Sunday, July 13, 2008

Law Society of Scotland to allow 'secret reports' from lawyers against clients amid prejudiced complaints handling reforms

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 :

SCC Director Martyn Evans takes issue with the Law Society of Scotland shifting the goal posts for clients once again …

SCC response to new process for handling conduct complaints

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 :

Jury  still out on law in the dock - The Scotsman 2 March 1998

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

Time Limit on Legal Disputes Evening Times July 8th 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 :

SCC News Release

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 ...


Anonymous said...

so nothing changes then

lawyers cover up for lawyers once more!

Anonymous said...

So, a profession to be proud of, a profession ready to embrace change??

Answers please Mr. MacAskill, preferably honest ones.

? said...

Shows us all the Law Society are doing the usual - looking after their own.

Keep up the good work - we would never be allowed to do any of that Penman stuff now that censorship is the in thing !

Anonymous said...

Never heard of the Scottish Consumer Council until now but i will write to them about my own crooked lawyer experience so thanks for the info !

Anonymous said...

Interesting stories on Penman.I know Stormonth Darling very well.They have ripped off a few people in the Borders and got away with it.Good luck with your campaigns.

Anonymous said...

From my own perspective as a solicitor who faced a complaint,the Law Society asked me if I wanted to submit a statement to the investigating committee.I declined to do so as I knew the complaint was utter nonsense.The complaint was thrown out of course and that was the end of it but as you probably now gather these statements to committees have been going on all the time since your complaint against Mr Penman (from which I gather certainly was justified).
Quite interesting Penman was able to secure James Ness who is not particularly liked through the profession despite his involvement in Law Care.I suggest you enquire into Mr Ness past to find some startling revelations you may be able to use later on.
Kind regards.

Anonymous said...

Such a small report in the Evening News on what is a very important change by the Law Society.

It couldn't be by any chance the Law Society didn't want the change published ?

Anonymous said...

Comment 2 - MacAskill will have known about this all along so I don't think he will be giving anyone "honest answers" about his buddies at the Law Society!

Anonymous said...

Good to see these things reported as I am about to make a complaint against my lawyer too.He has been selling my house for over a year,no one interested and now a bid comes in from his WIFE using her single name £70,000 short of the asking price!

Anonymous said...

A good story as ever from you Peter.

An msp we both know told me the law Society would corrupt the entire process of the new complaints body several months ago.He was obviously correct as were you in your warnings on this now established fact.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I would have thought the hootsmon's law section pretend journalists (lawyers) would have been slobbering over this today with the LS view of things something like "We want to ruin anyone who dares complain against their lawyer"

Anonymous said...

Clearly this was to be kept quiet from everyone until it became fact.

Anonymous said...

There shouldn't be any representations from either side which the other cannot see.That much is simply a breach of Human Rights to say the very least.

Peter Cherbi said...

#Anonymous @ 5.41pm


#Anonymous @ 5.45pm

I don't think the Law Society is ready to embrace any change !

# ? @ 6.25pm

Yes, more of the usual from the Law Society.

# Anonymous @ 7.04pm

Good, and remember to report your experience in the media too.

# Anonymous @ 10.35pm

Care to share some of those cases for further reporting ?

# Anonymous @ 10.48am

Thanks for the tips.

# Anonymous @ 12.02pm

I agree - it doesn't look like the Law Society wanted any of this getting out

# Anonymous @ 12.56pm

I agree with your good comment. Mr MacAskill probably was made aware of this long before it became public.

# Anonymous @ 1.34pm

Interesting comment, and please share more of what happened to your house with the lawyers wife.

# Anonymous @ 2.35pm

It wasn't too difficult a prediction to make - almost as easy as night following day.

# Anonymous @ 3.17pm

Yes, well the Scotsman have other items in today, perhaps next week as it might take the Law Society a few days to come up with suitable spin to respond to it.

# Anonymous @ 4.30pm

I agree entirely with your comment.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you were right all along Peter.

The Law Society will never let go of regulation until someone lets them go into oblivion.

Anonymous said...

Disgusting to say the least and to the person who commented his lawyer's wife was trying to bid low on their house - take it to a newspaper or publish it online because it won't be a one off !

Anonymous said...

This was probably all in the Law Society's mind from the very start despite the success of your campaign to bring in independent complaints against lawyers.

Might be interesting to FOI the Govt and see who knew what when.

Anonymous said...

yes I know Drew Penman too and I also know someone he messed up their case for.
Definitely not to be trusted or anyone at Stormonth Darling.Did you know they were behind trying to get a lot of people thrown off their allotments in Kelso ?

Anonymous said...

I don't see why there should be any time limit on complaining against a lawyer.

If you discover 5 years or 10 years down the road your lawyer has ripped you off or done something which has caused you financial loss you should have the right to have something done about it via a complaint and legal action.

Anonymous said...

last comment regarding no limits on complaints - you are spot on

Maybe clients should try reading the Daily Telegraph and following a few tips on dealing with burglars - because lawyers ripping you off is about the same as being burgled !

Poirot said...

I think you have them on this one Peter.

I heard some rumblings about your story from a colleague of mine yesterday who bemoaned the fact you brought up Penman again and said they might have to change it a bit.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Hardly surprising scumbag lawyers do this and probably its always been the case when someone has tried to complain against them

Anonymous said...

The reduction from 2 years to 1 year will only help crooked lawyers plan their actions not to be discovered until after that time has passed.The Law Society knows what it is doing and had this planned all along as others have said.They should be wound up as an institution and the whole complaints system made independent.

Anonymous said...

I live in Kelso so thanks for this info on Stormonth Darling.I asked a friend about them and all that came back was bad stories so you are not alone in suffering at the hands of Penman and his pals.

Keep up the publicity against these crooked lawyers and there's another one you mention in this blog from Kelso who is equally crooked as Penman.

Anonymous said...

Stormonth Darling in Kelso has ruined a few more 'estates' since they did that to you.Their firm should have been shut down years ago.Anyone who still uses them must be out of their minds.

1Law4allplz said...

Keep up the good work Peter, I just remembered a lawyer that cost me money from transfer of deeds of my house 14 years ago but there would have been as much point raising it then as there is now!NONE!
A thicker bunch of masked people I have yet to meet!