panel of the United Kingdom Supreme Court (UKSC).

Additionally, from April 2015 – the former Lord President now holds a position on the Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre – where big business can confront each other over – as the title suggests – disputes.

The Qatar International Court (QIC) is based in Doha, Qatar. The Court’s mission statement from their website states: “To provide a world-class international court and dispute resolution Centre that will maintain the highest ethical standards, act in accordance with internationally recognized best practices and deliver justice fairly and efficiently with a firm commitment to upholding the Rule of Law.”

The court is led by QIC President, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers – former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales who served as President of the Supreme Court of the UK from 2009 to 2012.

Appointed along with Lord Hamilton was Edwin Glasgow QC from England, Gopal Subramaniam from India and Justice Laurence Li, a former supplementary judge of the Qatar International Court, from Hong Kong.

The QIC comprises the QFC Civil and Commercial Court and the QFC Regulatory Tribunal established pursuant to QFC Law No 7 of 2005, as amended by QFC Law No 14 of 2009. The QIC has internationally renowned judges with expertise in complex commercial disputes and serves to uphold the rule of law, applying the highest quality international legal standards to civil and commercial disputes between individuals and business entities operating both in and outside the QFC.

Readers will be familiar with Lord Brian Gill’s five day state visit to Qatar LORD JET SET: Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill takes 5 day STATE VISIT to Qatar as investigation reveals judiciary’s international travel junkets spree.

Gill took the junket in preference to appearing before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence on A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

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