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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

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

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

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

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

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

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

Scottish Parliament Action

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

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

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

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

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

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

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

Scottish Government Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review should include judiciary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

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

 

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ROGUES GALLERY: Lawyer who spoke at Holyrood on behalf of Law Society – struck off for dishonesty, meanwhile concerns Police probe at bust law firm Ross Harper may hit Crown Office block on prosecuting colleagues in legal profession

Rogue lawyers & Police probes dog Scots legal industry. A LAWYER who gave evidence to MSPS on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland has been struck off – for serious dishonesty – after earlier findings of professional misconduct a year earlier.

Michael McSherry, who once gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice & Home Affairs Committee on Vulnerable and Intimidated witnesses – was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) after being found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to misrepresentation to two law firms on the purpose of funds being held, and failures to carry out proper money laundering checks.

The findings issued by the Discipline Tribunal also reveal a former solicitor, listed as ‘Ms B’ worked for McSherry.

The unnamed solicitor recently had her practising certificate removed by the Law Society of Scotland, yet she was easily able to find employment back in the legal services sector and began working with McSherry.

While the name of the solicitor is anonymised, the latest incident again reveals a trend where crooked lawyers who are turfed out of the profession land jobs as ‘consultants’ or ‘paralegals’ following them being stripped of their right to practice law.

McSherry was previously found guilty of professional misconduct in 2016 for failing to bank fees taken from clients, and his continuing to act on behalf of the client in his capacity as a solicitor when he was not the holder of a practising certificate, was not affiliated to any practising firm of solicitors and had no professional indemnity insurance cover. Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (21 January 2016)

The latest Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal findings on Michael McSherry, recently published – are here:
Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

The full document listing the SSDT findings on Michael McSherry is here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

Solicitor(s): Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow

Tribunal Date: 27/06/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Edinburgh 27 June 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland dated 11 April 2017 against Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct singly in respect of his misrepresentation to Mr D about the purpose for which funds were held (issue 1), the improper, incomplete and inaccurate recording in the client ledgers (issue 2), and his misrepresentations to Slater, Hogg and Howieson and TLT Solicitors (issues 6 and 7); and in cumulo in respect of his failure to carry out proper money laundering checks on Company 1 and Mr C (issues 3 and 5), his failure to investigate the source of funds from Mr D (issue 4), his poor record-keeping and accounting practices (issue 8), his failure to reconcile bank statements (issue 9) and his failure to undertake training in connection with his role as cashroom manager (issue 10);  Order that the name of the Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that this order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Respondent; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00; and Direct that publicity will be given to this decision and that this publicity should include the name of the Respondent but need not identify any other person.

And, it has also been reported in the media that a Police Scotland probe has been launched into the now bankrupt law firm – Ross Harper.

However, as observers to the ‘twilight zone’ world of Police investigations into lawyers will be well aware, most probes carried out by Police almost never result in a prosecution before the courts, as has previously been the case in relation to multiple cases involving fourteen law firms & millions of pounds of legal aid fraud – which resulted in not one case going to court, reported earlier here: FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

The Sunday Mail reports on the Police Scotland probe of bust law firm Ross Harper:

Cops launch cash probe into bust law firm Ross Harper and Co after partners struck off

The company had offices across Scotland before they were shut down in 2012 after operating for more than 50 years.

By Craig McDonald 06:00, 17 SEP 2017

A police investigation has been launched into the collapse of one of ­Scotland’s top law firms.

Ross Harper and Co, who had offices across Scotland, were shut down in 2012 after more than 50 years in practise.

It emerged that public cash claimed in Legal Aid fees was not paid to ­suppliers and experts hired by the Glasgow firm.

A lengthy probe by the Law Society of Scotland led to four partners being struck off and two more being censured.

We can reveal a dossier has now been passed to police, who have launched a criminal investigation.

The Mail understands the initial focus is on former ­senior partner Alan Miller, 38, who was struck from the roll of solicitors last month.

One expert witness hired by the firm welcomed the probe. Forensic psychologist Ian ­Stephen, who’s owed £5000 in fees, said: “I think it’s appropriate that police investigate.

“If anyone commits a crime, be it fraud or anything else, then you would expect police would make inquiries into it.

“If this happened in any other profession, the appropriate ­professional body would make inquiries and, if there was a criminal element to it, you would expect police to become involved.

“I don’t not see how the ­situation should be any different for solicitors.”

Stephen, a former senior medic at the State Hospital at Carstairs, said: “I felt badly let down by Ross Harper. You should be able to put your faith in a lawyer.

“I was always writing to them to ask why I was not being paid. I was shocked they were so ­blatant about it.”

Professor Hugh Pennington saw £4000 in fees go unpaid.

The bacteriolgoist said: “I was shocked to ­discover Ross Harper were ­withholding payments from me and others. There has been a betrayal of trust.”

Miller and Jim Price, also a senior partner, were struck off last month by the ­Scottish ­Solicitors ­Disciplinary Tribunal for professional misconduct.

Price was employed as general manager of Nottingham Forest in 2013 but left the football club within a year.

Two further partners, Paul McHolland and Joseph Mullen, were censured by the SSDT but are still able to practise.

The SSDT found Legal Aid cash lay in “a drawer”, the firm’s bank account, for up to two years.

The cash was used to help them ­balance their books after the 2008 financial crash.

Accounts also showed a cheque was cancelled and ­reissued three times before it reached its destination.

On at least two occasions, the same tactic was used to hold up payments of £300 to Pennington.

We told last month how legal watchdogs are facing more than £100,000 worth of claims from victims of the firm.

Any compensation would be paid from a Law Society client protection contingency fund.

Ross Harper had 12 offices in Scotland and were the country’s biggest earning Legal Aid firm, with 2006-07 earnings of £1.7million. They were founded in 1961 by ex-law professor Ross Harper.

A police spokeswoman said: “Inquiries are at an early stage.”

A Law Society of Scotland spokesman said: “Concerns were raised about the firm’s ­accounting record following one of our ­routine ­compliance inspections.

“This led to us going to the Court of Session to request the appointment of a judicial factor to the firm in April 2012 and, ­following investigation, we prosecuted all six former partners before the independent SSDT.

“We have a legal duty to report suspicious activity to the ­relevant authorities but cannot comment on whether reports have been made on specific cases.”

The SSDT decision on Ross Harper is here: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

The full document detailing the SSDT’s findings in relation to the Ross Harper law firm partners can be found here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

Solicitor(s): Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain

Tribunal Date: 08/05/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Perth 8 May 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the amended Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Find the First Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that (a) The First Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper and in particular during the period when he was the designated Cashroom Manager being 1 April 2010 to 5 April 2012, operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.

Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the First Respondent, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers.  Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011: (b) The First Respondent submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The First Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (d) The First Respondent in his specific capacity as Designated Cashroom Manager between 1 April 2010 and 5 April 2012 failed to supervise the cashroom staff and cashroom systems to keep proper accounting records and that in breach of Rule B6.13 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011 and Rule 12 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001; (g)The First Respondent failed to settle invoices rendered by professional expert witnesses timeously, and that despite having received reimbursement of these sums from third parties;

Find the Second Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that The Second Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011;  Find the Third Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that The Third Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of  a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; Find the Fourth Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that (a) The Fourth Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the Fourth Respondent as Joint Managing Partner, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers. 

The fees in these instances were deducted for the purposes of assisting the firm’s cashflow and financial position and to conceal the true level of the firm’s liabilities and overdraft. Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (b) The Fourth Respondent countersigned and submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The Fourth Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; 

Order that the name of the First Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the First Respondent; Censure the Second Respondent; Censure the Third Respondent; Order that the name of the Fourth Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Fourth Respondent; Find the Respondents jointly and severally liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00 restricted in the case of the Second Respondent to 20% and in the case of the Third Respondent to 10%; and Direct that named publicity be given to this decision, declaring that such publicity shall not contain the name of the clients or otherwise identify them as the publication of their personal data is likely to damage individuals’ interests.

Alistair Cockburn Vice Chairman

Second Interlocutor:

The Tribunal having made findings of professional misconduct in respect of matters complained of by Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia, appoints them if so advised to lodge statements of claim with the Clerk to the Tribunal at Unit 3.5, The Granary Business Centre, Coal Road, Cupar, Fife, within 21 days of the date of intimation hereof.

Alistair Cockburn,  Vice Chairman.

Compensation Interlocutor:

Glasgow,   21 August 2016.  The Tribunal having made a finding of professional misconduct against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonards, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock, and James Price formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark, and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Having allowed 21 days for the Secondary Complainers, Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow; and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia to lodge their claims for compensation;  Having received confirmation from Dr Peter Thornton that he does not wish to submit a claim for compensation and having received no correspondence from said Thomas Aulds, Ian Stephen, The PRG Partnership, Ewa Daly and David Bartolo within said 21 days; makes no further order and no further finding of expenses.

Alistair Cockburn, Vice Chairman

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Cases of repeat offender rogue lawyers rise at Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

 

 

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LEGAL COSTS: Ask your solicitor ten questions about costs before your legal expenses run up thousands in unnecessary work & bills – or result in your lawyer taking your home & savings to pay for it

Questions to ask your solicitor – walk if you don’t like the replies. IN SCOTLAND, there are few, if any non lawyer controlled sources of advice to legal services consumers on how to manage client relationships with solicitors, how to control legal costs, and what to do when something goes wrong and your lawyer rips you off.

Client protection – is a myth. Given three decades of evidence that thousands of clients have been ripped off every year by their once trusted solicitors, the only people who believe a complaints system run by lawyers, managed by lawyers and protected by lawyers –  are fantasists, and the Law Society of Scotland.

There are no background record checks available on Scottish solicitors, and the only ‘help’ on offer to clients when their relationship with their solicitor breaks down – is provided by the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), a regulator backed by the Law Society of Scotland, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland. You get the picture.

However, in England & Wales, the landscape is a little more consumer friendly, with the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) providing a more independent form of advice and help to consumers.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority also publish complaints and regulatory data on solicitors and law firms – a must have service for anyone considering using a solicitor which does not currently exist in Scotland.

As things currently stand in Scotland – if you are unable to check up on your solicitor’s regulatory history via an independent source, the best advice is to walk away – or what happens next is your own fault.

Self regulation by lawyers, pleas to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament for help will not put right your legal problems or what your solicitor did to you.

A handy guide published by the Legal Ombudsman, reprinted by DOI in this article, gives a list of ten questions consumers and clients of solicitors should ask their legal representatives before taking on representation and expensive legal services.

There are further tips in the full LeO leaflet, so please download it and read thoroughly before engaging legal representation.

This guide was written for the English legal services market, and you may be an English reader, so go right ahead and ask you solicitor these ten basic questions on costs.

However, the same questions apply as much in Scotland as anywhere else –  and anyone using a Scottish solicitor should consider asking these same questions.

If you don’t like the answers you receive, or don’t get any answers at all – then the best consumer advice possible is to protect yourself and walk away.

At the very least, you will have saved yourself hundreds, or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for something involving a lawyer which may well have ended up going wrong anyway.

Why put yourselves through a five year heartache losing your savings to a lawyer, when ten little questions and answers may save you a whole lot of trouble.

The introduction to the leaflet from the Legal Ombudsman states: “If you use a lawyer, he or she should talk to you about the cost of their services. But you should also understand their charges. We have come up with ten questions to ask your lawyer about the cost of your service. We’ve also included some top tips and explained the terms used to help you get the most from conversations with lawyers about costs.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect your lawyer to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.

Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may affect things too. However, most services are straightforward and your lawyer should give you a clear idea of what you will be charged from the start. Even if things do get complicated, your lawyer should warn you when this happens, so there shouldn’t be any surprises in your final bill.

A lawyer who values good service will happily answer your cost-related questions. Lawyers also have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price.”

Question 1  Will I be charged for a consultation?

Finding the lawyer who is right for you and the service you need is important. A consultation by phone, face-to-face, letter or online can help you make your decision. A lawyer can charge you for a consultation but they should tell you before you book and explain any conditions. For example, they may offer the first 30 minutes free but charge for time above that.

A lawyer should speak to you about costs and provide the best possible information so you can make an informed choice.

If you have a consultation, make the most of the opportunity. Do your research to find the right lawyer – you can check online, talk to friends and family, or speak to consumer organisations to help you make your choice.

Question 2  “How do you cost your service?”

This question can help you shop around to get best value for money. Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service. Understanding why the quotes differ can help you make the right decision. For example, one lawyer may be more experienced or an expert in the area of law your case involves. If you have a complex case, you might think it’s better to pay more as it may improve the outcome and cost you less in the long run. With a fairly simple case you might decide you don’t need that level of expertise, so it may be better value to go with the cheaper estimate.

Experience and skill are just two reasons why costs may differ. There are now more ways than ever to provide a legal service which can have an impact on what you pay. For example, you can now buy services that are phone or web based rather than face-to-face. Providers who offer this type of service may save on rent and backroom costs and might therefore offer a cheaper price to customers. Understanding if this type of service works for you will help you decide if it is, or isn’t, value for money.

Estimates may vary for a whole host of reasons. Ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer so you can pick one that suits you.

Question 3 “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”

Lawyers have different ways of charging and their charging method may also vary according to the service. For example, they may offer a fixed fee for writing a will, but an hourly rate for a probate service (the administration of a will when someone has died). Find out what charging method the lawyer will use and ask them to explain it to you in detail. Questions 4 and 5 help with understanding fixed fee and hourly rate charges.

Conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) are also known as ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements. If you lose, you won’t, in general, have to pay your lawyer’s fees, but may need to pay some out of pocket expenses such as barrister’s fees or court fees. You may also be liable to pay some of the other side’s costs but it is possible to get insurance to protect against this. If you win, you will have to pay your lawyer’s fees and in addition there is usually a success fee which is intended to cover the risk that the firm are entering into with this type of agreement. You should in most cases, however, be able to recover your fees (including any success fee) from the other side. If you are thinking about entering into one of these arrangements, make sure you ask detailed questions so that you fully understand the terms and conditions.

Contingency fee agreements are also a type of ‘no win no fee’ agreement. If your lawyer agrees to represent you under a contingency fee agreement — which should not be confused with a conditional fee arrangement – they will be able to claim a percentage of any money they win on your behalf plus expenses. If you lose the case, you won’t be charged a fee, but you might still have to pay other costs (which could include the other side’s legal costs too).

The contingency fee percentage must be agreed in advance. You should also check whether the lawyer will deduct any expenses before they take their contingency fee or after as this can make a significant difference to the amount you finally receive. If the percentage you are asked to pay is very high, you could end up with very little – even if you win.

Question 4 “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover?  Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways. It can be easy to assume that it covers all costs for the service you need. In some cases that may be true, but it may also just refer to the lawyer’s fees. For example, a ‘fixed fee’ in a property case may, or may not, include charges related to searches. Sometimes a lawyer may offer a ‘fixed fee’ for a stage of the case, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking your lawyer exactly what they mean by ‘fixed fee’. It’s not a silly question; the term isn’t self-explanatory.

Lawyers will sometimes give you an estimate of the costs. This isn’t the same as a ‘fixed fee’, so check what your lawyer means. This can be important as sometimes a lawyer may charge a fixed fee for a particular stage but give an estimate for the next stage. If that happens, or you aren’t sure, check what your lawyer means and ask for an estimate for the total cost of the case.

Question 5  “You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. This should compare reasonably with your final bill. If you aren’t sure, then ask your lawyer to give you an estimate for the whole service. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much it will all cost. Ask so you know how certain the estimate is. Having a range of costs might be more helpful than a single number, which could shift up or down. The important thing is to understand how much the total bill could be.

You are entitled to ask the lawyer to set a limit on the costs. This means your lawyer has to check that you are happy to continue if the spend approaches the agreed threshold. Setting a limit can help you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.

Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks – check if that’s how your lawyer works. Make sure you feel comfortable with the way they charge.

As with ‘fixed fees’, ask if there are any other costs that won’t be covered in the hourly rate.

Question 6 “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”

There may be circumstances where costs do change. This is most likely if new information or developments make a case more difficult. For example, in a divorce case much is dependent on the other person’s cooperation to resolve it quickly. Even if both people intend to behave amicably, sometimes that resolve breaks down. If your costs look like they are changing, ask your lawyer about it. In general, your lawyer should tell you as soon as they are aware of any changes, but you don’t have to wait to ask for an explanation. Another option is to ask, when you choose your lawyer, if their original estimate is likely to be breached. If you have agreed a spending limit (see question 5), then your lawyer should stop work until you confirm that you want to continue.

If a case gets complicated even a ‘fixed fee’ arrangement can change. Your lawyer should explain when this might happen and also set out the terms and conditions in your client care letter. Make sure you understand and ask if there is a ‘get out’ clause to say if additional costs can be charged.

Remember, you always have options, even in the middle of a legal transaction. If there is a big hike in the costs of using a lawyer, then your lawyer should tell you about them and let you know what your options are. You could use a different specialist who might cost less but take longer, or only use email to contact your lawyer. There might also be some stages in the process that can be missed out. Ask your lawyer how you can work with them to reduce costs.

Question 7 Are there any extra costs?

This really is a catch-all question to help you budget for your service. You are basically asking your lawyer if they have given you all the information they reasonably can to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises in the future. Examples of the sort of information this question might raise are additional costs for things like expert reports (such as from a doctor), or photocopying. Some firms use premium rate phone numbers, which could add unexpected costs to the final amount you spend for your service. Use these examples as a prompt to discuss this issue. Your lawyer should also tell you if you are likely to incur any bank charges. For example, you might need to make a CHAPs payment (same day electronic transfer) which can cost over £20 in a property transaction.

Finally, don’t forget to check if your estimate is inclusive of VAT. Your lawyer should tell you, but check so that you don’t get a higher bill than you’re expecting.

Question 8 “Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?”

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs. There can be some fine-print with different insurance options that you need to understand, so ask lots of questions to make sure you know what you are signing up to. Some insurances, like ‘after the event’ or ‘before the event’ insurance, could cover you for some things but not for others. Ask your lawyer for more information.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs. There are different programmes for different types of help but the best known is legal aid, which provides free legal advice from lawyers who are registered with the service. Even if your lawyer isn’t registered to provide legal aid they should tell you about it so you have the option of going to a lawyer who can.

Question 9 “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. You may be asked to pay some money at the start either to cover certain expenses or as an advance payment of fees. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate. Asking the question might help you find a lawyer whose service fits your personal circumstances.

Question 10 “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works. You should not be charged by a lawyer for looking at your complaint – it is very poor service if they do. When you appoint a lawyer they are also obliged to let you know about the Legal Ombudsman who can help you to resolve your complaint if you and your lawyer can’t reach an agreement.

Note – if you disagree with legal bills in Scotland, cases have revealed solicitors often employ threats and legal action for demands to be met within seven days. In some cases solicitors have applied to sequestrate their clients for disagreements on legal bills, and willing, compliant local sheriff courts staffed by familiar clerks and members of the judiciary often grant such orders with little regard for the facts or any representations from clients who question the integrity of legal fees.

SCOTLAND – Consumer protection against rogue solicitors and law firms does not exist.

How bad is the Law Society of Scotland when it comes to protecting consumers? The answer is  very bad. The Law Society of Scotland is a lobby group for the legal profession which puts lawyers interests first, before clients, the public, or anyone else. Do not expect client protection from a system where lawyers regulate themselves.

Read previous articles on the Law Society of Scotland here: Law Society of Scotland – A history of control of the legal profession, and no client protection.

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – The pro-lawyer tribunal which determines ‘punishments’ for solicitors after complaints have endured an eternity at the Law Society & SLCC, can be found here: Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – Pro-lawyer protection against client complaints

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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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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INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England, but not in Scotland – UK Solicitors Regulation Authority ‘years ahead’ of pro-lawyer Scots legal watchdogs

Check the regulatory history of your lawyer, not for Scotland. FAR REMOVED from the haven of corrupt and dodgy law firms which shape the landscape of Scotland’s greedy, overbearing legal services market, clients of lawyers in England & Wales have the opportunity to check any solicitor’s record – before shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to a hard working lawyer – or a lazy crook.

The Check your solicitor’s record service – operated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) allows anyone to find out if a solicitor or law firm operating in England & Wales has regulatory decisions made against them in relation to complaints of ripping off clients or providing poor legal services to UK consumers.

However, no such service is on offer in Scotland, due to lobbying from the powerful, shady clique of the Law Society of Scotland and other Scots legal vested interests – who are determined to maintain anonymity of corrupt and incompetent legal practitioners north of the border.

And, instead of providing consumers with a verifiable means of checking up on Scottish solicitors and law firms, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) publish only a selection of heavily edited and censored descriptions of cases which pass through the anti-consumer revolving doors of the Law Society-controlled pro-lawyer regulator.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the Scottish legal complaints regulator avoids identifying corrupt and dodgy lawyers within determination decisions – which are only published after being approved by members of the Law Society of Scotland : FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

Admittedly, the service on offer from the SRA in England & Wales does have some drawbacks – for example, not all regulatory decisions are published, and there are time limits to their publication scheme.

However, the facility is a huge advantage over what prospective and existing clients of Scottish solicitors face in efforts to find an honest lawyer north of the border – which some have likened to entering into a game of Russian Roulette with a six barrelled shotgun.

Recent regulation decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to law firms and solicitors operating in England and Wales can be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority

A helpful guide on how to use the SRA’s solicitor regulation search service lists the following tips:

You can use our solicitor record check search function to have a look at regulatory decisions that we have made against regulated individuals and firms.

You can search decisions by the name of the solicitor, firm, or other regulated individual, SRA ID number (also known as their roll number) date the decision was made, or type of decision.

You can also view a list of recently-published decisions.

To search for decisions about an individual or firm, enter their name and/or ID number in the search fields. To narrow your search, choose an outcome type and/or specify a date range.

To see all closures (also known as “interventions“) during May 2009, for example, leave name and ID fields blank, choose outcome type “closure” and specify the date range 1 May 2009 to 30 May 2009.

Only the most recent published decision against any firm will be displayed. To view a list of all published decisions against an individual made within the past three years (decisions are removed after three years), you will have to go into the record.

To check whether a law firm is regulated by us, use our Law firm search. To check whether an individual is regulated by us, use the Law Society’s Find a solicitor search.

We aim to ensure decisions we publish are accurate and up to date. However, this website does not offer a complete picture of an individual’s or firm’s regulatory record. For example, it is possible that, since publication, a firm has ceased to practice or a solicitor is no longer on the roll of solicitors. Most published decisions are removed from our website three years from the date they were published.

We have published a large number of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) findings, dating from early 2005 to 1 July 2011.

We do not publish findings made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal; these are published by the Tribunal itself.

Please note that the Tribunal publishes findings resulting in a strike off, indefinite suspension or revocation of authorisation of a firm indefinitely. Decisions to suspend for a fixed period remain on its website for the duration of the suspension or three years (whichever is the greater). All other decisions remain on its website for three years. If you are unable to find a decision on the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal website please contact Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority began publishing some decisions in January 2008 – the same year the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created by the Scottish Government.

In comparison, since the SLCC came into being in 2008, the Scots legal services regulator has not identified one solicitor in any complaint investigated by the Law Society controlled quango – leading to a significant imbalance in the rights of Scots consumers to find out just how crooked their lawyer really is.

And, more often than not, the same Scottish law firms and same solicitors are subject of similar complaints in relation to professional misconduct, negligence, dishonesty, unashamed theft of client funds and some of the worst excesses which in any other arena would rate as criminal behaviour.

Yet, no one in Scotland is able to find out the regulatory history of their solicitor. No one. Unless by chance, clients who find themselves in the position of having to make a complaint against their solicitor decide to publicise their case and name the lawyers concerned.

A recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors’ self regulation & complaints system

Pro-lawyer regulator calls for solicitor complaints reform. THE ‘independent’ regulator of Scottish solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is calling on the Scottish Government to consult on reforms to the “complex and legalistic” system for handling complaints against solicitors and other legal practitioners in Scotland.

The ‘independent’ SLCC – controlled by the Law Society of Scotland and funded by legal fees from clients – has presented a paper titled Reimagine Regulation to Scottish Ministers – setting out six key priority areas the SLCC believes the Government, which has committed to consultation on a review of legal regulation, should focus on.

Explaining that the present system requires different processes depending on the level of seriousness attached to the complaint – inadequate professional service, unsatisfactory conduct or professional misconduct, with complaints sometimes having to restart under a different process – the SLCC wants to “reduce the whole process to three core stages”, namely:

1. A single investigation – ensuring there are a range of flexible options to filter out vexatious and similar complaints and allowing processes proportionate to different levels; £200 or £20,000

2. Determination – by the same organisation in relation to lower level issues, or by prosecution at the professional tribunal for conduct which may lead to removal from the profession;

3. Appeal – to ensure accountability and meet the requirements of natural justice there should be a single opportunity to appeal at the conclusion of the process.

However, any limit of compensation is widely seen as a cave-in to the legal profession, given the fact accumulative financial losses suffered by clients of rogue solicitors can well exceed the £20,000 limit.

Reimagine Regulation – How pro-lawyer regulator views regulation.

The Law Society backed SLCC – is also calling for consultation on whether it is time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints against the legal profession. The single investigatory body was the previous model when the Law Society of Scotland handled all complaints against it’s own member solicitors.

To achieve faster, more efficient, and more targeted complaints handling, paper claims the government must focus on a simplified customer journey, not institutions and legislative detail. A consultation should focus on the key questions:

a)  Is it time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints?

b)  If not, how could stages and hand-overs be dramatically reduced – for example, a single investigation covering service and conduct, even if conduct is still prosecuted at an Independent tribunal?

c)  How many chances of appeal should there be, and is it time to consider the Sheriff Appeal Court as a more proportionate forum than the Court of Session for consumer disputes

The SLCC contends other areas should also be explored such as:

* Whether complaints bodies should have more discretion, with appropriate safeguards, and less prescriptive legislation;

* How to ensure that compensation awarded is paid to the consumer;

* How issues of unfair fees should best be addressed;

* Whether it is time to move from “one size fits all” regulation to a focus on the areas of greatest consumer risk, engaging experts on how to tackle high risk areas;

* The appropriate balance between professional regulation and market regulation;

* And whether the SLCC should have the power to issue rules on how lawyers should handle complaints at first tier, and the power to impose “strict liability” offences where they do not have, or follow, their own internal process.

Reimagine Regulation – Appendices & further research:Following on from claims put forward in the SLCC’s call for a consultation, the regulator contends a framework Act allowing “proportionate and targeted” regulation would resolve complaints faster, benefiting consumers and lawyers; resolve complaints more cost efficiently, reducing the SLCC’s operating costs paid for by the profession; increase the effectiveness of redress, a key public protection; reduce risk to consumers; and increase market confidence.

Commenting on the SLCC’s call for what some dubbed a window dressing exercise, former Law Society Director and now SLCC Chief executive Neil Stevenson said: “This is not about criticising current institutions or approaches – all organisations involved work hard to make the system work as best it can, and Scotland has an internationally well respected legal sector. However, after years of minor reforms we believe it’s time to engage the Scottish public and legal community on what results we are trying to achieve with regulation and complaints handling, and the simplest and most efficient way to do that. We hope this paper provokes broad discussion, and that the fantastic opportunity of a review of current arrangements looks at big issues and not just adjusting technical detail with the current model.”

SLCC chair Bill Brackenridge said: “There is much to be proud of, but we are frustrated at a system which is more complex and legalistic than it needs to be. Based on feedback from lawyers and consumers, and drawing on expert evidence, we believe any consultation should aspire to improve the current system.”

Brackenridge continued: “Last year we helped hundreds of consumers reach an early settlement, and some areas of our work, like mediation, get hugely positive feedback from lawyers and consumers alike. We awarded over £400,000 of redress, but we also dismissed cases which were clearly unmerited, providing independent assurance and confirmation that a lawyer has actually provided an acceptable service.”

Despite claims of high compensation payments, neither Mr Brackenridge or the SLCC has published figures revealing actual financial losses suffered by clients, compared to settlements and compensation awarded by the SLCC to victims of rogue solicitors.

Reimagine Regulation

The current arrangements for legal complaints, and how complaint outcomes are used to improve standards in the legal sector, are too complex, involve too many stages, and pass through too many organisations.  Faster, more efficient, and better targeted regulation can be delivered, to the benefit of consumers and the sector, by significant legislative reform.

The SLCC’s paper Reimagine Regulation – SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation sets out six key priority areas we believe the government should consult on when they deliver on their commitment to launch a ‘consultation to review legal regulation’.  The changes would benefit both consumers and lawyers, by:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

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

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

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

5. Embedding the consumer principles

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claims their aim in this mainly public relations driven exercise – is to ensure that if there is a government consultation or review around the regulation of legal services then the key issues we set out are opened up for debate by consumers, the public and lawyers.  Final decisions on these issues are for the government and for parliament.

Scottish Ministers have so far not commented on whether they will launch any loaded consultation on the SLCC’s published paper.

Get involved

The SLCC has issued a call for consumers and the legal profession to become involved in the debate:

If you are interested in this area and wish to assist the debate then you can:

* publish an article discussing our ideas

* invite us to come to speak to you, or ask to visit us, or for us to send further information

* Contact your MSP or your professional body

* blog or tweet – copy us in @slcccomplaints and use the hashtag #ReimagineRegulation

* share views with the SLCC by email to consult@scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

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FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings – as derisory payments to executry fraud & legal malpractice victims revealed

‘Independent’ lawyer’s self regulator continues to look after profession. SCOTLAND’S ‘independent’ self regulator of solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has refused to publish the identities of tens of high profile law firms and solicitors across the country involved in serious malpractice resulting in upheld complaints & compensation payments to clients.

The ‘independent’ SLCC – controlled by the Law Society of Scotland and funded by clients legal fees to solicitors – also revealed brief details of case summaries where small payments with a range from a miserly £1 to £299 and up – have been paid out to the bereaved families of deceased loved ones.

The paltry compensation sums were paid out after lawyers look advantage of a regular scam by ripping off the wills & executry estates of dead clients.

Even in cases where tens of thousands of pounds were plundered from bank accounts and assets relating to wills handled by solicitors – a mere few hundred pounds were paid out to families & loved ones who were intended to inherit the possessions of their relatives.

The SLCC has refused to publish figures quoting actual payments or any figures identifying the extent of the actual losses suffered by victims after lawyers fleeced client assets and executry estates.

Instead, the lawyer backed self regulator has set out a vague structure of figures, which allow the lawyer backed regulator to make spurious claims of protecting consumers while in actual fact failing to deliver back to victims what is estimated to be tens of millions of pounds a year defrauded out of the executry estates of deceased Scots and their families – by the legal services industry.

Mired in accusations of pro-lawyer bias and corruption – the SLCC has also announced its latest 4 year strategy to:

* Increasing public awareness of the right to make a complaint about a lawyer and increasing the SLCC’s visibility

* Working to understand the public’s and the legal profession’s expectations of professional standards, including highlighting complaints processes

* Developing a culture of learning, so that  complaints made to the SLCC can be used to improve levels of service, as well as national professional standards and regulation

* Further developing the SLCC as a high performing organisation

* Making sure that compensation or fee refunds awarded by the SLCC are always received by consumers (in a tiny minority of cases this doesn’t happen at present)

Commenting on the strategy announcement, SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge said: “We’ve finalised our strategy at a time when consumer rights have been climbing the public agenda”

He continued: “And we’re now planning for the years ahead.  We’ll have been running for ten years in 2018 and we now have a path, for then and after, to a more effective and efficient system for legal complaints.  Working in partnership will be crucial to its success and I’d like to thank our stakeholders for an open and challenging debate around the consultation.”

However, a recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

SOUNDS FAMILIAR? Read on – Your solicitor could be among the guilty:

Determination Decisions

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission now publishes anonymised Determination decisions – which give a brief description of complaints decided upon by the SLCC.

However, the heavily redacted case summaries crucially exclude the identify of law firms and solicitors involved in the complaints – meaning any consumer could unknowingly be using the same law firm or talking to the same solicitor – who has just been found guilty of dodging complaints investigations and ripping off other clients.

The SLCC claims it believes the information is useful information for both potential complainers and practitioners and “that this demonstrates better transparency of our process”

However, the SLCC goes on to state “We need to balance that transparency with our duty to protect confidentiality. Because of that, we publish anonymous complaint information and have, as far as possible, removed any identifying features.”

The SLCC further stated “It is also important to bear in mind that information given about a complaint is only a brief summary of the Determination Committee’s findings. In making decisions, consideration will have been given to specific facts and circumstances which, again for reasons of confidentiality, cannot be provided here. We hope, however, that the published information is sufficient to benefit both potential complainers and also those who provide legal services.”

Where a complaint has been upheld, the total amount the SLCC can award is capped at £20,000 – a cap set by the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament after the legal profession lobbied against higher amounts of compensation during the passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2008.

Compensation for actual loss (quantifiable): Level 1 : £1-£299, Level 2:  £300-£649, Level 3: £650-£999, Level 4:  £1,000-£4,999, Level 5: £5,000-£9,999, Level 6: £10,000-£14,999, Level 7: £15,000-£20,000

Compensation for inconvenience, distress and loss of opportunity:Band A £1-£150, Band B: £151-£750, Band C: £751-£1,500, Band D £1,501-£5,000

Determination Decisions: January – March 2016

Upheld and part-upheld decisions

16/1 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to obtain instructions from the complainer’s partner until a week before completion of the sale, and (b) failed to ensure that there was a provision in a Minute of Agreement for the sale proceeds to be held on deposit, rather than distributed on completion of the sale.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had acted correctly in distributing the funds, but that there was lack of effective communication with the complainer prior to the sale about distribution.  The Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to act in the best interests of the complainer by failing to clearly explain what would happen in the event of implementation of a Minute of Agreement agreeing to equal division of the sale proceeds.

The Committee decided that both issues amounted to inadequate professional service.  The Committee decided that the firm should pay to the complainer compensation of Band C for distress and  inconvenience on several occasions.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/2 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/3 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/4 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/5 Executry: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor had failed to respond to a significant amount of correspondence sent by their own legal advisor over a significant period of time.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to support the complaint that the firm had failed to reply to 12 items of correspondence over a period of approx. 20 months.  The Committee agreed that the failure had resulted in an inadequate professional service having been provided to the firm’s own client and having reached that conclusion, the Committee was satisfied that there was a direct adverse effect on the complainer.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress and level 1 for actual loss. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £150.

16/6 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) advised the complainer at the initial meeting that the information relating to the source of the deposit was not required, but later advised that this information was vital and incorrectly alleged that the complainer had failed to provide this information at the initial meeting, (b) failed to communicate effectively by failing to respond to basic questions, (c) failed to proceed with division of assets and sale proceeds when instructed, and (d) failed to deal adequately with the complaint.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to uphold issues (a) and (c) as inadequate professional service.

Regarding (a), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to identify the client’s objectives at the outset, and thus advised the complainer to pursue an un-necessary course of action.

The Committee decided in respect of (b) that the client had been kept informed during the case.  The fact that the solicitor had not been able to answer very specific questions about matters extraneous to the case had also been explained, and as such, there was no breach of the Service Standards.

In respect of (c), the Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had delayed raising the action for several weeks.

Regarding (d), the Committee agreed that the evidence showed that the solicitor had attempted to address the complainer’s concerns, and that the suggestion to the client to seek alternative representation was unreasonable or unusual where dissatisfaction had been raised.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to reduce its fees by one third and to pay to the complainer compensation of Band A for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £700.

16/7 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and the firm had (a) unduly delayed registering the disposition, and (b) delayed informing the complainer of the mistake.

The Determination Committee decided that there was sufficient evidence to uphold a finding of inadequate professional service against the firm.

The Committee decided, (a) the solicitor had failed to prepare and register the disposition following settlement and had delayed registration by approx. a year and a half.

In respect of (b), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to inform the client that the disposition had not been registered timeously, and only after a number of months, once the defect had been rectified.

The Committee ordered the firm to refund part of the fees (£100) and outlays (£30), and to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/8 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) delayed/failed to obtain all of the husband’s financial information, failed to set up meetings and failed to follow instructions to communicate with the opposing solicitor, (b) failed to provide consistent advice, (c) included incorrect information in the offer of settlement, (d) failed to thoroughly examine the proposals for settlement, (e) failed to submit cravings on the complainer’s behalf, (f) failed to respond to requests for an interim account and failed to keep updated regarding escalating costs, and (g) delayed settlement negotiations.

The Determination Committee was of the view that there was no evidence to support the complaint, save as for issues (e) and (f) regarding the failure to submit cravings in the Defence, as required by the Ordinary Cause Rules, and the failure to issue an interim account as per the complainer’s request, or communicate adequately with the complainer about the increasing fees.  The Committee was satisfied that these issues could amount to inadequate professional service, as there had clearly been a breach of the Service Standards for diligence and communication.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for the inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £500.

16/9 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) raised an action incorrectly naming the complainer individually, rather than in the name of the business, (b) failed to lodge the application timeously, (c) failed to lodge a properly framed application and delayed amending the application.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was insufficient evidence to reach any conclusion that the court action had been raised in the name of an incorrect party.  However, the Committee was satisfied that (b) the firm had failed to exercise the normal care and diligence expected of a competent solicitor by delaying the lodging of the application, and (c) failing to properly frame and amend the application.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint and  ordered the firm to pay compensation of Band D for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that no fees or outlays should be charged to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £800.

16/10 Litigation: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor and the firm had failed to act in the best interests of his client by unduly delaying the conclusion of the dispute for over 2 years.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the cumulative effect of the identified delays adversely impacted on the service provided by the firm to its own client. Consequently, the complainer suffered as a direct effect of the deficiencies in the service to the client.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Level 4 for actual loss and Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £300.

16/11 Residential conveyancing: The complainers complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to ensure that a Completion/Habitation Certificate was available at conclusion of the purchase, (b) failed to advise of the consequences of completing without the Certificate, (c) failed to take instructions/obtain informed consent before agreeing a retention sum with the builder’s solicitors, and (d) failed to advise prior to completion that the property had not been passed as fit for habitation.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the firm (a) did not take all reasonable steps to ensure that their clients’ interests were protected at settlement, and (b) & (d) failed to clearly and fully explain the significance of settling without the relevant Completion and Habitation certificates. The Committee accepted that the firm had not investigated why the Certificate had not been issued or asked about any underlying issues.

Regarding (c), although the Committee was satisfied that the firm had sought instructions about the retention of £10,000, there appeared to be no evidence to show that the consequences of proceeding in the way suggested by the developers was explained to the complainers, and that they were not advised about what a Completion Certificate was or the implications of proceeding without one.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to each the complainers compensation of Band D for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that fees in the sum of £660 (plus VAT) should be refunded to the complainers.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £3,000.

16/12 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had prepared an initial writ which contained a number of serious errors, including incorrect details of the children’s address and what was in the children’s best interests.     The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had failed to ensure that the writ contained the necessary averments and fundamental flaws, which resulted in the action having to be dismissed and resurrected by newly instructed agents.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed that there should be a full refund of fees (£700) and no further fees charged to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £400.

16/13 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor had (a) failed to deal with a Motion to recall the Sist and request a Proof, contrary to numerous requests, (b) failed to submit the Motion to Court and charged inappropriately for doing so, (c) unduly delayed sending the Motion to the opposing solicitors, despite confirming that this would be carried out the following week, (d) unduly delayed updating on the position regarding the failed submission of the Motion, despite having given an undertaking to do so, (e) unduly delayed reminding the opposing solicitors that a response was still outstanding, despite two reminders to do so, (f) unduly delayed forwarding correspondence from the opposing solicitors, despite being reminded and advised of the urgency of the matter, (g) failed to raise various financial issues with the opposing solicitors, despite numerous requests to do so, (h) failed to confirm advice provided in writing, despite having agreed to do so, (i) failed to challenge a report, despite having accepted instructions to do so, (j) declined to provide further advice until the outstanding account had been settled, despite this being contrary to the terms of business, and (k) failed to deal adequately with the complaint, by ignoring concerns.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that (a) & (b) the solicitor had failed to enrol a Motion, despite having undertaken to do so and charged the complainer for having done so.

Regarding (c), although the Committee was content that the complainer had been advised of a timescale, there was only a 4 day delay.  The Committee was not satisfied that this short delay amounted to an inadequate professional service.

In respect of (d), the Committee noted that there had been a 4 week period between the date when the solicitor intended to enrol the Motion and the failure to do so being advised to the complainer.  The Committee’s view was that the solicitor should know the client’s business at all times, regardless of when he actually remembered the oversight.  The Committee’s view was that the delay was a breach of the standards of both diligence and communication and amounted to inadequate professional service.

Regarding (e), the Committee was satisfied that there had been a 5 week delay, despite 5 prompts by the complainer.

As regards (f), the Committee was satisfied that there had been a 4 week delay in the information being provided to the complainer, despite the solicitor being aware of the urgency.

In respect of (g), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to follow instructions in this regard on at least 4 occasions.

Regarding (h), the Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the complainer had requested the information on a number of occasions, and that this had not been provided.  The solicitor had the opportunity of clarifying the information sought after the meeting, as subsequent requests were made.

In respect of (i), the Committee agreed that the evidence did not support the complaint that the solicitor had been asked to challenge the content of the report, other than in relation to fees.  Accordingly, this issue was not upheld.

Regarding (j), the Committee agreed that the solicitor had acted unreasonably by refusing to continue to provide advice to the complainer prior to the expiry of 30 days for settlement of the account, as allowed for in the terms of business letter.

Finally, in respect of (k), the Committee noted that there was no evidence to support the solicitor’s indication that the complainer had been invited to discuss the complaint, as per the terms of business letter.  The Committee was satisfied that without written confirmation and the complainer having denied having received any such invitation, that there had been a failure to comply with the terms of business and that this failure amounted to an inadequate professional service.

The Committee decided to uphold the complaint in part and ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band C for inconvenience and distress.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £700.

16/14 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and the firm had (a) failed to advise that a more in depth survey report should be obtained, (b) failed to obtain/discuss the terms of a timber report, (c) failed to follow up the issue of guarantees for damp treatment and woodworm, and (d) failed to advise of notification of timber infestation requiring full chemical works being undertaken.

The Determination Committee agreed that the firm had failed to provide the complainer with documents relating to previous investigations of damp and timber defects and failed to advise the complainer that further investigations should be carried out given the terms of those documents.  The Committee also agreed that one of the named solicitors had failed to obtain a copy of the report instructed by the complainer and did not advise about its terms prior to the conclusion of the missives.  The Committee was satisfied that one of the named solicitors had failed to follow up the issues of guarantees and that the firm had failed to advise of the terms of a letter from the sellers advising that there was an infestation of woodworm and that full chemical works should be carried out.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band C for the distress and inconvenience caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee also decided that the firm’s fees should be reduced by 35% (approx. £250 plus VAT) and refunded to the complainer.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,000.

16/15 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the opposing named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to register the sale of the ground or have the title deeds updated in relation to the part of the complainer’s garden that the firm’s client had purchased.

The Determination Committee agreed that the solicitor had failed to record the title deed in favour of the firm’s own client (the complainer’s neighbour), resulting in an inadequate professional service to their own client and which had a direct adverse impact on the complainer.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band A for the inconvenience and distress and level 2 for actual loss, due to the need for a new deed plan to be prepared.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £200.

16/16 Family law; failing to respond: The complainer complained about the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed to include information required in a Pensions Sharing Order and failed to ensure that the Schedule was attached to the Minute of Agreement, (b) failed to ensure that the Minute of Agreement was sufficiently robust regarding the pension entitlement and net proceeds of sale, (c) failed to intimate the Agreement and Decree to the pension trustees within the appropriate statutory timescale, (d) failed to distribute the proceeds of sale in accordance with the Minute of Agreement and unduly delayed discharging the bank loan, (e) inappropriately and without authority, deducted the fee note from the proceeds of sale without having issued a fee note, (f) erroneously withheld the balance of the proceeds of sale, (g) failed to raise a court action, despite having been instructed to do so, (h) failed to respond to the letter of complaint and failed to provide a breakdown of fees, and (i) failed to implement a mandate.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had (a) failed to ensure that the pension plan details were contained in the document sent to the pension trustees, (d) failed to distribute funds timeously, and (e) deducted fees from retained funds without the knowledge of the complainer. The Committee was not satisfied that the evidence supported the remaining issues of complaint or that there was lack of evidence to prove these issues on the balance of probabilities.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for inconvenience and distress, and that fees charged should be reduced by £100.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £400.

16/17 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) failed to obtain a Letter of Comfort from the Council and/or failed to determine the exact amount of the liabilities owed by the sellers in respect of outstanding Statutory  Notices, and (b) failed to negotiate an appropriate retention amount in the missives.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was evidence that the firm failed to take adequate steps to determine the liabilities of the sellers, and (b) that the firm failed to negotiate an appropriate retention.  The Committee decided that the complaint should be upheld to this extent.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band C for distress and inconvenience and Level 4 for actual loss.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £800.

16/18 Litigation: The complainers complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) systematically lied regarding the action being taken in connection with the claim, and (b) falsely charged the complainers for costs in relation to water and planning applications.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) there was sufficient evidence to support the complainers’ contention that the solicitor had incorrectly advised them that various steps had taken place to progress the action, and (b) the solicitor falsely advised the complainers that the sellers would pay for the costs of the work, despite having obtained no undertaking that they would do so.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to each of the complainers compensation of Band D for distress and inconvenience, and that no fee note should be rendered.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,000.

16/19 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to advise about the Capital Gains Tax liability on the transfer of title.

The Determination Committee upheld the complaint on the basis that the options available to the complainer should have been explored, and the complainer had not been advised of the tax liability and/or was not advised to seek tax advice from another source.  The Committee’s view was that the complainer had suffered a loss of opportunity to consider all available options and was not fully informed as a result of the inadequate professional service.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band D for worry and distress. The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £850.

16/20 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed to advise him at any time about the strength of his claim, (b) failed to advise him of the potential for a costs order being made if the case was lost, and (c) failed to keep the complainer updated or advised about what SLAB required for the funding application.

The Determination Committee decided in respect of (a) that the firm had failed to give appropriate advice, either in writing or otherwise, about the strength of the claim. Such advice should have been provided in writing before court proceedings were raised.  In respect of (b), the Committee was satisfied that the evidence indicated that the firm had failed to provide appropriate advice regarding potential liability for expenses if the action was unsuccessful, or the potential magnitude of that liability.  The Committee agreed that the evidence did not support (c), that the firm had advised the complainer of the date of the hearing, that the firm had passed on any requests received from SLAB, or that SLAB had been in touch with the complainer directly.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Level 5 for actual loss and Band C for inconvenience and distress resulting from the inadequate professional service.  Additionally, the Committee decided that the firm should not be entitled to charge any fees or outlays for the service provided.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £1,500.

16/21 Executry: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had failed to ensure prompt and transparent fee arrangements, having issued a final fee note in June 2014, for work carried out between 2008 and 2013, without any prior warning or discussion.

The Determination Committee decided that there was evidence of a failure to set out the basis upon which fees would be charged from the outset and the delay issuing the fee note at the conclusion of the instruction amounted to inadequate professional service.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band A for inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £50.

16/22 Executry: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had (a) failed/delayed to respond to telephone calls and keep the complainer updated, (b) failed to explain the increase in fees, despite numerous requests, and (c) failed to provide adequate advice regarding an insurance policy claim.

The Determination Committee decided regarding (b) that the failure by the firm to keep the complainer updated regarding increasing costs and that the fees had exceeded the original amount quoted amounted to an inadequate professional service.  The Committee noted that the firm had failed to provided the complainer with a copy of the Law Accountants fee note, despite there having been a fee rendered for the service and that the letter of engagement was unclear and difficult to understand.

The Committee decided that the evidence showed that the firm had (a) been in regular communication with the complainer who had been kept up to date.  The Committee could find no evidence to support complaint (c).

The Committee ordered the firm to pay to the complainer compensation of Band B for distress and inconvenience and to refund excess fees (approx. £5000).  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £250.

16/23 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitors and/or the firm had (a) failed to adequately advise of the position regarding the alterations to the attic space, (b) failed to check/advise the complainer to ensure that the attic alterations were in line with building regulations, and (c) failed to fully advise of the risks proceeding with the purchase without verifying the position regarding the alterations.

The Determination Committee decided to uphold all 3 issues as inadequate professional service, as the evidence supported the complaint that the firm had failed to address all 3 matters adequately.  The Committee was satisfied that the firm had failed to fully advise the complainer about the potential issues regarding the building control documentation for the alterations, there was a failure to communicate throughout the transaction, despite requests for clarification, and that the firm had not alerted the complainer to the potential risks or consequences of proceeding without the adequate documentation.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Level 2 for actual loss and Band D for distress and inconvenience.  The Committee also ordered a full fee refund (approx. £600 plus VAT).  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £2,000.

16/24 Family: The complainer complained that the opposing solicitor and/or the firm had failed to obtemper an Interlocutor (which ordered the firm to notify the complainer of a court hearing date), by sending the notice to an address where the complainer had not lived for a number of years.

The Determination Committee decided that the firm had failed to fulfil the commitment to the Court, to the client and to the complainer, to prepare the case diligently and to communicate effectively.  The Committee accepted that the firm had served papers at an incorrect address, which did not match the address on the Court Record for the action.  As a result, the Committee was satisfied that the firm had provided their own client with an inadequate professional service, as a client would expect the firm to properly designate the parties and the failure to do so, could have led to additional time and cost to the client for the rectification of any errors. The Committee agreed that there had been a direct adverse impact on the complainer and on that basis, the complaint was upheld.

The Committee ordered the firm to pay compensation to the complainer of Band B for the inconvenience and distress caused by the inadequate professional service.  The Committee directed the firm to pay a Complaints Levy of £200.

Not upheld decisions:

16/25 Litigation: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and the firm had (a) failed to conduct the court case adequately by ignoring expert opinions, reports, evidence and failing to call specific witnesses and had quoted an incorrect name in the court documents, (b) failed to provide adequate advice about the settlement, by failing to advise that the opponent was obliged to issue a VAT receipt, despite instructions that the offer was to be inclusive of VAT, and (c) acted in an aggressive manner and threatened to cease acting on multiple occasions.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the solicitor had exercised professional judgement and there was no evidence to show that this was unreasonable.  The Committee agreed that the solicitor followed clear instructions and there was no evidence that the solicitor failed to advise adequately about the terms of the settlement.  The Committee agreed that the evidence showed effective and clear communication by the solicitor and there was no evidence to support the complaint that the solicitor had acted in an aggressive manner.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/26 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitors had (a) failed to provide adequate information about fees, (b) failed to keep the bank informed of a significant overspend, despite being aware of the limitations in funding, (c) failed to follow instructions by allowing 3 staff members to attend at court, thus incurring unnecessary costs, (d) failed to pay Counsel’s fees before taking the firm’s fees, and (e) failed to advise Counsel to withdraw from acting.

The Determination Committee decided that (a) sufficient information about fees had been provided before the offer was rejected, (b) the bank had been kept up to date and advised of the reasons for the increases in funding, (c) the firm did not accept the instruction to only have 1 person at the court hearing.  The firm did not, therefore, fail to fulfil a commitment to the complainer and fees were not unnecessarily incurred, as the need for additional staff was explained and professional judgement in this regard was exercised reasonably.

Regarding (d), the Committee could find no evidence to support the complaint that an instruction had been given or accepted that Counsel should be paid in the first instance.

In respect of (e), again the Committee could find no evidence to support the complaint about the withdrawal of Senior Counsel from the case.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/27 Family: The complainer complained that the named solicitor and/or the firm had provided inadequate and inconsistent advice about the availability of Legal Aid within the firm.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the advice provided was clear, consistent and in accordance with the firm’s policy on Legal Aid.  The Committee did not consider that there was any contradictory information provided, or that the quality of communication from the solicitor and/or the firm was inadequate.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

16/28 Residential conveyancing: The complainer complained that the named solicitor of the firm had failed to advise the complainer to take steps to confirm the validity of a Letter of Comfort or advise the complainer to insist on a Certificate of Completion from the sellers.

The Determination Committee was satisfied that the evidence showed that the firm had adequately advised the complainer of the available options and how to protect the position.  The Committee agreed that there was no requirement for the firm to insist on a Completion Certificate.

The Committee decided not to uphold the complaint.

 

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