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Legal Ombudsman moving to name & shame crooked lawyers in England & Wales, crooked Scottish solicitors records to remain protected by secrecy for now

Legal OmbudsmanConsumers in England & Wales may expect to find out which lawyers & law firms are crooked while Scots will not. AS DEMANDS GROW for increased consumer protection against poor legal services throughout the UK with the public identification of poorly performing solicitors & law firms to enable consumers to better & more safely chose their legal representatives, the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) has now published the responses to its latest consultation on the subject of an evidence based approach to publishing complaints decisions involving ‘crooked lawyers’.

While consumer groups & organisations in England & Wales as well as the UK Government are hugely supportive of the LeO’s eventual move to name & shame crooked lawyers, the legal profession south of the border in the form of the Law Society of England & Wales, law firms & solicitors groups are against the move, citing a number of reasons solicitors generally prefer the public not to know which lawyers are more crooked than others or the exposure of those in the legal profession who have complaints lists a mile & a half long.

adam_sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson.While some of the consumer community have viewed this latest consultation as a delaying move due to concerns over what action the legal profession may take against the LeO if naming & shaming had been implemented earlier this year, Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson, writing in the Law Gazette on the subject of naming & shaming rogue lawyers & law firms in England & Wales, said : “There is a general belief, though, on all sides that the public has a right to know about firms which genuinely pose a threat to them, either because they have done something awful or have accumulated a large number of complaints, and that these firms should be named; good lawyers can only benefit from the bad ones being known.

“The real problem here is that, in the area of complaints, the usual binary judgements which the law encourages do not apply. Lawyers want us to arrive at a guilty or innocent verdict, to uphold or dismiss complaints. That is difficult. In many cases, even where the complaint is founded on a real error on the part of the firm, the problem is not as great as the complainant thinks it is or the impact as profound.”

“Conversely, even when the complaint does not seem to be rooted in any obvious piece of poor service, it is rarely the case when people complain to us that there is absolutely no ­reason for them to be upset. There is usually something which one can spot as a root cause: even if the service provided was exemplary, as it in many cases is, you can usually see points where the lawyer could have done more to manage the client’s expectations or deal more sensitively with their initial complaint.”

“… sorting lawyers into two categories – those to be named and those to be given the cloak of anonymity – is not easy. The debate goes beyond the legal sector. We are also conscious of the pressure elsewhere from the government, and the pressure on the Financial Ombudsman Service in respect of banks and financial advisers, for example, to move rapidly towards complete openness. We are very conscious, though, of the particular nature of the legal ­market and the issues facing so many more traditional firms.”

“But we are not standing still. The consultations may not have fully resolved the naming issue, but they did enable us to agree and start publishing other details of our work. We have begun to publish data about the sorts of complaints we receive…”

“And, more recently, from the beginning of July we began to publish anonymised summaries of all ombudsman decisions we have made. These decisions are on our website for anyone who wants to see them and we hope, in time, to make them searchable, so that you can begin to build a picture of the patterns of decision-making and the sorts of remedies we order in particular sorts of cases. It is all there. Just not the names.”

Case decisions by the Legal Ombudsman can be viewed online here : Ombudsman decisions and cases on which the Legal Ombudsman has helped resolve informally can be viewed here : On the Case with the Legal Ombudsman. It should be noted these cases apply to England & Wales only.

No such information as is currently published by the LeO is available to Scottish consumers of legal services due to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s refusal to publish decisions or case related information due to the legal profession’s insistence on complete confidentiality in Scotland.

While the Legal Ombudsman moves ahead on the question of publication of complaints, no equivalent consultation on naming & shaming Scottish solicitors has been held by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who have already refused to comment on the issue or get involved in any moves to name & shame crooked lawyers in Scotland.

Which logoAsked for views on the LeO’s plans to publish complaints details & name poorly performing solicitors, consumer group Which? stated in their response (pdf) : “As outlined in our December 2010 ‘Publishing our Decisions’ consultation response, Which? believes the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) should seek to be wholly transparent.This means it should publish as much information as possible and this should include, in some circumstances, publication of the name of legal firms and individual lawyers. We agree with LeO’s conclusion that the concerns expressed about publishing complaints data are overstated. We believe that a more comprehensive publication policy could be implemented earlier than at some point in 2012 and suggest April 2012 as a clear target date for implementation of LeO’s publication policy.”

Factors which are relevant to publication also include:

a) the nature of the work undertaken;
b) whether the complaint was resolved informally after reference to LeO;
c) the number of active clients the firm has to give a ratio of complaints to number of clients; and
d) the firms where LeO investigates the complaint and a finding is made for the firm or the complaint is dismissed and the firm exonerated.
e) the size of the firm in terms of number of partners and turnover.

In addition, the search functionality for the published data should be easy to use and results presented in such a way as to ensure that there is no risk of the data being misinterpreted.  The search functionality should be intuitive and the search options should be expressed in plain English.  It should also be free to access.

On 13th April 2011, the Cabinet Office and Department of Business, Innovation and Skills published a paper titled ‘Better Choices: Better Deals.  Consumers Powering Growth’.  Among other recommendations, it concluded that there should be an ‘expectation that regulators, government departments, regulated businesses and public service providers will release the complaints and performance data they own unless they have good reason not to do so’.

This expectation means that LeO will have to adopt a policy of identifying individual law firms in the circumstances set out in their publication policy.  Which? agrees with and endorses this approach as the default position.

oftThe Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stated in its submission (pdf) to the LeO : “We appreciate that you need to balance the interests of consumers with the reputational impact on firms and individual lawyers. However, the OFT remains firmly of the view that  the publication of named complaints data could incentivise legal service providers, due to reputational considerations, to maintain and/or improve the quality of service they provide to consumers.We believe that essential data would include:

* The number of complaints made against individual firms and lawyers;
* The nature of those complaints and placing them into categories to help see if a pattern develops;
* The ratio of complaints upheld against an individual firm or lawyer;
* Areas of law where complaints tend to focus;
* Which aspects of service the complaints tend to focus; and
* Whether the complaints tend to come from private or publically funded cases.

Legal Services Consumer PanelDr Dianne Hayter, Chairman of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, an organisation which represents the best interests of legal services users in England & Wales, and notably has NO EQUIVALENT in Scotland, stated in the Legal Services Consumer panel response (pdf) to the LeO on naming & shaming : “The Consumer Panel is of the firm view that all consumers have a right to know whether the provider with whom they are thinking of engaging to help them resolve their important legal matter has a poor complaints track record. The Legal Ombudsman will have a heavy conscience if consumers suffer serious detriment which could have been avoided.”

Dr Hayter continued : “The risk that a high number of complaints in social welfare law would harm firms‟ ability to attract more work in other areas, such as conveyancing, could be easily managed by effective presentation of the data. The research suggests that consumers would use complaints data to help them make choices between competing providers. In order to facilitate this, the Legal Ombudsman should organise data by legal activity. In this scenario, consumers would be able to compare complaint volumes for one field of law across the different providers they are considering. The Financial Ombudsman Services enables such comparisons and we see no reason why the Legal Ombudsman cannot do so.”

lawsoc_eng_walesLaw Society of England & Wales disagree on naming & shaming rogue solicitors. Expectedly, the Law Society of England & Wales protested against the effort to publish the names of rogue solicitors & crooked law firms, stating in its submission : “We do not believe that publishing firms’ complaints records  will improve complaints handling or provide clients with useful information which will allow them to make an informed choice about which legal service provider to use.”

However, the Law Society of England & Wales did respond to earlier enquiries from Diary of Injustice, revealing the numbers of solicitors convicted of criminal offences in England & Wales, information which is not available in Scotland. This was featured on Diary of Injustice in May 2009, here : Criminal records of lawyers : Scots public kept in dark over convictions while England & Wales get ‘right to know’

SLCC MacAskillWimped out : Kenny MacAskill’s Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has refused to hold consultations on moves to name & shame crooked Scottish lawyers. For now, Scots consumers of legal services are to be left in the dark over their choice of lawyer, as the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Scottish Government do not support the naming & shaming of crooks within the Scottish legal profession. One SLCC insider said he felt the anti-client law complaints quango would never name or shame any rogue lawyers under what he called “its current profession friendly approach to dealing with consumer complaints”.

Clearly there is an imbalance in the rights of consumers of legal services in Scotland, where in England & Wales, all consumer groups and even the Westminster Government support naming & shaming rogue solicitors and their law firms. Why is Scotland being left out once again on consumer protection against our historically poor, crooked, yet expensive legal services market ?

All submissions to the Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales consultation on “Publishing our decisions: an evidence based approach feedback” can be viewed at the following links :

Association Women Solicitors response
Bar Standards Board response
Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and the Institute of Trade Marks Attorneys response
City of Westminster & Holborn Law Society response
Costs Lawyer Standards Board response
Dean Conrad response
Forum of Insurance Lawyers response
General Council of the Bar response
Institute of Legal Executives response
Irwin Mitchell Solicitors response
ILEX Professional Standards Limited response
The Law Society response
Legal Services Commission response
Legal Services Conumer panel response
Manchester Law Society email response
Media Lawyers Association response
National Consumer Federation response
NewLaw Solicitors email response
Office of Fair Trading response
Which response

 

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Legal Complaints Chief Jane Irvine calls for more powers against ‘crooked lawyers’ after Justice Committee fails to invite ‘independent’ law regulator to Legal Services Bill hearings

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chair. JANE IRVINE, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has called for wider powers of complaints handling against ‘crooked lawyers’ particularly on conduct issues, to be given to the beleaguered law complaints quango, in a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on proposals over regulation contained in the Legal Services Bill. However, in the same letter, Ms Irvine went onto express expressed her ‘disappointment’ over the SLCC not being called to give oral evidence on aspects of the ‘access to justice’ bill, which has now ended its evidence hearings at Holyrood.

Curiously, the Parliament invited, & heard from the two main regulators of Scotland’s legal profession (the Faculty of Advocates & the Law Society of Scotland) who were both notably critical of many aspects of the proposals on complaints handling and regulation of non-lawyers who may enter the expanded legal services market but it seems no one on the Justice Committee wanted to hear or question the SLCC’s similarly critical point of view over much of the bill.

You can read my earlier coverage of the Faculty of Advocate’s appearance at Holyrood on the Legal Services Bill, along with video clips of the hearings, HERE and the Law Society of Scotland’s evidence session, along with video clips of their evidence, HERE. All previous articles on the Legal Services Bill can be found HERE

A spokeswoman for the Justice Committee issued a terse statement to media enquiries on whether the SLCC would be called to give evidence : “It is entirely up to the Justice Committee members to decide who to call to give oral evidence. To date, the Committee has received two written submissions from the SLCC and has not sought to call the SLCC to also give oral evidence however I am aware that the SLCC wishes to give oral evidence, if invited to do so.”

After failing to be called to give evidence, SLCC Chair Jane Irvine issued a second written submission to the Justice Committee, detailing the points the SLCC had wished to make on aspects of the Legal Services Bill.

Jane Irvine said : “The SLCC should have the power under its existing and amended statutory functions to receive, process, refer, investigate and determine complaints. Consumers and legal services providers are effectively being provided with a one-stop shop for making their complaint.”

Ms Irvine continued, expressing hope that the Law complaints body’s jurisdiction could be widened to investigate all complaints (many of us have proposed, campaigned on this point for over a year, however only now does the SLCC think it should have more powers).

SLCCJane Irvine claimed the SLCC is ‘a strong independent body’. Jane Irvine continued : “As the SLCC is a *strong independent body* serving as a single Gateway for legal complaints, regulation could be improved if its jurisdiction was widened to investigate all legal complaints, whether they be conduct, service, handling or the new regulatory type of complaint, about all legal service providers (including CAs). This will ensure consumers and legal services providers know which body has the responsibility for handling complaints and where complaints are to be made in the first instance.”

“The Bill should be an opportunity to make services better for consumers. It should not create more complexity for consumers, nor for the practitioners who serve them. It will be for the SLCC to determine the type of complaint made and against whom, in the same way as the SLCC is doing at present for service, conduct and handling complaints. The SLCC, and not consumers or legal services providers, will then determine whether complaints are about ‘legal services’ or other services, such as financial or accountancy services.“

“Responsibility would be placed on the SLCC to secure regulation of services and consumer redress in circumstances where things go wrong, which should reduce the risk of duplication of activities by regulators. Also, it is not left to the consumer to identify how or if the legal services provider is regulated; they know where to raise their concerns.”

You can read many of my previous reports on the SLCC HERE, which do not exactly portray it as the independent regulator adept at consumer protection which some might claim it to be …

The SLCC Chief then expressed her opinion that the Commission should also be able to investigate conduct complaints against solicitors, which are currently handled by the Law Society of Scotland.

Ms Irvine continued : “The Bill provides for service and conduct complaints to continue to be investigated by separate bodies. The SLCC is of the view that the interests of consumers and legal services providers would be better served if it was to have the right to investigate conduct complaints, in addition to service. It is the SLCC’s experience that a significant proportion of complaints comprise both service and conduct elements …. The SLCC considers that consumers often tend not to distinguish between these aspects and instead have an expectation that all the circumstances of a complaint will be examined by one body.”

Talk about stating the obvious …. and its only taken how many years to realise that one since the LPLA Bill had its Scottish Parliament hearings back in 2006 ?

However, while Jane Irvine now calls for the power to investigate conduct complaints against lawyers, the SLCC has not modified its refusal to investigate mishandled complaints by the Law Society of Scotland and then there’s also the SLCC’s first ever decision, which was to refuse to investigate any complaints prior to 1st October 2008 – hardly a very helpful decision to thousands of clients who suffered at the hands of Law Society complaints whitewashes.

Jane Irvine goes on in her letter to criticise many aspects of how complaints against any “approved regulator” (relating to complaints against non-lawyer legal service providers) will be handled by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, pointing out a number of omissions exist in the proposals contained in the Legal Services Bill on what will be done in the event of complaints against the regulators themselves in the expected event they fail to properly investigate complaints against lawyers or non-lawyers – which given our experience with the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, and even the SLCC itself, we can surely expect to be the norm.

Jane Irvine pointed out the bill before the Justice Committee lacked any means to even handle complaints against an approved regulator : “There appears to be no procedure laid down in the Bill as to how a delegated complaint against an Approved Regulator is to be dealt with (unlike other complaints which are covered by reference to the 2007 Act). Complaints about Approved Regulators may be of a different nature to service / conduct / handling complaints, therefore a different investigation procedure may be required.”

The SLCC Chief ender her written submission by expressing her disappointment having been left out of the Committee hearings, saying : “I am disappointed not to be called to give evidence given the SLCC’s central role in complaints and conduct handling. The SLCC will continue to have an important role to play at the heart of the regulatory process and I am happy to participate in any further consultation or informal discussions about the Bill and future regulations.”

The written submission from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission giving detailed evidence on the Legal Services Bill can be downloaded HERE

All written submissions on the Legal Services Bill can be found here : Legal Services Bill written submissions

You can read my own submission on the Legal Services Bill, which deals mainly with regulation HERE (pdf)

It remains however, the Legal Services Bill appears significantly flawed in its approach to regulating both lawyers and non-lawyers, by failing to bring in fully independent regulation of Scotland’s legal services sector, which consumer organisations, campaign groups, clients, and critics of the legal profession have been calling for years to be implemented. Until closed shop self regulation is dropped, Scots will have no consumer protection when it comes to legal services. That much is certain.

 

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Calls to scrap ‘complaints laundering’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as expensive anti-consumer quango revealed as talking shop for crooked lawyers

slcc squarePoliticians & consumer groups feel SLCC is having a laugh at Scots public. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION, which is due to publish its first annual report in December, has been roundly condemned by politicians, consumer groups, and members of the public forced to approach it over complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’ as being an expensive, incompetent & anti-consumer quango which is focussed more on salaries & expenses than its once promised task of cleaning up mounting complaints of corruption in Scotland’s legal profession.

SLCC Expenses claims & salariesSLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman at 70K a year was named in a survey as one of the highest paid quango Chiefs in Scotland. While board members of the SLCC have raked in a staggering £135,000 plus in expenses claims over the past year, and its Chair, Jane Irvine nets £308 plus, a day, along with Chief Executive Eileen Masterman who gets a whopping £1350 per week, the complaints body has shown itself over the past year to be a very poor regulator of complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’, leaving many clients finding their complaints have been ‘whitewashed’ in a way reminiscent of the Law Society of Scotland’s Client Relations Office investigations, which are well known to have let thousands of crooked lawyers off the hook from even the most serious of complaints.

Debating chamberMSPs have been asked to assist consumers caught out by anti-client SLCC. While the SLCC has focussed on huge salaries and expenses claims, little by way of complaints victories for consumers have been achieved by the cash hungry quango. The public’s dealings with the SLCC have now reached such a low point that MSPs across Scotland have been called in by many constituents to help complainers get the SLCC to give them a fair hearing that Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had promised would be routine with the failing SLCC, once styled as a ‘new broom’ but which has now lost its bristles, and it seems, the will to address public complaints against the legal profession.

This morning, an MSP spoke of being called in by a constituent to ask the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission why it had continually failed to address serious issues in a complaint made against a rogue solicitor and his law firm which now includes a complaint against the Law Society itself.

The MSP said : “A constituent who has become embroiled in a dispute with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Law Society of Scotland over a complaint made against a solicitor, asked me to write into the SLCC seeking to untangle the mess they had made of my constituent’s problem. The responses I have received so far from the SLCC demonstrate nothing has been learned from the failures of the Law Society’s complaints system.”

“Each time I received a response to my enquiry, they would seek to complicate the issue further to the point that matters became very unclear as to what was happening with my constituent’s complaint and what they intended to do about it. I was left with the distinct impression I was dealing with an organisation that has a very bad attitude towards the public. Clearly the SLCC has become unfit for purpose.”

A member of the public who has been waiting several months for his complaint to be investigated by the SLCC said today : “I have been writing letters back & forth for months to people at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and I feel they are just doing all this on purpose to lose me in a paper chase. I think the legal profession are just having a laugh at us consumers by using the SLCC to launder complaints made against crooked lawyers. I have lost all trust in the SLCC. They should be replaced with something that can help people with complaints not hinder them and there should be no lawyers on whatever replaces it in the future.”

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked for information on how many MSPs had contacted it over problems faced by constituents who had encountered difficulties with the law complaints body. However, the SLCC refused to hand over any information or documents on this subject, and tersely said that requests for such information would now be charged for.

SLCC minutes Nov 2009 4 months behindQuango secrecy to maximum as SLCC website reveals lack of board meeting minutes and accurate information on its actual performance. While the SLCC was being secretive about its own difficulties and the lack of trust it suffers from public & politicians alike, the quango’s own website amazingly reveals today that up to today, 23 November 2009, it has failed to post any board minutes since July 2009, begging the question what has the Commission actually been doing all this time, while its members have been raking in huge expenses claims & salaries while complaints and the public have become its last priority. An insider commented on the lack of minutes information, claiming that due to poor media coverage which had revealed the SLCC to be unfit for purpose, the commission had now taken the decision not to release much information on its internal workings to the public, for fear that the details of its daily operation and board meetings would continue to portray it to be a pro-legal profession body, rather than an impartial regulator of consumer complaints against poor legal services.

SLCC report headerSLCC’s July 09 report into Master Policy claims revealed client suicides but quango did nothing. A spokeswoman for a consumer organisation today rounded on the SLCC and agreed the quango needed to be reformed. She said : “While the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission may argue this has been their first year of operation, they have without doubt made a huge mess of handling complaints and attending to their duties.” She continued : “Probably the worst example I can think of from the SLCC’s first year would be their Master Policy investigation, which revealed so much, yet has still to see any action or reform of the horrendous claims process which clients are forced to use when claiming negligence or damages against their solicitors. I think that failure on its own, demonstrates the SLCC is too weak, too unwilling, and too close to the legal profession to be of any use to consumers as the impartial, independent regulator it claims itself to be.”

“We need to move on from this mistake and create a fully independent regulator that is able to do the job the SLCC was supposed to do, but cannot do due to overwhelming influence and control from the legal profession itself.”

You can read my earlier reports on how the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission handled their investigation into the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy, here : ‘Ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers and here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Well, I can only agree with the sentiments expressed by others, that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is most certainly, unfit for purpose, and should be replaced with a fully independent body which operates under external oversight, and is free of influence & control from the legal profession, to ensure that consumers are fully protected from the many rogue elements of Scotland’s very poor, untrustworthy, legal profession.

 

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Scottish Government Finance Chief John Swinney blasts Legal Complaints Commission as liars over secret meetings with Law Society insurers Marsh UK

John SwinneyScottish Finance Secretary John Swinney condemns SLCC’s secrecy over meetings with Marsh. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that John Swinney, the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief has become involved in efforts to expose an extraordinary battle by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to keep secret the details of meetings between senior members & staff of the Commission and the well known US Insurance giant Marsh, who, along with Royal Sun Alliance, insure all Scottish solicitors, most Advocates, and even have little known links to the Scottish Government itself.

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

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

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

John Swinney 03062009 to SLCCSLCC’s answers to Cabinet Secretary Swinney were far from clear. The SLCC’s responses to Mr Swinney’s allegations of contradictions between attempts to keep secret any meetings with the insurers, which fell through after the details emerged in later meetings of the Commission, led to further intervention by the Cabinet Secretary branding the Commission’s explanations “far from clear”. It has also emerged today the Cabinet Secretary is to make representations and possibly a complaint over the way his communications have been responded to, given the responses have in his words, proved contradictory to actual events.

Although Mr Swinney’s office declined to make further comment at this stage, a source close to the Cabinet Secretary today revealed that Mr Swinney is far from happy with the way the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has handled its relationship with the public to-date, and has also expressed ‘significant dissatisfaction’ that the Commission chose not to look into past cases of complaints abuse by the Law Society of Scotland, which themselves played a significant part in Mr Swinney’s continued appearances during the 2006 Justice 2 Committee hearings into the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill, which ultimately passed into law in 2007 after considerable campaigning from Mr Swinney, in the face of stiff resistance from the Law Society and Scotland’s legal establishment.

The well placed insider said : “Clearly the SLCC didn’t want to tell anyone there had been secret meetings with Marsh before they got their Master Policy monitoring job up and running but as time dragged on the details of those meetings had to spill out otherwise it looked like they were doing nothing.”

He went on : “John Swinney is far from happy the SLCC has still not decided on how to pursue its role monitoring claims made against solicitors using the Master Policy, after the Commission has had over two years and several millions of pounds of taxpayers money pumped into it, with an end result of nothing achieved so far.”

John Swinney’s approach to corruption at the Law Society of Scotland led to the quick demise of the Society’s Chief Executive Douglas Mill :

Law SocietySLCC refused to look at Law Society’s corruption for fear of revealing too much. From a study of the correspondence between the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission which you can download HERE, it appears the SLCC is either unwilling or unable to perform an effective Master Policy oversight role, which it was tasked with handling in the legislation which created it in the first place. The ‘nothing doing’ time scale of January 2007 to now is enough on its own to show us this seems to be the case, where the Commission is seemingly more intent on talking itself to death on issues and cases, which, if properly resolved as they should be, would put an end to any doubt the Commission is honest in its endeavours to root out corruption in Scotland’s infamously corrupt legal services market.

Clearly, the results of the SLCC’s recent investigation in to the Master Policy itself, which stunningly revealed the actions of the insurers and the Law Society of Scotland against claimants had actually caused suicides should have by now, prompted substantive action on the part of the Commission and the Scottish Government to address the issues raised by the University of Manchester investigation team, but as I reported recently, it appears Commission members and staff are now trying to bury the investigation’s findings and discredit testimony given by consumers, out of fear of upsetting the Law Society itself.

You can read my two earlier reports on the investigation here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’ and attempts by Commission members to derail evidence given by claimants & victims of the Master Policy here : Censorship & ‘frequent flyers’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal attempt to write off consumers evidence in Master Policy report

SLCCSLCC ‘are dishonest, anti-client’. A spokesman for one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today branded the SLCC ‘dishonest’ in its approach to dealing with the public, claiming the Commission was acting more like a protector of the legal profession than the ‘independent’ regulator it was supposed to be. He said : “The SLCC will have little public credibility if all they do is try to hide meetings with elements of the legal profession and those financially connected with it who are causing all these problems with claims against crooked lawyers. There should be an inquiry into the SLCC’s poor performance to-date where in reality we are little further on after things began in early 2007.”

He continued : “I would suggest the lack of progress and anti-client attitudes of Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have now effectively demonstrated it too needs oversight. Perhaps it is time the role of Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman should now be re-introduced, given powers to oversee the SLCC and the Law Society, and be given strong statutory powers which the SLSO should always have had available to use and intervene when the legal profession fails to deal with complaints and claims against its own members.”

We therefore seem to be in the position now, two years on from the SLCC’s first steps as an ‘independent’ ‘new broom’ regulator of Scotland’s legal profession, the SLCC itself needs regulated because it too has fell under the spell of those it was tasked with investigating. A very sorry state of affairs indeed.

 

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Censorship & ‘frequent flyers’ jibes at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals attempt to write off consumers evidence in first ever Master Policy investigation

SLCCVictims of crooked lawyers branded “frequent flyers” & “biased” by anti client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. A bungled attempt at censorship of documents released under Freedom of Information laws by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, reveals that board member David Smith, who is also the husband of Scotland’s Supreme Court Judge Lady Smith, has hit out at ruined clients of crooked lawyers who gave their experiences through invitation to the SLCC’s recent Master Policy investigation, branding victims “frequent flyers” and claiming the ‘ground breaking’ investigation carried out by the University of Manchester research team into the infamous Master Policy insurance scheme for Scotland’s 10,000 solicitors, had ‘paid only lip service’ to duties the commission is supposed to carry out involving the monitoring of claims for financial damages made by members of the public against the growing ranks of crooked lawyers in Scotland.

David Smith SLCC - Frequent FlyersDavid Smith, SLCC solicitor board member criticised ruined victims of crooked lawyers. Mr Smith, himself a retired solicitor who served with Edinburgh legal firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, said in incompetently censored emails to the SLCC’s Chief Executive : “I have read through the Report and it is quite clear that it is of only limited value because of time (and funding ?) constraints and the fact that the claimants interviewed were all frequent flyers.” Mr Smith went onto repeat the insults further, stating : “I suspect that when we go public we will be seen by the claimant lobby and consumer organisations to have achieved nothing and that we have paid only lip service to our monitoring role. Conversely I think LSS and the profession will think we have achieved nothing as the research has only focussed on the frequent flyers who have longstanding grievances against LSS/the profession.”

Eileen Masterman SLCC - clients are biasedSLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman branded participants in SLCC investigation as ‘biased’ but said nothing about how biased lawyers views were. Eileen Masterman, the SLCC’s Chief Executive joined in the criticisms against members of the public who had given up significant time and made huge effort to participate in the SLCC’s investigation of the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, branding them ‘biased’, saying : “It has not been possible to interview a representative sample of claimants with regard to the Master Policy and it is very likely that the sample used is biased. Many of the claims the researchers were informed of are long standing. Without current data it is difficult to say whether the problems alleged are persistent and that pursuing a claim is currently as difficult as has been alleged by those claimants spoken to.”

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionSLCC board members think little of participants in Master Policy investigation. A member of the public who participated in the SLCC’s sponsored survey hit back at Mr Smith’s comments saying : “Oh well if that’s what these people think of us then why are they still on the legal complaints commission and being paid for it ? Why did the SLCC ask for people to contact them in the first place if all that was going to happen was a steady stream of insults and the usual no action at the end of it ? I think the SLCC should be apologising to all of us at least and let us have a fair hearing instead of all this name calling.”

He continued : “Wouldn’t we be better with someone on this commission who respects what ordinary people have had to go through to try and get justice against a crooked lawyer because I’m sure Mr Smith and his friends will know very well that trying to claim against a crooked lawyer is impossible in Scotland and life is made very difficult for anyone who tries.”

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailInsulting comments against victims of crooked lawyers & consumer groups were expressed earlier in the year by solicitor & SLCC board member Margaret Scanlan. A senior official at one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today expressed disgust at the revelations. He said : “I fail to see how these continuing poor attitudes expressed towards consumers by board members of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will help address the historical problems of poor and biased self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession.” He continued : “It is going to be almost impossible for the SLCC to work with the public if people realise the underlying attitudes at the commission are biased against consumers and the fact is we have already seen other commission members and senior staff make similar unnecessary slurs against particular members of the public and certain campaign groups. These kinds of comments do not belong in an organisation which was created at great public expense to independently investigate complaints against members of the legal profession in Scotland.”

Law SocietyLaw Society might be ‘requested’ by SLCC to hand over Master Policy documents but no power exists to compel them to do so. After twice branding victims of crooked lawyers who had participated in the SLCC Master Policy investigation as “frequent flyers”, David Smith then went onto put forward a proposal that the SLCC should ‘request’ further documents concerning the Master Policy from the Law Society which had earlier been denied to the SLCC and their research team. I reported on the research team’s lack of access to documents in an earlier article here : ‘Ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers

However, since the Law Society and its insurers Marsh UK who run the Master Policy, had refused to hand over required documents for the SLCC investigation, Mr Smith stated later in the same email (again blacked out by the SLCC) : “If we continue to get resistance from the LSS (Law Society of Scotland) we need to require them to supply reasons under Section s39(4) AND we should make the Scottish Ministers aware of our concerns and highlight the need for greater powers to make this monitoring role actually work.”

Section 39(4) of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 laughably states that : “(4) Where a relevant professional organisation fails to provide information requested under subsection (3), it must give reasons to the Commission in respect of that failure.” which means the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, for the all the £2 million pounds plus of taxpayers money lavished on it by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, actually has no powers at all to require the Law Society hand over the real evidence of how claims against crooked lawyers are treated in Scotland, and thus indicates a complete failure of the law, allowing effective oversight of the legal profession in Scotland which the public had been promised in the 2007 LPLA Act.

A legal insider said today : “I am somewhat concerned that such sentiments are being expressed against the investigation because no one at the SLCC wants to hear the actual truth of just how corrupt the claims process is against a lawyer when the Master Policy is involved. Perhaps what we are seeing is an attempt by the SLCC to write off the work of the University of Manchester team because they actually did their job and produced a very good report which is difficult to refute from a factual standpoint.”

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chair was asked for comment, and to review the censored FOI documents. Jane Irvine, the chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked to review the content of the heavily redacted FOI disclosures. However, she replied by way of an FOI review stating “The response provided to your FOI request was correct” and amazingly did not comment on the failure of the SLCC’s attempts at censoring information contained in the disclosures, which were justified with specific references to FOI exemption rules.

A leading FOI expert this afternoon said he thought the SLCC’s attempt at censoring references to participants in the survey as possibly being in violation of the law on FOI disclosures, and recommended the matter be sent to Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion for investigation.

He said : “Notwithstanding the fact the SLCC bungled the redactions on the documents disclosed under FOI, there is cause for concern some of those redactions have occurred simply to protect board members from the fallout of their own ill judged comments. That is not what exemptions under Freedom of Information legislation were designed to conceal. I think anyone may reasonably conclude under the circumstances that an abuse of the rules on the application of exemptions under FOI has occurred here.”

Personally I must say I am thoroughly disgusted by the SLCC’s conduct with regard to the investigation into the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund which was carried out on its own instruction, and with the help of the Scottish Government.

The report produced by the University of Manchester research team identified a great deal of suffering that has been caused by the policies of the Law Society and the insurers towards those who have attempted to lodge claims against their ‘crooked lawyers’ …. even identifying suicides of clients which have occurred, and all quite happily kept under wraps for all these years by the Law Society of Scotland . You can read more about that in a previous article I wrote here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

If ordinary members of the public are to be encouraged to participate in work involving the SLCC, surely they are to be treated with equality of arms and courtesy, which the SLCC has certainly showed the legal profession on many occasions. However, with what has been revealed to me in badly censored FOI documents (and I understand there to be much more) I see nothing more than a trail of anti client bias, which first reared its head earlier this year through comments made by fellow board member Margaret Scanlan, who branded claimants to the Guarantee fund as “chancers” and then went on to demand that consumer groups be excluded from surveys and investigations carried out by the SLCC.

Clearly the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission must now be cleaned up itself, and given a good dose of oversight to restore public confidence, if it can indeed be restored …

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Blogroll

 

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Fresh appointments sleaze at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as FOIs reveal judicial protests against independent oversight of board member recruitment

SLCCFresh appointments row at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as legal establishment attempts to control selection process. Serious concerns on the independence of the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have been expressed by both clients & consumer groups after the release of documents today showing that a Judge serving on the panel which appointed the SLCC’s current board members protested to the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, over the involvement of Scotland’s independent appointments regulator OCPAS – The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland.

Lord Wheatley & Kenny MacAskillLord Wheatley protested to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill over problems with the SLCC’s appointments process. The judge in question, Lord Wheatley, himself a member of the Judicial Appointments Board Judicial Appointments Board, and also a member of the Privy Council alleged in letters to the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, released today under FOI, that the involvement of ‘outsiders’ on the SLCC’s appointments process “was constitutionally unsound in a mature democracy” and even went onto accuse the appointments regulator OCPAS as ‘being a judge in its own cause’ –something the legal establishment seems to have a habit of doing without too much concern !

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionTransparency is seemingly not a good thing when it comes to revealing the backgrounds of those appointed to ‘independently’ handle complaints against Scottish lawyers. Lord Wheatley felt that the role of Scotland’s independent appointments Commissioner was improper during the appointment of the initial batch of board members to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, appointments which saw mostly lawyers, ex lawyers, and ex Police appointed to the new law complaints body which was promised to better handle complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’ but which has degenerated into farce, scandal and openly expressed prejudice against consumers who dare raise complaints against Scotland’s legal profession.

I reported on the first round of appointments to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission here : Call for MacAskill appointments ‘sleaze investigation’ as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry however, strangely, the letters released now under Freedom of Information legislation were not released at the time despite FOI requests … and when I went on to investigate further, the Justice Secretary tried to gag the appointments regulator from releasing information on the matter last year, which I reported here : Justice Secretary MacAskill fails in ‘gag attempt’ of Appointments Chief over quango jobs for lawyers sleaze

Lord Wheatley to MacAskillLord Wheatley in his letter of protest to the Justice Secretary said : “I was astonished to find the OCPAS Assessor was to take part in the decision-making process itself. I considered that this was seriously inappropriate, but in the circumstances the only realistic course was to continue with the process on the basis that I could explain my concerns to you when it was completed. I believe that I discussed this issue thoroughly and openly with the other members of the panel at all times. He went on : “My Worry can be simply expressed. It is wholly inappropriate, and constitutionally unsound in a mature democracy, for an organisation such as OCPAS to validate a decision-making process in which it elects to take part. Among other things, OCPAS serves the invaluable role of overseeing that the exercise of making public appointments is properly carried out. it can hardly claim that it is in a position to make an independent assessment of such a process when the organisation involves itself in the making of such appointments. Being a judge in your own cause has long been regarded as inconsistent with, and alien to, fundamental democratic principles.”

OCPAS to Lord WheatleyAppointments Commissioner’s office replied to Lord Wheatley’s protests, attempting to allay the judge’s ‘misgivings’. The sharp protests of Lord Wheatley to Justice Secretary MacAskill drew a response direct from the Appointments Commissioner’s office, defending the role of independent assessors in the appointments process in their reply to Lord Wheatley stating : “It is the Commissioner’s current view that there are sufficient checks and balances in the system, such as external audit of the process, to ensure that the nature and extent of that involvement continues to be recognised as appropriate and valuable to other participants in the process.”

Lord Wheatley to OCPASLord Wheatley revealed in his reply to the Appointments Commissioner, that he had not been briefed on appointments code by the Scottish Government. The reply from the Appointments Commissioner’s office led to a further reply from Lord Wheatley, who climbed down somewhat from his initial protests to the Justice Secretary, but the judge revealed he had amazingly not been briefed on the code of conduct for appointments nor supplied with a copy of it from the Scottish Government, despite Mr MacAskill appointing him to the selection panel for the SLCC’s first round of appointments !

SLCC appointments scandal 'humiliation' for Justice Secretary as MacAskill forced to abandon new lay member recruitmentDiary of Injustice reported on latest SLCC appointments scandal in early July. As I revealed a few weeks ago, the SLCC was hit with a new appointments scandal this year, after one of the current lay members on its board decided to step down, forcing a new appointments round, which was started in early February 2009. However, the new appointments round was quickly cancelled in April after reports in the media of scandals involving SLCC board members and officials who had sought to exclude consumer groups & law reform campaigners from consultations and investigations into issues such as the Law Society’s infamously corrupt Master Insurance Policy & the mired-in-fraud ‘Guarantee Fund’, two compensation schemes touted by the Law Society itself as being the “ultimate in consumer protection” but which in reality are little more than heavily corrupt schemes run by the Law Society itself to protect crooked lawyers rather than compensating clients.

I reported on the results of the research into the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund in the following two articles : ‘Ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers & Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Jane IrvineSLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine ‘wanted independent appointments assessor off her interview panel’ However, the protests against the independent assessors taking part in the SLCC’s appointments process di dnot stop with Lord Wheatley, as further documents released through Freedom of Information legislation today show amazingly the SLCC’s Chairman, Jane Irvine, also protested against the involvement of independent assessors to the now cancelled 2009 round of appointments, citing apparent conflicts of interest in the role of independent assessors which seem rather mild compared to the conflicts of interests most of those currently working at the SLCC have themselves, coming mostly from backgrounds associated or linked with the legal profession in one way or another.

Jane Irvine to Justice Dept protesting OCPAS SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine ‘keen on having senior member of the legal profession on appointments panel’. In emails released, Jane Irvine states to the Justice Department : “You asked me just to let you have a note of why we would prefer not to have an OCPAS representative on the interview panel. As we discussed the primary reason is that of conflict. I state immediately we recognize and respect OCPAS’s oversight role. We no that our appointments will be subject to scrutiny. We think OCPAS can comment independently on the process, but not if they are part of it as part of the interview panel. Put simply either they are in oversight or participation mode. We do not think that they can do both and think their value here is in oversight mode.” Jane Irvine went on : “In addition as you know I am very keen we have a senior member of the legal profession on the panel and like your suggestion of a senior member from a consumer advice/representation body if we are aiming to recruit someone from a regulatory/consumer advice background.”

A spokesman for a consumer organisation expressed shock after reading the released papers from the SLCC. She said : “Clearly there is a strong indication in the papers released under FOI that the appointments process for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is a mess. I do not see any benefit to transparency in throwing off the independent assessors who are there to safeguard the public interest in appointments to public bodies such as the SLCC.”

She went on : “Clearly there has been an organised attempt from the very beginning to undermine the independence of the SLCC as it was initially promised in the LPLA Act by what can only be described as resistance from the legal establishment to the concept of any outside scrutiny of the SLCC’s operations, even it seems in the appointments stage of placing people onto the SLCC whom the legal profession clearly want to have there without too much fuss.”

OCPAS warn Justice Dept over oversight roleAppointments Commissioner’s office warned the Justice Department the independent assessor would still intervene if appointments code not complied with. In a round of further correspondence released through FOI, the Appointments Commissioner’s office reported it had discussed the matter with the SLCC’s Chair, Ms Irvine, but while agreeing that the assigned OCPAS appointments assessor “would play the usual role in the appointments process, with the assessor contributing as a selection panel member to the panel’s collective decision”, OCPAS apparently conceded to the wishes of the SLCC and the Law Society, saying the assessor “will not ask questions at the interview but will instead observe and take notes on the interview process.” However, the Appointments Commissioner’s office warned the Justice Department that “If the OA believes during interviews that the code is not being complied with, for example if they believe that a candidate has not been questioned on the same areas as other candidates or a candidate is questioned inappropriately, our expectation is that the OA will intervene immediately.”

You can read the complete FOI releases from the Office of the Commissioner for Appointments in Scotland HERE and the Scottish Government’s FOI release on the SLCC’s now cancelled appointments round HERE

A legal insider after reading the latest Freedom of Information releases on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission branded the commission “worthless” and “a fit up for consumers with problem solicitors”.

So we are left with the feeling that little changes in the legal world, when it comes to regulating the legal profession and handling clients complaints against crooked solicitors. The Law Society have always stated they wish to retain full control of regulation, and that wish is certainly evident in every facet of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, from the appointment of its board members, to senior staff, to its policy on complaints from members of the public, which for the main seem in their results to be little more than a reflection of the Law Society’s policies of whitewashing complaints against solicitors, no matter how bad they are.

While the SLCC Chair, and senior judges are quick to protest over alleged conflicts of interest relating to the independent appointments regulators, where it seems a little transparency is unwelcomed if it doesn’t come from within the legal world itself, there is not one protest in sight from those very same people over the level of injustice their colleagues in the legal profession are causing to members of the public, some of whom have committed suicide over the way they have been treated by the likes of the Law Society and thoroughly corrupt lawyers.

In the circumstances, one can easily conclude the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is unfit for purpose, and is definitely not to be trusted by the public in its current format.

 

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Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s ‘ground-breaking’ investigation into Law Society’s Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers

Law SocietyConsumer experiences in Master Policy report brands Law Society of Scotland & its insurers ‘rotten to the core’. The Law Society of Scotland and it’s insurers who handle claims against an ever growing number of ‘crooked lawyers’ have been branded corrupt and dishonest by clients who were interviewed for the completion of ground breaking research published today by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, on the role of the two client compensation schemes operated by the Law Society of Scotland, known as the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund. The report contains highly accurate accounts from victims of crooked lawyers of the torturous and often failed process of trying to make a compensation claim against a ‘crooked lawyer’ who have mishandled clients legal affairs or in a now almost daily event, embezzled clients money.

0048Insurers Marsh & Law Society imposed conditions on SLCC’s research team. However, in a startling revelation which gives an insight into the difficulties the research team faced in compiling the report, legal insiders allege that corruption is so rife in the legal services sector, the Law Society refused to hand over actual copies of the Master Policy to the research team, fearing disclosure of the highly secretive & sensitive documents would cause a rush of bad publicity to the Scots legal profession for its consistent cover up of claims & complaints against highly corrupt law firms and individual solicitors. In response to enquiries, Dr Angela Melville, who interviewed many clients for her final report, confirmed the research team did not receive a copy of the Master Policy, despite requesting it. Instead, a letter from Alistair J Sim, Director of the US Insurer Marsh, who had executives convicted of criminal offences in the United States , attached strict conditions to what little information was disclosed : “Please note that the consent of Marsh and Royal & Sun Alliance plc to the production of the enclosed documents is condition on the research team agreeing not to quote from the documents, or any part of them, whether text or figures, in the report to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

“The documents which are produced are confidential and are commercially sensitive. They are provided to the research team only and neither the documents nor copies should be provided to any other party nor should the content of the documents be disclosed to anyone outside the research team. At the conclusion of the research project, the documents should be returned with confirmation that foregoing conditions have been complied with and that no copies have been retained. If the research team is unable to agree to the foregoing conditions, the documents should be returned along with confirmation that no copies have been retained.”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine attacked ‘conditions imposed by Law Society on research’. Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC condemned the Law Society’s insurance brokers, Marsh for not handing over necessary documents which the SLCC itself will need for its ‘monitoring role’ if that is to be achieved successfully under its legislative powers. Jane Irvine said : “The research is unique as it is the first to examine how the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund function but we are very disappointed that conditions imposed on the data delivered by the Law Society of Scotland’s broker, proved unacceptable and the transparency of operation, which is key for all users, is not apparent.”

The Law Society of Scotland today issued a statement confirming the conditions of secrecy imposed on the independent research team, claiming “During the course of this research, representatives of the Law Society were interviewed and various Master Policy documents were supplied to the researchers. Some of the information was commercially sensitive and confidential so the researchers were asked not to share it with other parties and that copies were not made or kept.”. Surely such levels of secrecy imposed on independent investigations only serve to preserve the corruption which necessitated the investigation in the first place.

A legal insider who was briefed on the interviews taking place alleged the Law Society attempted to control what was said by the solicitors to the research team, claiming : “Anything to do with the Master Policy or the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society wants to control, to the point of rigging the results. Because this was an independent research team they couldn’t control what was being reported by way of interviews from members of the public, but they did ensure they had a firm grip on what solicitors said and what information was released from the Law Society itself.”

You can read Dr Melville & Professor Stephen’s report on the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, HERE

Page 23Report reveals Law Society Chief Kenneth Pritchard, now a Sheriff blocked a client’s access to justice. The highly controversial research report contains direct references to evidence revealed by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney in the Scottish Parliament’s debating chamber, showing the most senior officials of the Law Society of Scotland, including a serving Sheriff, Kenneth Pritchard, intervened in claims against corrupt lawyers, ordering solicitors & legal firms to drop courtroom litigation against colleagues in the legal profession who had negligently handled clients affairs, in some cases losing (or taking) millions of pounds of clients money for themselves. John Swinney said in Parliament : “I can also cite to you extracts from a petition that was made to the Court of Session for Judicial Review, in which there is a quote from a letter from a Mr Pritchard who was the Secretary of the Law Society of Scotland in which he writes to a firm of solicitors: “I am anxious that you should protect your back in this matter, because every solicitor who has acted for this particular person has ended up with a claim against them.’ You will appreciate that this is a private and confidential letter, not to be shown to Mr Macintyre, the sole purpose of which is to give what I hope is helpful advice to protect both you and your firm”.

John SwinneyJohn Swinney’s revelations broke open the corruption at the Law Society of Scotland and insurance companies connected with the Master Policy. Mr Swinney concluded his statement by saying “So really quite active encouragement from an official of the Law Society of Scotland for a practitioner not to act and deliver legal representation to an individual concerned.”. Mr Swinney said he had no comment to make on the matter today, but Government insiders said the Cabinet Secretary “was satisfied the information he had revealed was accurate and that it clearly contradicted the Law Society’s version of events on Master Policy claims to the Justice 2 Committee & the Scottish Parliament.”

Policy is to protect both says Law Society - Kenneth PritchardFormer Law Chief Kenneth Pritchard claimed Master Policy protected solicitors & clients alike. While the ex Law Society chief, now Sheriff Kenneth Pritchard claimed that Master Policy protected both clients & solicitors, as I reported earlier HERE , the SLCC’s report issued today makes a nonsense of Mr Pritchard’s claims and the Law Society of Scotland’s continued policy of promoting the Master Policy as the “ultimate in consumer protection”. Dr Melville & Professor Stephen’s report reveals a much different picture of the motives of the Master Policy, clearly showing it exists to protect solicitors, no matter how corrupt they have become or what damage they have done to unsuspecting and overly trusting clients. An excerpt from the report issued today reads : “What is striking is that there is no mention of protection of interests of solicitors’ clients in Section 44 of the Solicitors Scotland Act 1980. Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms.”

My own case, involving the complaint against crooked lawyer Andrew Penman, is reported in the research as follows : “Not content with slowing my case and claim against the solicitor, the Law Society of Scotland… directly intervened in my claim by letter and instructed my solicitor… not to take instructions from me… The Law Society, not content with intervening with my solicitors directly, proceeded to obstruct and cancel my Civil Legal Aid I had been trying to obtain for my case.” You can read more on that HERE.

The findings concluded that clients of lawyers are left out in the cold, despite the Law Society of Scotland today continuing its claims that the Master Policy and the Guarantee Fund offers “unrivalled consumer protection. Clients of solicitors would now do well to consider their positions where what may appear to be a trusting relationship with their legal agent could break down in a calamitous manner at any second, From the report : “The overall impression given to the public seems to be that the Master Policy protects the interests of legal services clients, when, in fact, it protects the interests of solicitors.”

Also contained in the report are fairly typical experiences of clients who find out they have been the victim of a ‘crooked lawyer’ but who then find it difficult to gain fair hearings of their complaints or claims : “The first step for most claimants was to try and resolve the case by speaking to the most senior partner in the firm. None of the claimants that we spoke to felt that the firm made any effort to address their concerns. Instead, they all described being met by partners who were aggressive, and this attitude also appeared to add to their sense of shock.”

One reported experience of a client who made a complaint against their solicitor : “So I phoned up the senior partner of the firm. He then started up investigations, and I made an appointment to see the senior partner. When I went in to see the senior partner, after having a brief conversation with him, he looked at me across the desk, and he sat back in his chair, and he folded his arms, and he said “I’m now your opponent.”

Clients of solicitors would now do well to consider their positions where what may appear to be a trusting relationship with their legal agent could break down in a calamitous manner at any second, rendering the one trusted solicitor an opponent who will stop at nothing to ruin their once so admiring client.

Another report of a client who found the Law Society constantly delaying their claim against a crooked lawyer, in an experience common to many clients, is highlighted in the following manner : “Additionally, from the time my claim was made, the Law Society of Scotland, who were still considering complaints made against the solicitor… constantly halted their investigations, putting forward excuses they could not investigate matters while I was raising a claim for negligence against the Master Policy. This stop-start investigation policy continued for well over a year and it was obvious there was an intentional go-slow on the part of the Law Society of Scotland in their investigations to prevent me from obtaining evidence from their investigations to put into my claim to the Master Policy against the solicitor.”

Debating chamberMSPs at the Scottish Parliament are also accused of failing to help constituents who get into difficulties with the legal profession. Members of the public interviewed by the research team also criticised politicians and consumer groups for not doing enough against a very strong legal profession, when even the most horrific cases of client abuse by lawyers went unresolved : “These claimants explained that after discovering that the legal system was not necessarily going to provide a route to justice, that they had attempted to try other avenues to get their cases resolved. They had campaigned for their cause to various consumer interest groups, had approached their MSPs, participated in Government inquiries, turned to the newspaper, and yet they felt that these efforts had met with little avail. For some, this failure provided further evidence of the deep ‘corruption’ and influence of the Law Society.”

SLCCThe Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was condemned by members of the public in the report as just another Law Society. Unsurprisingly, people who were interviewed by the research team felt the SLCC was of no help to them, reported in an excerpt here : “The SLCC is made up of people with jobs connected to the ‘Law Society Inc.’. It is not independent. That is what we wanted. The Law Society is a law unto their own, they are protected. And the SLCC is part of that. The new SLCC won’t help me… From October to now, how they exercise their remit, there is a cosy relationship between the SLCC and the Law Society… They are supposed to be at arm’s length. But documents released under FOI, these documents show that they aren’t.”

Eileen MastermanSLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman. The SLCC’s Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, commented on the research saying : “The research is very much exploratory and this is due to the short time-span and the small number of claimants and solicitors it was possible to interview. The research is a useful first step in providing the SLCC with a meaningful insight into the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund and how it can affect complainers. Members of the SLCC Board will now benefit from this important first-stage research which will develop our role overseeing the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund.”

The research team conclude their report by stating : “ What has clearly come through these interviews has been the very divergent views of solicitors and claimants/consumer groups as to the primary function of the Master Policy. The former tend to see it as simply a professional negligence insurance designed to protect individual members of the profession. The latter see that its primary purpose should be to protect the public against incompetent members of the profession. Whilst these are not incompatible aims we have come to the view that the rhetoric of the Law Society of Scotland encourages the latter perception but practice is more inclined to the former. In other jurisdictions there is a more explicit statement that it is the former.”

“Those claimants to whom we spoke were very much of the opinion that it was difficult to establish liability of a solicitor for professional negligence. It would be desirable to test this claim by looking at the record of the Master Policy in terms of claims and compensation paid. Data which would have allowed us to do this was requested from the Law Society of Scotland but was only made available the day before this Report was due to be submitted. Furthermore the Law Society of Scotland and Marsh put conditions on the use of the data in this Report which were unacceptable to us and to the Chief Executive of SLCC.”

“We would recommend that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission undertake a longer term research project which will allow researchers to examine the experiences of a representative sample of claimants and solicitors as well as analyse data on claims provided by the Master Policy’s broker under reasonable conditions of use.”

So, now what ? Will the SLCC actually do something for people who have had their claims destroyed by the Master Policy ‘protection racket’ ? Will SLCC members such as Margaret Scanlan who it was revealed, tagged claimants to the Guarantee Fund as “chancers” learn that just because victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ try to claim compensation for their stolen funds does not necessarily make everyone a chancer ?

Well, for now, it appears the SLCC will do nothing .. and wont even seek a copy of the Master Policy itself, so there is much more campaigning to be done on these issues to ensure that cases involving claims, and also complaints against crooked lawyers, are considered and regulated properly by a wholly independent organisation free of any involvement with the legal profession .. and that is most certainly not, the SLCC.

 

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