Pressure is mounting from all quarters for believable explanations from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after the publication of a series of emails obtained under FOI laws, depicted commission members & senior officials condemning consumer groups, law reformers and clients of solicitors who have submitted claims for compensation against 'crooked lawyers'.
Consumer groups and some inside the legal profession itself are angry that such anti-client sentiments are still so virulent at the SLCC, created in 2007 and intended to be a new beginning for regulating complaints against the legal profession, after the Law Society of Scotland's total failure in complaints role which has caused record levels of cronyism in covering up complaints against crooked lawyers.
Diary of Injustice : anti-client feelings run deep at the SLCC. While officials at the Scottish Government's Justice Department have privately expressed anger at the conduct of several SLCC board members over 'bile' expressed against consumer groups, and rants over boozed fuelled nights, some officials are now worried the comments made by Margaret Scanlan which apparently are ‘personal opinions’ made against the personal characters of claimants to the Law Society of Scotland's "Guarantee Fund", may amount to the same type of conduct & intervention which eventually ended the career of ex Law Society Chief Executive, Douglas Mill, who himself was brought down after appearing before the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee, Mill openly arguing with John Swinney about the content of his own memos - which also detailed clients claims against crooked lawyers.
Memos of a feather flock together ? SLCC’s Margaret Scanlan's email echoes Douglas Mill's policy against Master Policy client claims :
One official who did not wish to be named said "People who read these emails may have good reason for thinking the same client bashing closed ranks sentiment which came out at J2 from Douglas Mill has now crossed over to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Some here feel the way that members have acted at the Commission has badly damaged its reputation & credibility."
He went on : "There has been a briefing about the weekend media coverage in the Sunday Mail and on 'A Diary of Injustice in Scotland' and I heard that orders have been given out to the SLCC to prevent such embarrassing documents from being disclosed in the future."
Coincidentally, a Freedom of Information request which was due to be delivered to me on Monday 16 March, was pulled at the last minute by the SLCC's office Manager, after the blaze of publicity in the weekend press & online media of board members booze fuelled antics & personal enmity expressed towards consumers. Suspicious are high that orders have been given to prevent documents being disclosed which could further embarrass the beleaguered law complaints body.
The SLCC official, when asked why the FOI disclosure had been pulled said : "The contents of the FOI request I am dealing with … are being pulled for scrutiny by me alone no other agencies have been involved."
A legal insider this morning however said that if the SLCC were removing documents considered controversial simply because problems had been exposed in the organisation, they could well be in breach of the Freedom of Information Act, and should be investigated by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.
He said : "Just because a public body finds itself at the heart of a scandal of its own making, doesn't mean it can go around removing or destroying evidence of what its people are up to in order to avoid further damaging disclosures in response to Freedom of Information requests.I think the Information Commissioner should be looking into this as a matter of urgency."
Jane Irvine, Chairman, SLCC. Jane Irvine, the SLCC Chairman was asked for comment on the Scanlan email which took issue with the personal character of a claimant to the Guarantee Fund. She said : ”The remark you refer to in the email sent by Margaret Scanlan to Eileen Masterman has been taken out of context. If you read it again you will see that Mrs Scanlan was referring to Lending Institutions. Her remark was a personal opinion regarding one individual who has not been involved with either the SLCC or SLSO.”
However, if the individual has not been involved with the SLCC or SLSO, it begs the question why details of the claim have been brought up and why Scanlan apparently has detailed information on the claim in the first place and felt it necessary to apply personal opinions on claimants characters to the SLCC’s discussion on its monitoring role of the Law Society’s Guarantee Fund & Master Policy insurance schemes designed to compensate clients for the actions of rogue solicitors.
Jane Irvine was then asked if the SLCC is now prepared to identify the individual concerned in Margaret Scanlan's email to Eileen Masterman and inform them of matters regarding Mrs Scanlan's personal opinion on their claim to the Guarantee Fund, which has now been made public in the media. No response has yet been received to that request.
Kenny MacAskill – distancing himself from scandal mired SLCC. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was asked for reaction to the scandal, however his spokesman issued a terse statement on his behalf, seeking to distance the Justice Secretary who had himself, personally appointed the SLCC board members who have now brought the law complaints body into disrepute.
A Scottish Government spokesman said on MacAskill’s behalf : “The SLCC has been established as an independent body to oversee complaints against the legal profession. Having established the SLCC as an independent body, it would be wholly inappropriate for Ministers to provide a running commentary on issues concerning it.”
It might well be the Justice Secretary wants to distance himself from the goings on at the SLCC, but its his responsibility as Justice Secretary to clean up the mess his own appointed members have caused both the organisation and the further damage to public respect in the legal profession, which obviously cannot police itself or even be involved in any matters of regulation of legal services in Scotland …