Law Society of Scotland officials are determined to prevent forced compliance with FOI. FOUR YEARS after the first calls were made to the Scottish Government to bring the Law Society of Scotland into compliance with Freedom of Information legislation, attitudes apparently remain unchanged at the Justice Department over calls to force greater transparency & accountability on the lawyers regulatory, despite the fact the new regulator for complaints against Scottish solicitors, the joint taxpayer-lawyer funded Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is itself FOI compliant.
I have reported on the Scottish Government’s reluctance to make the legal profession comply with Freedom of Information laws in an earlier article here : MacAskill’s ‘no intention to include Law Society in FOI review’ allows lawyers to keep scandals & criminal records hidden from public scrutiny
Justice Secretary MacAskill is rumoured to be 'bitter' over calls to make lawyers comply with Freedom of Information. The Scottish Government's three year go slow on bringing the Law Society of Scotland into the scope of Freedom of Information legislation, has today been attributed by sources within the administration to problems of bias in the Justice Department itself, with civil servants being described as 'very angry' that members of the public should even be calling for such reforms. The Justice Secretary himself, aware of publicity surrounding the secretive nature of the Law Society is also rumoured to be "very bitter" that critics of the legal profession have even dared suggest the Law Society be brought within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.
A legal insider today said : "Officials at the Justice Department are less than pleased that members of the public, campaign groups and journalists have made enquires on the lack of progress of reforms in legal services. Occasionally, civil servants have themselves hit out at critics of the slow pace of justice reforms, with less than gentlemanly outbursts, due to impressions given the Justice Department itself is now covering up for corruption, and even perhaps criminality in the legal profession itself."
He went on : "The Justice Secretary himself, is well known to be vehemently against anyone who dares criticise his colleagues in the legal profession, to the point that any idea put forward from outside the legal establishment to 'improve' public access to justice, or, as in this case, making the legal profession compliant with freedom of information laws, MacAskill has set himself diametrically against, simply out of bloody mindedness."
A senior journalist with one of Scotland’s major newspapers confirmed the level of hostility towards those calling for reform of the legal profession. He said : “One civil servant I know launched into a shocking barrage of insults against particular individuals whom it is well known the Law Society tried to exclude from major Scottish Parliamentary inquiries on the state of regulation of the legal profession.”
“I don't think there is any need for this level of prejudice in the civil service. If it is the case that some officials within SG feel so partisan against the public on issues of reforming the legal profession, they should go work for the Law Society instead of the Scottish Government.”
The Scottish Government are bitterly resisting reforms to the legal sector. It seems somewhat at odds to me, with the era we are now living in, where secrecy, self regulation and the corruption & greed which both issues seem to breed, have virtually wiped out our main banks, trust in the financial sector, and even trust in politicians not to over claim on their expenses accounts, that the Scottish Government are still so bitterly resisting making the legal profession compliant with Freedom of Information laws, and also remain so opposed to implementing fully independent regulation of solicitors, to safeguard consumers best interests.
This resistance on the part of the Scottish Government to process any reforms of the way regulation and client business is handled by the Law Society of Scotland, is an almost perfect mirror image of the resistance from the legal profession itself, who are determined to remain immune from FOI legislation, and virtually all other forms of independent oversight which may very well end up revealing an even greater scale of corruption within the Scots legal sector which might take critics such as myself by surprise.
John Swinney revealed Law Society Chiefs threatened anyone who called for regulatory reforms. Indeed, while the first calls for making the Law Society of Scotland comply with Freedom of Information laws were being made, Cabinet Secretary John Swinney MSP, then in opposition, revealed that the Law Society’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill was busy attacking such ideas, even issuing open threats to the Financial Services Authority and any future regulator who might consider taking a stick to the vast sea of corruption which surrounds areas such as the Law Society's discredited Master Policy & Guarantee Fund client compensation arrangements, which some liken to money laundering operations.
John Swinney says a sea change is needed in attitudes to regulating the legal profession. How true …
SLCC's Chair Jane Irvine, supports the idea of making the Law Society comply with Freedom of Information. However, while Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill continues his go slow on making the Law Society comply with Freedom of Information legislation, a growing number of consumer groups and even some from within the legal establishment itself, such as the Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Jane Irvine, are supporting the idea that the public interest would be best served by making the legal profession's governing body FOI compliant.
You can read an earlier article I wrote about the SLCC's Chief Jane Irvine who came out and supported FOI compliance for the Law Society of Scotland, here : Legal Complaints Chief supports ‘consumer advantages’ of removing Law Society’s Freedom of Info immunity
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has suffered several scandals as a result of FOI disclosures. Admittedly, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is no angel itself, when it comes to the Commission's own compliance with Freedom of Information laws. In some cases, the SLCC has chosen (allegedly through Ministerial direction) to censor disclosed material to particular journalists, and on other occasions, has apparently been authorised to lie in FOI disclosures. You can find some more good FOI scandals involving the SLCC HERE.
SLCC blacked out FOI disclosures in true Westminster style and Law Society might do the same if made FOI compliant. However, while the Information Commissioner is investigating these breeches of FOI laws by the SLCC, and has already criticised the commission in a number of decisions for their poor practices, FOI has brought us an invaluable insight into the way the legal profession will co-opt independent organisations set up as a result of legislation to look at client complaints, and perhaps even more importantly, has also shown us the steps some officials take, and the lengths some are willing to go, to stifle public debate and calls for legitimate reforms which are certainly in the public interest.
As politicians are subject to Freedom of Information laws, as the Police are subject to Freedom of Information laws, as indeed are many other public bodies & services, including local & national Government are subject to Freedom of Information laws, then so also must the legal profession be made subject to Freedom of Information laws, a reform which is definitely in the public interest.