Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Law Complaints Chief secretly lobbied, met Information Commissioner Dunion over FOI investigation into Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Jane IrvineSLCC Chair Jane Irvine secretly lobbied FOI Commissioner’s office to produce favourable investigation results. DOCUMENTS REVEALING A SECRET WORLD of public bodies directly lobbying the Freedom of Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion and his staff to produce favourable outcomes against FOI requests from the media, amid expectations of transparency & public accountability through the use of FOI legislation, have exposed attempts by Jane Irvine, the Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to pressure the Information Commissioner’s office over the results of several critical investigations carried out into FOI appeals against the SLCC’s refusal to disclose information on its now highly questionable role of investigating complaints against Scotland’s legal profession.

Kevin Dunion FOI CommissionerScotland’s Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion’s office was pressured by SLCC. The controversial cases being investigated by the Information Commissioner which provoked such a storm at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s headquarters at the Stamp Office, Edinburgh, eventually leading to demands of direct meetings between the SLCC Chair, Jane Irvine & FOI Chief Kevin Dunion, related to heavily censored Board meetings minutes of the SLCC during 2008, when the law complaints quango was publicly funded to the tune of a whopping £2 million while its Board Members claimed a staggering £130,000 in expenses from the public purse, and also included issues surrounding the SLCC’s Master Policy research, carried out in mid-2009 which linked client suicides to claims against the Law Society’s infamous Master Policy insurance scheme, which is supposed, but fails to compensate victims of ‘crooked lawyers’.

Jane Irvine to FOI Staff 21 December 2009Emails from SLCC Chair Jane Irvine reveals FOI staff were badgered by the law complaints chief to produce favourable outcomes so the SLCC could prevent appeals against non-disclosure. Details contained in a slew of emails between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the FOI Commissioner’s staff show Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chair was desperate to ensure Mr Dunion’s staff produced favourable outcomes to enable the law complaints quango to prevent the media appealing to the FOI Commissioner’s office each time the SLCC refused to disclose information being requested. Jane Irvine said in her email : “We have asked you about this case. I will however have to keep raising it with anyone dealing with our appeals. We are keen that the Commissioner appreciates the link between the cases. In short terms, your Decision on this first appeal is vital in either setting fundamental precedents for us, pointing to a need to appeal or affecting the way we operate and so pushing up our budget costs which we need to be setting now.”

Ms Irvine’s email concluded, leaving little doubt she wanted Mr Dunion’s staff to produce a favourable investigation result, darkly suggesting to Mr Dunion’s staff if the investigation fell in favour of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, all further freedom of information appeals to the SLCC by the media or members of the public could be dealt with or thrown out by the SLCC itself instead of being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s office. Jane Irvine stated : “Put very simply if we had the answer on your case we might be able to halt the flow of appeals to you !”

FOI staff to Jane Irvine 06 January 2010The FOI Commissioner’s staff reminded the SLCC Chair in their reply each appeal to Mr Dunion is considered on a case by case basis. Responses from Mr Dunion’s staff to Jane Irvine’s desperate bid to interfere in their investigation appear to show Ms Irvine being reminded on how cases are investigated. The reply from Mr Dunion’s office states : “I am required to consider each redaction in turn and consider each exemption applied to this information. this has been a time consuming process … However, I must also advise you, noting your comments regarding the importance of this case, that each application considered by the Commissioner is treated on a case-by-case basis and therefore the conclusions reached in this case may not be the same for similar information in a different set of circumstances.”

Jane Irvine to FOI Staff 07 January 2010Further emails reveal the SLCC Chair put extra pressure on investigating FOI staff to produce favourable outcomes, citing high costs to the SLCC of dealing with information requests. In a blistering response to the email from the Information Commissioner’s staff, Jane Irvine, the SLCC Chair rebuked Mr Dunion’s staff for failing to produce a desired outcome for the SLCC, as information requests had allegedly incurred considerable costs to the law complaints quango. Ms Irvine stated in her email : “I’m very aware of the necessity to look at each redaction individually & of the time it takes! I’m also aware that each case and issue is to be considered individually. Equally I am very that we Know what tramlines we’re working within. ****** has caused us to incur considerable costs as have his colleagues this year and our overall FOI case load shows no signs of reducing. Under current law we simply have no option other than to bear the very high costs.”

A further email from Jane Irvine to the Information Commissioner’s staff also alleged the SLCC had “involved legal advisors” in compiling FOI disclosures & responses to the Information Commissioner’s office.

However things were to take a more direct turn as papers now reveal Jane Irvine insisted on a meeting with the Information Commissioner over his office’s investigations of the SLCC’s FOI disclosures.

Jane Irvine to Kevin Dunion 21 May 2010SLCC Chair Jane Irvine, not content with badgering the Information Commissioner’s staff, lobbied the FOI Commissioner himself in a meeting ‘to discuss’ his office’s investigations of the SLCC. A letter only now released from Mr Dunion’s office portrays a desperate situation at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in March 2010, provoking the SLCC Chair, Jane Irvine, accompanied by the SLCC’s Acting Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew to meet the Information Commissioner Mr Dunion to lobby for the SLCC’s position with regard to the investigations being carried out by Mr Dunion’s staff. The letter read : “You may recall when we met on 19 March 2010; we discussed the three appeals currently with your office. I think I emphasised that the SLCC was keen to learn of your conclusions. We have chassed since and were last told they would be with us this week. I am disappointed they have not arrived and this is because as we explained to you when we met, the outcome of the appeals could significantly affect how we deal with future FOI requests and might also have a knock-on effect to our business. I should be grateful if you could let me know when I can expect to receive your decisions.”

A legal insider studying the papers released from the Information Commissioner’s office was of the opinion the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had attempted to pressure the Information Commissioner and his staff for outcomes of their investigations which would be favourable to the SLCC.

He said : “The wording of the letters from Jane Irvine to the Information Commissioner and his staff should leave no one in any doubt the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are determined to put a stop to Freedom of Information requests which appear to have revealed significant shortcomings at the SLCC.”

He continued : “Anyone reading the letters from Ms Irvine to the Information Commissioner and his staff could easily conclude there was an atmosphere of undue pressure put on Mr Dunion and his team by Ms Irvine, to come to conclusions which favour the SLCC while disadvantaging those making Freedom of Information requests or appeals to the SLCC.”

SLCCSLCC now want to handle investigations into FOI appeals against themselves ? A law reform campaigner who has made Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission said the letters between Jane Irvine & Mr Dunion’s staff amounted to a clear attempt to ensure the investigation of the appeal went the SLCC’s way. He said : “From the sounds of Jane Irvine’s emails & letters it looks like she wants to do the investigating of the FOI appeal and reach the conclusion herself instead of letting Mr Dunion and his staff do their job. This is not how Freedom of Information is supposed to work, is it ?”

A Scottish Government insider commented on the situation, saying : “We all know the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have been caught out several times with information obtained under FOI legislation. However, if this contact with the Information Commissioner’s office is the SLCC’s attempt to cover up their own failures which have come to light through the use of FOI, it is an entirely inappropriate way to go about it.”

He continued : “If the SLCC want to avoid an unduly high workload on FOI requests & appeals, I would suggest they become more open and publish more of what they do rather than attempting to blame Freedom of Information for their own failures and poor reputation.”

7&8th April 08 SLCC Meeting Blanked outBlacked out FOIs are preferred by the SLCC. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have been ‘caught out’ several times with information obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, among those instances, several of which I have reported earlier, such as : MacAskill’s SLCC lied over secret meetings with Law Society & Marsh as quango announces £15k 'study' into master policy & guarantee fund, also here : Officials pull FOI disclosures as Guarantee Fund "chancer" emails show Law Society anti-client bias has migrated to Legal Complaints Commission, here : Fresh appointments sleaze at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as FOIs reveal protests against independent oversight of board member recruitment & here : Censorship & ‘frequent flyers’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal attempt to write off consumers evidence in Master Policy report. More can be found HERE

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its Chair, Jane Irvine, refused to give any comment or explanation for their attempt to lobby the Information Commissioner on the investigations involving the SLCC. However, a legal insider close to the law complaints quango claimed late last night the SLCC had now embarked on “a policy to delay, prevaricate and refuse further Freedom of Information requests it considered may be damaging to its operations”.

This latest claim seems to support a recent slew of decisions by the SLCC to intimidate journalists making requests for information as to whether they are requesting it on their own behalf or for someone else.

Curiously, the SLCC is also now operating a policy of terming many FOI requests as “vexatious” even if the subject matter requested has only come to light through the Information Commissioner’s own investigations. However, this latest attempt by the SLCC to stall the flow of information into the public arena will doubtless only result in more appeals to the Information Commissioner’s office, something the SLCC Chair, Jane Irvine, was keen to prevent as she expressed in her emails to Mr Dunion’s office.

Given we are now at the stage where the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission feels it must manipulate Freedom of Information legislation to protect its secrets, it must now lose any lingering trust of consumers forced to approach it over complaints against the legal profession.

It is now time to call time on the grave mistake the SLCC has turned out to be, and give Scots consumers the level of protection which only a fully independent regulator of legal services can provide.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Law Society consultation changes ‘a grab for elitist dictatorship’, leaving public in need of independent consumer body to protect client’s interests

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society’s latest constitution consultation is viewed by solicitors & clients as attempt to consolidate power at the top. SCOTS CONSUMERS OF LEGAL SERVICES are again effectively being thrown to the sharks in the latest consultation exercise organised by the Law Society of Scotland, billed as an attempt to reform the solicitors governing body’s constitution, but more darkly revealed to be little more than the latest attempt to shore up the Law Society’s powerful position as self regulator of Scotland’s 10,000 plus solicitors, along with its ‘dual role’, mandated in the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 of representing the client’s best interests – the latter duty of which the Law Society is infamous for failing to carry out in any shape or form.

The Law Society launched the consultation earlier in June, asking its members for their views on a revised constitution and its standing orders. The Law Society claimed its constitution “is being updated as part of a review and modernisation of the Society’s procedures to enable the Society to better represent and support its members”. However, and perhaps more dangerous from the consumers point of view is that the changes proposed by the Law Society, will, in its own words, “allow the Society to adapt to changing conditions in the future, without having to resort to further legislative change” thus escaping any legislative scrutiny in the elected Scottish Parliament of changes which many expect will be counter to the consumers best interests.

The Law Society dressed up its proposed changes to the constitution as “measures which will also ensure that the Society is well placed to become a regulator of those wishing to adopt alternative business structures as defined by the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill once passed”. Clearly the Law Society wishes to regulate just about every aspect of Scots legal life … much to the danger of fee paying clients, who, once the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is passed, will continue to have as little protection against poor legal services in the future, as is currently, and historically been the case in Scotland.

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991Is your lawyer crooked ? Chances are the answer could be “Yes” but you’d never know it ! As far as the Law Society representing the client’s best interests, anyone who has been put in the position of being forced to make a complaint about their solicitor to the Law Society of Scotland, or the hapless Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will probably by now, realise the futility of their position, where from the outset, their complaint, no matter its seriousness, had been treated by the Law Society with disdain, ending in up in a grand paper chase, sometimes lasting years, where often the solicitor being complained against escaped any punishment for their crimes or actions against clients.

This great service, of protecting its member solicitors from thousands of client complaints each year, is what the Law Society regards as its duty under Section 1 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 where the Law Society of Scotland is mandated to undertake the promotion of (a) The interests of the solicitors’ profession in Scotland ; and (b) The interests of the public in relation to that profession. Clearly as far as the Law Society of Scotland are concerned, the interests of the solicitors’ profession have long come before the interests of the public, a charge backed up by earlier articles I have written on the subject, one of which readers may be interested in, here : Toxic levels of complaints, poor standards of service & soaring fraud by solicitors makes Law Society of Scotland 'World's worst regulator'

REVEALED - Top Lawyer at the centre of 12 negligence claimsThe Law Society of Scotland did not represent the interests of ‘crooked lawyer’ John G’O’Donnell’s clients, considering Mr O’Donnell, and thousands like him are still working as solicitors. However, as the years have gone by, many consumers, consumer protection organisations, critics and even some sections of the legal profession have questioned & campaigned against the Law Society’s dual role of representing solicitors and clients, a dual role viewed by many as posing an inherent conflict of interest, where as countless media reports over the decades have documented, the interests of solicitors have always overshadowed any regards for client protection from the likes of the John O'Donnell's of the legal world, of which there are a growing number.

The Law Society, seeing the flow of these reports, and our changing times where the word ‘regulation’ is now mostly viewed as another word for ‘cover up’ is simply trying to consolidate its grip on power with this latest ‘consultation’, ensuring it continues to be in charge of regulation and representing the clients ‘best interests’, because the Society and the profession well know, if it loses one role to the other, its grip over Scotland’s legal services market and the public’s access to justice is doomed.

However, the consultation has drawn some criticism from some parts of the legal profession itself, with the Glasgow Bar Association highlighting the conflict of interest in Section 1 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 where the Law Society represents both clients & solicitors. It should be borne in mind however, the criticism from the Glasgow Bar Association is from the point of view of protecting its member solicitors, rather than making ‘consumer protection’ paramount … perhaps an obvious point of view, given the GBA is the bar association for law firms on Scotland’s west coast.

The response from the Glasgow Bar Association to the Law Society’s consultation states : “It is the view of the Glasgow Bar Association (the "GBA") that there is an irreconcilable conflict contained within s.1 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 (the "Act"). That section legislates that it shall be "the object" of the Law Society of Scotland, inter alia, to "promote" the "interests of the solicitors' profession in Scotland" as well as "promoting the interests of the public in relation to that profession". It is impossible for the promotion of both interests to be mutually consistent, beneficial or indeed legitimate.”

The response from the GBA continues : “In the view of the GBA, the LSS has for decades failed to recognize the inherent and obvious conflict that arises in representing the public and the profession. The dilemma at the heart of the conflict can be put simply: how can the LSS represent or advise a solicitor that, for example, is the subject of a misconduct complaint to the LSS from his/her client? The answer too is simple: the LSS does not, and will not, offer advice, guidance or representation to that solicitor, under explanation that it is investigating the solicitor's alleged misconduct. Thus, the solicitor against whom perhaps serious, false and defamatory allegations have been made by a member of the public, will enjoy no "promotion" of his/her "interests" by the LSS in relation to that complaint; yet the "interests" of the member of the public making the complaint are "promoted" by the very investigation of that complaint itself. This conflict, in the view of the GBA, is irreconcilable.”

“The conflict is obvious and serves as a source of frustration to the profession. Solicitors, who currently pay over £1200 per year to the LSS (40% of which the LSS says is spent on "representation" of its members) cannot benefit from that representation in circumstances where their conduct is called into question, almost always on the basis of uncorroborated ex parte statements, by clients, former clients or members of the public. The individual solicitor is, in practice, left to his/her own devices. By contrast, the conflict which is embodied within s.1 of the Act, serves as a source of frustration to a public, rightly unconvinced that any such complaint can be fairly investigated, given that s.1 of the Act allows the very body to which the member of the public has complained, to "promote the interests of the solicitors' profession in Scotland".

The GBA went on to attack the Law Society’s proposals for its newly created ‘Board’, which allows a more "senatorial" role for Council, claiming the ‘Board’ distances ordinary solicitors further from the Law Society’s decision making process and branded it a result of the elite culture existing within the Law Society of Scotland.

The GBA said in their consultation response : “The establishment of this "Board" is, in the view of the GBA, typical of the "elite" culture existing within the LSS. The creation of the "Board" makes the LSS less accountable as a decision making body, inevitably increases costs for members by its creation, and is, ultimately, unaccountable in any direct sense to the LSS members. This elitism, and lack of any worthwhile accountability at the heart of the LSS, is manifested by the current refusal by the Council member for Hamilton, who is the Convener of the Legal Aid Committee, to address the hundreds of LSS members in Glasgow who practise criminal legal aid”

The GBA’s response to the consultation concluded : “The GBA believes that the "Proposals for Change" do not address in any way the conflict at the heart of the LSS highlighted herein. The GBA suggests that the proposed reform of the constitution will create an extra tier of unnecessary, costly administration, adding to the elitist development of the LSS. The reform proposals are proposals that the LSS hopes will dissuade those critics seeking a separation of the statutory "objects" of the LSS. Nothing more.”

More information on the Law Society of Scotland’s consultation can be found at the Law Society’s website here : Law Society of Scotland Consultation on Constitution along with detailed information on the ‘Proposals for Change’ at the following links :

Letter from Jamie Millar (pdf 34k) Background Information (pdf 37k) Draft constitution (pdf 119k) Draft Standing Orders (pdf 144k) Draft transitional provisions (pdf 73k)

jamie_millarLaw Society President Jamie Millar ‘will discuss’ proposals on consultation concerns. The consultation, now closed, was praised by the Law Society’s current President, Jamie Millar of the law firm Lindsays, who now own a Borders law firm which itself is infamous in the debate on regulation of the legal profession & the Law Society’s representation of client’s best interests. Mr Millar said in the Law Society’s Press release : "I am grateful to all those who have taken time to discuss with colleagues, faculties and organisations and respond, often in detail. The constitution changes have been planned since 2007. Recent events have brought the constitution into focus and feedback from the AGM in May was that change, particularly around voting procedures (including proxy votes), and bringing motions to the AGM was necessary.”

He continued : “Particular concerns about motions passed at Council and whether the changes should be held until the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill has completed stage 3 will be addressed and I am grateful to those members and organisations who raised these points. I also welcome the feedback given at meetings with some individuals and groups who took up the Society's offer to discuss the proposals, possible improvements to the draft and concerns to be addressed. "

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society & SLCC are both unfit to regulate the Scottish legal profession, leaving consumers without any real protection against ‘crooked lawyers’. While the legal profession bickers with itself over changes which amount to little more than window dressing, clients of solicitors & consumers of Scots legal services can be assured no changes which may benefit clients over the interests of their solicitors will take place until the Law Society is stripped of its regulatory role over complaints, with the duties passed to a new fully independent regulator, one which should be far and above the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which is nothing more than a front company for the Law Society in protecting solicitor’s vested interests over consumers best interests.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Row over Lockerbie bomber’s release & Ministerial attendance to Washington hearings leave questions over trial & justice in the shadows

Scottish GovernmentThe Scottish Government refused invite to senate investigation. THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT have, as we all now know, refused an invitation to attend a US Senate investigation of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who was tried & convicted under Scots Law of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. Mr Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, and allegedly given three months to live after his release in August 2009.

While there is considerable furore on Scottish Minister’s refusal to attend the US investigation into the release of Mr Al-Megrahi, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Ministers of State of one nation refuse to be questioned on live television over their own decisions by politicians of another nation’s elected assembly, no matter what the case at hand is. Would any other Scottish Government have done different ? I think not .. but then again, perhaps any other Scottish Government may not have released Mr Megrahi … or would they ?

However, while the Scottish Government say they will not attend the Washington Senate investigation, the Scottish Parliament could send over a team, as Holyrood has already investigated the Justice Secretary’s decision to release Mr Al-Megrahi.

To this end, Bill Aitken, the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee for one, could travel across to the US and give testimony over the Justice Committee’s investigation into the release of Mr Al-Megrahi. Another MSP, Christine Grahame, who has questioned the validity of Mr Al-Megrahi’s conviction and the evidence it was based on, could also follow across the Atlantic to give her public account of issues she believes must be ‘put right’.

Viewers in the UK may be familiar with BBC Newsnight Scotland, who ran one of the most informative reports on the recent row over the release of Mr Al-Megrahi, and highlighted issues surrounding the actual conviction & trial, earlier this week. You can watch that show if you are in the UK, by clicking on the image below.

BBC Newsnight Scotland’s Wednesday 21 July 2010 report on the Lockerbie case (click on image to view video)

BBC Newsnight Scotland cap

The Scottish Government have made two media releases this week, reporting a letter from Alex Salmond to US Senator John Kerry and an offer to answer any more questions which senators may ask

Readers can visit the Scottish Government’s information on the Lockerbie bomber’s release here : Lockerbie - Information relating to decision on Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi

Missing from all of the public arguments between politicians over the decision to release Mr Al-Megrahi however, is the question over the way in which the Lockerbie Trial was conducted, and the safety of Mr Al-Megrahi’s conviction, which was due to be tested in an appeal, backed up by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was as we all know, suddenly dropped by Mr Al-Megrahi, and apparently to the great relief of the Scottish legal establishment, thus enabling Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to decide swiftly on Mr Megrahi’s release, apparently ensuring no further repercussions which may have resulted in the Scots Justice system being made to look even more corrupt than it actually is, if indeed such a conclusion is possible these days …

Of course, while Mr Salmond & Mr MacAskill wont go to Washington, this shouldn’t prevent us having our own independent inquiry to establish the true facts of the Lockerbie trial because make no mistake, Scots deserve an inquiry into the Lockerbie case to establish just how honest the investigation & trial actually was, given the many questions over the evidence, testimony and how the conviction of Mr Al-Megrahi was arrived at by a jury-less Scottish courtroom set up at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

The only problems we have to overcome for such a project, would be finding someone independent enough to chair it, and of course, trying to reach an independent, fully transparent unqualified conclusion which honestly, I don't think any UK or Scottish public enquiry ever in existence has ever managed to do in any matter being investigated to the present day … especially when it comes to issues of justice …

There is little on the subject I can write more than what has already been covered by the mass media, and Scottish Law Reporter in their coverage of the Lockerbie case, here : The Lockerbie Trial

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Three years, £7m & its own victim trail, anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission still refer most complaints about lawyers to Law Society

slcc_logoScottish Legal Complaints Commission prefers sending complaints against solicitors back to Law Society. CLIENTS OF SCOTTISH SOLICITORS are less protected against ‘crooked lawyers’ now than they were before the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission came into existence, say campaigners & consumer groups today as it emerged the bitter anti-client SLCC, which itself has now formed its own trail of victims, is still handing over complaints to the notoriously corrupt Law Society of Scotland in a policy which could alarmingly extend for yet another 10 years, depending on when legal business was first instructed by clients to their solicitors..

Philip YellandLaw Society Regulation Chief Philip Yelland still receives most complaints about crooked lawyers. Huge numbers of consumers with complaints against their solicitors which involve legal work or matters instructed to solicitors before 1st October 2008 are still being told by the SLCC they will pass their complaint back to the Law Society, which was so corrupt in its handling of complaints against lawyers, it sparked numerous legislative attempts to reform the legal profession’s system of self-regulation into what was hoped would be a cleaner model in the SLCC. However victims of rogue lawyers are being treated just as poorly by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as they were under the Law Society’s complaints handling regime, headed by its Director of Regulation, Philip Yelland who has reigned over consumer complaints against crooked lawyers for twenty years.

SLCC 12 July 2010 REDACTEDAfter receiving millions of pounds from taxpayers, the SLCC’s letter informs clients their complaint will be dealt with by the Law Society. A letter from the SLCC, sampled out of many recently sent out to unsuspecting clients, in this instance to a member of the public who has made complaints against Perth Law firm Kippen Campbell, states : “Although the SLCC can investigate most complaints about the service received from a Scottish solicitor or advocate, it cannot under the provision in the 2007 Act, investigate complaints relating to business instructed before 1st October 2008. Nor can it become involved in complaints about a solicitor's or advocate's conduct before 1st October 2008. These complaints must be referred back to the Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates to consider.”

SLCC members expenses SLCC Board members voted against investigating complaints before October 2008, while making huge expenses claims. The letter is quite an effort from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – after receiving £2 million of public funds and well over £6 million from the legal profession, yet after several years of its Board members paying themselves an average of £135K expenses per annum (some with several paid jobs on other quangos), and its staff on salaries of up to £1350 per week, the SLCC can only manage to inform the majority of Scots their complaints against their lawyers cannot be investigated by the ‘independent’ law complaints quango as their legal work began in a time the SLCC want to avoid regulating, guaranteeing the SLCC is not forced in to compromising situations where it may have to investigate complaints deliberately mishandled by the Law Society of Scotland.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations was asked for his reaction to the SLCC’s policy of passing complaints back to the Law Society. He attacked the terms of the SLCC’s ‘avoid the complaint letter’, branding it ‘an excuse to do nothing’, and condemned it as being ‘very anti-consumer and laden with untruths’.

He said : “The SLCC’s policy to exclude all legal business instructed by consumers prior to 1st October 2008 is a betrayal of the intentions of the LPLA Act, which is widely known to have come into being after a long campaign to secure a more level playing field for consumers with regards to regulation of the legal profession.”

He continued : “Consumers who are currently going through the long process of litigation stemming from legal issues arising from before October 2008 may well find in 5 or 10 years time, if they are put in a situation where they require to make a complaint about how their legal representatives handled their long running case, their complaint will still be handed back to the Law Society. This I am sure was not the intention of the LPLA Act, nor was it a situation envisaged by the many campaigners & consumer groups who helped bring the Act into being.”

A client who has complained to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and received a similar letter said he felt betrayed by the SLCC. He said : “Now that I’ve been told my complaint is going to the Law Society I know there is no chance of getting a proper investigation.They will cover it up like they always do.”

In the ORIGINAL VERSION of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, the legislation which created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, laughably, to cure the ills of the Law Society of Scotland, there was no mention of the now infamous 1st October 2008 cut off for complaints relating to business instructed to a solicitor or advocate.

However, during 2008 when the SLCC and its Board Members were voting through its operational rules, one of the issues decided by its members was that the SLCC would not investigate complaints before 1st October 2008. I reported on this significant anti-consumer development during September 2008, here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission that wont investigate complaints posts rules of no help to many victims of crooked lawyers

So, as you all see, the ‘independent’ regulator which was created by legislation to cure the prejudiced, anti-consumer practices of the Law Society of Scotland’s self regulation of complaints against solicitors, has itself become as anti-consumer & prejudiced as the organisation and the profession it was designed to clean up. The SLCC is nothing short of a failure in terms of raising the levels of consumer protection against poor legal services, and a very costly, bitter, anti-client failure at that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Justice for all ? Scotland’s Crown Office refuse to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ who 'wrongly' claimed £221K in Legal Aid funds

COPFSScotland’s Crown Office appears to operate a policy of not prosecuting ‘crooked lawyers’. WHILE CLAIMANTS OF LEGAL AID in Scotland who lie on their Legal Aid applications may expect to be prosecuted by the Crown Office, given that defrauding the Scottish Legal Aid Board is a criminal offence, the Crown Office’s application of the law in this regard seems to be somewhat uneven, as the SUNDAY MAIL newspaper revealed this weekend in the case of solicitors IAIN ROBERTSON & ALASTAIR GIBB, who, despite being accused of submitting £223,000 worth of false claims for taxpayers' cash from the Scottish Legal Aid Board over an 18-month period, are not to be prosecuted.

SLAB_logoThe Scottish Legal Aid Board reported both solicitors to the Crown Office for prosecution. The latest failure of the Crown Office to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ comes after a string of cases reported in the media where solicitors have swindled Legal Aid, or acted against clients in a way where ordinary members of the public may well have been expected to be charged and prosecuted to the full letter of the Law. In the case of Iain Robertson & Alistair Gibb, the Scottish Legal Aid Board reported both solicitors to the Crown Office for prosecution, yet as revealed in the media, there will be no criminal prosecution against either solicitor – yet a member of the public who may have falsely claimed much smaller amounts of legal aid can certainly expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board issued a Press Release today (pdf), announcing that it had removed from the list of solicitors registered to provide criminal legal assistance:·

The solicitor, Steven A Anderson of Andersons Solicitors, 2 Hillkirk Street Lane, Springburn Glasgow, G21 1TE and the firm of Andersons Solicitors.
The solicitor, Iain Robertson, director of Roberston and Ross Limited, 7 Causeyside Street, Paisley, PA1 1UW and the solicitor, Alistair Gibb, a former associate of the firm, Robertson and Ross Limited.

This means that these solicitors cannot now provide criminal legal aid or criminal advice and assistance. The removal follows investigations by the Board in relation to non‐compliance with the Board’s Code of Practice for Criminal Legal Assistance.

For Andersons Solicitors this non‐compliance included: holding unnecessary meetings with clients, and making inappropriate, multiple and repetitive grants of advice and assistance. For Iain Robertson and Alistair Gibb, the non‐compliance included overcharging the Board for travel to various prisons. As a result of non‐compliance with the Board’s Code of Practice, the firm Robertson and Ross Limited has re‐paid to the Legal Aid Fund, the sum of £221,847.

The Board has a substantial programme of monitoring and investigating legal aid expenditure involving both legal aid applicants and the legal profession. Under its powers, it can stop solicitors doing criminal legal aid work. Only the Law Society of Scotland has responsibility for stopping solicitors from doing civil legal aid work.

Where the Board has concerns about lawyers it can make formal complaints to the appropriate regulatory body (for example, the Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates) and may also forward cases for consideration to the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service. In 2009‐2010, the Board’s compliance and investigations work resulted in savings and recoveries of nearly £2 million, and a number of cases involving solicitors, applicants and legally‐aided assisted persons were reported to the Crown Office.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board were asked for comment on the failure of the Crown Office to prosecute. A spokesperson replied saying : “The Board cannot comment on decisions made by the Crown.”

Mortgage Man stole my £24k - Nigel MacFarlane Mortgage Scandal Sunday Mail 070210Solicitor Catriona MacFarlane covered up her mortgage broker husband’s theft of £24K from a client. In a recent scandal involving solicitor Catriona MacFarlane, who covered up her mortgage broker husband’s theft of £24K from a client, later repaid after difficult & prolonged negotiations saw the Crown Office even refuse to acknowledge reports of the MacFarlanes to its highest ranking officials. During my own investigation of the MacFarlane case, it transpired the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal FAILED to inform both Strathclyde Police and the Crown Office that criminal activity had been detected during their investigation of the complaints made against Catriona MacFarlane. You can read my earlier report revealing the failures to inform the authorities, here : Law Society ‘routinely fails to report crime' as Crown Office admits it never received report on Glasgow lawyer theft cover-up investigation

Crown Office Stirling - 2 October 2007 REDACTEDCrown Office bizarrely admitted a solicitor had committed ‘a crime’ yet refused to prosecute. In one particular instance, where a solicitor had been reported by a number of individuals to authorities, the Crown Office contacted one of the victims, bizarrely admitting a crime had been committed, yet refused to prosecute the solicitor concerned. The Crown Office letter read : “A decision has been taken by the Crown Office to take no further proceedings in this case : this decision was not taken lightly as we realise the seriousness of this crime. I hope the decision has not caused you any distress, as this was not our intention.”

Crown Office on prosecutions of solicitorsCrown Office admit they don't gather statistics on how many crooked lawyers are prosecuted. In response to Freedom of Information queries to the Crown Office on the disclosure of statistics engathered relating to charges or prosecutions against members of the legal profession in Scotland, which includes paralegals, solicitors, and anyone working in a solicitor's office, it was disclosed that "The COPFS database has no information routinely recorded indentifying the present (or previous) occupation of accused persons reported for prosecution. We do not extract any information regarding cases in which the accused person is (or was) a solicitor, so do not hold any statistical information which would answer your question." The terms of the response leave little doubt an attitude exists where prosecuting the legal profession itself is not to be encouraged, or recorded …

Clearly the Crown Office is unwilling to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ and the evidence is mounting this is a policy, rather than decisions taken on a case by case basis …. after all, if 20 solicitors are reported to the Crown Office, and 20 decisions are taken not to prosecute … then something is very wrong with those who are charged to uphold the law and these constant decisions not to prosecute solicitors becomes more of a policy not to prosecute solicitors in the eyes of the public …

The Sunday Mail reports :

LIAR AID Solicitor in probe escapes prosecutionLIAR AID : Fury as shamed lawyer stays out of court despite admitting £221k of bogus claims

Jul 18 2010 Exclusive by Derek Alexander, Sunday Mail

A LAWYER has escaped the dock - after handing back more than £200,000 of bogus legal aid claims.

A criminal probe into Iain Robertson has been dropped after he returned £221,847 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Amazingly, Robertson is even allowed to continue claiming legal aid for civil cases while waiting to discover if he will be struck off.

The scandal centred on the 57-year-old shamed solicitor and his firm Robertson & Ross in Paisley. Another lawyer - Aberdeen-based Alastair Gibb - was also investigated.

Scots Lib Dem justice spokesman Robert Brown demanded to know why Robertson is not being taken to court. He said: "It seems that the Crown Office have some questions to answer as to why they didn't prosecute what appears to be a straightforward fraud involving a significant amount of money."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker added: "This is a very serious issue and we should have clarity on why the Crown Office decided not to proceed. "The sum of cash is huge and I'll be interested to know why the lawyers involved haven't faced criminal charges."

Robertson was accused of submitting £223,000 worth of false claims for taxpayers' cash from SLAB over an 18-month period. The claims were based on Gibb travelling thousands of miles from Paisley to see clients in Aberdeen and Peterhead prisons. In reality, Gibb was living in Kingswells, near Aberdeen.

Earlier this month, Robertson agreed to pay have back £221,847 to SLAB and was banned from claiming criminal legal aid cash in the future. But he's still allowed to claim legal aid for any civil cases he undertakes. Gibb, 60, did not renew his certificate to practise as a solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland after SLAB called in police two years ago.

Fraud squad detectives submitted a detailed report about the case to Crown prosecutors in April, 2008. But officials marked the case "no proceedings" and stubbornly refuse to explain their decision.

Last year Robertson & Ross received £367,600 in legal aid compared to £832,000 between 2007 and 2008. Legal aid exists to pay fees for those who can't afford to hire a solicitor.

Gibb claimed he was sacked by Robertson & Ross but was awarded a cash settlement by the firm before an unfair dismissal tribunal. He said: "What went on between SLAB and Robertson & Ross is totally outwith my knowledge, other than that I assisted SLAB once. I'm now 60 and don't have a hope in hell of getting a job now. I've been wiped out."

In December, 2008, Robertson was censured by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal for ripping off a client for £21,308. He took cash payments from the woman while claiming legal aid for the work. He was fined £5000 and found guilty of professional misconduct.

A SLAB spokesman said: "Iain Robertson and Alastair Gibb have been investigated. The sum of £221,847 has been paid back."

Robertson said: "It was accepted that payments had been wrongly claimed and as the supervising partner I had to accept responsibility. "We dealt with the matter and agreed the figures. I'm disappointed that SLAB have taken the decision they have."

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: "We received a report in relation to two men aged, 60 and 57, in relation to an alleged incident in Paisley in 2008. After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances, Crown Counsel instructed there should be no proceedings in relation to this matter."

Lord President softens rules on Scottish McKenzie Friends, remuneration issue still out of step with England & Wales

Lord Hamilton 2Scotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton. LORD HAMILTON, Scotland’s Chief Judge has written to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee informing MSPs of a slight softening of the requirements of McKenzie Friends or ‘lay assistants’ applying to assist unrepresented party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session. However while the changes proposed to the terms of who can be a McKenzie Friend in Scotland are welcome small steps, there are still a number of issues yet to be settled to bring Scottish Courts into line with the rest of the UK, after McKenzie Friends first came into existence in an English courtroom forty years ago.

The changes, although minimal, are a retreat from Lord Hamilton’s previous plans to question those applying to be a McKenzie Friend whether they are related to the party litigant. It will now be the case, according to the Lord President the document which accompanies the application for lay support requires now only to state whether or not the supporter has a financial interest in the case and if so to set out what that is.

Lord Hamilton to Petitions Committee 5 July 2010 McKenzie Friends for Scotland Page 1Lord Hamilton’s letter to Petitions Committee informed MSPs of rule changes. Lord Hamilton wrote : “The draft Act of Sederunt was considered by the Court of Session Rules Council at its meeting on 10 May. I refer to item 6 of the draft minutes of the meeting. The Council took account of the substantive points made in the Committee’s discussion at its meeting on 4 May. The draft was modified slightly so that document which accompanies the application for lay support requires now only to state whether or not the supporter has a financial interest in the case and if so to set out what that is.”

On the thorny subject of McKenzie Friends being paid for their help in Scottish courts, as they are in England & Wales – an issue now supported by case law, the Lord President informed the Parliament : “And the prohibition on remuneration was confined to remuneration from the litigant; it is not (and never was) intended to prohibit members of advice services from providing lay support on the basis that they were remunerated by a public body or a charitable organisation. Indeed, support from those sources is manifestly to be encouraged.”

The reference to case law in the English courts family division to support the right of a McKenzie Friend to charge for their services, reports that Mr Justice Munby, ruling over a case of costs arising from contentious contact and residence litigation between unmarried parents [N (A Child) [2009] EWHC 2096 (Fam)] concluded the child’s father's McKenzie Friend "is entitled to charge, if he can find clients willing to pay his fees, at an hourly rate which can hardly be said to be extravagant when contrasted with the fees one frequently finds being charged to privately paying clients in family cases".

Serious questions remain over the Lord President’s desire to forbid any payment to McKenzie Friends in Scotland, with some campaigners questioning whether the prospect of not even a small reward for the services of a lay assistant may well put off many capable individuals from offering to serve as McKenzie Friends to unrepresented party litigants, particularly when the lay assistant scheme is passed for use in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts later this year, as I reported earlier here : Sheriff Court Rules Council reveals McKenzie Friends on course to help party litigants in Scottish Sheriff Courts by end of summer 2010

Lord Hamilton to Petitions Committee 5 July 2010 McKenzie Friends for Scotland page 2Lord Hamilton also informed Holyrood he would keep the arrangements for McKenzie Friends ‘under review’. Lord Hamilton went onto inform MSPs there had been no difficulties reported to him so far over the McKenzie Friend issue : “The Act of Sederunt was duly made (SSI 2010/205). It came into force in relation to lay support on 15 June. At the time of writing it is not possible to offer the Committee any information about how it is working out in practice, other than to say that no difficulties have yet been communicated to me. Once the new arrangements have been in place for a reasonable period, I intend to survey my colleagues to establish the effectiveness of them. I would wish to stress that the arrangements will be kept under review and that, if there are any difficulties, they can be communicated to my Private Office and taken forward with the Rules Council as appropriate.”

Lord Hamilton concluded his letter to the Petitions Committee, informing MSPs the Sheriff Court Rules Council were drafting rules for the Sheriff Courts later in the summer : “That deals, I think, with the Court of Session. So far as the sheriff court is concerned, I understand that the Rules Council continues to have the matter under consideration and anticipates considering a draft of amendments of the sheriff court rules at its meeting on 6 August.”

Recent background to McKenzie Friends in Scotland :

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman granted Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in late 2009. During the course of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the McKenzie Friend petition, one of Scotland’s longest running civil claims actions, M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01), overtook events at Holyrood and introduced Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in the Court of Session, granted by Lord Woolman, making the decision to introduce McKenzie Friends to general use in the Court of Session and lower Sheriff Courts, a formality, albeit one taking the best part of a year to complete.

Lord GillLord Gill proposed McKenzie Friends in Civil Courts review. Progress to finally bring lay assistants to Scotland’s civil courts was helped considerably by McKenzie Friends being recommended by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill who had spent considerable time on the issue of lay representation as part of the two year Civil Courts Review. Lord Gill had also recommended a ‘super McKenzie Friend’ with a right of audience, enabling a lay assistant to address the court on behalf of party litigants, a proposal now part of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which I recently reported here : McKenzie Friends from today in Court of Session, Lord Gill’s ‘super’ McKenzie Friend with rights of audience proposal goes to Holyrood

I will report further on the McKenzie Friend issue when the Sheriff Court Rules Council publish more details on their draft rules and timescale for formal introduction.

You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far

All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Way to Spy : Complaints form allows Law Society a ‘blank cheque’ to snoop on clients who identify crooked lawyers

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland’s role in complaints now extends to snooping on complainers. THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND is now routinely asking clients who complain about their solicitors to give the discredited law complaints self-regulator permission to snoop on the complainer’s own background as well as that of the solicitor identified in the complaint, a policy revealed in today’s publication of the latest version of the Law Society’s own ‘complaints form’, which asks anyone making a complaint about a lawyer to authorise the Law Society to authorise the Law Society of Scotland to contact “any person, firm or body contacted by the Society to provide and deliver any information, files and related papers required by the Society.”

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission give clients a choice to authorise similar snooping powers. Curiously while the Law Society says it requires such a vague, open ended level of unprecedented access to the private lives of consumers before it will complete an investigation into conduct complaints against solicitors - access which apparently includes asking for criminal background checks, medical details and other private information on complainers themselves, the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission offers complainers a choice to authorise whether or not those it approaches in connection with an investigation can disclose information, documents, files or related papers in order to investigate the complaint. The Law Society offers no such choice and claim they will not be able to complete an investigation without all of its terms being agreed to.

Snooping Complaints Form : Sign this, and you give permission for the Law Society to snoop on every detail of your life, not just that of the solicitor complained against.

Law Society complaint form scan

A senior official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations, commented on the Law Society’s complaints form expressed dismay at the wording of several parts of the document, and agreed that ‘Item 2’ on the complaints form in its current wording allowed the Law Society unusual levels of access to the personal details & lives of anyone making a complaint against a solicitor.

He said : “While it may be a case of poor wording, although since this form is coming from the Law Society itself one would expect them to get it right, the terms, after being signed by a complainer would in effect allow the Law Society to approach any individual, any public body, a Police Force, local health trusts, financial institutions etc for information on the actual complainer.”

He continued : “Personally I would have to question why the Law Society would need access to such private information on consumers. If I were put in the position of having to approach the Law Society over a complaint, I would be hesitant to sign the document in its current terms. I would advise consumers to question the wording of this form before they sign it, and ask to see all the data the Law Society gains from the form’s use during their investigation of the complaint.”

Shockingly, it transpires from details leaked by a legal insider, there have been numerous uses of private information apparently engathered by Law Society officials during the course of investigations into crooked lawyers, key information on the private lives of the complaints which has been used during Complaints Committee meetings to sway decisions in favour of the lawyer, quashing numerous complaints, many involving the most serious of offences. In several instances, it appears that Law Society Complaints Committees were even told of criminal background information on complainers, and members were asked to ‘find for the solicitor’ on the argument the complainer’s criminal background was of such bad character it merited letting the lawyer off the hook from the complaint.

The legal insider, citing one example said : “We were told the complainer had a driving conviction for an SP30. I had to ask what that was as I had no idea. I was told "breaking the 30 mph limit". The complaint being considered in that case was in relation to the solicitor making a mess of the complainer's father's will. The solicitor's agent at the committee implied the complainer was of bad character as he had been convicted of the driving offence and we should find for the solicitor. Myself and a lay member said this information had no relevance to the complaint. Even so, a decision was taken to find for the solicitor."

In another instance, a Complaints Committee were informed the complainer had an assault conviction with a suspended sentence. Members were supposed to take this into account even though the complaint being considered related to the solicitor's mishandling of a property transaction. The complaint against the solicitor in this case was also quashed, yet the solicitor in question has faced and is currently facing several more complaints made by other clients.

In another revealing instance, where it appears private medical information on a complainer was gained, either from the use of the form or from the solicitor who was the subject of the complaint, members of a Complaints Committee were told the complainer suffered from mental health issues and was undergoing treatment. Members were told his local NHS trust had confirmed this. A lay member asked why the committee were being told this and who had disclosed the information but his question was not answered. The complaint on that occasion related to contested fees for work the complainer said he had not instructed to proceed.

Jury  still out on law in the dock - The Scotsman 2 March 1998Law Society Committees have often been the scene of information gathered by Law Society snooping to save a crooked lawyer. The Law Society’s desire to snoop on complainer’s backgrounds is of course, nothing new, as I personally found out in the early 1990’s when I was forced to make a complaint against Borders solicitor Andrew ‘Drew’ Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. Thankfully, the Scotsman newspaper, under its previous ownership had reported extensively on the Law Society’s concerted attempts to thwart any prosecution of Mr Penman by using a similar smear tactic session against of false information relating to my bad character (a bad character of publicising the complaint in the Scotsman) as well as Mr Penman’s own marvellously long career in the law, to get Mr Penman off the hook from jointly ruining my late father’s estate with a crooked accountant Norman Howitt, currently of the JRW Group based in the Scottish Borders.

Scotsman 5 June 1998 Law Society accused of closing ranks as claim failsLaw Society Chief Douglas Mill stepped in to block court action to reveal Law Society’s misuse of information back in the 1990’s. It was so important to the Law Society of Scotland I was not able to find out exactly what was said at the Complaints Committee and that I be prevented from taking judicial steps to reveal the Law Society’s method of halting the prosecution of Andrew Penman, the then Law Society Chief, Douglas Mill stepped in to block my legal aid application for legal action against the Law Society over its protection of Penman and misuse of information, which was widely reported in the Scotsman again, and later became evidence in two Scottish Parliament inquiries into regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, which eventually led to the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

It now appears, from the wording of the current version of the Complaints Form, the Law Society of Scotland are attempting to legitimise their snooping on consumers, by ensuring they get signed permission to do so, thus protecting themselves from the raft of privacy laws now in existence since I had my own battles with the Law Society during the 1990’s …

A client of a solicitor who is currently attempting to file a complaint with the Law Society of Scotland today branded the form an attempt at intimidation to stop people making complaints against their lawyers.

He said : “I think the form is designed to put people off making a complaint. Clearly the Law Society want every single piece of information on you they can get their hands on yet at the end of the day what do they do against the lawyer you are complaining against ? Nothing.”

He continued : “I think the Law Society just want to be able to look into people’s backgrounds to see if there is anything they can use to get the lawyer off the hook. I wont be signing it until they change that wording and give me assurances any information they are using about me I get to know about too.”

Another client who has approached the Law Society over the content & wording of the form has so far been refused an explanation over its terms, from both the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have been asked for their reaction to the revelations and the terms of the Law Society Complaints Form. The SLCC were also asked if they monitor who the Law Society approach as per item 2 of the complaints form, and what type of information is engathered by the Law Society. While no reply has yet been received I have been informed a response will be forthcoming, which will be published in an update to this article.

For now, I would advise clients who are complaining against their solicitors to the Law Society of Scotland, not to sign the Law Society complaints form until it is reworded to be more specific in detailing who exactly the Law Society can approach seeking information on consumers.

Also, since the Law Society of Scotland is currently exempt from the transparency of Freedom of Information legislation, clients who make complaints against their solicitors to the Law Society of Scotland should ask to be made fully aware of each & every organisation, body or individual the Law Society approaches concerning their complaint, along with the Society giving to clients, a full disclosure of any information they have gathered on the complaint.

As I note the solicitor who is being complained against (and their legal agent, along with other bodies such as the Legal Defence Union) appear to be entitled to see all the information the Law Society accumulates on a complaint, therefore the client making the complaint should have equal access & disclosure of all information engathered regarding the complaint.

Complaints forms & advice on how to complain from the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission can be downloaded at the following links :

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spies Like Us : Scottish Govt say ‘No plans to review Council snooping powers in Scotland’ as Home Secretary announces UK anti-terror review

Home Office logoUK Home office announces plans to review spying laws. SCOTS once again may miss out on reforms to justice & civil liberties announced yesterday by the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May, to scale back local council spying powers, as the Scottish Government revealed today it has no plans to review the use of the much hated snooping laws granted to local authorities in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000, which have been used by Councils up and down Scotland to spy on everything from fly tipping offenders, late payers of Council Tax, parents of schoolchildren, critics of local public services, and even journalists who have reported on local authority scandals.

Theresa MayTheresa May, UK Home Secretary announces independent review of anti terror laws, stop & search powers & RIPA spying powers. Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary said : “National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties. I want a counter-terrorism regime that is proportionate, focused and transparent. We must ensure that in protecting public safety, the powers which we need to deal with terrorism are in keeping with Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness.”

The Home Secretary continued : “I am delighted that Lord Ken Macdonald QC will provide expert independent oversight of the review. This role is distinct from the excellent work that is already being undertaken by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC in his statutory role as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. We will look at the evidence presented to us and where it is clear that legislation needs to be amended or powers need to be rolled back, we will do so.”

The review, which was a commitment in the coalition agreement, published on 20 May 2010 will be carried out by the Home Office, with oversight from Lord Ken Macdonald QC, former Director of Public, the findings reported in the Autumn. Issues to be looked at in the review will include :

* the use of control orders
* stop and search powers in section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography
* the detention of terrorist suspects before charge
*extending the use of deportations with assurances to remove foreign nationals from the UK who pose a threat to national security
*measures to deal with organisations that promote hatred or violence
*the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) by local authorities, and access to communications data more generally.

While many of the issues which are to be subject of the much hailed review were originally intended to protect the UK against terrorism, the inevitable ‘mission creep’ of anti terror powers, and who could use them saw local councils widely abusing snooping powers granted to them under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (applicable to England & Wales) and its Scottish Equivalent : Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000.

The RIPSA legislation was introduced to regulate the surveillance of a person or persons and to regulate information obtained from third parties when the subject of the activity is not aware of either the surveillance or information gathering.

Scottish Councils are involved in such information gathering, amongst others, for the detection of a crime, a possible breach of legislation or a potential breach of tenancy agreements, although in some cases, journalists & campaigners who have reported on or campaigned against scandals in local authorities, some involving greenbelt land grabs by developers who have donated to political parties, have curiously & coincidentally found themselves being subject to Council surveillance powers, leading to allegations local authorities have used RIP(S)A to spy on critics and threats to policy, be it official or less than honest …

Many campaigners have welcomed the UK Government’s commitment to review and potentially scale back the spying powers which have led to such incidents as local councils snooping in refuse bins local councils snooping in refuse bins and parents being spied on over placements of their children in local schools parents of schoolchildren being spied on over placements and in Scotland, on, among others, rogue traders, antisocial neighbours and bill posters.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government say no plans to review spying powers over Scots. Asked if the Scottish Government would follow a review of the spying powers in England & Wales, a Scottish Government spokesperson said :“We have no plans to review the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. The use of the Act is subject to independent oversight from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners, who carry out regular inspections of all relevant Scottish public bodies, including local authorities.”

The spokesman went onto say : “The use of communications data by public authorities is reserved and is therefore a matter for the UK Government.”

A senior solicitor confirmed this morning the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament would have to be involved if there were to be any changes or reforms to snooping powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000

A spokesman for an openness campaign group said the Scottish Government’s stance was ‘not viable’ in the face of the coalition government’s plans to scale back spying powers in England & Wales.

He said : “The same issues & questions regarding the overuse of CCTV & snooping powers in England & Wales exist in Scotland. It is a pity the Scottish Government have missed this opportunity to engage in much needed civil liberties reforms which appear to be taking place south of the border, leaving many to question why the Scottish Government and Scottish public bodies feel they need to retain such overwhelmingly invasive spying powers north of the border.”

A parent whose family was subject to RIPSA surveillance powers over a long running battle concerning the placement of his child at a school in a major Scottish city, who was cleared after nearly two years of investigation & harassment by his local authority also criticised the Scottish Government for its lack of will to review the snooping powers in Scotland.

He said : “It seems we now have to wait on the UK Government to take the lead on justice issues because the Scottish Government are just not interested in providing justice or civil freedoms for Scots.”

He went onto comment that even after winning his long, bitter battle against his local council, after his family had been followed, photographed, had their waste-bins emptied & searched, he placed little trust in any independent oversight of Scottish public bodies who are allowed to use RIPSA to spy on the public, describing ‘independent’ regulation of Council spying powers as “a joke”.