Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney condemns SLCC's secrecy over meetings with Marsh. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that John Swinney, the Scottish Government's Finance Chief has become involved in efforts to expose an extraordinary battle by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to keep secret the details of meetings between senior members & staff of the Commission and the well known US Insurance giant Marsh, who, along with Royal Sun Alliance, insure all Scottish solicitors, most Advocates, and even have little known links to the Scottish Government itself.
Cabinet Secretary Swinney demanded explanations of SLCC's minutes contradictions. Letters written by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney dated March 2009 to the SLCC's Chief Executive Eileen Masterman brand her explanation 'contradictory' to details in the Commission's own minutes : "In your response on the 12th of December to *** subsequent letter on the 2nd of December in which *** had stated 'clearly you are saying that no date has yet been arranged for the Marsh presentation'. You indicated that a meeting took place with RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) in July 2008 but that no meeting had occurred with Marsh."
Mr Swinney then went on to state : "*** has drawn to my attention the fact that the minutes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 11th of March 2008 and 7th July 2007 indicated firstly in March 2008 that 'Jane Irvine confirmed she had arranged an introductory session from Marsh' and the minutes in July said that a meeting had taken place with RSA. I have to say that I feel there is a contradiction between the correspondence you have sent to *** dated 1st and 12th of December and the minutes of the SLCC meetings of March and July."
SLCC's Chief Executive Eileen Masterman's explanations over meetings with Marsh 'are contradictory' - John Swinney. The SLCC’s Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, herself a former Law Society of Scotland Committee member, issued the following statement in response to queries over Mr Swinney’s communications : “As you know, the SLCC came into existence on 1 October 2008 and a few weeks later, in early November, I attended a meeting with the SLCC’s Head of Investigations and a representative from Marsh. I considered that it was necessary and entirely appropriate for us, as senior members of the SLCC’s team, to apprise ourselves of the nature and workings of the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund as these come within our area of responsibility. However, the meeting did not relate to the means by which SLCC would ultimately exercise its oversight function. “
SLCC's answers to Cabinet Secretary Swinney were far from clear. The SLCC's responses to Mr Swinney's allegations of contradictions between attempts to keep secret any meetings with the insurers, which fell through after the details emerged in later meetings of the Commission, led to further intervention by the Cabinet Secretary branding the Commission's explanations "far from clear". It has also emerged today the Cabinet Secretary is to make representations and possibly a complaint over the way his communications have been responded to, given the responses have in his words, proved contradictory to actual events.
Although Mr Swinney’s office declined to make further comment at this stage, a source close to the Cabinet Secretary today revealed that Mr Swinney is far from happy with the way the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has handled its relationship with the public to-date, and has also expressed 'significant dissatisfaction' that the Commission chose not to look into past cases of complaints abuse by the Law Society of Scotland, which themselves played a significant part in Mr Swinney's continued appearances during the 2006 Justice 2 Committee hearings into the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill, which ultimately passed into law in 2007 after considerable campaigning from Mr Swinney, in the face of stiff resistance from the Law Society and Scotland’s legal establishment.
The well placed insider said : "Clearly the SLCC didn't want to tell anyone there had been secret meetings with Marsh before they got their Master Policy monitoring job up and running but as time dragged on the details of those meetings had to spill out otherwise it looked like they were doing nothing."
He went on : "John Swinney is far from happy the SLCC has still not decided on how to pursue its role monitoring claims made against solicitors using the Master Policy, after the Commission has had over two years and several millions of pounds of taxpayers money pumped into it, with an end result of nothing achieved so far."
John Swinney’s approach to corruption at the Law Society of Scotland led to the quick demise of the Society’s Chief Executive Douglas Mill :
SLCC refused to look at Law Society’s corruption for fear of revealing too much. From a study of the correspondence between the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission which you can download HERE, it appears the SLCC is either unwilling or unable to perform an effective Master Policy oversight role, which it was tasked with handling in the legislation which created it in the first place. The ‘nothing doing’ time scale of January 2007 to now is enough on its own to show us this seems to be the case, where the Commission is seemingly more intent on talking itself to death on issues and cases, which, if properly resolved as they should be, would put an end to any doubt the Commission is honest in its endeavours to root out corruption in Scotland’s infamously corrupt legal services market.
Clearly, the results of the SLCC's recent investigation in to the Master Policy itself, which stunningly revealed the actions of the insurers and the Law Society of Scotland against claimants had actually caused suicides should have by now, prompted substantive action on the part of the Commission and the Scottish Government to address the issues raised by the University of Manchester investigation team, but as I reported recently, it appears Commission members and staff are now trying to bury the investigation's findings and discredit testimony given by consumers, out of fear of upsetting the Law Society itself.
You can read my two earlier reports on the investigation here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night' and attempts by Commission members to derail evidence given by claimants & victims of the Master Policy here : Censorship & ‘frequent flyers’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal attempt to write off consumers evidence in Master Policy report
SLCC ‘are dishonest, anti-client’. A spokesman for one of Scotland's consumer organisations today branded the SLCC 'dishonest' in its approach to dealing with the public, claiming the Commission was acting more like a protector of the legal profession than the 'independent' regulator it was supposed to be. He said : "The SLCC will have little public credibility if all they do is try to hide meetings with elements of the legal profession and those financially connected with it who are causing all these problems with claims against crooked lawyers. There should be an inquiry into the SLCC’s poor performance to-date where in reality we are little further on after things began in early 2007."
He continued : "I would suggest the lack of progress and anti-client attitudes of Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have now effectively demonstrated it too needs oversight. Perhaps it is time the role of Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman should now be re-introduced, given powers to oversee the SLCC and the Law Society, and be given strong statutory powers which the SLSO should always have had available to use and intervene when the legal profession fails to deal with complaints and claims against its own members."
We therefore seem to be in the position now, two years on from the SLCC’s first steps as an ‘independent’ ‘new broom’ regulator of Scotland’s legal profession, the SLCC itself needs regulated because it too has fell under the spell of those it was tasked with investigating. A very sorry state of affairs indeed.