Thursday, May 12, 2016

Master Scam: Law Society switch brokers of Master Policy - insurance scheme dubbed ‘corrupt & manipulative’ provides little protection for consumers against negligent, rogue lawyers

Law Society switch brokers on dodgy insurance scheme. AN INSURANCE scheme operated by the Law Society of Scotland - which covers all Scottish solicitors - and is designed to ‘protect’ consumers when lawyers walk off with their cash and other assets - has announced a change of brokers from Marsh to Lockton.

The switch was announced last week by the Law Society – who said brokers Lockton will administer and broker the Master Policy of Professional Indemnity Insurance from 1 January 2017.

The move comes after Marsh – who managed the policy for nearly 40 years - lost the five yearly tender process in April 2016 to Lockton.

The Master Insurance Policy is a compulsory Professional Indemnity Insurance arrangement enforced by the Law Society upon all solicitors in Scotland.

The scheme includes all in-house solicitors who work for the Scottish Government and lawyers from the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) seconded around public bodies and other branches of the Executive such as the Scottish Parliament and justice bodies.

The Master Policy claims to provide cover of up to £2 million for any one claim where the solicitor is ‘established’ to have been negligent.

However, the process of establishing whether a solicitor is negligent or not – is controlled by the legal profession and the courts.

In a statement issued by the Law Society, Chief Executive Lorna Jack claimed “The Master Policy provides an important protection for solicitors’ clients when things go wrong. The insurance means that any valid claim against a Scottish solicitor will be paid - even if the solicitor is no longer in practice, no longer solvent or cannot be traced.”

However, the claims – echoed from Jack’s predecessor – Douglas Mill – were previously & spectacularly taken apart by Deputy First Minister & Finance Secretary John Swinney, during a Scottish Parliament investigation into self regulation of the legal profession in 2006.

Mr Swinney branded the Law Society & Master Policy as manipulative after Mill claimed the Law Society kept a distance from the client compensation insurance arrangements.

Mr Swinney produced an internal memo from Mill himself – who had requested a “summit meeting how to dispose of several valid claims.”

Mill went onto “swear on his granny’s grave” he and the Law Society had never intervened in a compensation claim.

However, the memo - produced by Swinney during the Holyrood hearing - came to illustrate the significant level of dishonesty and  manipulation with regard to the ‘consumer protection policy’ – which despite Mill’s claims to the contrary – rarely pays full compensation after lawyers swipe clients assets.

The Master Policy was more recently linked in a Research Report to deaths and suicides of clients who attempted to claim back hundreds of thousands of pounds taken by legal agents engaged in corrupt practices not covered by an alternative Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund run by the legal profession.

The independent report, compiled by legal academics Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville from the University of Manchester School of Law - concluded the Master Policy “is simply designed to allow lawyers to sleep at night.” rather than protect consumers from rogue elements within the legal profession.

According to the report "claimants described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants."

Cases referred to in the report describe scenarios where consumers are commonly forced to become party litigants after the Law Society intervene in the claims process, forcing claimants legal representatives to withdraw from acting in financial damages claims against  against other solicitors.

The Research Report sourced comments from claimants: "I keep fighting cases, and they keep coming at me, and now I have become ill. But they still keep coming at me. They threw me out onto the street, I couldn’t get my medication, I’ve got nothing, I was homeless, ill, sleeping in the car. Now I am appealing. But I can’t get a solicitor. They are just shutting me down…. My health has been damaged, they kill you off. It's a proven fact. All of us have stress related problems after years and years of stress."

The report also linked the Law Society’s insurance scheme to suicides of clients who attempted to claim back funds appropriated by corrupt solicitors.

The report stated:  "Several claimants said that they had been diagnosed with depression; that they had high blood pressure; and several had their marriages fail due to their claim. Some had lost a lot of money, their homes, and we were told that one party litigant had committed suicide."

The report concluded: “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.”

“It is clear that establishing a valid claim under the Master Policy requires either an admission of liability on the part of the solicitor or an action to be taken by the claimant to establish liability. It is our view that the Law Society of Scotland raises the expectations of potential claimants by emphasising the Master Policy's public protection role. It is perhaps more accurate to say that policy ensures that those with a proven claim will be able to recover.”

“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.”

“The limited data which we have seen on the Guarantee Fund suggests that there is a considerable difference between the value of claims and the sums paid out by the Fund. We have not been able to establish whether this is a result of the discretionary nature of the fund or simply a large divergence between parties in assessing the sums lost.”

“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.”

Dr Angela Melville - who interviewed many clients for her final report, confirmed the research team did not receive a copy of the Master Policy itself after Marsh director Alistair J Sim, demanded strict conditions for the disclosure of the insurance policy’s terms.

Sim wrote in a letter to the University research team - which appears in full on the last page of the report: “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.”

Sim’s letter continued: “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.”

No further research has been commissioned by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission since the report was published in 2009, and with the SLCC now under substantive control of the Law Society of Scotland, much of what it produces by way of research and statistics is widely recognised as having little honest value in terms of consumer protection.

The Master Policy started in November 1978 under brokers Sedgwick Forbes UK Limited, which later became part of the Marsh Group. Given the highly specialist nature of professional indemnity insurance, the brokers play a vital role in arranging and securing the insurance cover as well as providing administration, advice, as well as risk management training.

Along the years, law firms acting for the Master Policy included Simpson & Marwick – now merged with Clyde & Co, Balfour & Manson and other ‘big name’ law firms brought in to demolish consumers attempts to reclaim millions of pounds lost, misappropriated or embezzled by Scottish solicitors.

While the Master Policy is tasked with dealing with claims for negligence, the Law Society has been known to manipulate claims on a serial basis. Unsurprisingly, even claims which do succeed against the Master Policy bear little return to clients who are forced to go through lengthy court processes in front of a judiciary who have also previously paid into the same Master Policy arrangement while serving as solicitors in their earlier years prior to the bench.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

PASS THE CROWN : As one Lord Advocate exits, another is set to take charge of Scotland’s ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service

Crown Office set to have new Lord Advocate SCOTLAND'S Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) - based in Edinburgh - would not be out of place in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Seriously.

Remember the opening sketch from At World’s End – where the line of accused sing while walking to the gallows - as various repeals of statutes, rights & laws are ordered suspended.

If one were to loiter around gatherings of prosecution robes in Sheriff courts up and down the land, one would quickly discover this is how some view justice and how to score a conviction, guilty or not.

Headlines and PR please. Who cares about due process and the quality of evidence – that is the stuff of entertainment, drama and fiction.

Thank goodness then, for criminal defence solicitors … well, at least the dutiful, attentive & hard working ones.

Evasion, introducing dodgy evidence into a trial – lets just call it lying, telling plod to read from an empty note book, dead people on witness lists, private briefings against judges who signed a petition to retain key parts of Scots Law such as corroboration.

The Crown has done it all. Ask any solicitor – well, a decent one. Even the judiciary know it. Not too difficult to spot.

Incompetence, corruption, links to gangsters, stage managed media, interference in investigations and subtle threats to anyone who stands in their way of a quick verdict.

What £110 million a year – the cost of the Crown Office - buys you. Really.

The truth is, standards have slipped at Scotland’s Crown Office. And we all know it.

Some may say, were there ever any real standards at the Crown Office? Well - there is an unpalatable answer to that one.

But let us not forget, we are here today to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the end of one Lord Advocates career in office ... and the beginnings of another.

Among the massed ranks of gangsters, corrupt public officials, legal aid thieving lawyers, the occasional declare-dodging judge waddling along with gemstones, krugerrands, loads-a-property and offshore trusts jingling in their back pockets, there are a platoon of prosecutors who are tasked with keeping the lid on all of it.

That lid – needs a boss.

You know – someone to keep Edinburgh’s version of Al Capone’s Hotel Lexington in fancy red carpets and baseball bats.

And so we come to the role of Lord Advocate. The boss of it all.

The current Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, announced back in March he plans to step down in May.

Mr Mulholland previously served as Solicitor General and succeeded Dame Elish Angiolini QC as Lord Advocate in 2011.

Speaking of his intention to quit, the Lord Advocate said: “It has been a real privilege to serve as Lord Advocate, leading Scotland’s prosecution service and providing independent legal advice to the Scottish Government . However, after nine years as a Law Officer – the last five as Lord Advocate - I have decided it is the right time to step down and do other things.

“In recent years the Crown has embedded specialisms in the way it does its job. Our expertise in handling offences including rape, domestic abuse, Serious Organised Crime, Counter Terrorism and Cold Cases has helped us become one of the most effective prosecution services in the world and given victims greater confidence to report crimes.”

He added: “It’s been an honour to do this job working with so many dedicated and talented people to deliver justice in some of the most demanding and challenging of cases.

He was duly praised by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said: “Frank Mulholland has fulfilled the challenging roles as head of Scotland’s prosecution service and as the Scottish Government’s principal legal adviser, with dedication, energy, integrity and intellect.

“He has played a central role in many innovations to our justice system, including leading Scotland’s first successful ‘double jeopardy’ murder prosecution and agreeing a historic communiqué with the heads of prosecution services from across the UK and Ireland to work together to tackle the cross-border crime of human trafficking.

“It is clear that he has worked to bring about change to ensure that the system makes a real difference to people’s lives, and his dedication to the law and his compassion for others has been behind that drive.

“Frank has made a substantial contribution to the law and Scottish society. I’m confident that he will continue to do so and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service and wish him well for the future.”

Nothing about the decision to refuse to prosecute anyone over the deaths of six members of the public in Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths case – and countless other deaths in similar situations.

Nothing about inaction in a three year probe of a £400 million collapsed Hedge Fund with links to the judiciary who just happened to represent Scotland’s top politicians and former Lord Advocate.

Nothing about shredding statistics so the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee could not investigate claims in the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

Nothing about significant numbers of collapsed cases involving notorious Scottish crime clans – this after being fed yearly Crown Office press releases on crime gangs & professional advisers, none of whom are ever caught.

Nothing about slipping £500K of bonuses to Crown Office prosecutors for a job not well done.

Nothing about the real reasons for the introduction of Double Jeopardy – because Prosecutors were - and are - just not up to the job.

Nothing about the Crown Office role in the plot to remove Corroboration from Scots Law. And what a plot that was.

Nothing about Prosecutors very own crime gang – where Crown Office Prosecutors teamed up with criminals, leaked case files, used drugs & much more.

Oh, and nothing about Prosecutors escaping jail for some of the worst imaginable crimes on the go.

Of course - as we all know - fond farewells are often fond - and written by candle light with a teary eye.

Perhaps not always fair to blame the boss, right? It’s the institution.

Some would say that. Even a clear thinking Scottish Minister, at least privately.

Institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist .. the Crown Office has been branded many things over the years, and rightly so with the evidence before our very eyes.

So, if the institution is to function as it should, a change is needed, much more than a simple elevation of another part of the problem to higher office.

Step up - the next overseas jet set junket, expenses claiming, bonus paying, investigation meddling & truth bending Lord Advocate.

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

In completely unrelated news:

Currently, there is a dirty cash probe into the financial affairs of the Lord Advocate’s brother.

Previously, it has also been reported a relative of the current Solicitor General was convicted of criminal offences involving violence against women.

The same Solicitor General represented the Crown during the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths - where a decision was taken not to prosecute anyone over the “preventable deaths”.

The Crown team’s failure subsequently forced the families of victims to attempt a private prosecution after the justice system and Crown Office, let them down.

And mystery now surrounds how one former high ranking law officer was rejected for a judicial position after intense lobbying for the candidate by a dodgy member of the judiciary linked to top politicians - raised several judicial wigs & brows.

Mulholland joins judicial bench:

In an update to this published article, the Scottish Government announced on May 11 2016 that retiring Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland has been appointed as a judge.

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.

Their appointments take effect on dates to be agreed by the Lord President. Four of the appointments are to fill existing vacancies.

The fifth 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.

Friday, May 06, 2016

LEGAL RAIDERS: Law Society sent 19,000 emails to MSPs in lobbying effort to protect £150 million a year legal aid payments to lawyers & criminal fraternity - ‘regardless of cost to society’

Law Society launches campaign to protect £1m legal aid pay-outs to crooks. ON THE day Scotland elected a minority SNP Government, the Law Society of Scotland has revealed it organised a ‘19,000 plus’ email lobbying effort targeted at candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections – aimed at ‘protecting’ over £150m a year in legal aid public cash hand-outs to lawyers.

The campaign – organised under the guise of ‘access to justice for all’ – criticises recent cuts in the huge Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) budget – which has seen a staggering £1.2 billion of taxpayers cash paid out to lawyers and their criminal clients since the financial crash of 2008.

As part of the campaign, the Law Society said it had encouraged both solicitors and members of the public to contact their candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections to ask them to support access to justice, along with a twitter campaign with the hashtag #defendlegalaid”".

Material published by the Law Society states: “over 450 people have written to their candidates in the Scottish Parliament election asking them to #defendlegalaid.”

“Over 19,000 emails have been sent to candidates”

“Candidates in over 70 constituencies have been contacted as part of the campaign”

“Candidates from eight political parties, as well as independents, have pledged to #defendlegalaid on social media”

Alongside a document titled  Legal Assistance in Scotland fit for 21st Century, the Law Society launched a PR video in an attempt to persuade the public to support a drive to hand out millions more in public cash to lawyers.

The Law Society campaign strategy also includes ‘ research’ commissioned during 2013 from polling organisation Ipsos Mori  - which claims “there is strong public support for legal aid.”

The Law Society ‘research’ claims “81% of the public agreeing legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure a fair society, regardless of its cost.”

Further research was carried out with lawyers during 2015 – coming just after it was revealed the Law Society had rigged a client satisfaction survey, publishing spurious claims of high client satisfaction with Scottish solicitors across several media outlets - the articles authored by the Law Society’s own President.

The 2015 survey of the legal profession claims to indicate 78% of solicitors surveyed believed “Scottish Government policy on legal aid risked undermining access to justice for the poorest in society”, with 77% of lawyers in the survey allegedly demanding an increase in legal aid rates.

Commenting on the latest campaign against legal aid cuts, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “We recognise that like all public sector funding, the justice budget is under significant pressure. However legal aid funding is quite simply the cost of access to justice for those in need.

Ms McLintock continued: “Access to justice is an essential element of a fair and democratic society and we have highlighted it as one of one of our key priorities for this year’s Scottish election. Providing access to quality legal advice and representation for people, regardless of their financial means, helps tackle inequality, encourages early resolution of problems, and protects fundamental rights.

“While our legal aid system is designed to meet costs on a case-by-case basis, there are fees for particular types of work which were set in 1992 and have not been revised.

Christine McLintock attacked the cuts to the legal aid budget, saying : “The legal aid budget was reduced from £161.4m in 2010/2011 to £138m in 2014/15. The target budget for 2016/17 is £126.4m – more than a £10 million reduction – and is less in cash terms than 20 years ago which, accounting for inflation, represents around a 50% cut in real terms over those two decades.

“This is causing enormous challenges – already there are areas of the country where there are not enough solicitors providing civil legal aid to meet demand, because practitioners just can’t afford to take it on.”

However, it has previously emerged during media investigations solicitors have got off the hook from multiple cases involving legal aid fraud & millions of pounds of public cash,

in one media investigation, it was revealed Fourteen lawyers accused of defrauding millions of pounds of legal aid public cash escaped prosecution after Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) refused to prosecute any of the cases reported to prosecutors by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

In another case brought to light by the media – Niels S Lockhart - a Kilmarnock based solicitor took over £600,000 of legal aid cash in just two years – and even when allegations of dodgy claims were reported to the Law Society an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board – the Law Society of Scotland failed to act.

It emerged last summer the same solicitor – Niels S Lockhart – ended up demanding more legal aid cash even after being barred from the legal aid register – reported here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years - and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

LEGAL AID - How criminals & legal fraternity pocket £150 million a year of YOUR MONEY:

LEGAL RAID: FRAUDSTER'S TRIAL HANDOUT

Scandal of £11m crook who lived high life on stolen cash ...& WE pay his £769k law bills

EXCLUSIVE by Russell Findlay Scottish Sun 12 July 2015

A FRAUDSTER who flew in private jets and lit cigarettes with burning £50 notes was handed £769,000 in legal aid.

Michael Voudouri cheated taxpayers out of millions of pounds through a VAT scam.

But we can reveal the public picked up the massive legal bill for the criminal, who was jailed for 11 1/2 years.

Labour's legal affairs spokeswoman Elaine Murray said: "It's shocking that a crook who has defrauded the public purse should get hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid.

"Ordinary people on low incomes struggle to get legal aid while someone who has stolen millions in VAT fraud gets a six figure sum."

Voudouri, 47, was found guilty in 2012 of laundering £11.5million from a massive VAT fraud.

The wealthy crook, who lived in a £1.5million mansion in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire and hired Katie Price and Chris Eubank for personal appearances, is not the first to get legal aid.

We told how Barry Hughes and his wife Jackie jetted off on a £50,000 trip to Dubai weeks after taxpayers covered their £175,000 court battle bills.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said a "financial eligibility test" was carried out in each case.

SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 30 September 2012

THE European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 - more than in Italy, which has a population of 61million.

SCOTS lawyers collected more taxpayers’ cash for Legal Aid than their counterparts in Italy – a country 12 times the size.

A European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – around 39 euros, or £31, for every one of our 5.2million people.

Lawyers in Italy, which has a population of 61million, got just £100million of public cash – £1.50 per person.

The 450-page Brussels report also found that Denmark, with 5.6million people, paid its lawyers only 88million euros (£70million).

And in Belgium – population 10.9million – legal aid cost 75million euros (£59million).

The revelations, in a 450-page report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice – came as the Scottish Legal Aid Board banned three lawyers from claiming cash for criminal cases.

We can reveal that Gerard Tierney, Massimo D’Alvito and Andrew Brophy, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, breached the board’s code of practice. Tierney and D’Alvito have been reported to the Crown Office, who will decide whether to prosecute.

The ban also extends to Tierney’s firm G Tierney & Co, of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, who have raked in £610,500 in Legal Aid over three years, and Edinburgh firm Massimo D’Alvito Defence Lawyers.

The European report looked at 47 criminal justice systems across the continent.

It found the cost per person of Legal Aid in Scotland was third-highest – behind only Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The cost per person was 53.5 euros in Northern Ireland and 45.7 euros in England and Wales.

The findings led to calls for a radical overhaul of Legal Aid.

Central Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe said: “It seems major organised criminals and terror suspects qualify for unlimited Legal Aid, yet I have constituents who don’t get a penny simply because they have a few thousand pounds of savings.

“The system in Scotland and the rest of the UK is out of control.”

Legal blogger Peter Cherbi added: “Legal Aid is no longer about access to justice for the poor, but a state subsidy for the legal profession – and one they don’t seem keen on talking about.”

The Sunday Mail has exposed a series of rogue lawyers banned from claiming Legal Aid. But none of the 14 reported to prosecutors was put in the dock, prompting claims that Scotland’s legal self-regulation system protects lawyers.

Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, who took £600,000 in Legal Aid in just two years, was found to have made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. The Legal Aid board withdrew their complaint to the Law Society after he agreed to stop claiming.

Reacting to the Brussels report, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Across Europe, there are substantial differences between judicial systems and very different approaches to the provision of legal aid and its cost.

“The Scottish system is highly regarded internationally for the efforts made to ensure access to justice.

“The Scottish Government’s budget allocation for the Legal Aid Fund has reduced significantly in 2011-12 and is planned to reduce further in future years.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hopes to cut the Legal Aid bill by making criminals pay some of their costs. The planned move, outlined in a Holyrood Bill, could save taxpayers around £3.9million.

• The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size.

Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010.

Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned.

Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

• A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock.

Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences.

Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

• The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Researchers compared the wages of lower court judges across Europe.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss.

Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000).

Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

EU Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Election day, Scotland 2016 - Today is a good day to vote …

Who do you trust to represent your best interests? PEOPLE in power and people with power - always vote. Vested interests - always vote. And, so should you.

Who you vote for is up to you. This is your choice, your voice, and your vote - so vote today.

Regardless of the blurb and spin thrown your way, the fact is, these days Governments are only as good as their opposition.

If there is no strong, substantive & coherent opposition, a Government can say what it likes, lie as much as it likes, do what it likes, to whom it likes.

Who wants such a Government? Well … you know who.

The vested interests of this world, big corporations, banks, money lenders and Lord No-No’s wearing their ermine & pound sign clad garments just love to wallow in the omnipotence brought by unaccountable governments & politicians who back them to the hilt.

A fracking project here … a sale of an airport there … things can all be arranged for the highest bidder – just as long as any dodgy deal can be spun in some grubby Press Release written by … you know who …  and paid for by you.

When deals are made behind the back of transparency by governments who claim to act in your name, you know it is time to say we want to know what you are doing - in our name ...

When you hear some politician or power broker claim they must be so innocent because they received no mention in the Panama Papers (while doing their secret deals in Qatar instead) .. you know it is time to disbelieve or distrust much of what else they say.

The true voice of Scotland is you - the Scottish people.

You have the greatest vested interest in Scotland advancing with an accountable government, accountable public services, and yes - an accountable & transparent justice system.

Why not? After all – you pay for it. All of it.

Today, it is your choice, your voice, and your vote. So use it wisely. However you decide to vote, you have the right to decide for yourself.

Friday, April 22, 2016

One Law for Lawyers: Under the guise of ‘Consumer Protection’ Law Society of Scotland propose new pro-lawyer legislation to maintain control over self regulation of solicitors

Law Society - new powers to look after lawyers. VESTED INTERESTS tend not to remain silent in an election year, and as the May 2016 Holyrood elections approach, the Law Society of Scotland has proposed the Scottish Parliament give the legal profession even more powers to enable lawyers to look after their own.

The Law Society pledges the new legislation – written by the Law Society, amended by the Law Society, and finally, approved for whatever scant debate at Holyrood the Law Society deigns necessary, will enable the Law Society to protect consumers and clients even more so than is currently humanly possible.

The Prospectus for Power - which the Law Society has submitted to Scottish Ministers, sets out the legal profession’s take on a “need for change” including proposals for;

* better regulation of legal firms (‘entity regulation’) in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to protect consumers,

* new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing,

* opening the Law Society’s membership in order to improve standards amongst other legal professionals,

* the ability for the Society to regulate legal work beyond the domestic Scottish jurisdiction in order to provide simpler regulation for cross-border firms,

* more flexible business models which allow legal firms to adapt to market changes.

Better regulation of legal firms - to protect consumers.

This coming just a few short months after Law Society staff were hurriedly arranging press conferences to combat questions over their seedy role in holding down a Crown Office investigation of certain activities carried out by solicitors involved in the Michelle Thomson property scandal – reported in further detail here: CRIME SOCIETY: Law Society of Scotland 'unfit for purpose' as calls grow for Scots solicitors to be stripped of self regulation powers used by lawyers to investigate themselves

Little more has been said of the Crown Office inept handling of the information allegedly passed to it by the Law Society - however, the silence may not be a total surprise, given Scotland’s Crown Office was recently revealed to hold a criminal tendency all of it’s own: CROWN CROOKED: Crown Office crime files reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors & staff charged with Drugs crimes, Police assault, threats & perverting the course of justice

However, we must remember the demands proposals from the Law Society of Scotland should not be taken lightly.

As any experienced Parliament watcher will admit - the Law Society of Scotland have a history of getting what the profession wants at the Scottish Parliament.

Take for instance, the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, and the lengthy, at times bitter debate during 2006 - which saw John Swinney call out the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Indemnity Insurance arrangements and the Society’s interference in client compensation claims as dishonest and then some.

The Law Society's then Chief Executive Douglas Mill did not take kindly to the cross examination, and proposals before MSPs to create an independent regulator – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

At one point, Mill went so far as to say Holyrood should take a hike – and threated the Parliament with legal action if lawyers were to be robbed of their self given Human Right to look after their own. In the end, it was Douglas Mill who took a hike.

However, in all things legal, nothing is as it seems.

The ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - created as a result of the 2007 LPLA Act, became little more than a front for the Law Society of Scotland.

The regulator ended up costing clients around £3million a year – paid over and over again out of hikes to legal fees.

As independent regulators go, the SLCC is staffed by former Law Society employees, lawyers, lawyers families, friends, business associates, reported here: 'Independent' Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

To crown it all, the Law Society took charge of the ‘independent’ SLCC by appointing one of their own former Directors - Neil Stevenson as the latest Chief Executive of the SLCC.

A truly malevolent definition of ‘independence’ – if ever there was one.

Since the LPLA Act took effect, countless law changes have taken place to allegedly improve the SLCC’s procedures on how it can better regulate the legal profession.

One such change landed Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill before the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee to provide Scots legal regulators with similar ‘new powers’ to protect consumers.

Read more on the 2014 legislative effort to create enhanced powers for legal regulators, here: TOXIC LAW: MacAskill gives lawyers ‘right to complain about complaints’

Guess what.The new rules changed nothing. The SLCC is as inept at regulating lawyers in 2016, as it was in 2014 counting backwards to 2008 when the ‘independent’ regulator came into being.

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.

Prospectus for Power – Law Society of Scotland.

Now, in 2016, the Law Society of Scotland claims another round of new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive

Publishing a detailed prospectus which it has presented to the Scottish Government on the need for change, the professional body for Scottish solicitors said the current legislative framework was increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose – about as unfit for purpose as self regulation can ever be.

Discussions have already taken place between the Law Society and the Scottish Government on the legal profession’s legislation wish list for new powers.

Christine McLintock – President of the Law Society of Scotland admitted: “We have had a number of very useful discussions with the Scottish Government and we are grateful to Ministers and officials for being so open to listening to our ideas. We have also worked hard to engage other bodies in the legal sector as well as consumer groups to ensure we work in partnership to deliver real change.

Ms McLintock added: “We obviously need to see the outcome of the Holyrood elections in May and the shape of the new Scottish Government.  Whatever the outcome, we will be pushing hard for reform to be an early priority in the new parliament.”

The Law Society’s campaign to give the legal profession new powers includes what the profession claims should be ‘Priorities for the Scottish Parliament’.

This campaign includes a call for Scotland’s political parties to commit to a modern, fit-for-purpose framework for legal services in Scotland which;

* Maintains the advantages of the current system, including the independence of the legal profession, a robust system of co-regulation involving strong professional bodies and an independent complaints handling organisation and discipline tribunal

* Provides a more agile system of consumer protection and addresses the rise of the unregulated legal services market

* Allows flexible regulation that reflects the rise of alternative business models, cross-border firms and internationalisation of the sector

* Enables the Law Society to respond to the changing needs of its members and to open up associate forms of membership to other legal professionals, including paralegals and legal executives

President of the Law Society, Christine McLintock added: “The legal services market is a great Scottish success story.  We contribute over £1 billion to the economy each year; account for over 20,000 highly skilled jobs and support many of the other sectors on which Scotland’s economy depends.  We have phenomenal legal talent, thanks to our world class universities and a rigorous programme of training and development to deliver high standards.

“Yet the legal services market is going through a dramatic period of change.  New expectations from clients, new business models, the growth of cross border legal firms and increased technology are all serving to reshape the market.

“Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It is increasingly outdated for modern legal practice.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“There are important elements and principles which should be preserved.  The independence of the legal profession.  A single professional body for solicitors.  Independent complaints handling and discipline bodies.  These are important and should be protected.  However, there is a case for new, flexible and enabling legislation which helps the legal services market in Scotland to thrive, which continues to ensure standards remain high and which better protects consumers when things do go wrong.”

The Law Society of Scotland says it now plans to engage with political parties, consumer groups and others in the legal sector to build a consensus in favour of change with an aim of getting a new Bill introduced early in the new term of the Scottish Parliament.

However, in England & Wales, the public mood is for fully independent regulation of the legal profession, as was recently reported here: A QUESTION OF TRUST: Should solicitors be independently regulated? UK public say “Yes” - according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Remember to add your own voice when any such proposals eventually reach the Scottish Parliament.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

CRIME SECRET: Crown Office flouting of Freedom of Information laws results in intervention by Information Commissioner - as Police, Prosecutors & Scottish Ministers obstruct public interest disclosures

Crown Office investigated over disclosure delays. PROSECUTORS based at the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Edinburgh have become so resistant to Freedom of Information legislation - officials at the £110m a year public body have in some cases, taken up to six months to reply to Freedom of Information requests.

Details of the delays – which some contend were deliberate - came to light in documents disclosed by the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) – Rosemary Agnew – who has been forced to conduct a number of ‘interventions’ with public bodies across Scotland after serious failures in adherence to Freedom of Information legislation came to light.

Details released by the SIC - Public bodies subject to interventions by Information Commissioner - reveal in one of the ten interventions conducted by the SIC since September 2015 - the Crown Office was investigated for multiple and lengthy delays of many months per request in responding to Freedom of Information requests.

The secretive, almost unaccountable public body currently run by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland - which manages criminal prosecutions across Scotland is now subject to monthly monitoring as a result of the SIC’s investigations and meetings between senior staff from the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office and the Crown Office.

A document obtained from the SIC states: “Head of Enforcement (HOE) and Deputy Head of Enforcement (DHOE) met with COPFS 8/1/16 to highlight issues. Agreed to meet in 07/16 to discuss progress. HOE also reviewing COPFS procedures. COPFS subject to monthly performance monitoring.”

Allegations have since been raised by journalists a deliberate policy of delay was being orchestrated by COPFS staff in relation to FOI requests

And, in a sinister move by prosecutors - a number of enquiries to the Crown Office in relation to requests for media statements on activities including large fraud investigations involving individuals and accused persons known to have links to Crown Office personnel – have resulted in reporters being denied media quotes and told to turn their communications into FOI requests.

Monitoring of how the Crown Office complies with FOI legislation comes at an unwelcome time for prosecutors, after it was revealed Crown Office staff & prosecutors have been charged with serious criminal offences, reported here:  CROWN CROOKED: Crown Office crime files reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors & staff charged with Drugs crimes, Police assault, threats & perverting the course of justice.

A number of other public bodies are named in the documents including, Police Scotland, Scottish Ministers, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, NHS Scotland Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority & Falkirk Council.

In the data release it is revealed Police Scotland scored the most number of interventions from the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office, totalling three interventions at various levels.

In one case, details release by the Scottish Information Commissioner reveal Police Scotland maintained a practice of sending out locked pdf documents with security protocols forbidding their printing.

A file disclosed by the SIC in response to an FOI request stated: “Asked Police Scotland to change its practice and stop sending us (and applicants) locked pdf documents, which can't be printed out.. We are still waiting for an accessible copy of a document required for case 201501763.”

“Police Scotland has raised the issues of locked documents and undated letters internally.” The issue is subsequently referred to as: “Issue resolved”.

In a Level two intervention with Police Scotland, files released by the Scottish Information Commissioner reveal details of Police Scotland’s information publication scheme.

The SIC asked Police to conduct a “Review of publication scheme (guide to information) from time to time. Proactive publication in the public interest.”

Police Scotland was then “Asked to review guide to information due to broken links etc. and currency of information.”

From information now made public by the SIC, the issue was raised with Police Scotland on 12/11/16 and a reminder issued on 18/02/16. The SIC appears to be awaiting an outcome.

In one of two interventions with the Scottish Government, documents disclosed by the SIC revealed there was a concern at the lack of knowledge of Freedom of Information at the Scottish Government.

Details of the level one intervention with Scottish Ministers revealed: “Meeting with the Office of the Office of the Chief Researcher, instigated by them. Recorded as a level 1 intervention as concerns about level of FOI knowledge within major area of Government.”

“Note of the meeting is on file.Practice areas:- who is covered by FOI. Seemed unaware that Universities are- Section 60 Code IRO contracts and procurement- sections 27, 33 and 36 specifically.”

Power to Intervene:

Powers granted to the Commissioner by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA) allow the Scottish Information Commissioner to intervene where it is identified that an authority’s practice is or may be: (i) in breach of its statutory duties under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) and/or the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (the EIRs); (ii) falling short of Government guidance, particularly the Section 60 Code.

Anyone who makes a Freedom of Information request to a public authority can request an intervention by the Scottish Information Commissioner, if the public authority in question does not adhere to FOI legislation.

The SIC’s website states: “All interventions will be appropriate and proportionate, and based on robust and accurate evidence.The term “Intervention” covers a range of activities: from providing advice and assistance to authorities in relation to good practice, to formal enforcement action carried out under the Commissioner’s Enforcement Policy.”

Levels of interventions conducted by the Scottish Information Commissioner:

Level 1: These are minor failures to follow good practice. In these cases, we will provide informal advice and assistance to authorities, pointing out the failure and suggesting remedial action. In such cases, individual officers are empowered to give advice to authorities if a relevant failing is identified as a result of an application or enquiry to us and to decide what follow-up action is required.

Level 2: These are ongoing failures by an authority to follow good practice in a specific area of practice. In these cases, an appropriate manager (DHOE, HOE, HOPI or the SIC) will contact the authority to discuss the issues and suggest remedial action. Level 2 interventions will require follow-up contact with the authority to ensure that appropriate action has been taken.

Level 3: These are more serious or systemic failings which have been identified and we do not consider the issue can be rectified without requiring the authority to put in place an action plan to address the issue. In such cases we may invite an authority to carry out a self- assessment using one or more of the modules in our self-assessment toolkit.

Level 4: These are when an authority consistently fails or refuses to comply with FOISA, the EIRs or statutory guidance despite previous interventions by us. In these cases, we may issue (or give warning of our intention to issue) a practice recommendation in terms of section 44 of FOISA specifying the steps that an authority must take in order to conform with its duties under Government guidance. Alternatively, we may issue (or give warning of our intention to issue) an enforcement notice under section 51 of FOISA requiring an authority to take specified steps to comply with Part 1 of FOISA or with the EIRs. We may also decide to carry out an on-site assessment of an authority’s arrangements for handling information requests.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

World Bar Conference: Lord Carloway - ‘luddite, paranoid & fee hungry lawyers who oppose change are wrong’ - top judge speaks on never ending reform proposals to Scotland’s Victorian justice system

Lord Carloway – fee hungry lawyers who oppose reforms are wrong. SCOTLAND’S top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway has again, publicly criticised the financial self interests of the legal profession who oppose reforms to  Scotland’s justice system – out of concern for their wallets.

In a speech at the World Bar Conference on Thursday in Edinburgh, aimed principally at the legal profession, criminal law & court reforms, Lord Carloway told his audience: “… it is readily recognised that some of the more Luddite and perhaps rather paranoid elements may inevitably regard all change as inherently wrong, designed to cut costs (specifically their fees) and to secure wrongful convictions. They are wrong, but their views must be listened to.”

The biennial event brings together the member independent bars of the International Council of Advocates and Barristers (ICAB) for seminars and social events, backed up by lavish occasions in public buildings such as the Scottish National Gallery.

This year the Faculty of Advocates hosted the World Bar Conference 2016 in Edinburgh, along with gatherings in Parliament Hall – which was revealed last year to have been secretly handed over to the Faculty in a dodgy free property handover masterminded by lawyers and approved by Scottish Ministers.

While the Lord President’s recent proposals for justice reforms and faster access to justice for Scots court users may be seen as welcome, the fact is - year in year out, legal figures from Scotland’s multi billion pound legal industry claim change will come, access to justice will be faster, fees will be reduced, regulation will improve, the courts will be more accountable. None of which is ever achieved.

In short, we have heard it all before. Just like ridiculous crime statistics, supposed cuts in the legal aid budget and stage managed publications of annual reports to coincide with a budget announcement. Public Relations and spin with the repeat button pressed down.

However, this is the second time this year, Lord Carloway - who succeeded Lord Brian Gill to the role of Lord President & Lord Justice Clerk – has hit out at ‘obstructive’ lawyers and those who oppose change..

In a speech on digital justice and reforming Scotland's “Victorian” courts addressed to the Law Society of Scotland’s Council in late January 2016, Carloway reminded his audience of legal figures: “Much of this will be achieved in our professional lives, provided that we do not take a cantankerous and obstructive approach to it.”

And, during Lord Carloway’s speech to the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies Biennial Conference held in April 2015 – Carloway did not mince his words, accusing lawyers & critics of having a financial interest in retaining the centuries old injustice safeguard of corroboration.

Reacting to opposition from the legal profession – opposition which was backed by a number of judges, Lord Carloway said: "Reactionary or excessively defensive forces among the legal profession can, and often do, behave in a manner obstructive to progressive law reform, especially where there is transparent perceived financial self-interest."

Carloway is keenly aware that powerful elements within the legal profession and the Law Society of Scotland oppose a faster and wider system of access to justice for Scots, on the grounds such reforms may impact on the profits of law firms & sizeable claims on the annual £150 million plus Scottish Legal Aid budget.

Since the banking & financial crash of 2008, a staggering £1.2 billion pounds has been handed out to Scottish law firms, much of which goes on criminal legal aid.

Yet despite taking billions  in public cash, solicitors, led by bosses at the Law Society of Scotland have staged strikes outside the Scottish Parliament & court buildings demanding legal aid cuts be reversed.

Lord Carloway speech to World Bar Conference 2016:

Lord Carloway’s opening lines refer to how the legal profession & courts are supposed to represent the interests of clients & justice: “The courts play the central role in the administration of justice. Their function is to promote observance of the law through the process of resolving civil disputes and determining criminal guilt. The legal profession plays its own important role. Members of both branches, solicitor and advocate (or barrister), represent the interests of the system's users. They do more; specifically at the level of advocate, by assisting the court in finding the true facts and applying the correct law, albeit hopefully in the client's favour. The advocate owes duties to the court and to the public, over and above those to fellow members of his profession and to the client.”

“In this broad sense, the legal profession is the muscle and ligament which makes the skeleton of the law in our democracy move.”

“Both branches of the profession remain largely self-regulating. Each is responsible, albeit in some sphere under delegated authority from the court, for training, standards, and very occasionally, the discipline of its members. The court retains a keen interest in the effective representation of both those who rely on the system to vindicate their rights and those in need of protection from state action. It must ensure that parties are adequately represented. In Scotland, this obligation is enshrined not only within the concept of a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights but also in the much older and more established common law principles of fairness in court proceedings generally. What amounts to adequate representation may vary from case to case, but it is ultimately a matter for the court to determine. It must do so to ensure that there is access to justice for all parties. After all, if someone does not have effective representation, justice cannot be seen to be done.”

On access to justice in the modern age – Lord Carloway said: “Advances in technology mean that the courts operate in a world which would be unrecognisable to those who lived 100 years ago and, in many respects, unfamiliar to those practising 14 years ago when the first of these conferences was held. Last year saw the implementation of the most comprehensive reform of the practices of the Scottish courts since the early Victorian age. The implementation of Lord Gill's Review has had, and will continue to have, a very significant impact on the level at which both civil and criminal cases are decided. Court procedure is closely linked to access to justice: it is the link between evidence, as proof of fact, and correct decisions based on a correct application of the law.”

“Advances in technology influence users' expectations. On a fundamental level, the opportunities presented by modern technology could, to use the words of Lady Dorrian ..."make justice more accessible to a wider number of people, to make evidence more reliable and more readily available, and to make processes and procedures more efficient". This is something which is being considered on a wider basis as part of the Digital Justice Strategy of the Scottish Government.It is a recognition of the fact that the court system should keep pace with developments and change in the society which it is intended to serve.”

Concluding his speech to the World Bar Conference, Lord Carloway said: “What is the role of the legal profession in all of this? The profession is a vital part of the machinery of justice. The court relies on both branches of the profession to perform their functions as representatives of the parties. Without this input, the risk that the court will fall into error is greatly increased.”

“The challenges posed by the development of the traditional roles of the profession, models of funding, competing interests, and modern technology are all ones which the profession, as well as the court system, require to meet.”

Sounds Familiar? - Civil Courts Review : Scots Justice still “Victorian” years after judge called for reforms:

The Scottish Civil Courts Review of 2009 authored by then Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Brian Gill, castigated Scotland’s Civil Justice System as being Victorian, costly, and unfit for purpose, yet years on from the review, little of the proposed reforms have been implemented due to pressure from vested interests in the legal world, and a lack of political will to deliver access to justice to all Scots.

The Civil Courts Review can be viewed online here : Scottish Civil Courts Review Synopsis, Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol1 Chapters 1-9 & Scottish Civil Courts Review Vol2 Chapters 10-15

In a speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference several years ago, reproduced in full here Lord Gill said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.

“It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice."

Previous articles on the Civil Courts Review and reforms of Scotland's antiquated civil justice system can be found on Diary of Injustice here: Scottish Civil Courts Review.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

M'LADY JUSTICE CLERK: Lady Dorrian becomes first female judge appointed to position of Lord Justice Clerk - second most powerful judge in Scotland

First female judge appointed Lord Justice Clerk. FOR THE first time in the history of Scotland’s legal system, a female judge has been appointed to the role of Lord Justice Clerk, the second most powerful position in Scotland’s judiciary.

Lady Leonna June Dorrian (58), who is currently a judge of the inner house of the Court of Session - will take up her appointment as Lord Justice Clerk on 26 April 2016, the day of her installation.

The post of Lord Justice Clerk comes with a salary of £213,125 a year.

The Lord Justice Clerk also holds the office of President of the Second Division of the Inner House of the Court of Session, and, by virtue of the post, is Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council.

The appointment of Lady Dorrian to the second most powerful judicial position comes after the recent appointment of the previous holder of the office of Lord Justice Clerk – Lord Carloway – to the top role of Lord President & Lord Justice General of the Court of Session.

During the six month search for a new Lord President which took place after the sudden retirement of Lord Brian Gill in May, 2015 - Lady Dorrian was appointed to a selection panel convened by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to interview applicants for the position of Lord President, reported in further detail here: To play the President - Hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge

The panel, which comprised Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom,  Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session – concluded their deliberations with a recommendation Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) be appointed to the position of Lord President – reported in further detail here: Top judge of Parliament House: Lord Carloway appointed as Scotland’s Lord President

With the ascension of Lord Carloway to the post of Lord President, the move required the appointment of a new Lord Justice Clerk.

A selection panel to interview candidates for the role was again convened by the First Minister earlier in January 2016 – the panel comprising of Rt Hon Lord Carloway – Lord President, Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Alison Mitchell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Hon Lady Stacey – Senator of the College of Justice to select a candidate for the position of Lord Justice Clerk.

Lady Dorrian was then nominated by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Her Majesty the Queen - after taking account of recommendations made by the selection panel constituted under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 .

The panel which made the recommendations included Lord Carloway – who had been nominated for the position of Lord President by the previous panel which Lady Dorrian was a member of.

Lady Dorrian - Biography:

Lady Dorrian is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1981 before becoming Standing Junior Counsel to the Health and Safety Executive and Commission between 1987 and 1994.

She served as Advocate Depute between 1988 and 1991, and as Standing Junior to the Department of Energy between 1991 and 1994. In 1994, she was also appointed Queen's Counsel. Between 1997 and 2001 she was a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Lady Dorrian was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Courts in 2005, having served as a temporary judge since 2002. She was appointed to the Inner House in November 2012.

SECRETLY SELECTING A PRESIDENT, SO SECRETLY:

 How judges select Scotland’s judges - in secret The selection panel for the office of Lord President - of which Lady Dorrian was a member – considered five candidates for the position of Scotland’s top judge – according to papers released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request by the media.

While there was significant speculation during 2015 that a female judge would be appointed to the top judicial post of Lord President, the unpredicted shift away from a male only top judge did not happen this time around.

Responding to queries, the Scottish Government refused to disclose the genders & diversity information relating to any of the candidates for the top job, citing privacy concerns.

Written exchanges between civil servants and the selection panel reveal a short listing meeting was held on 1 September 2015. The panel considered that two applicants Lord Carloway  [Redacted] merited an interview on the basis of the quality of their applications.

The panel agreed that given the level of appointment, candidates needed to be able to demonstrate that they met the criteria to an exceptional degree [Redacted].

The content of the selection panel’s report recommending Lord Carloway for the nomination of Lord President, was completely censored by the Scottish Government.

Emails between Scottish Government show First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had decided on Lord Carloway’s nomination as Lord President around 18 November 2015. Lord Carloway’s appointment as Lord President was finally made public a month later in December 2015.

Scotland’s judiciary faces a testing time as calls grow for judges to apply the same levels of transparency to themselves as is required of all other branches of Government, the justice system and those in public life.

SPOTLIGHT ON JUDICIAL INTERESTS SECRECY:

Scotland’s current Lord President - Lord Carloway is to be asked to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in connection with three year probe on proposals to require judges to register their interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The petition calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The proposal to require judges to declare their interests enjoys cross party support, and was widely backed by MSPs during a full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on 9 October 2014 - reported in full with video footage of MSPs and Scottish Ministers speaking during the Holyrood debate, here: Debating the Judges.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary

Friday, March 11, 2016

CROWN CROOKED: Crown Office crime files reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors & staff charged with Drugs crimes, Police assault, threats & perverting the course of justice

Crime & drugs empire at Crown Office revealed. AMID a string of collapsed cases involving high profile criminals, plea deals with gangsters, failures to to prosecute those responsible for multiple deaths, & multi million pound frauds involved legal eagles - documents obtained by the media reveal Scotland’s Prosecutors have their very own crime gang - right at the heart of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

Information released in response to Freedom of Information requests now reveal prosecutors & key staff among the ranks of Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland’s £110m-a-year Crown Office empire - have been charged with a string of criminal offences over crimes ranging from violence to misuse of drugs, making threats and offences against Police Officers.

In a period of just two years – from November 2013 to November 2015 - the Crown Office admitted it retained records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs/offences against the police; data protection offences/attempt to pervert the course of justice.

In the 11 cases where court proceedings were raised, these were concluded as follows: Guilty plea accepted (4); accused found guilty after trial (1); case marked for no further action (1); court proceedings active (4).

Crooks among Them – Prosecutors own crime gang revealed. The only case where a COPFS employee was found guilty after trial relates to that of Iain Sawers, 27, from Edinburgh, who was found guilty of passing information to the criminal fraternity - during a seven-day trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in September 2014.

A jury found Sawers guilty on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice, the Official Secrets Act and nine under the Data Protection Act.

Sawers joined the Productions Office of the Procurator Fiscal Service in Chambers Street in the city in 2008.

His induction covered security of information and the warning that any breach could lead to disciplinary proceedings. He was also told, under the Official Secrets Act, the unauthorised disclosure of documents was an offence.

The offences by Sawers came to light when police began an investigation into the case of 27-year old Calum Stewart on charges of breach of bail and attempting to pervert the course of justice by threatening his ex-partner, Kelli Anne Smillie, if she gave evidence in a trial in July, 2013.

Stewart paid for her and her mother to leave the country and go on holiday to Benidorm on the week of the trial.

The police investigations led them to a number of phone calls and text messages between Stewart and Sawers between 24 and 29 January 2014.

These led to Stewart phoning Kelli Anne threatening her and her mother. They were to be witnesses in the outstanding trial which has since been deserted by the Crown.

The police also recovered Sawers' iPhone. Although many messages had been deleted, forensic experts were able to recover them and the telephone numbers of the senders and receiver. They showed that between April 2008 and January 2014, Sawers had passed on information to other people on nine occasions.

A check on the productions office computer showed shortly after receiving a call, Sawers' secret personal user number was used to access the information.

The jury also found Stewart guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice and breach of bail. Neither men gave evidence during the trial – much to the relief of the Lord Advocate.

The Crown Office also admitted 40 staff  had been subject to disciplinary action, been suspended, dismissed or have been moved to other duties as a result of disciplinary action between January 2013 to late last year and  that 14 of those staff members were suspended in the period requested. The reasons for suspension included allegations related to potential criminal activity and/or charged by Police; and breach of trust.

Of the 40 members of staff who were suspended, 10 were dismissed from the Crown Office.

However officials refused to identify the reasons for their dismissal, insisting they wished to protect the identities of their colleagues and nature of the sackings.

A legal insider has since come forward this week to indicate former Crown Office staff including some of those who were sacked or had faced criminal charges - are back working with private law firms and public bodies with links to the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Sun newspaper reported further, here:

Crooks of the Crown: 15 legal staff on charges

EXCLUSIVE by RUSSELL FINDLAY 7 Mar 2016

COPS charged 15 Crown Office workers with crimes including drugs, police assault and perverting the course of justice.

Violence, vandalism, threats and data breaches were also among the alleged offences.

And 11 of those cases reported over the last two years went to court.

A source said: “The nature of the criminal charges are very serious.

“The Crown Office should be beyond reproach as it’s responsible for highly sensitive information about the most serious crimes and sudden deaths.”

Four of the 11 employees taken to court pleaded guilty, one case was dropped, four are ongoing and the outcome of one is unknown.

It’s thought Edinburgh procurator fiscal’s office worker Iain Sawers, 26, is the only one found guilty.

He was jailed for 18 months in 2014 for attempting to pervert the course of justice by leaking details of cases.

The information about staff charges from the two years to November 2015 was unearthed using freedom of information laws.

Similar data on police officers accused of crimes is published by the Scottish Police Authority.

Last night, Scottish Tory justice spokesman Margaret Mitchell said: “The Crown Office should be no different from Police Scotland in that they should routinely publish this information.”

The Crown Office is Scotland’s prosecution agency headed by the country’s most senior law officer Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland.

A spokesman said: “We employ more than 1,600 staff, the overwhelming majority of whom uphold our high standards of professionalism. Any breach of rules is dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”