Scottish Legal Complaints Commission passed most complaints back to Law Society. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION have issued their first annual report (pdf), revealing a wasted year for Scots consumer protection against ‘crooked lawyers’ with figures showing the SLCC shockingly passed most complaints it had received back to the Law Society of Scotland for more closed shop investigations by solicitors colleagues, which have resulted in many complaints being ‘whitewashed’, a long standing problem the hugely expensive Commission was formed to prevent occurring in the first place.
Complaints against crooked lawyers get a reluctant hearing at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The statistics in the annual report reveal that 3,355 ‘enquiries’ during the nine month period were received by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and of these, 1217 legal complaints were processed by the SLCC’s Gateway Team. However, it transpires that few of these were actually investigated by by the Commission itself, as its own board members had decided to refuse to investigate any complaints or issues arising from legal service provided to consumers prior to the date 1st October 2008, conveniently cutting off most complaints from the SLCC’s remit and allowing the quango to pass the buck back to the Law Society for more of the usual dodgy closed shop complaints hearings.
SLCC – Client suicides over Master Policy claims are low priority. Even worse, after nearly one year on from the first ever investigation into the Law Society's Master Policy carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the report also reveals the Commission have still to decide what to do after revelations the Law Society of Scotland operated the Master Policy as a means to ‘allow lawyers to sleep safely at night’ resulting in the suicides of clients, which had been covered up by the Law Society until I reported on the issue in July of last year, which you can read here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'
Report on Master Policy revealed suicides – SLCC still to act after a year of indecision after client deaths were reported by University’s Law Professor team. Stunningly, while Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville of the University of Manchester’s Law Department investigated many aspects of the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, even commenting the suicides of clients caught up in the notoriously corrupt claims system of the Law Society’s Master Insurance Policy - the Professional Indemnity Insurance for solicitors which clients must claim from in the event of negligence or other poor service, the only comment so far from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in its brief annual report neglected to mention the Master Policy report in detail, leaving a distinct impression the SLCC is unwilling to investigate or do anything about the suicide issue, for fear of upsetting the Law Society.
Jane Irvine, SLCC Chair. Jane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission speaking on the release of the SLCC’s annual report, made no mention of the suicides and other dire revelations from the Manchester University report by Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville, which was completed in May 2009, rather indicating the SLCC still had a long way to go on its general duties, before even considering doing anything on the Master Policy.
Jane Irvine said : "It was an intense period of time with everyone contributing a huge amount of work to put in place procedures and policies for dealing with enquiries and addressing complaints under the terms of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007."
Ms Irvine continued : "One of our key objectives is to fully understand the function and purpose of the Master Policy and Guarantee Fund and to understand the experiences of the individuals who have made a claim. The commissioning of research was a first step towards the SLCC exercising its oversight role. The research created an important starting point for the SLCC's oversight role, which we intend to develop." So, one year later, and still no action on the Master Policy .. even a garden slug manages a faster pace.
SLCC Board Member Margaret Scanlan’s bitter email exchanges against consumers led many to conclude the Commission is of little use to the public. The first year of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was surrounded by controversy, in-fighting between staff, and public outbursts revealed in documents which depicted lengthy bitter hate fuelled exchanges between board members and the SLCC’s most senior officials over the exclusion of consumer groups & law reformers from the quango’s investigations into its own duties. There were even media reports of drunken officials who flew into caustic rages against critics in emails between board members, which I reported on here : MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members 'booze culture conduct' reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers and I covered just how intense 2009 was for the SLCC here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : The story so far
Eileen Masterman, SLCC Chief Executive gets £1350 per week to pass complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland. On the issue of the SLCC’s handling of complaints against solicitors from members of the public, Jane Irvine went on to reveal that most complaints the Commission has received so far, have horrifyingly, been passed back to the Law Society of Scotland, after the SLCC decided itself it would exclude any complaint for investigation prior to 1st October 2008 – a highly prejudicial decision which has confirmed to many the SLCC’s board members are too close to the Law Society of Scotland and the legal profession itself.
Jane Irvine said : "We received 3,355 enquiries during the nine month period, and of these, a small proportion were dealt with as complaints under the 2007 Act. The majority were registered by the SLCC, but were dealt with under old powers because the complaint originated prior to our opening on 1 October 2008.
"The majority of complaints were referred to the relevant professional body with the SLCC able to investigate how the professional body dealt with the complaint but not the actual complaint. Two hundred and three of these "handling" complaints originated prior to 1 October 2008 and were dealt with by the SLCC under the powers of the former SLSO."
A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today condemned the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s attitude towards consumer protection, claiming it was ‘little more than a clearing house for complaints back to the Law Society’.
She said : “As far as I am aware it was not the intention to create an allegedly independent body to regulate complaints against solicitors, which has spent its first year passing most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland who are at the heart of the complaints problems raised by many members of the public to us. However, from the statistics released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in their annual report on actual investigations they undertook, this appears to be all they have done so far.”
She continued : “We are now in a position where we are receiving complaints from consumers against the SLCC itself, with many people alleging the Commission is not independent and is failing to live up to public expectations. From the unwillingness the Commission has shown in its approach to serious issues such as monitoring the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund, we do not believe that consumers have any reason at this time to have confidence in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”
A client who had a complaint investigated by the SLCC today branded it useless and an affront to Scotland.
He said : “I put in a complaint about my lawyer thinking this new SLCC would treat me better than the Law Society but all they did was pass the complaint back to the Law Society who let my solicitor off the hook. I am now left in a position where I cannot sell my house as the solicitor refuses to hand back my title deeds and is demanding a huge fee for doing work he never did. I think the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is just another apologist for crooked lawyers and the Government should step in to clean it up.”
These latest revelations from the SLCC fit in with an earlier article I published back in November 2009 : Calls to scrap 'complaints laundering' Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as expensive anti-consumer quango revealed as talking shop for lawyers
The SLCC report also revealed the quango has a staggering £1.565 million pounds as surplus, which Lorna Jack, the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland has attacked, branding the sums “unacceptably high”. Ms Jack went onto further attack the SLCC’s lack of work, and demanded a reduction in the
complaints levy Penman Levy forced on all Scottish solicitors to pay for the quango’s upkeep & operation.
Law Society Chief Executive Lorna Jack. Lorna Jack said : “Considering the small number of complaints which the SLCC handled in its first 9 months, solicitors are right to question how the levy is being used and how efficiently the SLCC is managing its budget, funded mainly by solicitors. We need to ensure that the SLCC offers value for money for everyone involved in complaints. We will continue to work on behalf of solicitors to press for the levy to be reduced for 2010-2011. We believe that the reserves are still too high and should be used to keep the cost of the levy down.”
In response to the Law Society’s demands for a reduced complaints levy, Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s chair commented on the Commission’s financial state, saying : "We are conscious that our set up costs came from the Scottish Government and our ongoing funding comes from a levy paid by individual practitioners and a levy paid when a complaint is upheld. With this in mind, the SLCC has taken a measured approach when recruiting staff and our workforce will only increase in line with the level of work coming to us."
Ms Irvine concluded her annual report statement by saying "I am confident that the hard work of the SLCC Board Members and staff has laid the foundations of an excellent complaints handling service, built on our core values of accessibility, independence and impartiality."
SLCC should repay Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s £2 million of public money for start up costs. However, calls are now being made for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to use their surpluses to repay the nearly TWO MILLION POUNDS OF PUBLIC MONEY pumped in by the Scottish Government to start up the law complaints quango, which could be better spent elsewhere. Repaying the Scots public purse would be a more useful and conscientious use of the SLCC’s vast surplus during these challenging financial times for critical public services, rather than simply handling over surplus millions to lawyers back pockets.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked earlier today, given their gigantic surplus of £1.5 million, would they consider paying back the start up costs from the surplus, if not in one payment, over several payments. The SLCC is yet to give its formal response.
I for one, think the SLCC should fully repay the public purse as hospitals & public services need it and deserve it a lot more than lawyers do …