Friday, March 27, 2009

Secret Scotland : MacAskill challenged over lawyers immunity from Freedom of Information law

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland is currently immune from FOI. As I revealed in a report earlier this week, the Law Society of Scotland looked set to maintain its exemption from Freedom of Information legislation, blocking attempts by consumer groups and law reformers to bring the solicitor's self regulator body in line with the new 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which is compliant with FOI laws.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary MacAskill's gaffe revealed secrecy policy on lawyers to be maintained. However as I also revealed in Monday's article, the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, made a spectacular gaffe in admitting during questioning he had no intention of bringing the Law Society under the scope of Freedom of Information legislation. Kenny MacAskill abruptly changed the FOI landscape by saying : "The Law Society are a professional organisation and are not covered in the Freedom of Information Act. There is no intention to include them in the review.".

However, the Minister abruptly changed his mind a few hours later, and his spokesman issued a comment retracting his initial response and indicated suggestions for bodies to be included in the FOI review would be looked at.

You can read my earlier article from Monday on what happened, here : MacAskill’s ‘no intention to include Law Society in FOI review’ allows lawyers to keep scandals & criminal records hidden from public scrutiny

So, do lawyers deserve to be immune from Freedom of Information legislation ? I have not been able to find one person yet to say they do.

The only people who seem to feel the Law Society should remain the super secret self regulator of lawyers, are lawyers themselves .. and it turns out that some solicitors feel its time for FOI compliance to head the Law Society’s way.

An insider to the Law Society said “Bringing in FOI compliance would give the Society a much needed kick in the behind, and probably help our image with members and the public alike.”

He went on : “There will be a lot of recriminations though as FOI requests mount and documents have to be produced showing activities which many will end up feeling unfair. Many within the Society may end up facing hard questions as to their policies which have not always served the interests of the profession or the public.”

Why should the legal profession's governing body be immune from FOI laws which bind many other public bodies & public services to a much higher standard of transparency & public accountability, of which the Law Society of Scotland apparently doesn't wish to adhere to ... the reason being of course, as many point out, the Law Society simply has too much to hide in terms of its poor performance as regulator of solicitors and failure to address huge problems of poor quality legal service in the Scottish legal sector.

The Herald 5 June 2006 - Would granny swear by the law societyThe Herald reported Law Society corruption on the Master Policy claims after intervention from John Swinney. There are other factors at the Law Society of Scotland, which promote fear of compliance to Freedom of Information laws, such as the many dark secrets which are connected with the Society's financial operations, particularly the roles of the consumer protection schemes known as the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund, both touted by Law Society officials as ensuring payback for the escapades of crooked lawyers, but in reality, widely known to be corrupt, unregulated financial schemes which never pay out in the event of a clients lawyer making off with their funds.

The lack of FOI compliance at the Law Society is making life very difficult for consumers of legal services in Scotland, and also considerably limiting the ability of the new legal complaints commission to ensure that transparency and accountability are brought to the matters of regulating complaints against crooked lawyers, long a den of cronyism & corruption at the Law Society itself.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chairman. In a demonstration of the Law Society’s wish to maintain secrecy on all things to do with its operation, it turns out that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, “is afraid to ask for a copy of the Master Policy”, according to staff at the SLCC who allege the Law Society holds far too much influence at the new regulator in virtually every matter discussed.

There is a genuine public interest in applying Freedom of Information legislation to the Law Society of Scotland, and of course, the Faculty of Advocates. To this end, I have written to the Justice Secretary asking him to extend FOI legislation to the Faculty & Law Society, given the severe imbalance in transparency, accountability & consumer protection the current exemptions create for regulation of legal services in Scotland.

Please join the campaign to bring FOI compliance to the Law Society & Faculty of Advocates, emailing your thoughts to the Justice Secretary at : scottish.ministers@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or write to him at : Kenny MacAskill MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice,The Scottish Government,St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh EH1 3DG.

An open letter to Mr MacAskill :

The Law Society of Scotland, as you know, carry out the prosecution & disciplinary orders of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, after investigations are made and punishment determined. Having that part of the process exempt from FOI creates a layer of secrecy which continues the long standing problems of cronyism and the perception of it in the aspects of regulation of the legal profession in Scotland.

If your word is true on this matter and “contributions are always welcome”, I therefore propose the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates should be made compliant with FOI legislation in the current review, given there is clearly a genuine public interest and advantage in having Freedom of Information legislation extend to the entire process of regulation of legal services in Scotland, rather than the present highly prejudicial situation where the main standards, policy, client protection & decision making parts of legal profession remain exempt from scrutiny & transparency.

A simple step for the Justice Secretary, and one you can all join in, to bring the balance back to consumer protection in the regulation of legal services in Scotland. A simple step to establish accountability & transparency so that clients issues are treated with transparency, respect and fairness, rather than maintaining the Law Society’s own desires to remain the super secret unaccountable regulator it has no right to be ….

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck.
You will need it to get over the arm twisting tactics of the Law Society on Captain MacBuckfast.

I can see Yelland getting his little blackmail book out right now !

Anonymous said...

Lawyers have no right to be immune from foi.Who the hell approved this in the first place and why are the SNP not doing anyhthing about it ?

Another Open Letter to Kenny MacAskill said...

Hi Peter

Great article as ever.

Here is my Open Letter to Kenny MacAskill.

Your readers are free to send it too.

Bestest,

You know who!
__________

Kenny MacAskill MSP
Cabinet Secretary "for Justice"
Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

Kenny.MacAskill.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Dear Mr MacAskill

In the 22 months since your appointment by Alex Salmond as Cabinet Secretary "for Justice", could you please inform us exactly what good you have done for your constituents of Edinburgh East and Musselburgh who appointed you, and Scotland's 5,000,000 population as a whole?

As far as I have seen you are simply helping and protecting your 10,000 fellow solicitors, the Law Society, legal "profession" as a whole and the Edinburgh and Scottish establishment in general.

Certainly, in the many cases of wrong-doing, corruption and injustice involving local government, the police, YOUR legal "profession" and many other groups and organisations in Scotland, you have done nothing for those "malcontents" who have approached you (often pleading for your help) seeking the TRUTH and JUSTICE in their individual cases of injustice at the hands of corrupt and crooked individuals and organisations you are only too well aware of yourself.

Are you a protector of the Edinburgh and Scottish establishment (especially YOUR legal "profession") and indifferent to the plight of those who approach you with their cases of injustice seeking your help?

Confirm or deny please.

Looking forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

"Joe Public"
Edinburgh

Anonymous said...

I dont see why lawyers should have any immunity from FOI and its about time it was taken away from them so I support what you are doing.

Keep up the good work !

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Your argument is sound and the fact is foi compliance will eventually creep to the Law Society.Keep up the pressure on MacAskill.It's good to see someone other than the LSS putting the boot into him.

Anonymous said...

The much praised Peter Cherbi rides again !

Actually I think Abbey have been reading your blog:http://www.journalonline.co.uk/News/1006396.aspx

I'd say more but I'm sure you can figure out and will cover the rest.

Good luck with your FOI stuff

Anonymous said...

Good article, I will use the link and send a letter of enquiry to Mr. MacAskill. The anwser might not be worth reading but at least it will require his office to do something akin to working for the public - and not serving the legal profession.

Anonymous said...

This should be a done deal.Why should lawyers have an exemption anyway? I'd like to know more about how they were able to obtain one in the first place although I can guess its down to arm twisting whoever was in at the time when foi was passed

Anonymous said...

Agreed and good luck.You have a good point about freedom of information that was not designed to allow professionals who malpractice to hide their misbehaviour from justice

Anonymous said...

good idea.

Anonymous said...

I think the Law Society will resist foi tooth & nail.Probably they have a thick book of info on MacAskill and his government which can be used as leverage.We all know how quick politicians are to cave into blackmail or junkets from industry.

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree - plenty resistance from the Law Society on this one and plenty files about to go up in smoke if they think they will get foi requests about rogue lawyers.

Good work keep it up laddie !