Victims of crooked lawyers branded "frequent flyers" & “biased” by anti client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. A bungled attempt at censorship of documents released under Freedom of Information laws by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, reveals that board member David Smith, who is also the husband of Scotland's Supreme Court Judge Lady Smith, has hit out at ruined clients of crooked lawyers who gave their experiences through invitation to the SLCC’s recent Master Policy investigation, branding victims "frequent flyers" and claiming the ‘ground breaking’ investigation carried out by the University of Manchester research team into the infamous Master Policy insurance scheme for Scotland’s 10,000 solicitors, had ‘paid only lip service’ to duties the commission is supposed to carry out involving the monitoring of claims for financial damages made by members of the public against the growing ranks of crooked lawyers in Scotland.
David Smith, SLCC solicitor board member criticised ruined victims of crooked lawyers. Mr Smith, himself a retired solicitor who served with Edinburgh legal firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, said in incompetently censored emails to the SLCC's Chief Executive : "I have read through the Report and it is quite clear that it is of only limited value because of time (and funding ?) constraints and the fact that the claimants interviewed were all frequent flyers." Mr Smith went onto repeat the insults further, stating : "I suspect that when we go public we will be seen by the claimant lobby and consumer organisations to have achieved nothing and that we have paid only lip service to our monitoring role. Conversely I think LSS and the profession will think we have achieved nothing as the research has only focussed on the frequent flyers who have longstanding grievances against LSS/the profession."
SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman branded participants in SLCC investigation as ‘biased’ but said nothing about how biased lawyers views were. Eileen Masterman, the SLCC’s Chief Executive joined in the criticisms against members of the public who had given up significant time and made huge effort to participate in the SLCC’s investigation of the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, branding them ‘biased’, saying : “It has not been possible to interview a representative sample of claimants with regard to the Master Policy and it is very likely that the sample used is biased. Many of the claims the researchers were informed of are long standing. Without current data it is difficult to say whether the problems alleged are persistent and that pursuing a claim is currently as difficult as has been alleged by those claimants spoken to.”
SLCC board members think little of participants in Master Policy investigation. A member of the public who participated in the SLCC's sponsored survey hit back at Mr Smith's comments saying : "Oh well if that's what these people think of us then why are they still on the legal complaints commission and being paid for it ? Why did the SLCC ask for people to contact them in the first place if all that was going to happen was a steady stream of insults and the usual no action at the end of it ? I think the SLCC should be apologising to all of us at least and let us have a fair hearing instead of all this name calling."
He continued : "Wouldn't we be better with someone on this commission who respects what ordinary people have had to go through to try and get justice against a crooked lawyer because I’m sure Mr Smith and his friends will know very well that trying to claim against a crooked lawyer is impossible in Scotland and life is made very difficult for anyone who tries.”
Insulting comments against victims of crooked lawyers & consumer groups were expressed earlier in the year by solicitor & SLCC board member Margaret Scanlan. A senior official at one of Scotland's consumer organisations today expressed disgust at the revelations. He said : "I fail to see how these continuing poor attitudes expressed towards consumers by board members of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will help address the historical problems of poor and biased self regulation of Scotland's legal profession." He continued : "It is going to be almost impossible for the SLCC to work with the public if people realise the underlying attitudes at the commission are biased against consumers and the fact is we have already seen other commission members and senior staff make similar unnecessary slurs against particular members of the public and certain campaign groups. These kinds of comments do not belong in an organisation which was created at great public expense to independently investigate complaints against members of the legal profession in Scotland."
Law Society might be ‘requested’ by SLCC to hand over Master Policy documents but no power exists to compel them to do so. After twice branding victims of crooked lawyers who had participated in the SLCC Master Policy investigation as "frequent flyers", David Smith then went onto put forward a proposal that the SLCC should 'request' further documents concerning the Master Policy from the Law Society which had earlier been denied to the SLCC and their research team. I reported on the research team’s lack of access to documents in an earlier article here : 'Ground-breaking' investigation into Law Society's Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers
However, since the Law Society and its insurers Marsh UK who run the Master Policy, had refused to hand over required documents for the SLCC investigation, Mr Smith stated later in the same email (again blacked out by the SLCC) : "If we continue to get resistance from the LSS (Law Society of Scotland) we need to require them to supply reasons under Section s39(4) AND we should make the Scottish Ministers aware of our concerns and highlight the need for greater powers to make this monitoring role actually work."
Section 39(4) of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 laughably states that : “(4) Where a relevant professional organisation fails to provide information requested under subsection (3), it must give reasons to the Commission in respect of that failure.” which means the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, for the all the £2 million pounds plus of taxpayers money lavished on it by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, actually has no powers at all to require the Law Society hand over the real evidence of how claims against crooked lawyers are treated in Scotland, and thus indicates a complete failure of the law, allowing effective oversight of the legal profession in Scotland which the public had been promised in the 2007 LPLA Act.
A legal insider said today : "I am somewhat concerned that such sentiments are being expressed against the investigation because no one at the SLCC wants to hear the actual truth of just how corrupt the claims process is against a lawyer when the Master Policy is involved. Perhaps what we are seeing is an attempt by the SLCC to write off the work of the University of Manchester team because they actually did their job and produced a very good report which is difficult to refute from a factual standpoint.”
Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chair was asked for comment, and to review the censored FOI documents. Jane Irvine, the chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked to review the content of the heavily redacted FOI disclosures. However, she replied by way of an FOI review stating “The response provided to your FOI request was correct” and amazingly did not comment on the failure of the SLCC’s attempts at censoring information contained in the disclosures, which were justified with specific references to FOI exemption rules.
A leading FOI expert this afternoon said he thought the SLCC’s attempt at censoring references to participants in the survey as possibly being in violation of the law on FOI disclosures, and recommended the matter be sent to Scotland's Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion for investigation.
He said : “Notwithstanding the fact the SLCC bungled the redactions on the documents disclosed under FOI, there is cause for concern some of those redactions have occurred simply to protect board members from the fallout of their own ill judged comments. That is not what exemptions under Freedom of Information legislation were designed to conceal. I think anyone may reasonably conclude under the circumstances that an abuse of the rules on the application of exemptions under FOI has occurred here.”
Personally I must say I am thoroughly disgusted by the SLCC’s conduct with regard to the investigation into the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund which was carried out on its own instruction, and with the help of the Scottish Government.
The report produced by the University of Manchester research team identified a great deal of suffering that has been caused by the policies of the Law Society and the insurers towards those who have attempted to lodge claims against their ‘crooked lawyers’ …. even identifying suicides of clients which have occurred, and all quite happily kept under wraps for all these years by the Law Society of Scotland . You can read more about that in a previous article I wrote here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'
If ordinary members of the public are to be encouraged to participate in work involving the SLCC, surely they are to be treated with equality of arms and courtesy, which the SLCC has certainly showed the legal profession on many occasions. However, with what has been revealed to me in badly censored FOI documents (and I understand there to be much more) I see nothing more than a trail of anti client bias, which first reared its head earlier this year through comments made by fellow board member Margaret Scanlan, who branded claimants to the Guarantee fund as "chancers" and then went on to demand that consumer groups be excluded from surveys and investigations carried out by the SLCC.
Clearly the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission must now be cleaned up itself, and given a good dose of oversight to restore public confidence, if it can indeed be restored ...