In an effort to regain some control over the expected uncontrollable rising numbers of complaints against Scottish solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland has embarked on a little talked about series of adjustments to complaints procedures & reduction of client's rights in dealings with lawyers in an effort to regain the high ground over consumers of legal services in Scotland.
The Law Society has, decided to bring back the bad old days of complaints whitewashing, where a client who had complained against their solicitor had little or no part in the actual investigation & consideration of the complaint by the Law Society's infamous Complaints Committee structure, where lawyers had commonly put forward personal submissions either from themselves or their very own Law Society representative before the Committee, while the client of course, had no such luxury or entitlement.
There can be little doubt in this move, the Law Society wishes to retain full control over complaints against solicitors, and the client’s ability to gain access to justice to resolve any difficulties brought upon them by their less than honest or competent legal agents and no doubt the raft of whitewashing from the Law Society itself.
I myself experienced a version of this procedure, where James Ness, the now head of "Law Care", which specialises in dealing with stressed out crooked lawyers, put forward secret submissions for Kelso solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, which I was not allowed to see or reply to.
The secret submissions in the Penman complaint then forced the Complaints Committee to change their original decision to prosecute Penman over an unbelievable wide range of frauds found by one of the Law Society's own investigators, which included deceiving Banks, the Inland Revenue, myself, other beneficiaries on legal & financial information relevant to Mr Penman’s woefully poor and rather dishonest legal service provided to my late father’s estate, even going so far to fiddling & falsifying files in an attempt to cover up his actings.
You can read more about the Andrew Penman complaint and how the Law Society of Scotland mishandled it here : Andrew Penman & Norman Howitt : Borders lawyer & accountant team up to ruin Cherbi executry estate
It is fairly clear, from not only my experience, but those of others reported to me, that clients must have a full involvement in the complaints process, whether that be at the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission itself ... and from the following letter issued by the Scottish Consumer Council to the Law Society of Scotland over this matter, it would seem there are others in agreement on this :
Martyn Evans, SCC Director :
“While we are unable to comment in detail on the proposed process, we are, as you might expect, concerned at the limited involvement which the complainer will have in the process. While we understand the argument that the complainer is seen as a witness, rather than as a party to the proceedings, we do not consider that this justifies allowing the complainer to have no involvement in the process other than to receive a copy of the final written report on the matter.
We are well aware that this has been an issue of contention in the past, with the solicitor being allowed to make representations on their own behalf, while the complainer is not allowed to do so. It is proposed that only the solicitor will have the opportunity to comment on, and make representations in relation to, the narrative and assessment document produced by the case investigator. This is a very one-sided process and is unlikely to be viewed by complainers as being fair.
If the Society is to ensure that its process is viewed as fair, rather than being seen to take the side of the solicitor, as has been the case in the past, the complainer must also be given the opportunity to comment on this document. It cannot be in the interests of natural justice to refuse to allow the complainer, who may have suffered considerably as a result of the solicitor’s conduct, the opportunity to comment on any representations made by the solicitor.”
Certainly a good thing the Scottish Consumer Council have taken this issue on board, and scanning through my own work on this matter over the years, I note the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman of the time, who investigated how the Law Society of Scotland whitewashed the Andrew Penman complaint, recommended that solicitors should be banned from making personal submissions in the future as was made for Andrew Penman ... because as I found out from further revelations of the 'Penman submissions', it seems such submissions are usually full of lies and accusations against clients in a desperate attempt by 'crooked lawyers' to get themselves off the hook.
The Scotsman reports on Andrew Penman’s ‘secret representations’ to the Law Society of Scotland’s Complaints Committee :
However, not content with reducing clients rights in terms of involvement in the complaint itself, the Law Society of Scotland has went one step further and reduced the time limit which clients have to complain against a solicitor from the current two years to one year - claiming this 'little talked about' alteration will "help clients" rather than hinder their ability to raise a complaint over poor legal service or conduct in the future.
Time limit on legal disputes – Evening Times 8 July 2008
So, as you can see from the above short comment in the Evening Times newspaper, if your lawyer has served you poorly and covered up his actions to the extent you don't find out what they did until a year afterwards .. there's no chance of getting any redress in the new system .. which is rapidly turning out to sound like the old system now ...
The Scottish Consumer Council’s reaction to this was issued in a Press Release last week as follows :
Comment on the announcement by the Law Society of Scotland that the deadline for making complaints to them is to reduce to one year as part of the transition to the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Sarah O'Neill, Legal Officer at the Scottish Consumer Council said it was essential that people who have a grievance don't delay lodging their complaint:
"The new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will be able to award four times as much in compensation where cases are found against a solicitor as the Law Society of Scotland, but there's no point hanging on until October to bring your case in the belief that you’ll get a better outcome under the new SLCC.
"Any complaints relating to work handed to a solicitor for the first time up to and including 30th September 2008 will still be dealt with by the Law Society, which will continue to handle all pre October 2008 cases right up until 2010.
"We accept that there has to be a cut-off and that the Law Society needs to be able to manage the transition of its work to the new body. It's not ideal, though, as there will be cases where solicitors are instructed before October but problems only arise or become apparent long after that date, where clients may be justified in expecting their case to be dealt with under the new, potentially more generous SLCC system."
With two regulators chasing complaints against lawyers, all being handled by either serving or ex Law Society of Scotland staff, the only people to benefit from the Law Society’s changes will of course, be crooked lawyers …
Perhaps our political masters would like to step in and preserve the original intentions of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which was to clear up corruption in regulation of the legal profession and make things somewhat independent from the lawyers .. which so far, we do not seem to be getting anywhere near ...