Monday, March 30, 2009

Legal Complaints Chief supports ‘consumer advantages’ of removing Law Society’s Freedom of Info immunity

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chair supports Law Society's compliance with FOI. In a startling rebuke to the Law Society of Scotland's campaign to remain a super secret unaccountable regulator of Scottish solicitors, Jane Irvine, the Chairman of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has sided with law reformers and Freedom of Information campaigners who are seeking to bring the Law Society of Scotland under the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.

Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC said: “If the Law Society of Scotland were ever to become FOI compliant, there could be considerable advantages to consumers and practitioners.".

Jane Irvine, formerly Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, following on from Linda Costelloe Baker, and is now Chair of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, is the first high profile personality in the Scottish legal world to support the notion that the Law Society's secrecy status, which has caused much injustice to clients of 'crooked lawyers' over the years, is a thing of the past.

Ms Irvine believes, like many outside the secret society style bubble of the legal establishment, that now in the new era of the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and greater demands for scrutiny, particularly in the wake of global banking failures, that consumers, and even the legal profession itself could benefit from the transparency, accountability & openness which compliance with Freedom of Information legislation brings to public bodies, services and industry.

Jane Irvine cautioned however, that some parts of the Law Society's work may yet be required to keep secret from the public : "However, under the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 there would inevitably be significant areas of information that would need to remain confidential in order to comply with the legislation. It therefore it would be important for expectations to be managed.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland proved many times it cannot be trusted as a secret regulator. As a law reform campaigner myself, I would have to slightly disagree with the SLCC Chair on some points, as evidence has shown from previous investigations carried out by the Law Society into crooked lawyers that it simply cannot be trusted as a secret self regulatory body, which has for the main, stood by many solicitors who ended up ruining their clients, and now it appears, has also allowed solicitors with criminal records to carry on practicing, with their clients totally unaware their legal representative is more of a criminal than some who arrive in their office requiring their services in court !

I would also point to some secrecy problems with the SLCC itself, where censorship of FOI requests has led to suspicion the Law Society, even after being forced to comply with freedom of information laws, would also use the black ink to hide behind confidentiality in order to continue protecting crooked lawyers …

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s intentions to keep Law Society secret outflanked by reformers. Jane Irvine's stance on consumers gaining increased protection from crooked lawyers by removing the Law Society’s exemption from information laws, contrasts radically with the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s intentions, which were revealed last week after he issued a terse statement backing continued secrecy for the solicitors governing body.

MacAskill no intention to include Law Society in FOI reviewDiary of Injustice exposed MacAskill's gaffe on Law Society FOI secrecy. Last Monday I reported in an article the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill made a staggering policy U-turn in the space of a few hours, after initially letting slip he "had no intention of including the Law Society in any FOI review". However later in the day, as Government officials became aware of others giving more positive quotes to the story, a spokesman for the Justice Secretary reversed his initial statement seeking to maintain the Law Society's much coveted exemption from Freedom of Information laws, saying the matter was still open for discussion and organisations could still be suggested for inclusion in the 'open ended' review.

MacAskill challenged over Law Society FOI exemptionDiary of Injustice starts campaign to remove FOI exemption from Law Society of Scotland. Late last week, I began an open campaign which anyone can join to bring the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates into line with other parts of Scotland’s legal system, making them compliant with Freedom of Information legislation. You can join in the campaign to bring the legal profession into the scope of the anti secrecy FOI legislation too by emailing the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill here or write to him at : Kenny MacAskill MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice,The Scottish Government,St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh EH1 3DG.

There is no place in our society, currently being battered by banking failures produced by the same soft touch, closed ranks regulation which the Law Society has been forcing on clients of the legal profession for decades.

There can be no argument for maintaining any level of secrecy for the Law Society of Scotland. The Law Society is an organisation which has proved time and again it has no respect for the rights of clients of solicitors, and has no intention of compensating vast numbers of clients who have lost millions of pounds to the actions of ‘crooked lawyers’.

The Law Society must be stripped of its immunity from Freedom of Information laws, and its remaining powers of investigating complaints against its own members and discipline powers transferred to an entirely independent body not mired in the overriding policies of self protectionism and anti client prejudice.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Advisory : Clients must protect their money from unsafe legal firms as Law Society's Guarantee Fund fails.

Law SocietyYour money is no longer safe with your lawyer. £50 million plus of money belonging to clients of Scottish legal firms is at considerable risk of loss, after revelations the Law Society's Guarantee Fund has less than £2 million left in its coffers to cover the millions held by Scottish solicitors on behalf of their clients in everything from house purchases & sales to the administration of wills, investments & settlement payments.

AdvisoryMy advice : Clients should immediately withdraw their funds from any legal firm or solicitor who may be holding monies on their behalf. If you have funds being held by your solicitor, make it your priority this week or as soon as possible to ensure the safety of your wealth, or you may end up losing it.

There is simply no way the legal profession can guarantee the safety of your money in the wake of the financial downturn. You will have to be the best judge yourselves as to how to safeguard your own wealth, but trusting it to your solicitor who lacks any protection for its loss, is no longer an option.

While the news is filled with reports about banks & building societies having to be bailed out by the Government, little attention has been paid to the rate of legal firms heading for disaster, and not forgetting the huge rise in fraud cases involving solicitors falsifying banking records and financial transactions, usually for their own benefit. It is the Guarantee Fund which would cover such frauds on client’s funds, but the compensation scheme run by the Law Society which is supposed to repay defrauded clients, has been unmasked as little more than a theatre spectacle, offering nothing to victims of ‘crooked lawyers’.

I reported earlier on the Guarantee Fund’s problems and client’s attempts to claim from it here : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption

A legal insider at the Law Society said when asked about the Guarantee Fund problems said : “We are going to end up in a situation where there wont be enough money coming in from Solicitors to the Guarantee Fund to keep adequate levels of money available to cover failed legal business or lawyers taking their clients money for themselves.”

This claim is backed up by revelations that reserves in the Guarantee Fund only amount to a paltry £1.7 million at this time, and with significant outstanding claims standing at £4.3 million, together with incoming claims expected to reach double figures in the millions this year over buy-to-let & mortgage fraud schemes, there seems little prospect of clients recovering anything from solicitors who decide to take the money for themselves.

As an example to emphasise the lack of safety of clients funds, a client who contacted me who entered into a house purchase transaction with a legal firm now faces a total loss of £185,000, which was handed over to his solicitor who was holding it in the legal firm’s client account on a short term basis while the client’s property transaction went through.

Eleven weeks later, the deal had still not been completed and it emerged the solicitor had taken £47,000 of the clients cash to prop up his legal firm’s huge debt. The solicitor then told the client the seller had made off with his money, and had refused to hand over the titles.

The client uncovered what had actually happened through his bank and an ex member of staff from the legal firm in question, but the Law Society did nothing. The client is still seeking legal representation to sue the Law Society and the solicitor concerned, who continues to represent unsuspecting clients in property transactions.

It is reported that discussions have taken place at the Law Society of Scotland on the idea of seeking external funding to the Guarantee Fund, or even asking for Government assistance of some kind, if the situation arises, as looks the case that the Law Society will not be able to meet its ‘official’ commitment to ‘safeguard’ clients funds – a commitment in reality it has never managed to achieve in the Society’s entire history.

However, fears were expressed by some lawyers that the public might not be too receptive to millions of pounds of taxpayers money being used to keep legal firms and lawyers afloat, given a general antipathy towards the legal profession for their poor regulatory conduct and overcharging of fees over the years for very poor legal services.

During discussions on how best to proceed with the flagging Guarantee Fund, officials warned that any external bailout of the compensation scheme would open up the actual workings of the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy to unwelcome public scrutiny, where questions would arise over the suspicious nature of how client claims for compensation are ‘managed’ and transferred back & forth between the two schemes to delay, deceive and generally thwart payouts to genuine victims of ‘crooked lawyers’.

A leading accountancy firm gave comment last week, claiming there may be up to £100 million of private & corporate clients money held by Scots legal firms which may well now be in unsafe hands.

An accountant with the firm who declined to be named said : “You would be correct in assuming there is a significant risk to funds held by your solicitor or legal firm in current market conditions. The advice we could only offer just now is to bank it and look after it yourself. After all, it’s your money, why let anyone else hold it or manage it in this financial climate.”

So, there you have it. If you currently have money with a lawyer, for any reason at all, take it out of their hands and ensure you put it in a safe place where you control it, not someone else who will only use it to further their own financial gain at your expense.

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 : 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 ….

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Truth & reconciliation must be applied to financial crisis, otherwise ‘better regulation’ plans will fail & public anger against bankers will remain

goodwinSir Fred Goodwin ‘shaken’ after hearing of attack on his home. Yesterday's attack on the home of former Royal Bank of Scotland Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin has generally been accepted by the media, politicians & public as being a result of Sir Fred’s part in the collapse of the RBS.There is of course, no justification for vigilante attacks against the man’s home & family, no matter how strongly people may feel over his actions at the RBS.

Reports of Sir Fred Goodwin’s home attacked by vandals :

While such attacks are fortunately few and far between, the fact is that the widely reported 'lack of public remorse' by Sir Fred, and many other bankers for their actions which have led to the global financial meltdown, has triggered a demand by many for 'heads to roll' over the banking failures.It may be said, such demands for people to be held to account for their actions, are, reasonable.

However, attacks against individual figures, can and often will be used to stymie the demands & needs of regulatory reform, as we have seen before in Scotland, as was demonstrated with the now slightly forgotten but much more serious attack on another financial professional, the Law Society of Scotland's Chief Accountant, Leslie Cumming, which occurred in Edinburgh in January 2006.

Accounting Chief Leslie Cumming was attacked in a mafia style hit arranged from within the legal profession.

Cash Link to Law Chief StabbingMedia reports on Cumming attack were used by lawyers against reforms. Various theories are still being considered for the attack on Mr Cumming, ranging from a revenge attack organised by crooked lawyers over Mr Cumming's investigations of their accounts, to disgruntled clients who lost millions at the hands of crooked lawyers, to even a prospect the attack was carried out by other members of the Law Society intent on giving the profession a sympathetic image in the wake of serious legal reforms to its regulatory structure which the Law Society bitterly fought in Parliament during the latter half of 2006.

Leslie Cumming StoryLaw Society may have caused the attack itself. However it may well be that Mr Cumming, regrettably paid the price for his Law Society colleague's well known policy of bitter attrition towards people who dared make a complaint to the Society against their lawyer, and the general culture of a lack of accountability within the legal profession as a whole, which in turn led to feelings of bitterness on both sides.

Philip Yelland - Director of Regulation - Law Society of ScotlandPhilip Yelland, Law Society Director of Standards. In the case of the Law Society particularly, the glaringly obvious lack of ability by senior officials such as Douglas Mill, Philip Yelland and many others to even 'say sorry' or repair the financial damage their colleagues did to ordinary people, led to many cases of intense hardship, where even in one known case, a client committed suicide over the Law Society’s attempts to thwart consideration of the actions of a crooked lawyer.

Douglas Mill at the Scottish ParliamentLaw Chief Douglas Mill blamed campaigners for attack on colleague but it turned out to be lawyers. So bitter were the feelings by some at the Law Society of Scotland, the then Chief Executive, Douglas Mill, held private briefings with journalists and attempted to blame campaigners for the attack on his colleague, however it soon became clear to many in the following days the attack on Mr Cumming came from within the legal profession itself, and Douglas Mill had little more to offer on the subject, which even to this day has seen not one arrest in connection with the Cumming attack.

2006, the year of the attack on Mr Cumming, was a very bad year for the Law Society of Scotland, one could argue, as bad a year as 2008-9 has been & will be for the Royal Bank of Scotland, and indeed many other financial institutions.

The Law Society in 2006 was to be subject to the same outside scrutiny and independent investigations & public inquiries on the weakness & corruption of its regulation of crooked lawyers which will now have to be implemented on the RBS and the financial sector, where the same weak, closed ranks, soft touch regulation has ended up producing the spectacular financial failures on a global scale, that the same weak, closed ranks, soft touch regulation has produced in the legal sector on a client by client basis for decades.

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionSLCC – now a rubber stamp for crooked lawyers. The Law Society fought the outside scrutiny and newly created legislation to bring independent regulation of complaints, and simply co-opted the new body with its own members to ensure that even after all the effort of campaigners, ruined victims, and the Scottish Parliament, the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission simply ended up as another rubber stamp for crooked lawyers.

The banks, now faced with the same calls for more regulation, inquiries, investigations and the same campaigns by consumers against financial wrongdoings, will do the same as the Law Society did in 2006. We will end up with possibly, a new regulator to replace the Financial Services Authority after a year maybe, and then the regulator will end up being co-opted in the same way the FSA seems to have been so co-opted by the financial profession which led to its negligence in allowing the banks to do as they have done, and, collapse.

Michael Clancy - Director of Law Reform - Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society’s Michael Clancy killed off Holyrood attempt to heal ruined clients of crooked lawyers. It doesn't take much to say "sorry", and do the right thing .. however, saying "sorry" and doing the right thing, doesn't seem to be a basic capability of anyone in charge of a bank or a legal firm or indeed a regulator supposedly put in place to ensure that failure & corruption doesn't take place. Too much money. too much political influence, and soft touch, corrupt, regulation, has led to at attitude of omnipotence where these people and their organisations feel above accountability.

That culture of unaccountability must be ended for all professions, particularly those in the legal and banking worlds, if we are to repair the sins of the past and heal the wounds of ordinary people, and our economy, which have been caused by far too much unchecked greed & ambition by a few who control the many … Truth & Reconciliation is now a much needed medicine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Law Society protects legal aid fraudster lawyers from criminal charges as SLAB nets £1.6 million ‘repayments’

Law Society of Scotland Law Society seems to prevent criminal prosecutions for solicitors legal aid fraud. The extraordinary world of legal aid fraud is once again in the news, as the latest annual report from the Scottish Legal Aid Board reveals that lawyers have been forced to repay some £1.6 million in ‘wrongly claimed’ legal aid funds over the past six years. While it appears much of that ‘wrongly claimed legal aid’ may be ‘fraudulently claimed legal aid’, there doesn't appear to be any solicitor who has gained a criminal record for legal aid fraud.

There is an easy answer to why there are no solicitors with criminal records for fraudulently claiming legal aid. That answer lies with the Law Society of Scotland and the ever so corrupt regulatory system which ensures that while clients who fraudulently claim legal aid will obviously end up in court, and end up with a criminal record if found guilty, the odds are that any solicitor who defrauds the taxpayer by making false legal aid claims, will only face his colleagues in the closed shop world of the Law Society’s regulatory structure .. in short, getting a slap on the wrist for a financial fraud well deserving of a criminal conviction.

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, Law Society Director of Standards.The Law Society don’t have a press release up on their website today, but Philip Yelland, who has went from being Director of Client Relations in the early 1990s to the current Director of Standards at the Law Society said "Any matters referred to us by SLAB follow the society's procedures for dealing with complaints. "We have a robust investigation process which can lead to the society considering disciplinary action, which may involve prosecution before the independent Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. "The tribunal, which has different powers to those of the courts, can impose various sanctions from a censure to striking a solicitor from the roll, banning them from practice."

However despite Mr Yelland’s claim of robust procedures, and headlines of lawyers fleecing the system for their own ends, there has been not one single case in Scotland in which a solicitor has been convicted in a criminal court of legal aid fraud. It transpires that only two solicitors have ever been fined following prosecution by the Law Society before the ‘rubber stamp’ Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal – fines which usually occur in order to prevent any real prosecution of offenders taking place and allowing the legal profession to keep the matter ‘in house’ where members of the public of course must face the full weight of the law & criminal justice.

Here are previous articles I have written relating to media exposes of solicitors committing legal aid fraud : Lawyer caught in media sting bribing clients to defraud Legal Aid Board - the tip of an iceberg &

Lawyers look after their own - Legal Aid fraud lawyer faces no charges as Crown Office avoids explanation

SLAB fraud 2Legal Aid Board manages to trumpet client prosecutions for fraud but no prosecutions against lawyers. This rather amazing lack of any criminal prosecutions against solicitors for legal aid fraud contrasts sharply with prosecutions against legal aid claimants, where obviously there are individuals who have been prosecuted & found guilty of fraudulently claiming legal aid, and the report from SLAB wastes no time in trumpeting convictions against members of the public for fraudulent legal aid claims, while giving no real reasons why solicitors too had not been prosecuted in the criminal courts.

SLAB’s records show that : “Mr A Failed to tell us of his interest in two properties other than his main residence. He was found guilty of fraud and ordered to complete 250 hours of community service.

Mr G told us he was only earning £67 a week – this was on the advice of a “friend” who told him that this would mean that he would get legal aid. Our enquiries revealed his net earnings were £211 a week. He was found guilty of fraud, fined £100 and ordered to repay us his legal costs.

Mr D told us that his only source of income was benefit. Our enquiries revealed that he was living with a partner who was employed and whose income should have been declared to the Board. He was found guilty of fraud and fined £200.

All three now have criminal records”

Fine .. but why no criminal prosecutions and criminal records for crooked lawyers defrauding legal aid ? Obviously its going on …

slabLegal Aid Board investigates lawyers, doesn’t prosecute. SLAB’s rather different attitude on legal aid fraud regarding solicitors is expressed as follows : “Our investigations into fraud and abuse also pay for themselves many times over. In the last year, we have acted against several solicitors for abuses ranging from exaggerated claims for travel or charging for work carried out by unqualifed staff at solicitor rates, to false claims for attending court or tribunal hearings and fictitious meetings with clients.

This action results in us recovering significant sums from such solicitors, as well as ending activity that would otherwise continue unchecked. In total, the value of money recovered and future losses prevented came to an estimated £2 million.

This includes £812,000 recovered in the most serious fraud ever uncovered by the Board, in which a solicitor specialising in cases involving children defrauded the Legal Aid Fund over several years. The balance of £1 million was recovered by the Civil Recovery Unit of the Crown Office.”

We learned from the Scotsman report today that “In 2007-8 alone, 115 individual solicitors and firms were forced to pay back legal aid.”

So ? Where are the names & identities of these individual solicitors & legal firms who were forced to pay back legal aid ? What where the exact reasons in each particular case which necessitated the repayments ? Why no criminal prosecutions after all the investigations ?

It has to be said it is rather odd, after reading SLAB’s spin on its investigations into the legal profession itself, that there has been no criminal charges or criminal convictions against solicitors & their employees for legal aid fraud to date in Scotland.

Odd it may be, but of course, no coincidence, for as long as the Law Society of Scotland are allowed to stage manage regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, including ensuring their members avoid criminal charges on matters which would give anyone else a criminal record .. the likes of this imbalance in the application of justice will continue to occur.

You can read the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report for 2007-8 here : Annual Report 2007 - 2008 - in pdf format

You can find out which legal firms, advocates & solicitor advocates received the money here : Legal Aid paid to firms of solicitors and Legal Aid paid to Advocates and Legal Aid paid to Solicitor Advocates

Now read the Scotsman’s version of the story :

Lawyers repay £1.6 million in crackdown on legal aid

Published Date: 24 March 2009
By Michael Howie

LAWYERS in Scotland have been forced to repay £1.6 million in wrongly claimed legal aid over the past six years.

An investigation by The Scotsman reveals that the number of solicitors and legal firms investigated for apparent legal aid irregularities has increased by 50 per cent in that time.

In 2007-8 alone, 115 individual solicitors and firms were forcedto pay back legal aid.

Much of the money repaid to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) that year came from the widow of James Muir.

He conned the body out of £1.8 million by embellishing scores of child abuse cases to claim extra money. The solicitor took his life in 2005.

A handful of the cases have been reported to the Law Society of Scotland and the Crown Office for alleged fraud.

However, it is understood that no solicitor has ever been convicted in a criminal court of defrauding the legal aid board.

The high number of investigations and repayments reflects a drive by SLAB to clean up the distribution of legal aid, which last year cost taxpayers some £155 million – an increase of 3 per cent on the previous year.

The legal aid board says it has "focused" its efforts to rein in falsely claimed funds in recent years. With fraud notoriously difficult to prove, it is often not known whether the false claims were criminal, but experts insist in many cases they will be honest mistakes.

Philip Yelland, director of standards at the Law Society of Scotland, said the "vast majority" of solicitors adhered to high professional standards.

"Any matters referred to us by SLAB follow the society's procedures for dealing with complaints.

"We have a robust investigation process which can lead to the society considering disciplinary action, which may involve prosecution before the independent Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.

"The tribunal, which has different powers to those of the courts, can impose various sanctions from a censure to striking a solicitor from the roll, banning them from practice."

Two solicitors in recent years have been prosecuted by the tribunal.

Paul Kirk's firm was prosecuted for submitting false accounts and inflated charges – netting him thousands of pounds of legal aid which he should not have been paid. The Lanarkshire solicitor was fined £10,000 in 2007.

Meanwhile, Meredith Graham Sykes was fined £2,500 the same year for trying to obtain payment from the board "by misrepresentation".

Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, said the Scottish Legal Aid Board needed to "get a grip" on the issue to ensure all monies paid were claimed properly.

"The SLAB budget has increased greatly over the years and to ensure access to justice for as many as possible, it's vital that the board ensures absolute accountability and transparency."

Robert Brown, Lib Dem justice spokesman, said: "It's absolutely vital that the Scottish Legal Aid Board is as rigorous as possible in these matters and that, where appropriate, cases are reported for prosecution."

Bill Aitken, for the Conservatives, added: "Bearing in mind that the bulk of the money involved has come from one individual, it seems that Scotland's lawyers can claim to have a reasonably clean bill of health.

"Some of them, however, do have to take more care in submitting accounts as, leaving aside the question of criminality or fraud, there are still cases where the claims submitted do not tie up and this costs a fair amount to investigate."

Monday, March 23, 2009

MacAskill’s ‘no intention to include Law Society in FOI review’ allows lawyers to keep scandals & criminal records hidden from public scrutiny

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland - How many criminals among their ranks ? Would you allow a rapist, a drunk driver, a serial fraudster or even a paedophile to attend to your legal affairs ? The answer to that question is most probably a resounding "No". However if left up to the SNP's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, there may be no prospect you would ever get to find out one shred of detail including the criminal records of the solicitor trusted with your most intimate legal affairs, as the Minister revealed today, the Law Society of Scotland will retain for now, their exemption from Freedom of Information laws.

Kenny MacAskillKenny MacAskill today suggests continued secrecy on lawyers. Scots Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, apparently angered by continued inquiries on the Law Society's FOI exemption status, today issued a terse statement ending any public hope of openness reforms for the Scots legal profession’s regulator. His spokesman said : "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."

SLCC squareSLCC is FOI compliant, Law Society is not. Mr MacAskill's statement appears to end any hope of real transparency being brought to regulation of the legal profession in Scotland. This leaves Scots consumers of legal services with a nightmare scenario of Government backed secrecy for crooked lawyers in that while the 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is subject to Freedom of Information legislation, the Law Society of Scotland - who will actually carry out any disciplinary actions or prosecutions ordered after SLCC complaints investigations, remains FOI exempt, rendering most information available on rogue lawyers secret to public inquiries & external scrutiny.

You can read an earlier article I wrote about the Law Society ‘s FOI exemption status here : Consumer protection weakened by lawyers FOI exemption while new Legal Complaints Commission must comply to information laws

The Minister’s stance of earlier today however, contrasts starkly with previous indications from not only Mr MacAskill himself, but also the previous Scottish Executive that the Law Society's exemption status may well be ended.

Current Justice Secretry MacAskill shared former Minister Cathy Jamieson’s policy on Law Society FOI exemption until today :

Scottish Government attitudes on Law Society FOI exemption 2006 - 2007

ScottishGovernmentWhen asked why there had been an apparent U-turn by the Justice Secretary on the Law Society’s exemption status, a spokesman indicated contrary to earlier statements on the Minister’s behalf, there had in fact been no change in Government policy on the issue of the Law Society’s FOI exemption status, and that it was still open for action to bring the Law Society within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.

A Scottish Government spokesman said this afternoon : “There is no change in their line on the Law Society or any other organisation – no decisions have been made in respect of extending coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. The Law Society are not currently covered by the Act However, the current discussion around extending coverage should not be seen as a one off. The operation of the Act – particularly in terms of the bodies, is kept under review and contributions/arguments putting forward organisations for consideration are always welcome.”

A legal insider this afternoon questioned the Justice Secretary’s continued exclusion of the Law Society from Freedom of Information laws.

She said : “It is a ridiculous situation for regulation of solicitors and consumer protection that on one hand. we have the Law Society of Scotland FOI exempt, and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission FOI compliant.”

“I am amazed the Justice Secretary cant seem to get to grips with any issue involving the Law Society and from what I read of previous policy indications, I don’t believe this 'eternal review’ situation of FOI compliance & exemption will ever see the Law Society subject to FOI requirements in the future because the Law Society does not want to be FOI compliant.”

bikerPolice Officers are subject to FOI, so why not lawyers, judges and the courts ? Any blind guarantees of FOI secrecy for lawyers is highly questionable, given the fact that most other parts of the legal system are indeed subject to Freedom of Information laws. Recently for instance, revelations saw statistics released on the numbers of Police Officers in Scotland who have criminal records . Strangely, while some feel that bashing the Police on FOI matters is ok, the public's right to find out if their lawyer is a convicted criminal doesn't seem to merit the same consideration in their eyes, however, it certainly does.

A solicitor who has represented members of the legal profession who have been charged with criminal offences (and in cases, found guilty)was asked for his opinion today on how many members of the Scottish legal profession have criminal records.

He said : “Out of about ten thousand practicing solicitors, you are probably looking at a hundred or more who have been convicted of criminal offences, but if you add paralegals and office staff to the equation the number will jump significantly”.

Your readers will know very well that when it comes to a solicitor being convicted of a criminal offence, we are not talking about trivial matters, we are talking about serious criminal offences. Perhaps clients do have the right to know this information before making their judgement on allowing a solicitor or indeed any other legal services professional to represent their legal interests.”

Surprisingly honest words from a solicitor on how many of his colleagues may have criminal records. I for one would wish to know who exactly it is I am dealing with who will handle my legal business, and many other clients I have spoken to over the years would of course, like to know the full history of their legal agents, which if some had known about earlier, may have saved them some costly decisions to allow what turned out to be a ‘crooked lawyer’ to mishandle their legal affairs to the point of financial ruin.

Surely therefore it must be said : Mr MacAskill, do the right thing. Give the public the right to know all there is to know about their legal representatives – bring the Law Society of Scotland within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption

Law Society of ScotlandRevelations from the Law Society’s briefing to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on claims against crooked lawyers, show that the"Guarantee Fund" - a compensation fund which the legal profession's regulator maintains to 'compensate clients' who are ripped off by their lawyers, is actually little more than a masterpiece of claims dodging corruption, where money paid in annually from each solicitor is held by the profession's regulator and used for anything other than actually compensating the victims of crooked lawyers who swindle their clients.

0004 Documents show money pouring into Law Society which never returns to clients. Staggering figures from documents obtained from the SLCC show that claims against the Guarantee Fund have leapt by millions of pounds in the past year to £4.3 million and are expected to go much higher as the rising tide of fraud committed by lawyers against their clients hits spectacular proportions. "Claims received or earlier claims assigned a value in the current year totalled £4,286,000 (2005/6 £35,000). As a result of this dramatic increase and stock market volatility, the Fund's investments were realised and the decision taken to increase the 2007/8 subscriptions. Depending on the eventual level of settlements, additional subscriptions may be required in the future."

A senior legal figure I spoke to this morning wasn't surprised by the figures.

He said "The current poor financial climate does not bode well for honesty in any profession, and sadly we will see a lot more claims to the Guarantee Fund and probably the Master Policy from clients who suffer at the hands of the fraudulent element of the profession"

He went on : "I feel the situation on client fraud has spun out of control and the Law Society simply do not know how to control it, other than continue to plug holes in the wall to keep the situation quiet, otherwise clients may begin to panic over the security of their funds held by solicitors offices across Scotland."

The Guarantee Fund and Master Policy are both reportedly going to be subject to huge increases in compensation claims due to incidents such as the rising levels of mortgage fraud claims, where an ever increasing number of solicitors in Scotland are facing criminal charges or already have appeared quietly in court.

Recently, Richard Keen QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, broke ranks with the Law Society and admitted there would be soaring claims against crooked lawyers this year and in years to come. I reported the story in an earlier article here : Dean of faculty hints at rising fraud claims against solicitors as 'Penman Levy' bites hard into Scots law firms

The Law Society now admits that (for the last recorded year figures available : "The total of claims intimated but not admitted at 30 October 2007 is £3,777,000, representing 42 separate claims made against 13 firms. This sum can be reduced by £771,000 on the basis of "stop loss" insurance cover in place (compared to £850,000, 42 claims, 13 firms in 2005/6). There is accordingly a need to build reserves to meet claims.

While the staggering rises in claims against solicitors indicate a huge level of ever increasing fraud by solicitors against their clients, the Law Society controlled "Guarantee Fund" has been busy trying to kill off as many claims to the fund, to preserve the amounts of money remaining in the fund,

One client who has lodged a claim to the Guarantee Fund spoke to me this morning, calling the Law Society run compensation scheme as “something like a giant slush fund of dirty money that drug barons might keep to launder their ill gotten gains”.

Various tactics have been employed by the Law Society and legal firms in attempts to square off against client who make financial claims to the Guarantee fund.

In one seedy case, where a solicitor had stolen money from clients accounts to pay for an extension to his own home and a new car for his wife, the Law Society were reported to have engaged a firm of Private Detectives based in Edinburgh to spy on the crooked lawyer's client, in an attempt to find out compromising information on the client and his family which could be used to barter for the claim to the Guarantee Fund to be dismissed.

A retired accountant, who looked at the Guarantee Fund papers said "There appears to be a lot of money going into it, but not much coming out. I would have to suspect there is a great deal of money simply sloshing around which could be used for anything. It doesn't seem to be much of a protection scheme for solicitors clients.".

He went on : "If I had handed money over to my solicitor recently for some kind of transaction like a house purchase or sale, an investment, or even dealing with a deceased's estate, I think its fair to say I may have significant cause to worry about the security of the funds."

"In the present financial climate, I would advise clients who have concerns about their solicitor holding onto their money or having control of it, to immediately take steps to transfer their funds to a more secure location, because there are little or no guarantees in this "Guarantee Fund" the Law Society claims will protect clients."

The Guarantee Fund as it currently stands is not monitored by any external organisation, although the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has said it will fulfil its monitoring role within the commission's first year of operation.

MacAskill must clean up SLCCSLCC members jibes against consumers. However, recent verbal spats between the SLCC's board members over the way in which the commission will monitor the Guarantee Fund, along with bitter rants by officials against claimants to the fund, where one commission member, lawyer Margaret Scanlan dubbed claimants as “chancers”, indicate the SLCC has a long way to go in developing any reliable method of monitoring the claims made against crooked lawyers by financially ruined clients.

Jane IrvineLegal Complaints Chief Jane Irvine. Staggeringly, it also turns out the SLCC has not even began its role of monitoring the Master Policy, let alone keeping an eye on the Guarantee Fund. Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chairman was asked about the commission’s role in monitoring the Master Policy and asked whether the SLCC had actually asked for a copy of the Master Policy which they are supposed to be monitoring. Irvine however said the SLCC had still not requested sight of the actual Master Policy but “were doing the research”.

Researching an insurance scheme they haven’t even asked for sight of the actual insurance policy …now that’s a new one ! Who is pulling the wool over whose eyes there ?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Officials pull FOI disclosures as Guarantee Fund "chancer" emails show Law Society anti-client bias has migrated to Legal Complaints Commission

SLCC squarePressure 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.

MacAskill must clean up SLCCDiary 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 :

Margaret Scanlan & Douglas Mill  - similar attitudes towards clients of solicitors

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 IrvineJane 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.

MacAskill tight lipped 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 …

Monday, March 16, 2009

MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members 'booze culture conduct' reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission has lost credibility. Stunning revelations in the weekend media coming on top of my article of last Thursday on further scandals at the SLCC show that senior law figures within the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who were personally appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, appeared to have taken the ‘booze culture’ into their duties at the multi million pound joint taxpayer & lawyer funded independent’ SLCC which is supposed to deal with complaints against lawyers.

0011Margaret Scanlan was ‘on the razzle again’ while clients of ‘crooked lawyers’ burned. Yesterday, the Sunday Mail newspaper featured email correspondence obtained under Freedom of Information laws in which SLCC board member Margaret Scanlan, a solicitor with Russells Gibson McCaffrey in Glasgow, confessed to the Commission she was suffering from the effects of a hangover after being “'out on the razzle again last night”. Stunningly Scanlan in her emails then went on to tear apart consumers hopes the SLCC would fulfil its intended monitoring role of the ‘crooked lawyer compensation schemes, operated by the Law Society of Scotland, known as the Guarantee Fund & Master Insurance Policy which are designed to (but do not) protect consumers funds from crooked lawyers who steal money or mishandling client’s legal affairs.

Margaret Scanlan : “Was out on the razzle, again, last night so bit cross-eyed this morning. Please excuse any consequent gibberish. Here are my comments on Master Policy and Guarantee Fund…. The consultation should be viewed with some caution. It provides very little by way of a sound evidential basis for us to do anything…. One unidentified responded … reports complaints about difficulty in finding solicitors to pursue a claim under MP (Master Policy). Apart from fundamental misunderstandings about MP which is for benefit of practitioner and in respect of which consumer has no rights ..”

So, despite suffering from a hangover after ‘being on the razzle’, there was still time for SLCC board members to throw the public out the door once again on rights against crooked lawyers … but even worse was to come as new emails reveal a more serious scandal :

0012Margaret Scanlan condemns claimants against crooked lawyers as “chancers”. However, further emails from Margaret Scanlan have now emerged which depict the same Law Society style 'anti-consumer-anti-claims culture' operating at the supposedly independent Legal Complaints Commission, where Scanlan stunningly labels claimants to the Guarantee Fund as "chancers" indicating she may have personal knowledge of cases, despite the fact that claims to the Guarantee Fund are supposedly confidential.

Margaret Scanlan : "The only complaints I am aware of on the functioning and extent of the GF have come from corporate bodies eg lending Institutions whose claims have largely not been entertained on basis that is not what GF is for. This includes our friend **** (censored) whose cause is vigorously esposed by **** (censored) but is a complete chancer in my opinion."

Margaret Scanlan's comments, directed against a claimant to the Guarantee Fund, appear to reflect a level of feeling many at the Law Society of Scotland are known to have against members of the public who dare to either complain or make a claim for damages against their rogue lawyer. More seriously, Scanlan's email comments in her capacity as an SLCC board member may have potentially damaged claims to the Guarantee Fund, and sources say today, she could face the possibility of legal action over her comments disparaging the individual involved in the claim she was referring to.

A legal insider hit out at Scanlan's comments against claimants to the Guarantee Fund, claiming her words "were wholly out of place and since the SLCC hadn't even began its monitoring role of the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, the comments against an actual claim should not have been made."

He went on "There is an all-out attempt by the Law Society of Scotland and the insurers to block any substantial monitoring by the 'independent' commission of the Guarantee Fund & Master Insurance Policy. Many meetings have taken place already between the senior members of the SLCC, the insurers, and the Law Society, who have put the profession’s own views forward on how the fund & insurance operates "perfectly well" in their own eyes."

"People who have actually tried to make a claim against the Master Policy or the Guarantee Fund have been blocked from attending the SLCC to give their actual real life experiences on what happened to their claims, probably because most financial claims against solicitors fail due to Law Society meddling with clients legal teams and court access which obviously no one wants to hear about at the commission."

The legal profession’s ‘point of view’ on how the Master Insurance Policy actually operates, is as you know, slightly askew from the truth of the matter, which I have reported previously in articles such as the following : Law Society boss Mill lied to Swinney, Parliament as secret memos reveal policy of intervention & obstruction on claims, complaints.

Eileen MastermanEileen Masterman, SLCC Chief Exec. Insiders to the SLCC reported over the weekend that Eileen Masterman, the SLCC’s Chief Executive apparently did not reprimand the poor conduct of board members, and rather than keeping above the bitter exchanges, agreed with lawyers hostile sentiments towards consumer groups. It is worth noting Eileen Masterman had a long history of involvement with the Law Society of Scotland prior to her joining the SLCC as Chief Executive, having actually served on Law Society committees on the flawed regulator which the SLCC was designed to replace.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary MacAskill appointed ‘on the razzle’ hung-over lawyers to the SLCC. Given the state the SLCC currently finds itself, where decisions taken by Mr MacAskill's appointees have restricted its investigations of consumer complaints against crooked lawyers to issues which occur only after 1st October 2008, millions of pounds of taxpayers money has evidently been wasted on a commission which is self serving, and has no obvious intention to deal with the sins of the legal profession, which the Law Society of Scotland has so far failed to clear up after decades of being the self regulator of all Scottish lawyers.

A client of a solicitor the Law Society is currently investigating over complaints of poor service & severe misconduct agreed the SLCC needs to be reformed in the wake of recent scandals and said “This SLCC is just another version of the Law Society and is full of lawyers and others who just want to close ranks with their legal world friends no matter how crooked they are.This commission needs to be cleaned up and made to do what it is supposed to be doing, not what the Law Society and crooked lawyers want it to do.”

One solicitor today who did not wish to be named said the comments against the Guarantee Fund claimant made by Scanlan in her capacity as an SLCC board member may amount to possible defamation of the so-far unidentified claimant, who now faces the prospect their claim against the Guarantee Fund will not be met.

He said “There may be cause for the claimant to sue the SLCC for damages over the Board members accusations. At the very least the matter merits a full investigation and an apology to whoever Margaret felt strongly enough to refer to in this way in her emails.”

While recent news leaks show SLCC board members engaged in some kind of free for all party-on approach to their duties & mission to offer increased consumer protection against crooked lawyers, I would remind you all from two previous articles the same board members were quick enough to threaten resignation if they didn’t secure greater perks from the taxpayer, such as personal insurance cover and increased pensions, which you can read here :

Legal Complaints Commission in crisis amid funds shortage & resignation threats over lack of insurance protection &

Complaints Commission 'unfit for purpose' as secret meetings with insurers & pensions take focus over consumer protection against crooked lawyers

I’d say the conduct of the SLCC to-date is evidence enough if more were needed the SLCC needs a clean up of its present structure which appears biased towards the legal profession it was put there to regulate, and a representative element from consumer organisations & actual users of legal services added to its staff & board.

The Sunday Mail reports :

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 email Called to the Bars : Top lawyer admits talking gibberish at work due to hangover

Mar 15 2009 By David Taylor

A TOP legal watchdog admitted to her boss she was talking gibberish - because of a hangover. Lawyer Margaret Scanlan made the confession in a email which described herself as "cross-eyed" after a night on the tiles.

Scanlan was appointed to her job in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by anti-booze crusader Kenny MacAskill. She wrote: "Was out on the razzle, again, last night so bit cross-eyed this morning. Please excuse any consequent gibberish."

Divorce lawyer Scanlan sent the lengthy email at 11.30am one day in November last year to watchdog chief Eileen Masterman. It was also copied to Alan Paterson, a law professor at Strathclyde University.

Campaigner Peter Cherbi, who champions legal and consumer issues, said: "This is not the sort of service the people of Scotland deserve. "It's not very good conduct for people who are supposed to be in some of the most respectable positions in the legal profession."

Scanlan was hand picked by Justice Secretary MacAskill as one of five lawyers to serve on the SLCC - a "one-stop shop" for complaints against lawyers. MacAskill plans to enforce mimimum prices for drink to combat alcoholism and drink-related problems.

The SLCC was set up by the Scottish Government to "modernise the legal complaints" system and ensure gripes are resolved quickly and effectively. It was formed after complaints that self-regulation by the Law Society of Scotland often protected crooked lawyers through cronyism.

Scanlan's email - about an insurance policy to cover solicitors' mistakes and misuse of clients' cash - was released to legal reform campaigners through a Freedom of Information request. The request also released emails from Scanlan attacking outspoken legal reform group Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers.

In one email, she wrote: "I would prefer that we not give any recognition to SACL. "I do not see why we have to name them even if we are bound to engage with them. "Their website is offensive and so far as I am aware no reputable organisations has anything to do with them"

Scanlan is a specialist in family law at Glasgow-based Russells Gibson McCaffrey.

She has also tutored in family law at Glasgow Caledonian University and was deputy chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board between 1997 and 2007. She was also director of the Legal Defence Union between 1998 and 2002. She earns £350 a day plus expenses for her work with the SLCC.

When asked about the emails, Scanlan told us: "I have nothing to say."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lawyers argue over ‘delaying tactic’ review calls to MacAskill as Dean of Faculty condemns Law Society’s failure of regulation

richard keen qcRichard Keen, Dean of Faculty of Advocates. The Law Society of Scotland has been attacked by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Richard Keen QC, who claims the Law Society has yet again abdicated its responsibility for regulation of the Scots legal profession, specifically in this instance, the Society’s role in regulating solicitor-advocates, who are lawyers specially qualified to represent clients in the higher courts without the need to engage a fully qualified advocate from the Faculty.

Richard Keen, the dean of the faculty said to newspapers : "Lord Gill's opinion … highlighted failures concerned with the operation of the way in which solicitor advocates are regulated. The faculty had hoped for a constructive response from the Law Society. "It did not expect the Law Society to abdicate its responsibility as regulator in the face of the Lord Justice Clerk's criticisms.”

He went on : "It is not appropriate for the Law Society to kick this into the long grass by asking for an independent inquiry or investigation. If the Law Society is to prove itself the regulator it claims to be it should demonstrate that by regulating.”

"What there obviously has been is a failure of regulation in respect of solicitor advocates, and the faculty hopes that this will be dealt with sooner rather than later.”

The issues of regulatory failure which have prompted the row between the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates was recently brought into the spotlight by Lord Gill who found significant failures in the work of solicitor-advocates, who were failing their clients best interests, where in one instance, a member of a defence team who represented convicted killer Alexander Woodside’s appeal relating to the conduct of his defence at his trial at the High Court in Glasgow in 1998, absented himself from the trial for a day to go to London as part of a Law Society delectation to lobby on legal aid fees.

Lord Gill, commenting on matters, branded the solicitor’s act in the Woodside appeal, “a dereliction of duty”, and found that among other things, solicitors were failing to advise their clients (contrary to Law Society rules), that they have the right to be represented by an advocate from the Faculty of Advocates, which may have been more in their client's best interests.

Lord HamiltonLord President Lord Hamilton supports the Law Society’s call for rights of audience review. However, the Law Society of Scotland, seeking to defuse the situation, has resorted to its tried & trusted approach to such criticism .. by doing nothing itself, and asking for a Government review of the issue, a review with the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, has hurriedly signed up to and which the Law Society itself is seeking to take control of, by way of the various legal 'steering groups' the Scottish Government relies on for such 'studies', steering groups which are themselves made up mostly of members of the legal profession who can be trusted to steer things the way of the Law Society's wishes.

I doubt there will be much change in the way solicitor-advocates are regulated with any study which comes from Kenny MacAskill's Justice Department, simply because it appears the Law Society has a 'free hand' to do as it pleases under MacAskill, who is far too cosy with his 'former' colleagues in the legal profession, to the point his own Ministerial negligence has allowed the newly created 'independent' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to be co-opted by the legal profession in a most brutal way against consumer interests.

Here follows the Herald newspaper's report on the story, and following that, the Law Society of Scotland's own Press Release .. pleading innocence as ever ...

Law Society attacked over review request

BRIAN DONNELLY March 13 2009

Scotland's legal elite have clashed publicly over plans to review the regulation of solicitor advocates after concerns about the system were raised by the country's second most senior judge.

The Dean of the Faculty of Advocates has called on the Law Society of Scotland to face up to its responsibility for regulating solicitor advocates.

The society this week wrote to the Scottish Government requesting an independent review of the system. The faculty believes the society should carry out its own overhaul.

Solicitor advocates are lawyers qualified to represent clients as an advocate in higher courts in England, Wales and in Scotland, the Supreme Court and High Court.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, expressed concern during a recent murder case about the regulation of the group of solicitors.

He found that some solicitors were failing to advise their clients, contrary to Law Society rules, that they have the right to be represented by an advocate, which may be in their best interests.

He added that some solicitor advocates were doing advocacy work beyond their competence and they had a lack of awareness of their professional duties.

He revealed some of the senior solicitors had accepted instructions from their own law firms without advising clients of the availability of counsel, and were "self-certifying" themselves as the lead solicitor in serious criminal cases.

Lord Justice Clerk said: "From the standpoint of the administration of justice the idea that any solicitor advocate can accept instructions, perhaps from his own employee, as leader in a serious trial regardless of his experience and skill, is matter for concern.

"The concept of seniority is in my view conducive to the interests of justice. It does not apply in the case of solicitor advocates ... in practice there is no concept of seniority other than for the purpose of charging fees."

The society asked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to report back next year on an independent review of all aspects of the rights of audience in the Supreme Courts.

Richard Keen, QC, the Dean of the Faculty, said the society had abdicated its responsibility for regulation after Lord Gill "highlighted failures".

He said: "The Faculty had hoped for a constructive response from the Law Society of Scotland, which is the regulatory authority for solicitor advocates.

"It is not appropriate for the Law Society to kick this into the long grass by asking for an independent inquiry or investigation. If the Law Society is to prove itself the regulator it claims to be it should demonstrate that by regulating.

"There is no call and none certainly from the Lord Justice Clerk, for an investigation into rights of audience in general.

"What there obviously has been is a failure of regulation in respect of solicitor advocates, and the faculty hopes that this will be dealt with sooner rather than later.

"If the Law Society feels that as regulator it is not able to investigate and deal with that matter, no doubt another way can be found to do this on their behalf - although why the public purse should have to incur expense on something which the Law Society is already paid to do is not immediately obvious."

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "We believe that after almost 20 years it is time for an independent, comprehensive review of rights of audience in the higher courts."

She added that the society has a "rigorous" regulatory system to ensure the public interest is protected and standards maintained.

… and now the Law Society’s own version of events, choosing to smokescreen the entire episode with a call for a review by the Justice Secretary .. a review which will inevitably be kicked back for the Law Society to handle itself …


Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society, said:

“Following on from Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s call for a review, the Lord President Lord Hamilton had written to Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to add his support for a review and we are in favour of this. We believe that after almost 20 years it is time for an independent, comprehensive review of rights of audience in the higher courts.

“Qualified solicitor advocates were given rights of audience in the High Courts and Court of Session in 1990, with the first appearing in the higher courts in 1993, giving clients an extended choice of well trained, experienced and regulated legal professionals to represent them.

“The Society is the regulatory body for all solicitors. This includes solicitor advocates. All of our members are expected to adhere to the professional standards set out in law and the Society’s rules. The Society has a rigorous regulatory system in place to ensure that the public interest is protected and high standards are maintained.

“Solicitor advocates must also comply with Supreme Court Rules. These rules were first approved by the Lord President Lord Hope in 1992 and then in 2002 by Lord Roger when they were reissued.

“To date the Society has never had to prosecute a member for professional misconduct arising from them acting as a solicitor advocate.

“Any complaints about solicitor advocates should be made to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). The SLCC would deal with any service complaints while issues of conduct would be passed by them to the Society.

Lorna Jack added: “We would welcome a wide ranging review and the opportunity for ongoing discussion of the various issues with the government and the Faculty. We are currently in a time of significant change and this is an important issue for the future of the legal profession.”