Thursday, July 08, 2010

Undue Influence : Freedom of Information reveals how Law Society used Scottish Government Ministers to reduce complaints levy for crooked lawyers

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunities Safety Minister Fergus Ewing demanded ‘independent’ law complaints quango give solicitors a break on complaints charges. DOCUMENTS REVEALED under Freedom of Information legislation of a meeting chaired by the Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Law Society of Scotland over arguments relating to ongoing court cases between the two regulators and the costs of the contentious Penman Levy ‘complaints levy’, will leave no one in any doubt about the close relationship between the Law Society of Scotland & the Scottish Government on issues the legal profession demand are raised in its favour.

I reported on Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing’s intervention on behalf of the Law Society to reduce the complaints levy in an earlier article during April, here : Ministerial Interference’ as Fergus Ewing demands SLCC’s £1.5m reserves be handed to lawyers after Law Society lobbied Scottish Government, however the recent release of the actual minutes of the meeting now reveal the extent of Mr Ewing’s involvement which resonates throughout the two pages as being clearly biased in favour of the Law Society’s stance over complaints levies and court challenges against the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over complaints appeals.

Meeting between Fergus Ewing, Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 April 2010Documents reveal meeting demanded by the Law Society secured Ministerial interference to reduce complaints levy. Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, himself a former solicitor & member of the Law Society of Scotland opened the meeting, held on 22 April at the Scottish Parliament, allegedly claiming its purpose was not to interfere with the duties of the SLCC or the Law Society, despite the Law Society having itself called for the meeting, which was attended by the Society’s current Chief Executive, Lorna Jack & Director of Regulation Philip Yelland. However, insiders today revealed the only issue the Law Society wanted to discuss (appearing as item 8 in the minutes) was the complaints levy and the massive £1.5 million surplus held by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which the Law Society had asked the Scottish Government to consider while seeking a reduction in complaints levy charges for solicitors.

Item 8 of the released minutes read : “The Law Society confirmed that the points they had made previously about ‘over provision’ of reserves stood. The Scottish Government was concerned that the SLCC were being over cautious on risk, particularly given that most of the risk will be substantially mitigated in the course of the year.”

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government had received ‘numerous representations from the Law Society on the complaints levy. A Scottish Government insider today confirmed the Law Society had made numerous representations, both written & ‘in person’ to the Scottish Government over the society’s desire to further reduce the complaints levy, and on issues relating to the society’s court of session challenges against the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. However he said “there was about as much chance of getting hold of these documents in an FOI request as the Edinburgh Trams project finishing on time”

A legal insider, studying the terms of the minutes, disputed the Community Safety Minister’s version of why the meeting had taken place and his attempt to distance himself from appearing to intervene on the part of one regulator against another.

He went on to point out Mr Ewing’s claim of not wishing to interfere in the running of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was very misleading, to the point of being dishonest, considering Mr Ewing had already sent a letter to the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine, threatening there would be Ministerial intervention if the SLCC did not accede to the Minister’s wishes on the complaints levy & reserves, wishes which coincided with those of the Law Society of Scotland.

Fergus Ewing to SLCC - Ministerial threatTale of a Ministerial Threat : Community Safety Fergus Ewing demanded reduction of complaints levy as Law Society had requested. The letter from Mr Ewing to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, where insiders recently branded the letter ‘Ministerial intervention on behalf of the Law Society’, stated : “I note that you have used some of your reserves to offset any increase in the general levy and that is commendable, but I am strongly of the view that this does not go far enough. … I therefore invite the Commission to give early and serious consideration to reducing the proposed amount of the annual general levy …. I would wish to give fair notice that Ministers will review the situation following the setting of this year’s levies to see whether any change in the respective powers of Ministers and the Commission is desirable.”

There have been successive reductions in the SLCC’s complaints levy since the ‘independent’, scandal-hit law complaints quango was created in 2007 as a result of the passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – legislation which was passed after a collective campaign by many individuals, consumer organisations & campaign groups to reform widespread corruption in regulation of Scotland's legal profession.

The complaints levy initially stood at £409 in 2008, a levy charged to each solicitor to fund the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s work investigating complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’. However, after a year of bickering between the SLCC & Law Society, the SLCC’s complaints levy was reduced dramatically in 2009 from £409 to £275, and the £200 charge for mediation between solicitors (who were involved in complaints) & their clients, dropped.

Lorna JackLorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society. The Law Society welcomed Fergus Ewing’s intervention to reduce the complaints levy, issuing a press release a few days after the meeting took place, apparently rubbing in their ‘Ministerial assisted’ victory over the SLCC. Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, announced : “We are delighted the representations made by the Society have resulted in a reduction in the levy on our solicitors. The Society did make strong representations to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission on behalf of the profession.”

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission were branded ‘liars’ by Law Society over Court actions. Ms Jack went on to chastise the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over what she viewed as ‘necessary’ court challenges against complaints decisions : “Whilst we are pleased that they have listened to some of our points, we are extremely disappointed that the SLCC has used the excuse of the unknown outcome of appeals currently at the Court of Session as a reason for keeping their budget and reserves so high. These appeals were necessary and indeed the only course of action open to the Law Society to clarify a difference of understanding of the law which the Society and SLCC have over whether certain complaints are conduct complaints that the Society can investigate.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society ended Press Release with ‘veiled threat’. Ms Jack ended her press release with a veiled threat against the independent SLCC, inferring the Law Society would be back in the fight to get its way further on complaints levies : “We will continue to talk to the SLCC about how they can work within the legislation and improve their structures and systems to avoid this type of issue arising in future at an unfair cost to the profession. The Society has a right to challenge the SLCC’s budget, as one of the professional bodies representing the legal profession which pays for its running costs, and we think the SLCC have failed to take a proportionate approach to the risk involved.”

A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said today the terms of the meeting, taken in context with the earlier letter from the Community Safety Minister to Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chair, made for a venue of intimidation likely to produce “a favourable result for the Law Society of Scotland, which is in fact, what has occurred”.

He said : “I think consumers would rightly view it is entirely inappropriate for the Scottish Government, acting on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland to intervene with the independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, where there is without doubt a clear bias in favour of the Law Society who had approached the Minister for help in seeking a reduction in the complaints levy & the amount held by the SLCC in its reserves.”

He continued : “The Scottish Government, let alone a Government Minister would never even consider offering to chair meetings between consumers who are having problems with either the SLCC or the Law Society where either or both regulators have failed to properly investigate complaints made against Scottish solicitors.”

“Mr Ewing’s interference has effectively killed the SLCC’s public credibility and put the Law Society on notice it can call in Scottish Ministers at any time to get its own way. A poor example for Mr Ewing to set considering the long history of problems with regulation of the legal profession.”

A Justice Department insider, asked today if the FOI released minutes truly reflected the tone of the meeting & what had all been discussed, replied with a wry smile, saying : "What do you think ?”

Well, I know what I think … and coincidentally of course, the SLCC did agree to freeze the complaints levy, as well as draw down on their reserves, just as the Law Society of Scotland had demanded the willing Scottish Government Minister ensure took place;

So, as easily as a gamekeeper may call his Jack Russell Terrier to heel before ordering it down a rabbit hole, details of meetings demanded by the Law Society over financial benefits for its member solicitors indisputably show Scottish Government Ministers will apparently follow the society’s wishes to the letter, in this case, where the Law Society had demanded further reductions in the annual complaints levy charged to all solicitors which funds the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

What chance is there of independent, transparent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, when the Law Society can call in Scottish Ministers to bully any regulator into speedy subjugation ? No chance at all … and consumer protection against inadequate legal services ? in Scotland .. such an idea is a myth under the current administration.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

A case of fat brown envelopes talk ?

If Fergus is so happy to haul in the SLCC for the Law Society he could start hauling in the Law Society over all their bent lawyers !

Anonymous said...

PS

In light of Fergus attempt to misdirect us all on the purpose of the meeting maybe your title should have began "Under the Influence ..." !

I see Yelland was there working the controls too.Not a surprise there then !

Anonymous said...

Goody.I think I'll have to write in to Justice & Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing (since MacAskill is being kept in cold storage) and ask him to get a meeting together with the Law-Rat Society of Scotland over my complaint about my rat solicitor!

Rat solicitor sent me in a bill for work he never did Fergus.What do you say to that ?

Anonymous said...

Just what on earth is a 'Communities Education Minister' doing interfering, Kenny McAskill wanting to continue his low profile?

It comes as no surprise to learn both are lawyers - 2 more for the 'solicitors to avoid' list.

The sooner they and the SNP get voted out of office the better.

Anonymous said...

Obviously corrupt but nothing will be done because the whole Govt are rotten if they just go around batting for big business against consumers all the time.

Rotten to the core.Get it ? Rotten to the core.Thats the Scottish Govt.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on Peter - anyone trying to make a complaint about these crooks could never hope to get Ewing and his buddies in the same room for 30 seconds yet he bends over backwards for his old pals at the Law Society.

Anonymous said...

I commend you on the depth of your investigation Mr Cherbi.Very revealing information brought out by your persistence & determination.

Doubtless Mr Ewing and his team will have to shred any more of the evidence before it leaks out.

Anonymous said...

"I would wish to give fair notice that Ministers will review the situation following the setting of this year’s levies to see whether any change in the respective powers of Ministers and the Commission is desirable"

How much did that sentence cost the Law Society ?

A few property deals & bungs on the way for Scottish Ministers perhaps ?

Very blatant corruption without a doubt.

Anonymous said...

I dont believe the minutes.
Probably all the juicy stuff is left out because the note taker was a civil serpent and we all know not to trust them with a dead baby never mind a live one.

btw good comparison between Fergus and a Jack Russell although personally I feel you might just have insulted dogs.They are far more trustworthy than a politician as you well know Peter!

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 16:15

If he did that he'd be 'hauling them in' every day ...

# Anonymous @ 16:17

No .. that headline would be reserved for one of Mr Ewing's Ministerial colleagues ...

# Anonymous @ 16:23

Under the present circumstances, I fear Mr Ewing may give your solicitor and their fraudulent account full marks for trying to get as much money out of clients as possible ...

# Anonymous @ 17:34

I agree ...

# Anonymous @ 17:57

Yes, I think we all get it ...

# Anonymous @ 18:41

Indeed ... perhaps Mr Ewing could volunteer to haul the Law Society & SLCC in over a few complaints they are mishandling ... I have a list of consumers in need of Ministerial intervention ...

# Anonymous @ 19:30

Thanks .. and yes, I'm sure they have already done a bit of shredding ...

# Anonymous @ 20:03

I agree ...

# Anonymous @ 20:49

I definitely agree on the notes issue, and especially with regard to JRT's !

Anonymous said...

Thanks Peter.You did a good job of it.

Anonymous said...

Considering the hardship the Law Society is causing people who are ruined by their fugging lawyers I know what I'd like to SAY after reading our own govt are interfering on the side of crooked lawyers

Anonymous said...

Mr Ewing’s interference has effectively killed the SLCC’s public credibility and put the Law Society on notice it can call in Scottish Ministers at any time to get its own way.

That may be but it looks like the Law Society can call in Scottish Ministers any time they want and get their own way - at least from reading Mr Ewing's earlier letter he forgot to mention at the meeting (or any mention of it was left out of the minutes)

I'm surprised how blatant it all is now under the SNP.No pretence at all of honesty or any thought for the electorate (until they want our vote)

Anonymous said...

As calls are made for tighter gun licence controls in the wake of Derrick Bird's rampage in Cumbria, during which 12 people died, doctors' leaders have been in talks about when to raise concerns over the mental health of patients.

In this week's Scrubbing Up, Dr Michael Devlin says the public may expect a doctor to always speak out but warns there is a risk a patient could feel his confidentiality had been breached and not seek the treatment they need.

I think Dr Devlin is missing the point. This has nothing to do with confidentiality and seeking treatment. The patient could register with another GP Practice. Doctors are concerned that the patient may threaten them for advising the police their certificate should be refused.

Doctors protecting doctors again.

Anonymous said...

Some gravvy train.

No wonder the McAskill & Co are dragging their feet on the introduction of Class Actions, despite others such as Lord Gill, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and the Judges of the Court of Session supporting their introduction.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments on this article so far.

The article has been updated today (Friday) to reflect the Law Society of Scotland's Press Release, issued a few days after the meeting chaired by the Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing.

Clearly the Law Society will not stop until it has totally assimilated the SLCC back into its Client Relations department ... which should be an easy task, considering many of its former Client Relations staff now work at the SLCC ...

Anonymous said...

"apparently rubbing in their ‘Ministerial assisted’ victory over the SLCC."

Subtlety clearly is not a virtue of the Law Society or Lorna Jack.

When does Fergus get his free lifetime membership of the Law Society for his interventionist efforts ?

Anonymous said...

Question for Lorna Jack ;

How many millions does the Law Society's reserve amount to, not to mention its disgraced insurance provider Marsh?

Oh, silly me, I forgot that the Law Society of Scotland is allowed to remain outside and above the law, and is not required to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

Anonymous said...

Thats quite an update Mr Cherbi.

Ms Jack just couldn't wait to gloat over her success.What did Ewing get in return ?

Anonymous said...

Without doubt its a huge conflict of interest for a Government Minister to side with the Law Society against what is supposed to be the independent regulator of complaints against the Society's members.

In any other country there might be more of a fuss about this in the media but it seems the power of the legal profession has silenced the entire media save independent critics such as Mr Cherbi.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the Law Society of Scotland have far too much power so they must be stopped in their tracks somehow

Anonymous said...

@15:29
Thats putting it mildly !

I dont buy newspapers now anyway because its either all bs or they have whored themselves to whichever industry suits.If you want decent news you have to go to the internet now and forget what was the traditional press.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff.

I also do not believe the foi released meeting minutes.Totally sanitised.

Also why didn't Jane Irvine raise the letter Fergus Ewing sent her in February with the threat ? If she did or didnt raise it (and surely she should have raised it if she had some balls) why isn't it mentioned or referred to in the minutes because its a big part of why they are all at the meeting.

I agree the whole thing stinks and just shows how in-bed the SNP are with the Law Society and just sitting there waiting for others.No wonder there's no Justice in Scotland and there's certainly no chance of Justice with any SNP related campaign by the looks of it because they are just there to undermine Justice not achieve it.

Anonymous said...

Great blog,never knew Scotland was so crooked!

I'll avoid ever using a lawyer with a Scots background!

Anonymous said...

Astonishing.
-1 for the SNP

Anonymous said...

MSP's are a disgrace and are traitors to their electorate.

Anonymous said...

Does the meeting & letter from Ewing break the Ministerial code of conduct ?

Any thoughts anyone ?

Anonymous said...

I've dealt with the SLCC for 6 months so far on my complaint and they still are not telling me whether its to go back to the Law Society as one of their people told me on the phone or they will investigate it themselves.they are USELESS

Anonymous said...

have to admit even as an snp supporter i dont like what fergus did with the lawyers

eck can count me out for 2011

Anonymous said...

You are dealing with rascals Peter, but you are also making great progress. Never be discouraged. too many people support you outside the profession. You are a credit to Scotland, splendid public service and I hope your case get's resolved against the scoundrels that ruined your family.

Anonymous said...

Crooked lawyers and ministers.

Anonymous said...

I too was speaking to someone about this.They said those minutes were prepared especially for your FOI request.

How do you feel about that ?

Anonymous said...

If you hadn't provided the minutes and the letter I might have thought it wasn't possible for the Law Society to do this.Anyway you did and proved it beyond all doubt so Ewing should be sacked and all those who took part in the meeting given a good talking to because they have all failed consumers both the LSS & the SLCC.

Anonymous said...

The Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission do not publish complaints records against members of the Scottish legal profession so you have no way of knowing the true background of your solicitor, whom you will trust with the most important aspects of your life concerning the law …

Yes Peter that is why your new Scottish Consumer Complaints Register is vital.

A law firm phoned me on Friday. They wanted to help me recoup payment protection insurance which pays out as much as the Master Policy.

I told the person on the phone I do not trust lawyers. What killed the conversation was my request that they take my crooked lawyer to court.

Lawyers are very selective of who they help, closed shop crooks.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the Law Society will not stop until it has totally assimilated the SLCC back into its Client Relations department ... which should be an easy task, considering many of its former Client Relations staff now work at the SLCC ...

Your new complaints register is the only means in the short term of protecting legal consumers from crooked lawyers.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments & emails on this article.

To answer a query, the minutes of the meeting between the Scottish Government, SLCC & Law Society of Scotland are as I received them from the Scottish Government as per my Freedom of Information request.

I note some comments have expressed disbelief over the content of the minutes and whether they reflect what actually was said at the meeting.

I certainly do not believe the minutes are accurate, nor it seems do 'insiders' to all three organisations represented at the meeting, however I present them as they were released for readers to draw their own conclusions ...

Clients who are forced to complain against either regulator however, should not expect to be able to force a Scottish Government Minister to call in both regulators over their case ... only the Law Society can do that, and its nothing to do with consumer protection when the Law Society call in Scottish Ministers to help the legal profession get it's way ...

Anonymous said...

Judge Gerald Price QC resigns following sex claim

BBC News Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Monday, 12 July 2010 13:09 UK

A senior circuit judge has resigned after claims about his private life.

Judge Gerald Price QC was suspended last year following allegations in a newspaper about the judge and a male prostitute.

The Office for Judicial Complaints said Judge Price had now resigned following an investigation into allegations about his conduct.

The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice had already informed him his behaviour merited removal from office.

Judge Price's resignation took effect from 30 June, before the disciplinary process was formally concluded.

A spokesperson for the Office for Judicial Complaints said: "Gerald Price QC, a circuit judge who was appointed to the Wales Circuit in 2000, has resigned from judicial office following an investigation into allegations about his conduct originally published in the media in June 2009.

"Whilst the media reported a number of allegations against Judge Price, the judicial investigation only focused on those that had an impact on his role as a judge.

"The investigation found that his actions brought the judiciary into disrepute, rendering his position untenable.

"In the light of the investigation, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice informed the judge in December 2009 that they considered his behaviour merited removal from office."

The spokesperson said Judge Price had asked for the decision to be reviewed, but the review body panel agreed with the original decision and recommended he be removed from office.

Judge Price, who is married, usually heard cases in Swansea but also sat in Cardiff and Carmarthen.
-----------------------------------
I wonder what his wife thinks?

Anonymous said...

still no one including you have written about what really happened in cumbria with derek bird and why the fight with the lawyer caused all the murders

do lawyers not want to be known for causing britain's most recent massacre ?

Anonymous said...

They said those minutes were prepared especially for your FOI request.

Not in the least surprised at hearing this.The minutes look doctored at least and I dont believe them

Anonymous said...

How would a crooked lawyer deal with a client who could fight back ?

Anonymous said...

Whats up with the papers ?

"Law Society PUPPET Minister bullies lawyers complaints regulator into submission" not a good enough story for them or is it just they were PAID TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY ?????

Anonymous said...

Not very happy hearing this considering the SLCC are investigating my solicitor after I complained about his rubbish work on my house purchase.Just as another poster said they should have stood up to Ewing and the Law Society bullies but no they didnt.

Anonymous said...

How would a crooked lawyer deal with a client who could fight back ?
12 July 2010 18:15

I KNOW HOW I'D LIKE TO ANSWER BUT ITS UNPRINTABLE!

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of fighting back
Where do we sign up ?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

They said those minutes were prepared especially for your FOI request.

Not in the least surprised at hearing this.The minutes look doctored at least and I dont believe them

12 July 2010 16:29

I was thinking much the same.When did you ever see such a set of sanitised minutes!

Anonymous said...

I simply wish to register my disgust at Fergus Ewing and the SNP for taking sides with the Law Society.

Donald Anderson,
Edinburgh.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Not very happy hearing this considering the SLCC are investigating my solicitor after I complained about his rubbish work on my house purchase.Just as another poster said they should have stood up to Ewing and the Law Society bullies but no they didnt.

SCOTTISH LEGAL COVERUP COMMISSION.

Anonymous said...

Oh nice one about the Minister who also stood up today arguing vested interests of the Energy companies!

Seems these Scottish Ministers are easily swayed by the megabucks.Wonder what his own interests (future or undeclared maybe?) could have to do with today's rant against a price freeze on power bills..