Saturday, July 16, 2016

LORDING IT MORE OPENLY: Scotland’s obsessively secretive judiciary reveal overseas junkets - after media spotlight on judges’ international air travel circuit increases judicial transparency

Media interest results in judges revealing overseas trips. THE MOST powerful & unaccountable figures in Scotland’s justice system – The Judiciary –  will now regularly publish details of their frequent use of taxpayer funded overseas travel junkets.

The transparency victory comes after a three year Freedom of Information & media spotlight on judicial overseas travel junkets forced the Judiciary of Scotland to come clean on judges’ opulent use of public cash to fly around the globe to lavish locations and events officially described as ‘law conferences’.

Of the thirty one overseas travel junkets taken by Scottish judges in the latest year of figures covering from April 2015 to March 2016 - members of the judiciary racked up a further £22,605.92 worth of international trips funded by public cash - including £2,052.97 of expenses claimed by the travelling judges.

Overseas travel records now released by the Judicial Office for Scotland reveal Court of Session judge Lord Brailsford – enjoyed a £4,898.94 eight day taxpayer funded junket to Sydney Australia from 11 – 19 November 2015 – making Lord Brailsford the top overseas judicial junket claimant of the past twelve months.

Lord Brailsford – who regularly appears in judicial overseas junkets lists - was recently outed in published documents obtained from the Scottish Government - as the listed owner of the Laigh Hall – which forms part of Court of Session buildings located at Parliament House, Edinburgh.

The Laigh Hall was effectively swiped from public ownership by the Faculty of Advocates in the Parliament House titles scandal - which saw the City of Edinburgh Council lose public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings to the Faculty of Advocates and the body which runs the courts – the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The overseas travel data also reveals Scotland’s former top judge - Lord Brian Gill and current Lord President Lord Carloway - as the two judges filing the largest expenses claims on top of the costs of overseas travel in the past year.

Lord Gill enjoyed a two day trip during the twilight days of his short, if stormy three year term as Scotland’s top judge - to the Forum of Chief Justice of British Isles - held in the tax haven of Jersey.

Figures reveal Lord Gill claimed £302.09 expenses on top of the £231.60  cost of travel to Jersey - taking the cost of his last ‘confirmed’ judicial overseas junket as top judge - to £533.69.

Known for previous overseas judicial trips taken at taxpayers expense – Lord Brian Gill travelled to Qatar in 2014 on a five day £2,800 taxpayer funded state visit - while dodging invitations to attend the Scottish Parliament to face scrutiny on his opposition to increased transparency of the judiciary.

And earlier this year, Lord Gill billed the Scottish Parliament a further £267.75 worth of expenses claims - after the former top judge travelled 1st class to Edinburgh in November 2015 - demanding MSPs drop a three year probe on proposals to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

Meanwhile Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) - who ascended to the top judicial post carrying the title of Lord President in January 2016 – claimed £352.51 expenses on top of the £650.47 cost of a judicial junket to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg during 24-26 January 2016 - bringing the total cost of Carloway’s latest taxpayer funded trip to £1,002.98.

Carloway – also well known on the judicial air miles junket set – previously took a £5,820.16 seven day trip costing taxpayers £5,820.16 to a law conference in Vancouver, Canada during 21 - 27 June 2014.

And, a two day group judges trip to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in late January – comprising Lord Carloway, Lord Braccadale, Lord Bannatyne, Lady Stacy, Lady Smith and Lady Paton - cost taxpayers a whopping £4413.23.

Full details of public cash funded overseas travel junkets by Scottish judges have previously been published by Diary of Injustice here: Overseas travel of Scottish judges in 2014-2015, Overseas Travel of Scotland’s Judges 2013-2014 & Overseas Travel of Scotland's Judges 2010-2013.

The latest transparency move by Scotland’s judiciary to reveal the secretive world of judges junkets and expenses claims comes after an earlier Freedom of Information campaign by DOI during 2009 –2010 resulted in the then Lord President - Lord Arthur Hamilton agreeing to publish regular disclosures on judicial expenses, featured in an article in 2010 here: Scots judges emerge from ‘Victorian veil’ as judiciary’s expenses claims set to be published online from November 2010 .

In response to a Freedom of Information request for information on the latest judicial overseas trips, the Judicial Office for Scotland confirmed the new policy of publication.

R. Gare, Policy Manager for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “The Judicial Office for Scotland now publishes information on overseas travel. Information relating to your request can be found on the Scottish Judiciary website. Further, I can confirm that no SCTS staff travelled with any of the members of the judiciary in relation to the trips contained within the table.”

Overseas travel of Scotland’s judiciary 2015-2016: Information released by the Judicial Office for Scotland to DOI, and now published on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website reveals the extent of overseas travel undertaken by Scotland’s judges in the past year: 

9 -10 April 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Group meeting in Lisbon £540.31

16 - 17 April 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ - RECJ meeting of the Project team "Development of minimum judicial Standards" in Brussels £566.57

29 -31 May 2015 Lord Gill Forum of Chief Justice of British Isles in Jersey £533.69

2 - 6 June 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ AGM meeting in The Hague £408.68

3 - 5 June 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ General Assembly meeting in The Hague £443.36

9 - 14 June 2015 Lord Brodie FBIJCC meeting in Paris £663.48

10 - 13 June 2015 Sheriff McGowan FBIJCC meeting in Paris £562.82

10 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff Welsh FBIJCC meeting in Paris £719.72

10 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff M Neilson FBIJCC meeting in Paris £710.75

11 - 14 June 2015 Lord Eassie FBIJCC meeting in Paris £646.55

11 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff L Drummond FBIJCC meeting in Paris £970.92

18 - 20 June 2015 Lord Tyre ERA meeting in Luxembourg £375.24

June 2015 ENCJ Reimbursement -£975.10 -£975.10 August 2015 ERA Reimbursement -£364.77 -£364.77

13 - 18 September 2015 Sheriff R Dickson CMJA Conference in NZ - Wellington £1,161.26

12 - 19 September 2015 Sheriff Fletcher CMJA Conference in NZ - Wellington £1,545.28

24 - 25 September 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ Project meeting in Paris £660.97

24 - 25 September 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project meeting in Paris £983.10

27 - 29 September 2015 Lord Matthews ECJ meeting in Luxembourg £522.25

3 - 5 October 2015 Lord Doherty Opening of Legal Year in Dublin £584.90

4- 5 October 2015 Lady Stacey Opening of Legal Year in Dublin £281.37

11 - 19 November 2015 Lord Brailsford International Hague Network of Judges in Hong Kong and Commonwealth and Common Law International Family Justice Conference in Sydney £4,898.94

30 November - 1 Dec 2015 Sheriff Liddle ENCJ meeting project on Funding of the Judiciary in Brussels £557.90

3 - 4 December 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Meeting - Independence and Accountability in Brussels £508.36

24 - 26 January 2016 Lord Carloway European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £1,002.98

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Paton European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £650.47

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Smith European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £690.52

24 - 26 January 2016 Lord Bracadale European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £729.89

24 - 26 January2016 Lord Bannatyne European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £650.47 

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Stacey  European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £688.90

18 - 19 February 2016 Lord President  Bilateral Meeting in Dublin £110.51

28 February - 1 March 2016 Sheriff Liddle  ENCJ Colloque meeting - Dublin £253.00

7 March 2016 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Group - Independence and Accountability in Brussels £322.63

Total: £20,552.95 £2,052.97 £22,605.92

Abbreviations: ENCJ - European Network of Councils for Judiciary, CMJA - Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, ECJ - European Court of Justice ERA - Academy of European law, FBIJCC - Franco -British - Irish Judicial Cooperation Committee Colloque

The decision in 2016  by the Judicial Office to publish judges overseas travel information and costs comes after several media investigations into the judiciary’s use of public cash to fund overseas trips.

In 2014, the Scottish Sun on Sunday newspaper investigated judicial overseas travel junkets, reporting:

 LORDING IT ALL OVER THE WORLD

Beaks Trips on Taxpayer

Exclusive : By Russell Findlay 17 August 2014 Scottish Sun

JET-SETTING judges spent £26,000 of taxpayers' cash on overseas trips last year, a Scottish Sun on Sunday investigation can reveal.

Top beaks flew out to destinations including Russia, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Qatar.

The most expensive was a £5,800 trip to Canada by Scotland's second most senior judge, Lord Carloway. Lord Gill - who is the Lord President - also spent five days on a £2,800 trip to Doha, Qatar, where he gave speech on judicial ethics.

Our probe found he jetted to the desert state — criticised for its human rights abuses - after twice snubbing calls to appear in front of the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee just 800 yards from his office.

Committee member John Wilson MSP said: "During his speech in Qatar he said that he had much to learn from that country's judicial system. But Qatar has a poor record on human rights, as identified by Amnesty International."

Legal campaigner Peter Cherbi added: "Judges are supposed to sit in courts, not in jets.

"It's hard to believe that Scotland and our judiciary can learn anything from Qatar, a country accused of funding war. mass murder and chaos throughout the Middle East."

In the past year the Judicial Office for Scotland has paid for Lord Carloway — who earns £208.000 a year - to take part in law events in Vancouver. Canada, and Dijon. France.

It also forked out public money for Lord Armstrong, Lord Boyd and Lady Dorrian to meet other Euro pean judges on a three-day trip to Luxembourg.

Lord Eassie travelled to legal events in St Gallen, Switzerland, and Yalta, Ukraine.

And Lady Clark spent four days at an Anglo-Israeli conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, while Lord Hodge went to Paris.

Meanwhile four sheriffs — Wendy Anne Sheenan, Frank Crowe. Nikola Stewart and Thomas McCartney — attended a four day family law event in Ireland.

It took place at luxury Carton House hotel and spa in Co Kildare where the itinerary included a lack tie gala dinner and optional round of golf on the hotel's course.

Last year Lord Gill — whose salary is £216,307 - also travelled to Jersey, while in the previous three years he went to Ireland, South Africa, Slovenia and Canada.

Last week he announced a clampdown on overseas travel by judges, sheriffs and JPs.

He will only allow judges to travel if they give a good reason to do so and they will also have to write a report about their trips.

The SNP's Mr Wilson added: "Given the pressures on our courts, it's welcome that Lord Gill is seeking to curtail future judicial travel and will hopefully lead by example."

The Judicial Office for Scotland was asked to give details of Lord Gill's itinerary for the rest of his Qatar trip and whether he regretted going after snubbing Holyrood.

A spokesman said they couldn't help as the Lord President is on holiday.

The Sunday Mail newspaper also investigated judicial overseas junkets in 2015 - revealing three sheriffs spent £15,000 on an overseas junket to Zambia in Africa JUDGE JET: Sheriffs’ £15K tour of Africa adds to air miles racket of Scots judiciary - as top judges' clampdown on judicial jet set junkets takes flight.

And a report in the Sunday Mail on June 2 2013 revealed Scottish judges spent over £83,000 on overseas travel junkets in three years - while top judge Lord Gill refused calls to appear before the Scottish Parliament to answer questions on the judiciary’s secretive financial interests & links to big business, banks & the professions.

Previous articles on the judiciary’s use of public cash to fund judicial overseas junkets can be found here: Overseas travel of Scottish judges.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

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.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

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 starting from 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.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall & new Lord Advocate refused to give expectations on move to recover public ownership of Parliament House

New Lord Advocate’s role in Parliament House titles fiasco. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s new Lord Advocate - James Wolffe QC – refused to give expectations of any success on efforts by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

Emails from James Wolffe to the Scottish Government also claim the Faculty of Advocates spent £320K on legal costs and work refurbishing the Laigh Hall – which Edinburgh City Council contend was wrongly taken from public ownership.

The series of exchanges between the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Scottish Ministers in relation to the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings - came to light in papers released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to Alex Neil MSP  - the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates.

However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

The long time lawyer & QC – recently selected by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate -  also felt confident enough to pass along details of the financial costs of ‘refurbishing’ the Laigh Hall - which the City of Edinburgh Council maintained were part of the common good & therefore owned by the council.

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant - James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

Responding to Wolffe’s claim the Faculty of Advocates paid out over £320K on refurbishing parts of buildings formerly in public ownership - an individual at the Scottish Government whose identity has been censored in the released documents – made light of further coverage of the Parliament House fiasco in the Scottish media.

In a further email, Wolffe alerted the secretive Scottish Government contact to additional coverage, pointing to an article written by Martin Hannan in The National, titled “Edinburgh asks: Can we have Parliament House back, please?

Meanwhile, unredacted sections of legal advice given by the Scottish Government’s own lawyers to Scottish Ministers revealed in the documents state the following:

• The Scottish Court Service (SCS) is the current proprietor and occupier of Parliament House.

Consequently it is that independent body (and not the Scottish Ministers) that would have to agree to a voluntary transfer of its title to the local authority. We don't know what view the Lord President would be likely to take on that matter and whether he would agree to the transfer in circumstances where the public body has a valid title. He may, for example, be influenced by the fact that the SCS has recently undertake a major refurbishment of the building complex at a cost of around £58 million.

• The finance position is complex. SCS holds a valid title and will have accounted for bot the property and the recent refurbishment works in its accounts: Whilst a transfer to the council would retain the property in public ownership, there are tricky issues around accounting and public finance rules t at would require further investigation.

• Although neither a legal nor financial impediment, the title position is very complex. Parliament House is not one building but rather a number that are stitched together, built down the centuries. it is not clear whether the entire property was, and remained, part of the Common Good Fund when Scottish Ministers registered a title. This may be relevant when considering whether or not it would be appropriate to transfer the entire property. My understanding is that it would be an expensive exercise to undertake any further examination of the title and it is unlikely that it would in any event achieve any greater clarity.

• The Faculty of Advocates holds a registered title to the Laigh Hall. It mayor may not agree to a voluntary transfer, and if they were inclined to do so, we don't know upon' what basis.

As ministers sought to arrange meetings and seek views on the subject, Lord Brian Gill – then Lord President – wrote to Alex Neil MSP, asserting “this matter is best dealt with at official level”

Gill said he would ask Eric McQueen - Chief Executive of Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, to meet with officials of the Council.

However, after a year of fruitless negotiations between council officials, the Scottish Government, and other parties, the City of Edinburgh Council served writs on Scottish Ministers, the Keeper of the Registers and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service on 25 November 2015.

The action by the council - seeking declarator that the City of Edinburgh Council is the owner of Parliament House, High Street, home of the Court of Session – has since been abandoned.

In response to media enquiries, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed the council’s legal action had ceased, and said : “SCTS holds legal title to Parliament House.”

PARLIAMENT HOUSE TITLE SWINDLE

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP - revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation - revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen's Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”.

Sidney Brailsford is High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government's position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ's Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister - Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

Friday, June 03, 2016

WOLFFE LAW: Crown Office ‘line of succession’ falters - First Minister names James Wolffe QC as Lord Advocate & Alison Di Rollo as Solicitor General

Faculty of Advocates boss to be new Lord Advocate. THE DEAN of the Faculty of Advocates - James Wolffe QC – has been named Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate.

The appointment – recommended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and agreed by the Scottish Parliament on June 1st under Motion S5M-00255 – will see Mr Wolffe succeed Frank Mulholland QC as Scotland’s top prosecutor and head of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The number two spot at the Crown Office has been filled by Advocate Alison Di Rollo – who becomes the new Solicitor General - after Lesley Thomson quit the role.

A news release from the Scottish Government said Ms Thomson – who held the post as Solicitor General since 2011 “informed the First Minister she wishes to pursue new challenges.”

The appointments of both Mr Wolffe & Ms Di Rollo – come recently after it was revealed a number of Crown Office staff have been convicted of serious criminal offences - including misuse of drugs, violence & offences against the Police.

A further report in the media revealed Crown Office staff operating an air junkets racket - reported here: Crown Office jet set junket racket - Files reveal Prosecutors spent £57K on international & domestic air travel as crooks deal plea bargains to dodge law & courts.

Among long term investigations by the Crown Office awaiting decisions - the new Lord Advocate will face a decision on whether to prosecute anyone in connection with the £400 million collapsed Hedge Fund.

The Heather Capital collapse – probed by prosecutors and Police for three years – has seen links to judges, prosecutors, top politicians, Police and even the Vatican state - revealed in considerable detail in the Scottish and international media.

It will also fall to James Wolffe’s Crown Office to decide on whether to intervene in any private prosecution brought by relatives of victims those killed in the Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths case.

The First Minister said: “I am extremely pleased to recommend the appointments of James Wolffe and Alison Di Rollo as Scotland’s senior law officers.”

“James has an outstanding legal background and extensive experience at all levels, including the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

“Alison led the work of the ground-breaking National Sexual Crimes Unit (NSCU) for three years, having previously held the role of deputy. Her outstanding leadership in this most sensitive of areas has inspired confidence in all connected to it.”

James Wolffe said: “I thank the First Minister for nominating me to the office of Lord Advocate. If I am appointed, it will be a great privilege to serve Scotland in that role.”

Alison Di Rollo said: “I am both delighted and honoured to be nominated for this role by the First Minister and I am looking forward to working with James in his new role.”

The First Minister thanked both Frank Mulholland QC and Lesley Thomson QC for their service in the roles.

She said: “In his time as Lord Advocate, Frank has made a substantial contribution to both the law and to Scottish society. The creation of the National Sexual Crimes Unit was just one example of the increased specialisation of the Crown Office that Frank Mulholland presided over. In her role as Solicitor General, Lesley’s work, particularly around domestic abuse, was pivotal in moving towards a system that instils confidence in victims of abuse and ensures that their abusers are held to account. I thank both Frank and Lesley for their dedicated service to the Government, to justice and to Scotland as a whole.”

Frank Mulholland announced earlier in March he intended to step down as Lord Advocate after the Scottish Elections held in May.

It has since been announced Mulholland – who campaigned aggressively alongside current Lord President Lord Carloway for the removal of the key injustice safeguard of Corroboration from Scots Law - has been made a judge at the Court of Session.

Among five senators appointed to the College of Justice, Frank Mulholland QC, Sheriff John Beckett QC, Ailsa Carmichael QC, Alistair Clark QC, and Andrew Stewart QC will sit as judges in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.

The judicial appointment to be taken up by Frank Mulholland QC, will take effect following the retirement of a senator later in the year.

The appointment of Mulholland to a judicial position comes after the recent appointment of Lord Carloway to the top post of Lord President – head of the Scottish judiciary.

MOTIONED TO BE LAW CHIEF:

Motion S5M-00255: Nicola Sturgeon, Glasgow Southside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/05/2016: First Minister's Appointment of Law Officers

That the Parliament agrees that it be recommended to Her Majesty that James Wolffe be appointed as the Lord Advocate and that Alison Di Rollo be appointed as Solicitor General for Scotland.

Supported by: John Swinney, Joe FitzPatrick Current Status: Taken in the Chamber on 01/06/2016

LAW CHIEFS ON THE UP:

James Wolffe QC is a leading Senior Counsel. He became an advocate in 1992 and took silk in 2007. In 2014 he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. He was First Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Ministers from 2002 to 2007, and served as an Advocate Depute from 2007 to 2010. He has extensive experience of both commercial and public law. He is a member of the Faculty Dispute Resolution Service and was also called to the bar of England & Wales in 2013.

Alison Di Rollo is a Senior Advocate Depute. She joined the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 1985 as a fiscal. Ms di Rollo then worked in the Policy Group at the Crown Office prior to being appointed Deputy Head of the High Court Unit and later Head of Operational Policy. In May 2008, Ms Di Rollo was seconded from COPFS to take up an appointment as a trial advocate depute. She was appointed as deputy head of the National Sexual Crimes Unit in 2011 and became head of the unit in January 2013.

The Lord Advocate is a Minister of the Scottish Government and acts as principal legal adviser, but decisions by him about criminal prosecutions and the investigation of deaths are taken independently of any other person. In that way, he is not subject to the ordinary rules about collective ministerial decisions.

The Solicitor General is the Lord Advocate’s deputy. She assists the Lord Advocate to carry out his functions. She is also a Minister of the Scottish Government.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland's Crown Office - in Crown detail