Monday, December 14, 2009

Consumer fears as Law Society pleads to Holyrood Justice Committee for more ‘closed shop regulation’ of legal services in Scotland

Debating chamberScottish Parliament will hear pleas from lawyer to continue regulating themselves. THE JUSTICE COMMITTEE of the Scottish Parliament will tomorrow, Tuesday 15th December, hear pleas from the Law Society of Scotland to be allowed to continue in its role as self regulator of the lion’s share of legal services in Scotland, despite the fact that for well over three decades now, self regulation of Scotland’s 10,000 solicitors by the Law Society of Scotland has led to the lowest standards of legal services in the western world, and the highest number of complaints made against its member solicitors, many involving serious issues of fraud, dishonesty, and almost endemic negligence from many solicitors & legal firms who promote themselves as some of the ‘most respected’ in Scotland's legal services marketplace.

The Legal Services Bill, currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, is an attempt to widen public access to justice in Scotland, and also allow legal firms to draw in outside investment, hence the term ‘alternative business structures’, used by the legal profession to placate its desire for more money, but very much less by way of any improvements for consumer protections, which of courses the Law Society of Scotland wishes to keep control of for itself.

You can read my previous reports on the Legal Services Bill, once called the ‘Legal Profession Bill’ by the Scottish Government but changed after some smart-eyed civil servant thought it sounded too ‘pro-the-lawyers’, here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - an attempt at access to justice, or simply to give lawyers more control over justice ?

Ian SmartLaw Society President, Ian Smart claims the Law Society must maintain regulation to protect its members. The Law Society of Scotland’s current President Ian Smart said today in a relatively unremarkable Press Release that : “The bill is set to reform how legal services can be delivered in Scotland and help provide the means for lawyers to modernise their businesses to meet the needs of their clients. Overall the Society is in agreement with the aims of the bill but we have identified key areas of concern and recommended a number of amendments.”

Mr Smart stated the Law Society’s priorities are :

* A robust regulatory system is put in place to provide strong consumer protections and ensure that high standards are maintained among those delivering legal services. (something the Law Society has never managed since 1947)

* Independence of the legal profession from government must be maintained. (Surely this is in no doubt.)

* A level playing field is required for those in the legal services market, whether as a legal services provider or as a regulator. (level playing fields also have to include consumers, of which the Law Society seems to have forgotten about once again)

* Access to justice must not be hindered. (rich, coming from Mr Smart, given the fact the Law Society of Scotland is the greatest hindrance of the public’s access to justice)

Would Granny Swear by the Law Society - The Herald June 5 2006Former Law Society Chief Douglas Mill’s policy to protect consumers was to wipe out their claims and write secret memos against their complaints, featured in a Herald newspaper expose. What consumer protections is Mr Smart actually talking about ? There is no such thing as consumer protection against ‘crooked lawyers’ in Scotland, where up to 5,000 plus complaints are made each year against Scotland’s less than 10,000 solicitors (in one year the figure was as high as 8,000 complaints) and many complaints involving allegations of theft, embezzlement, fraud, dishonesty and negligence, never see full compensation paid to clients who have to engage the Law Society for years in letters while the solicitor who ripped them off gets away with a Law Society slap on the wrist. You can read a previous report I did on the ‘consumer protections’ currently on offer by the Legal Services Bill, here : Legal Services Bill promises nightmare complaints scenario for consumers as Law Society campaigns to control regulation over ‘Tesco Law’ reform

Ex Law Society Chief Douglas Mill’s grilling by an earlier Justice Committee on consumer protections & poor Law Society regulation left Scots in no doubt the legal profession is rotten to the core.

Ian Smart just couldn’t resist pressing on with the Law Society’s tired line on regulation and how to maintain control over it, going onto comment : “Maintaining regulation, representation and professional support within one organisation means the Society can be an effective membership organisation for Scotland's 10,000 solicitors, as it acts for a group that is effectively regulated.”

He continued : “We also have to bear in mind that Scotland is a distinct legal jurisdiction with a relatively small and scattered population. This, among the many other considerations, must be taken into account to avoid any unnecessary bureaucratic or financial burden. We look forward to engaging with the profession, Scottish Government, the Parliament and other interested groups in the future development of legal services in Scotland.”

Scotland is a distinct legal jurisdiction only because you keep it that way, Mr Smart. Scotland is a distinct legal jurisdiction which does not allow its people unhindered access to justice and access to the courts, simply because the Law Society of Scotland forces anyone who requires access to justice to use the services of an expensive solicitor who is also a member of the Law Society of Scotland.

How much of an unnecessary bureaucratic or financial burden would it be to allow Scots a voice in the justice system instead of going through one of your colleagues, Mr Smart ? Surely it would be worth it, considering the huge fee notes, many of which are fraudulent these days, that are being handed out by law firms to clients just to make up the profits in these dire financial times …

A spokesman for one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today expressed dismay at the Law Society’s attitude towards the Legal Services Bill, claiming the Law Society ‘was seeking to control the entire debate on access to justice and maintain control over regulation’.

He said : “We have heard all this before from the Law Society when it comes to making any changes to consumer access to legal services in Scotland, however small they may be. The Law Society comes out claiming the house will fall down if it is not allowed to regulate the legal services market and enforce some kind of fantastic standard of service provided by legal practitioners which frankly does not exist if the views of consumers are to be taken into account.”

He continued : “However, I detect a hint of worry in the Law Society’s recent abrupt turn on their attitude towards the debate on alternative business structures, as they clearly feel they are in a much weakened position now that campaigners and consumer groups are consistently tackling the issue of Scotland’s notoriously poor legal services market and the high levels of client complaints.”

“It is to be hoped the Justice Committee will see through the Law Society’s obfuscation of the fact that legal services in Scotland have always been poor, and will always be poor as long as the Law Society has any hand in regulatory matters.”

As an experienced reporter on issues relating to the Law Society of Scotland and regulation of complaints, it is very clear the interests of consumers will only be served by a complete overhaul of regulation of legal services in Scotland, with consumer protection made the first priority, rather than the profession being allowed yet again to maintain the closed shop regulation system which as we have repeatedly seen over the decades, operates a hostile policy towards complaints & disputes between consumers & solicitors.

You can read the Law Society of Scotland’s submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on the Legal Services Bill, here : Law Society of Scotland evidence on Legal Services Bill (pdf) and you will be able to watch the live stream of evidence given by the Law Society representatives at the Justice Committee, tomorrow, by selecting the Justice Committee live video stream on the main page, here : Holyrood TV


Anonymous said...

Ian Smart .. that should be well worth missing !

Will he have Lorna & Philip in tow ?

Anonymous said...

If that bunch were coming round to my house for a visit I'd call Rentokil. Hope our dipsy Parliament does the same !

Anonymous said...

John Swinney has been ministerially muzzled by Alex Salmond so dont expect him to show up as a surprise guest.

Anonymous said...

The Law Society of Scotland is quite rightly a thoroughly discredited organistion, both at home and abroad.

Time and time again it has scurrilously undermined the rights of the Scottish Public to any meaningful access to justice preferring instead to protect and maintain its alliance with, and the reliance of every Scottish Solicitor upon, the disgraced insurance provider Marsh - a company whose shameful and unlawful history is known the world over.

Now is the time for the Justice Committee to show which side of the fence it is sitting on, and I for one will not forget its decision.

Anonymous said...

Whether you like this fact or not Mr Smart you are a group of 10,000 ruthless biased criminals. The Law Society of Scotland is a criminal organisation, and if I had my way it would be abolished, and the 10,000 would be regulated by the public.

It beggars belief that a profession with criminal levels of power investigate (that is a joke) claims from clients against its membership. Self regulators are so intensely wrapped up in their protection of each other they are immature unreachable people who cannot get it through their thick heads that the public do not trust lawyers.

As long as the criminal Law Society of Scotland call the shots no client is safe. Lawyers are filth, simple as that.

Anonymous said...

I agree.The Law Society should concentrate on representing the profession, having its regulation role removed to an independent body (not the SLCC which you have already demonstrated is useless)

Anonymous said...

This Justice committee are about as tame as a 2 legged cat.Dont expect any fireworks of the Douglas Mill variety !

Anonymous said...

11:30pm : John Swinney has gone awol on the legal reform debate.No surprise there!

Anonymous said...

The usual suspects Lorna Jack Smart and Clancy all there to lie their heads off !

Anonymous said...

red carpet laid out at Holyrood for the crooks was it ?

Anonymous said...

The Law Society seem to think its their god given right to look after their own lawyers ! That HAS to end NOW

Anonymous said...

All self regulators are a joke but its the legal profession that justify self regulation for all the others.End it for lawyers and hopefully we will be rid of it for many others who are just as crooked.

Keep up the good work !

Anonymous said...

You wont get anywhere with that bunch of wasters at Holyrood.

Nicola Sturgeon employs her mum on the taxpayer and theres plenty of others at it too !

MSPs banned from employing relatives – but not for six years

Published Date: 16 December 2009

MEMBERS of the Scottish Parliament are to be banned from employing relatives and will be liable for capital gains tax when they sell second homes that have been funded by expenses.
A review said that MSPs should be forbidden from employing any more close family members immediately.

But the 26 MSPs who currently use taxpayers' money to provide jobs for their relatives have until May 2015 to remove them.

Under the new expenses regime, MSPs will still be allowed to employ family members of another MSP provided that the arrangement is registered with the parliamentary authorities and made public.

The move will bring Holyrood into line with the recent overhaul of the Westminster expenses system by Sir Christopher Kelly.

The review, published yesterday and broadly supported across the political spectrum, was commissioned by the Scottish Parliament and compiled by Sir Neil McIntosh, former chief executive of Strathclyde Regional Council.

Sir Neil said: "My conclusion is specific in that I believe that any expenses scheme which permits an elected MSP to access public funds to appoint and pay a family member as a direct employee carries an unacceptable risk of undermining public confidence and fuelling public cynicism."

He took the step even though Holyrood has yet to see a major nepotism scandal like the one that engulfed the Tory MP Derek Conway, who paid his son Freddie a £11,773 salary plus four one-off bonuses totalling over £10,000 while he was a full-time student at Newcastle University.

Sir Neil said there had been nothing to suggest there had been any abuse of the system at Holyrood, noting that MSPs' relatives on the staff were "highly committed individuals".

The cut-off date gave MSPs and their relatives time to make alternative arrangements and would, Sir Neil said, reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claims. Parliament would meet the cost of redundancies.

But his report did not go down well with everyone.

Sandra White, the Glasgow SNP MSP who employs her son Christopher, said: "I think it's a knee-jerk reaction by Neil McIntosh to what's happened in Westminster and hasn't happened necessarily in Holyrood.

"We are being punished for what's happened in Westminster by some greedy MPs. If you ask anyone who employs members of their family, you'll find the trust and the availability of them being able to work extra hours is something that we actually treasure."

Alex Neill, the housing minister, employs wife Isabella while Jim Mather, the enterprise minister, employs wife Maureen.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has put her mother Joan on the payroll. Schools minister Keith Brown is registered as employing his daughter, while SNP chief whip Brian Adam employs his son.

Labour's Michael MacMahon, Lib Dem John Farquhar Munro and Anne McLaughlin of the SNP all employ two family members.

Sir Neil's report also said that MSPs should sign a "binding commitment" if they used Holyrood's second-home allowance to buy a property in Edinburgh.

That would ensure that, when the property was sold, it would be declared to HM Revenue and Customs as a second home and would be eligible for capital gains tax.

Anonymous said...

Comment at 6:51pm

Spot on !

Deprive lawyers of their self regulation and many others will tumble.That is why all self regulators support each other.Self regulation is just another word for CORRUPTION.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

I got a leaflet handed out in Hamilton by the Payment Protection Partnership NO WIN/NO FEE POLICY for Mis-Sold Payment Protection Insurance.

Typical lawyers, they can make money on this but there are no adverts stating No Win/No Fee if you have been ripped off by a corrupt lawyer.



Anonymous said...

Douglas Mill looks like he was going to burst a blood vessel !

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Douglas Mill looks like he was going to burst a blood vessel !
2:54 PM
The sooner the better.