Monday, July 21, 2008

Consumer protection weakened by lawyers FOI exemption while new Legal Complaints Commission must comply to information laws

For ever and a day, the Law Society of Scotland has been exempt from any law which would or could have helped clients who were or who are still having difficulties with their lawyers.

Currently, even though we are about to enter a world of 'dual regulation' where the legal profession and an 'independent' commission will regulate Scotland's 10,500 solicitors, the Law Society remains exempt from key areas of legislation such as Freedom of Information laws, which have proved so valuable in dealing with not only errant professions & industries, but also a few wayward politicians along the way.

The Law Society of Scotland, however, is unsurprisingly content, to the point of seeing to it that, it retains it's FOI exemption, lest some client use it to disgrace the legal profession (again) for covering up its dirty laundry as it has done so frequently and successfully in the past.

The twists & turns of the Law Society in Data Protection requests over the years, have demonstrated as much, with no useful information ever leaking out to a client who had a complaint against a solicitor being investigated .. or for that, anyone who had tried to investigate the way the Law Society operated.

Understanding now why the Law Society of Scotland must be brought within the unlimited scope of Freedom Of Information legislation, one must reflect on the progress of legislation passed in 2006 which was brought in to clear up some of the damage the legal profession has done itself over the many years lawyers have investigated their own.

Two years ago this summer, the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill rumbled through the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, amid threats of legal action from the Law Society to kill it, and even threaten the Parliament itself if the 'crooked lawyer' busting legislation was passed into law.

Despite the many problems the legal profession made for the LPLA Bill, and the many amendments thrown up from politicians who were so obviously in the pocket of the Law Society, the legislation was eventually passed by the Scottish Parliament during late December 2006, after some of the stormiest of Committee hearings ever relating to a new act of the Scottish Parliament - one such now famous televised meeting showing the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland himself lying to all & sundry over not only his personal involvement but also Law Society policy on complaints and client claims against Scottish solicitors.

Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill telling a few lies to the Justice Committee & John Swinney at the Scottish Parliament.


We are therefore now in a 'new era' supposedly, with the looming start of duty for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on 1st October 2008, which is allegedly going to give Scottish consumers of legal services a new layer of consumer protection against the infamously poor levels of legal services in Scotland, which nowadays seemingly illustrate that most clients come undone at some stage in their dealings with the legal profession.

This 'new era' however, has already been dampened down by what appears to many as a Law Society 'take over' of the new 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by way of not only transferring it's staff to the new body .. also transferring many of it's Committee members to key positions within the SLCC .. .positions which are likely to ensure there are no conflicts generated between the 'independent' regulator and the lawyers own version - the Law Society of Scotland, who will continue to regulate conduct complaints, while the SLCC it is claimed, will focus on 'service' complaints.

You can read some of the woes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on everything from appointments scandals to conflicts of interest here :

SLCC news stories

So, we will have two regulators of the legal profession on 1st October 2008, but only one of those regulators will be forced to comply with Freedom of Information laws - that being the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The Law Society of Scotland, will for now at least, until the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill decides to do something, continue to be immune from FOI legislation, so it can carry on being as secretive and corrupt as it has been for all the decades poor members of the public have been forced to deal with it.

Since we are now in late July 2008, I would have thought by now, the Scottish Government would have done something on this matter - because there has been enough advance warning the two regulators will exist side by side, one FOI compliant, one not ..... so why the wait ? is it perhaps because the Law Society is bargaining hard with the Scottish Government to retain certain exemptions so it can go on giving consumers of legal services a raw deal, sanctioned by the Government itself ?

I recall as far back as January 2006, the then Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson was saying the Scottish Executive was looking into the matter of the Law Society’s FOI exempt status, after queries from myself & others .. as can be seen from her following letter :

Cathy Jamieson : Reviewing the FOI Act - we might do something ..

Scottish Executive response on Law Society FOI Exemption removal Page 1Scottish Executive response on Law Society FOI Exemption removal Page 2

Here is an article I wrote at the time on this issue : Law Society of Scotland & Freedom Of Information - End the Exemption Now.

Now of course, with a change of Government, one meant to be better for the Scots public, and a new Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, surely the clock has spun round enough to actually do something for Scots consumers and bring the Law Society into compliance with Freedom of Information ? Well .. perhaps .. but Mr MacAskill almost repeats word for word, Cathy Jamieson's review of more than two years ago ...

Kenny MacAskill : To be or not to be ... Should we make lawyers FOI compliant or not ?

K MacAskill FOI policy response 19 June 2008

Two years is a long time to wait, and with there only just over two months before the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission takes up it's regulatory duties on complaints against solicitors, surely its time to make the Law Society FOI compliant, rather than continue to deny consumers the levels of protection they have in other 'required' services .. not to mention giving the public the right to inspect and question the way the legal profession regulates itself in a way which must be allowed to ensure much higher levels of honesty accountability and transparency which have never been seen before in Scotland's legal profession.

What could there be to gain from allowing the Law Society of Scotland to remain exempt from Freedom of Information legislation ? …. Nothing honest, that’s for sure !

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent story.I didn't know the Law Society was FOI exempt.I agree that exemption should be removed especially because the new complaints body has to deal with FOI.

Good investigation keep it up !

Anonymous said...

What gives the Law Society the right to opt out of FOI? Who agreed to that?
It must have been Labour but as you say why has nothing been done by the SNP since they got in?

Anonymous said...

Lawyers will argue they need the FOI exemption because of their work which is ruining clients and running up huge bills for doing nothing.MacAskill wont do anything about it because he is a lawyer and will obey his Law Society.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget the Faculty of Advocates which, despite earlier calls for both it and the Law Society to become accountable under the FOI Act, also remains exempt and a law unto itself.

This would at least be one line of defence less for the increasing number of lawyers who were allegedly involved in the theft of the Duke of Buccleuch's Leonardo Da Vinci.

Anonymous said...

Oh god ! MacBuckie the Justice Secretary is just as bad as Jamieson !

Back to the bottle if you can't manage a review of something in 2 years !

Anonymous said...

Good article.

Clearly there cant be one regulator FOI compliant and the other not so Kenny MacAskill has to move soon otherwise it may look like the Law Society is running the show.

R.Murray said...

You caught them out.The SNP for some reason sound as ridiculous as Jack McConnell's mob on this.Time to play catch up and strip the lawyers of their immunity to FOI and everything else they get away with.

Good work as usual.

Anonymous said...

The Law Society should have been made FOI compliant years ago.I think you will find they lobbied to be kept out of it.Plenty friends in high places will have seen to that as I'm sure you are well aware Mr Cherbi.

Poirot said...

Well done Peter for bringing attention to this one.

The Law Society will hate you but clients will thank you and probably any brave journalists (if there are any left who write on law stories).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your article and the tone of the comments on this issue.

The Law Society does not deserve to have an immunity from Freedom of Information and you are correct to highlight the disparity between the new commission and the Law Society as things stand.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

I still think the best thing you have done so far is gotten rid of Douglas Mill as Chief Exec.

There is applause for that move from both sides of the fence !

Anonymous said...

Same here, didn't think the Law Society would have an exemption from FOI but now you brought it up it must be brought in, same with the Faculty of Advocates according to one of the comments.

Anonymous said...

You were not to know this Mr Cherbi but there was an idea put forward by the Law Society to have the SLCC be made exempt from FOI too.

It was turned down because people (you?) may have used it to impact on the [lack of effort] to implement your beloved LPLA Act.

You could try an FOI to those presently in charge to find out more? unless they have already shredded it by the sounds of things.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this.I have been trying to find out a few things about the Law Society they wont disclose and being a solicitor I am a fully paid up member.

Please continue where most in the profession have no guts to go.

Anonymous said...

On balance it seems the Law Society is exempt from FOI because the Law Society wishes it.

Does this mean the Law Society runs the government or the government runs itself ? because after two years in between Cathy Jamieson and Kenny MacAskill something should have happened on this by now.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Justice Ministers are so brainless the civil servants or lawyers are writing back to you.

Good work highlighting this anyway.

Anonymous said...

Quite good points in your report on this one Peter.I think the Law Society should be made to comply with FOI in the circumstances of one regulator being compliant, the other not.

Keep up the good work as always.

Anonymous said...

Quite sure if you were not raising this issue, no one would think to bring it up.All the best from someone with an interest in your success!

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 4.10pm

Yes, the Law Society are exempt from FOI - not something they want to talk about too much though.

# Anonymous @ 4.15pm

I think they gave themselves the 'right' as they so often do when it comes to legislation which may affect their mode of operation ...

# Anonymous @ 4.47pm

You are probably correct - but in light of the SLCC being FOI compliant and the Law Society not .. its time to force the issue to be heard ...

# Anonymous @ 5.22pm

Yes, I should have mentioned the Faculty too - for they are also exempt from FOI.

Enlighten me as to how many lawyers are involved in the theft of the Leonardo Da Vinci from the Borders Buccleuch Estate ?

# R.Murray @ 8.21pm

I agree - the SNP are a bit sluggish on this one and that has to be down to the Minister in charge of law of course .. no one else surely ?

# Anonymous @ 9.35pm

Yes, friends in high places has worked very well for the Law Society over the years ... It's been easier to support the closed shop of regulating crooked lawyers than it has been to get patients up the waiting lists in hospitals .. shame on those politicians who follow that policy ...

# Anonymous @ 2.44pm

Please email me more about that ? Thanks.

Thanks for the remaining comments from everyone. I'm pleased to see we all agree the Law Society should be made FOI compliant .. I wonder which path the Justice Secretary will take ..

Anonymous said...

We shouldn't let lawyers get their own way all the time and I can see that is important to you too.

Kenny - Make this Law Society comply with FOI as it should be.If you can't do it Alex Salmond should find someone who can !!

Anonymous said...

What you are proposing is common sense although the Law Society wont like it.

I imagine there will be a great deal of shredding and document destruction before the Law Society is made FOI compliant,just as happened at the Government and will still take place.

? said...

Well Peter,I'm surprised the LSS didn't settle with you years ago.

You must have done so much financial damage to the way lawyers do business in Scotland since you took on this campaign it would have been much better to pay you off although better for many they didn't with the result being you effectively changed the law through your bad experience with lawyers.Not many can boast of doing that !

I imagine you have plenty ideas to proceed on this issue of FOI and the Law Society so keep going with it.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Very cleverly put as ever.

There is no reason they should have an FOI immunity and if MacAskill leaves the Law Society out of FOI now we know whose side he is on.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea too the Law Society had an immunity from freedom of info.Why did they get it and who gave it to them? I think the reasons why they were left out of foi as well as making them comply with it must be investigated.

Anonymous said...

Simply to agree with everyone who commented : Make the Law Society comply with FOI.

Anonymous said...

yes very interesting points and comments too I think you have the high ground on this campaign of yours after all no one likes lawyers and they are probably their own worst enemy anyway even though they blame everyeone else but themselves for their crookery
i dont think i would have any confidence in that new complaints system unless you were part of it and you are probably too dangerous for them to have around but good luck anyway on what you are doing

James Burke said...

A strong argument for implementing FOI on the Law Society but there will be problems also for Mr Dunion himself as there are several members of the Law Society of Scotland who work in his own office as well as all those Law Society members who are the in-house legal team of the Scottish Government.

They will be lobbying hard to see your idea goes nowhere but you are dead right in your conclusion - only dishonest people hide behind FOI exemptions.

Anonymous said...

I support your campaign on this issue.Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Peter.

I heard a lawyer called the Scotsman to talk to you over a case his client has against the Law Society.

Allegations the client's mail and telephone lines were being interfered with so maybe the Law Society has been snooping on people with a grievance against its hoodlums.

Leave this comment up - it might do some good.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 10.28pm

Thanks but looking at how easily the Law Society of Scotland have controlled the entire process of establishing the SLCC I'm glad I'm not part of it.

I can only see that client abuse on an extraordinary scale will continue - now with the backing of legislation which was hoped to clear up the problems caused by lawyers regulating themselves.

# James Burke @ 9.30am

Yes, I am aware there are members of the Law Society of Scotland working within the Commissioner's office. I don't think that is really a good idea in the circumstances.

I agree with you the GLSS will probably be campaigning to see the Law Society is not made to comply with FOI and I wouldn't be surprised if this 2 year plus wait has been caused by the GLSS itself insisting no action be taken on the matter.

# Anonymous @ 11.18am

Ok thanks, I will leave your comment up.

I wouldn't be surprised if a member of the public's mail and telephone had been compromised after they had complained against a solicitor.

I know of several cases where mail had been tampered with, where in one particular instance, the secretary of the lawyer complained against apparently asked her husband to open the client's mail (her husband working as a postman at the time).

Needless to say nothing was done despite the matter being reported to the Police and Post Office investigations concluding the mail had actually been tampered with (strangely enough it was only the mail to & from the Law Society, and the client's new solicitors which was tampered with - the tamperer left out the junk mail and Christmas cards).

Someone said to me today the Chimneys at the Law Society would be burning through if they were forced into FOI. I'd guess that to be the case - and that comment came from a QC.

Anonymous said...

Peter

Your last reply is right on the money.A case actually came to light where the Law Society was accused of using Private Detectives to follow an entire family of a client in the hopes of getting dirt to use to stop their complaint going further.

Their espionage project failed but one of those who were doing the following later contacted the family proving no honour among thieves perhaps?

That case was made aware to the Scottish Executive at the time.You may want to do an FOI to the Exec to uncover more of what happened.I have also told the family of your website and crusade.

Anonymous said...

Your impact on the Law Society has been significant despite what you may think yourself.

I think you even ruined their deal over moving from Drumsheugh Gardens by the looks of it because they don't have the clout or respect they used to have.

Must be all those secret rich admirers you have around the place Mr Cherbie.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting piece so much I called someone at the Information Commissioner's office to ask about the Law Society and they were very unhelpful to the point I suspect they didn't want to tell me the Law Society was exempt from FOI.
I wonder why they didn't want to tell me the whole story.

Anonymous said...

A vote winner if ever there was one - make lawyers more accountable but don't you want to kill off the Law Society as it is anyway? That is probably the better way to go on this but yes lets be told all the dirty stuff before they become extinct.

James Burke said...

Thank you for replying to my comment.

I find it worrying to say the least that members of the Law Society of Scotland are working in the Information Commissioner's office. Surely Mr Dunion shouldn't have members of staff who are also members of organisations which are exempt from FOI.

Judging from further comments today it looks like the Law Society can simply contact any of it's members anywhere in whichever organisation they work, even Government, and have them obstruct people's legitimate inquiries or requests. Little wonder then nobody has been able to progress their complaints against lawyers or the Law Society itself.

I think you are one of life's good guys so keep up with your campaign on this issue.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 1.47pm

I have heard of such cases before, enough now to realise it may be a routine policy for such organisations as the Law Society to put complaining clients under the microscope.

Perhaps someone should do that with them. Believe me, they have far more to hide, and a few have some sinister secrets worth publishing ...

# Anonymous @ 2.49pm

Interesting ... so their much talked & written about property deal fell through ? What a shame.

# Anonymous @ 3.20pm

Thanks for that information. It doesn't surprise me what you say ... but I'm sure if Mr Dunion bothers to read these comments, he will tighten up his office so getting info out of them isn't like pulling hen's teeth !

# Anonymous @ 4.27pm

Yes, I agree with you ... the best way to proceed is to get rid of the Law Society's function as a regulatory body in any form.

# James Burke @ 9.08pm

Thanks for your reply too.

I'm glad you said all that because you have perfectly summed up the Law Society's ability to control or stifle an individual's access to justice to have their legal problems, an injustice, or other concern dealt with properly.

Sounds like a good argument to restrict the Law Society's reign over things ...

Anonymous said...

Good stuff and I don't think I'd trust the FOI Commissioner either after hearing his office is full of Law Society stooges

Funny how the Police have to comply with FOI and lawyers don't isn't it ?

Anonymous said...

Yes the comments are correct.I checked it this morning and there are at least people in Dunion's office who are members of the Law Society.

I agree with James Burke and there shouldn't be any people working in that office who are part of a profession like the Law Soceity who are exempt from FOI.It sounds mad to allow it and they should be replaced or forced to resign their Law Society membership.

Anonymous said...

I think most people can see that Kenny MacAskill isn't doing a good job on Justice but there is a review on for FOI and if the Law Society is brought into it people such as yourself who have drawn attention to this omission will be to thank.

Keep up the good work as tireless as it seems !

James Burke said...

I think the Law Society have been allowed too much power and they just got used to having it.

I think Kenny MacAskill is too weak a man to change something which organises itself along the lines the Law Society does but as I see in other postings you have already suggested his replacement.

It is bizarre to me the Law Society is allowed to carry on like this.I never thought for one minute things were as bad as what I now read.I wouldn't take a lawyer on trust at all after encountering a few of your stories in google.

Perhaps joining forces with a campaign group or setting up something new would be a good way forward for change.

Anonymous said...

Yet another worry for the Law Society that your idea of FOI will take root (and so it should).

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant idea Peter.The Law Society must be made accountable to FOI now AND no destroying evidence of evils of the past!

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the comment which said the Law Society wanted the SLCC to be FOI exempt like itself.I have confirmation of this myself and wonder if you are doing more on that Peter?

Anonymous said...

by far one of your best reports and an idea which should be taken up immeditely

question is whether the SNP are brave enough to do it after MacAskill's diatribe on anyone against the legal profession

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for the continuing comments.

I will be writing some more about the SLCC shortly. I must say from what I am learning on an almost daily basis, the Commission as it stands and as it is being limited doesn't fill me with much confidence. I can see a lot of scandals developing as it takes on its role officially after 1st October 2008.