Expect more of these as Law Society of Scotland’s campaign to be sole regulator of legal services in Scotland begins. CHRISTMAS FOR CROOKED SCOTS LAWYERS is apparently just around the corner as the Law Society of Scotland today step up their ‘public offensive’ in the media to ensure the Scottish Government appoints the infamously anti-client lawyers-regulating-lawyers body as one of, or perhaps the sole ‘approved regulator’ of all legal related services in Scotland, after the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill clears the Scottish Parliament. The move, if allowed to happen could, according to consumer sources ensure dark decades ahead for ever growing numbers of Scots consumers who end up being ripped off by their poorly regulated solicitors.
The Legal Services Bill proposes a system of licensed legal service providers, overseen by regulators approved and licensed by the Scottish Government, an idea which came about from the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation euphemistically titled : Wider choice and better protection: A consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland. This consultation came in response to a ‘supercomplaint’ filed by consumer organisation Which? to the Office of Fair Trading in 2007, alleging lack of competition in Scotland’s solicitor only dominated legal services market.
Applications for the position of “approved regulator” do not appear at this late stage of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the bill to include any bodies other than the Law Society of Scotland, which would spell double disaster for consumer protection and the now forlorn hopes of the Office of Fair Trading to inject a degree of consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s monopolistic legal services market, currently under the control of Law Society member law firms.
The Scottish Government’s consultation did mention the OFT’s ‘concerns’ over the Law Society continuing to maintain its regulatory role, stating : “The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), amongst others, has expressed concerns about the regulatory and representative roles of the Society. Its view is that, in the interests of consumer protection, there should be a clear separation of the regulatory function from the responsibilities for representing and promoting the interests of the profession. It is argued that, for a profession that places emphasis on the avoidance of conflicts of interest (of even the appearance of such), undertaking both roles creates such a conflict.”
Scottish Government decided against independent regulation of legal services market, preferring to hand it over to Law Society. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have, however, brushed these concerns aside, and legal insiders close to the Justice Committee and the Scottish Government have indicated there is a will “to simply hand the matter over to the Law Society and let them get on with it”. Scots consumers should be in no doubt at all the Legal Services Bill in its current form, tweaked & twittered by the Law Society beyond all recognition from the aims of the OFT & the Which? “supercomplaint”, will definitely not bring wider choice or any “better protection” from Scotland’s traditionally poorly regulated, poor quality & extortionately expensive legal services market.
The Law Society of Scotland are now promoting their regulation skills & Guarantee Fund to gain approved status for expanded legal services market. Undaunted by facts, history, and copious media coverage over the years of crooked lawyers ‘getting away with it’, the Law Society of Scotland are pressing ahead with their campaign to be confirmed by the Scottish Government as the approved regulator, touting their current regulatory regime as “rigorous”, and almost laughably describing the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund as “one of the jewels in the crown of their system to protect those who have lost money because of dishonest solicitors”.
In reality, the Law Society’s deceptively titled Guarantee Fund does not live up to its title, preferring to throw out, stall, or kill off most claims made against dishonest solicitors. I reported more on the actual workings of the Guarantee Fund in March 2009, here : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption. During my reporting on the Guarantee Fund last March, so many emails & cases came in regarding clients difficulties with the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society’s supposed ‘jewel in the crown’, I issued an ADVISORY for clients to protect their funds from the lack of protection offered by the Guarantee Fund itself.
While the Guarantee Fund does all it can to avoid paying out compensation for clients money taken by dishonest solicitors, the fund also operates a policy of shifting the goal posts on whether claims qualify for its own Guarantee Fund requirements, or should be sent to the equally disingenuous “Master Policy”, the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, linked by an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School to suicides of clients who had attempted to claim damages against ‘crooked lawyers’.
One client who attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund for an amount of over £118,000 which had been embezzled by his solicitor, found his claim shifted back & forth between the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy over six times, and has still not received any compensation for the money his solicitor stole from him, after over six years from making the original claim. Does that sound like “consumer protection” ? I think not …
It will also come as no surprise to readers virtually all claims against the Master Policy are also delayed, shifted between it & the Guarantee Fund, or more likely closed down by the Law Society and its insurers, Royal Sun Alliance & Marsh.
Report into Master Policy revealed Law Society concealed information on client suicides. The University of Manchester’s REPORT into the Master Policy found that claimants "described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants."
The Manchester University report concluded, “Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms."
Asked why the Scottish Parliament’s current Justice Committee, chaired by the Conservative’s Bill Aitken MSP, had pointedly REFUSED to call members of the public who had actual experience of making claims to the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, a source close to the Committee said “What do you expect ? The Committee simply don't want to hear it, and the Law Society doesn't want such testimony from aggrieved consumers entering into the Legal Services Bill equation which might raise the same kinds of questions & problems that arose in the LPLA Bill.”
Clearly the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are not one bit interested in the actual experiences of those who have attempted to claim compensation against either the Guarantee Fund or the Master Policy, as a vote taken by the Justice Committee and the Scottish Parliament will, just as the Law Society hoped, force anyone in Scotland making a claim against a dishonest lawyer to go through the Guarantee Fund’s abhorrent procedures, as I reported earlier in June, here : Legal Services Bill vote by MSPs will force all victims of 'crooked lawyers' to use Law Society's corrupt ‘claims dodging’ Guarantee Fund
The Scottish Government have also chose the ‘appease the aggressor’ approach, caving into the Law Society on several key consumer protection planks of the Legal Services Bill, which now appears to be little more than a self congratulatory belated birthday present for the Law Society of Scotland.
The Law Society of Scotland’s current President, Jamie Millar said in a Press Release : “The Society has sought to ensure that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill sets out robust regulatory objectives to make sure that those providing legal services are regulated according to a strict code of conduct and professional principles to ensure that the public interest remains at the heart of legal services provision in Scotland.”
Nonsense. The Law Society’s regulation of legal services in Scotland to this date has always proved the public interest and certainly the client’s best interests remain the last issue to be considered when dealing with regulation.
An official from one of Scotland’s law reform campaign groups said this morning : “Bringing in the Law Society of Scotland as an approved regulator or perhaps, if the Law Society has its way, the only approved regulator will do nothing to enhance consumer protection against rogue elements of the legal services market should the bill become law and we will be still taking about crooked lawyers and poor regulation by the Law Society ten years from now. It will be like Christmas for crooked lawyers.”
Christmas for Crooked Lawyers indeed .. if the Law Society of Scotland remain regulator of legal services ….
You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - The story so far