Friday, January 23, 2009

Commission budget 'protects lawyers not consumers' as taxpayers £2 million fails to be repaid despite economic meltdown

MacAskill tight lippedWhile Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is in Canada, wasting yet more taxpayers money on the failing "Homecoming" project, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been engaged in spinning out a story to cover up the SNP controlled administration's little talked about multi million pound gift to the lawyers complaints quango, which has mostly went on personal benefits, huge salaries, pension schemes and personal insurance policies for a bunch of lawyers, retired Policemen, and other alleged experts in the field of regulating complaints against lawyers.

This week, desperate to avoid any further bad publicity or hard questions on its income, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a Press Release to newspapers calling their budget proposals a "budget reflects needs of both consumers and legal practitioners"

However, the quango has refused to pay back the millions of pounds it received from the Scottish taxpayer, at the behest of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who himself has acknowledged he will not seek the return of the much needed public money already wasted on the Commission, which has yet to generate the increased consumer confidence in the Scottish legal services market it was created to do.

I reported earlier on the Mr MacAskill’s multi million pound ‘gift’ to the SLCC here : MacAskill silent on taxpayers £2million 'write off' to lawyers quango as Complaints boss reveals Law Society defaulted on levies

SLCC squareThe Commission's controversial decision to lower the annual complaints levy which solicitors must pay to fund the body which investigates complaints against Scottish lawyers, rather than repay the public purse, despite receiving over £2.4 millions pounds from the Law Society of Scotland by the end of last year, raises questions on just who the SLCC is serving, as clients of solicitors now find it is almost impossible to get the Commission to actually investigate complaints against solicitors, with many encountering a huge list of excuses given for the quango to take on cases against crooked lawyers.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chairman. Jane Irvine, the SLCC's Chairman was asked for comment this week on why, despite having huge surpluses of cash, the Commission had failed to repay the millions of pounds of public money it had received, before lowering the amounts solicitors had to pay to keep it running.

Short of an explanation it seems, for the obvious, where one would think in these tough financial times, public money should be repaid rather than being handed over to lawyers, Ms Irvine denied any responsibility for the matter, and simply replied "The two sets of monies are not linked and it is not within my control."

Well, that's just great isn't it ... people all across Scotland are waiting to get into hospitals for life saving operations, people's homes are being repossessed, public services are in danger of being cut back, many of Scotland's financial institutions have had to be rescued by the Bank of England, but the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and the Justice Secretary Mr MacAskill, himself a lawyer, are happy to shower a group of lawyers with millions of pounds of public money.

Does anyone think that is justified ? particularly in these troubled financial times ?

ScottishGovernmentAn insider at the Justice Department commented to me "there have been moves by the Scottish Government to hamper public discussion of the sensitive subject of public funding of the SLCC" .. and little wonder, given that the SLCC has spent most of the money on itself and personal benefits so far, rather than doing the actual work the Scots public were promised it would actually carry out.

You can read more about how the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been spending millions of pounds of public money on itself and its high salaried officials here : Complaints Commission 'unfit for purpose' as secret meetings with insurers & pensions take focus over consumer protection against crooked lawyers

However, not so long ago, the Commission was embroiled in bitter internal squabbles and fights over personal benefits and a shortage of funds, which I reported on here : Legal Complaints Commission in crisis amid funds shortage & resignation threats over lack of insurance protection

From the actual SLCC Press Release on their budget proposals earlier this week, it does appear that sources within the Justice Department are correct on their claims of "a culture of spin" at the lawyers complaints quango, so lets have a look at what Jane Irvine said to the newspapers to try and get the Commission's own message out :

Jane Irvine : “As an independent, impartial and accessible organisation, the budget has been developed after listening to the views of both consumer organisations and legal practitioners."

Independent, impartial & accessible ? How can that be, when one of the first decisions the SLCC took was to refuse to investigate any complaint against a solicitor involving work which took place before 1st October 2008. The SLCC is of course, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland, and its Board is made up mostly of lawyers, ex Police officers & others who have been involved in self regulation for years .. hardly impartial or independent or accessible.

If you want to read how independent, impartial & accessible the SLCC actually is, have a read of the following article : Legal Complaints Commission to delay monitoring of discredited lawyers insurance as worries increase over poor regulation of crooked lawyers

Jane Irvine : “The economic downturn has already impacted upon the legal profession and a *recent survey of 196 firms indicated that 304 people, mostly support staff, had already been made redundant.”

Yes, so it seems .. but it seems the economic downturn has caused many solicitors to start faking up their bills to clients, adding fictitious work and inflating accounts, along with threats & menaces if bills aren't paid within a few days ... and strangely enough, or perhaps conveniently for Ms Irvine and her associates, the 'independent impartial & accessible SLCC is telling people it wont investigate such cases if the work happened before 1st October 2008.

I reported on solicitors inflating their bills and double charging their clients here : Lawyers stealing from clients to earn 'double fees' while Law Society looks the other way in vast network of legal aid fraud & embezzlement

Jane Irvine : “Legal practitioners already working to high standards will benefit from the levy being reduced from **£409 to £275 and the £200 charge for mediation will be removed.”

What high standards are we talking about here ? Scotland has the poorest quality legal services market in the developed world, with clients paying up to 10 times more for legal services than anywhere else, and still not getting success or satisfaction in their legal affairs.

Jane Irvine again : “However, consumer organisations want to see higher standards of service and early resolution of complaints. With this in mind, the SLCC will double charges where a complaint is upheld. The minimum charge will rise from ***£250 to £500. The financial implications of an increased complaints levy should encourage practitioners to resolve complaints at an early stage."

Really ? I don't think anyone with a shred of experience in dealing with solicitors will believe that for a second ... rather it will simply increase the amounts that lawyers are prepared to steal from their clients, all because they know they can get away with it due to the very poor and very biased way in which regulation of complaints against solicitors are still being handled in Scotland, by a Commission which claims itself to be "independent, impartial & accessible"

As a final kicker to the story, revelations surfaced this morning it was the legal profession itself in the form of the Law Society of Scotland who had been campaigning for a reduction in the levies, and it seems judging by the SLCC’s Press Release, that campaign was successful so its lawyers before clients once again in Scotland. What that how it was meant to be with the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007 ?

So, we must ask ourselves, who is it the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is actually here to serve ? the public ? or solicitors and the Law Society of Scotland ? and why is the Justice Secretary simply dismissing consumer interests at every turn and siding each time with the legal profession over regulation issues ?

Here follows the SLCC’s budget statement, and HERE is a link to the story in the Scotsman newspaper, who sadly fell for the badly spun argument of paying public money to lawyers instead of returning it to the taxpayer.

SLCC budget reflects needs of both consumers and legal practitioners

JANUARY 2009

SLCC budget reflects needs of both consumers and legal practitioners

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has announced budget proposals for 2009/2010 which should benefit both consumers and legal practitioners.

Set up under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, the SLCC investigates complaints made by members of the public about services provided by legal practitioners in Scotland. The Commission opened for business on 1 October 2008 and although operating wholly independently of the legal profession, it is funded by legal practitioners in Scotland through the payment of an annual levy and charges imposed when a complaint is upheld.

Commenting on the proposed budget, SLCC Chair Jane Irvine said: “As an independent, impartial and accessible organisation, the budget has been developed after listening to the views of both consumer organisations and legal practitioners.

“The economic downturn has already impacted upon the legal profession and a *recent survey of 196 firms indicated that 304 people, mostly support staff, had already been made redundant.

“Legal practitioners already working to high standards will benefit from the levy being reduced from **£409 to £275 and the £200 charge for mediation will be removed.

“However, consumer organisations want to see higher standards of service and early resolution of complaints. With this in mind, the SLCC will double charges where a complaint is upheld. The minimum charge will rise from ***£250 to £500. The financial implications of an increased complaints levy should encourage practitioners to resolve complaints at an early stage.”

The original budget for the Commission’s first year of operation was £3,493,823. Operating costs for the next twelve months are significantly reduced with a proposed budget of £2,985,102.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Doreen Graham, SLCC Head of Communications

Editors Notes:

*Source: Economic Impact Survey, December 2008 published by the Law Society of Scotland.

**A 12-month annual levy charge for 2008/09 should have been £409 but the actual charge for the 9-months of operation was £307.

Proposed levy charges for 2009/10 are:

Solicitors with 3 plus years experience £275

Advocates £223

Solicitors within first 3 years of practice £138

In-house solicitors £91

***Complaints levies are charges made against legal practitioners when a complaint is upheld. The proposed complaints levies for 2009/10 are:

Mediation levy £0

No complaint upheld £0

Complaint accepted – First Settlement £500

Complaint accepted – Second and Further Settlements £700

Formal Determination – First £800

Formal Determination – Second £1,200

Formal Determination – Third and Further Determinations £2,000

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

If lawyers are getting sacked what has that got to do with the commission's fees or protecting clients ?

Jane Irvine needs to get her priorities right and the first priority as you so eloquently point out is to repay the taxpayer because they obviously have plenty money to do it.

Anonymous said...

I agree the money should be repaid to the country.Better to use the 2 million for hospitals or something productive than handing it over to a bunch of bloody lawyers !

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying the 'its nothing to do with me' approach from Irvine.

Hand the money over and stuff the lawyers

JUSTICE minister Kenny MacAskill should hang his head in shame ... and RESIGN NOW said...

Seems poor Kenny has a few others now who are after his head Peter ... The Daily Record, Richard Baker MSP (Shadow Justice Secretary), Scottish Labour generally and several others now too I am told.

Good good ... the man is a charlatan and must go for the good of all those pursuing justice ... as it will NEVER be found under him, Salmond and this SNP government ... and the sooner all Scots waken up to that stark fact, the better for them all.

__________

Bard Move, Macaskill :

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/comment/newspaper-opinion/2009/01/23/bard-move-macaskill-86908-21063181/

Justice minister Kenny MacAskill snubs knife summit.. to go on Canadian junket :

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2009/01/23/justice-minister-kenny-macaskill-snubs-knife-summit-to-go-on-canadian-junket-86908-21062723/

__________

Richard Baker, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” that Mr MacAskill had decided to attend the Burns suppers in Canada. “He appears to think it is more important than attending an important event dealing with knife crime in Scotland.

“We know that the SNP are soft on crime and their plans to scrap six- month sentences, including those for knife criminals, are dangerous, but this distinct lack of respect is astounding.

“If Kenny MacAskill doesn't want to be Justice Secretary any more, maybe he should make way for someone who does,” he added.

Row as Kenny MacAskill misses knife conference :

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article5570180.ece


Richard Baker, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: "I am absolutely flabbergasted that Kenny MacAskill thinks that going to a Burns supper in Canada is more important than attending an important event dealing with knife crime.

"It's disgraceful that the families of victims are being treated in this fashion. If Kenny MacAskill doesn't want to be justice secretary anymore maybe he should make way for someone who does."

Kenny MacAskill told to consider resigning for snubbing knife summit :

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/scotland/4317536/Kenny-MacAskill-told-to-consider-resigning-for-snubbing-knife-summit.html

Anonymous said...

Clearly Ms. Irvine is now well and truly 'on side' - her job is at stake after all - and so no surprise that the pernicious influence of the Law Society of Scotland continues to be allowed to dictate all matters concerning the regulation and provision of demonstrably inadequate legal
'services' in Scotland.

Ms. Irvine's pathetic attempt to evade responsibility for the SLCC's stubborn refusal to return £2 million pounds of taxpayers money being only the latest in a long line of examples of her compliance.

The buck stops with Ms. Irvine and her board, while The Scotsman continues to serve its own best interests....

Anonymous said...

Interesting and worth a good question in the parliament maybe ?

Anonymous said...

Comments so quickly, my you are getting popular Peter !

If you trundle over to the Law Society's website you may find they wrote the SLCC's press release for them, considering the following:
http://www.lawscot.org.uk/Members_Information/slcc/

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) & other changes in regulation
Latest News - 19 January 2009

The SLCC has published its proposed budget and levy costs for the forthcoming year. The SLCC is required to consult on its budget and the Society will be responding in mid February. If you wish to comment, please write to the Society at regulationqueries@lawscot.org.uk

The proposed charges for 2009/10

Solicitors with 3+ years experience - £275
Solicitors with 1 - 3 years experience - £138
In-house solicitors - £91

The £200 for mediation will be removed. However fees against a solicitor when the case is upheld will double. As a result the fees will be -

Mediation levy - £0
No complaint upheld - £0
Complaint accepted - first settlement - £500
Complaint accepted - second and further settlement - £700
Formal determination - first - £800
Formal determination - second - £1,200
Formal determination - third and further - £2,000


Latest News - 7 January 2009

In order that the SLCC can get its budget approved by parliament by the end of April (as required by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007) the SLCC will begin the review and consultation process for its budget this month (January 2009).

When responding to the consultation, the Society will be mindful of the financial burden of the levy on the profession, especially given the impact of the economic downturn.

In terms of timescale, it is likely that invoices for the levy will be issued in April.

Last year the Society set up a working party to assess the allocation of the levy – bearing in mind that the solicitor profession (along with advocates) are obliged to pay for the full cost of the SLCC.

The Council of the Society made a recommendation to the SLCC that all solicitors would pay the same levy except those with less than 3 years experience who would pay half and those who worked in the in-house sector who would pay a third. The working party will soon be reviewing the current recommendation to determine if it is still the most reasonable allocation of the levy.

Part of the review will be a consideration of whether case fees should be higher for those who have a number of upheld complaints against them.

Also under consideration will be the proposed charges for mediation by the SLCC

Views from the profession are welcome and should be emailed to regulationqueries@lawscot.org.uk

Anonymous said...

You are spot on Peter the money should be repaid immediately and I just wanted to say your writing on law subjects is fantasstic!

Anonymous said...

I see MacAskill has swanned off to Canada for a Burns night out.I hope the Canadian mounties get him for drunk & disorderly or something with a bit of headline in it :)

Anonymous said...

Complicated issue but I see you cover it well and with plenty links.
I was going through the budget and nowhere does it seem to show how much these regulators are earning or how much they are getting on pensions.
I also agree with you that this public money should be repaid before they decide to hand it back to the lawyers which seems to be what is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

MacAskill must have money to burn on his pals in the legal trade.How many pensions does Irvine and the rest of them at this quango get now ?

To see ourselves as others see us said...

"O, would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us." ...

Scottish minister skewered for Canadian haggis tour :

"Political rivals are demanding the resignation of Scotland's justice minister after he decided to skip a major national conference on knife crime in favour of a trip to Canada to attend a series of haggis suppers celebrating the birthday of the famed 18th-century Scottish poet Robbie Burns." :

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Scottish+minister+skewered+Canadian+trip/1211432/story.html

Scottish politician condemned over Canadian haggis suppers :

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Scottish+politician+condemned+over+Canadian+haggis+suppers/1212514/story.html

Scottish official skips crime meeting to visit N.S. :

http://thechronicleherald.ca/NovaScotia/1102501.html

__________

Letter: Your View - Canadian Trip Is A Slap In The Face :

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/comment/your-letters/2009/01/24/letter-your-view-canadian-trip-is-a-slap-in-the-face-86908-21065927/

Bard Move, Macaskill :

"On his return, MacAskill would be well advised to make an apology to all concerned.

But given the fine conceit he has for himself, he may be the only one to think he has not erred.

In that case, he should consider the words of Burns in To A Louse: "O, would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us." "

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/comment/newspaper-opinion/2009/01/23/bard-move-macaskill-86908-21063181/

Anonymous said...

The snp are just a puppet for the likes of lawyers & business Peter,nothing more than that.

Read this from the Herald today : "The Scottish Government and Parliament are not a Whitehall department which can be bullied by the Treasury. We represent a country, and we have every right and ability to scrap the unfair council tax and replace it with a fair local income tax to fund local authority expenditure, which will help low and middle-income Scots."

That comes from Swinney while hes dishing out millions to MacAskill's lawyer friends on the slcc.Worse than the rest wouldn't you agree ?

Anonymous said...

Just like in your other write ups on Scotland's financial robbers, nothing will change under MacAskill or the snp and there will never be any justice for anyone.

I would encourage anyone with a grievance against lawyers or banks to do all they can to make sure the name, reputation and ability to do business is ruined because really you all have nothing to lose because you will never get anywhere with these bunch of creeps running the show and as we see now people around the world are beginning to learn that Peter Cherbi and the rest of you who have been victim to these parasites & leeches have been right all along - avoid doing any business with anyone in Scotland connected to banks,lawyers and all their scummy friends who have been stealing from us all for years

Anonymous said...

Good story Peter I admire you for your tenacity over these thieving rats.I hope the Canucks drop Macbuckie in the drink We could well do without him as you prove time and again!

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1126682/Icelandic-government-brought-credit-crunch.html

what should NOW happen in SCOTLAND

Anonymous said...

Watch the story on the peers taking money to make amendments to laws Peter,if they have been doing this for all these years how much has the law society been paying politicians to do the same up in Scotland ?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7849594.stm

Anonymous said...

He must have ran off to Canada after all Peter's criticism but wasn't MacAskill the one condemning everyone else last year for not attending an airgun summit or something like that ?
Best rid of this idiot from the Scots amateur government !

Anonymous said...

Well spotted Peter.I don't think this commission deserves one penny of public money and as you say they should be forced to pay it back,all of it.

Good work on your reporting!