Holyrood sourced documents reveal Perth law firm pursuing client over ‘disputed’ fees campaigned against independent regulation of lawyers. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Parliament and brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice by legal insiders concerned over a case reported last Friday, that of Perth based law firm Kippen Campbell who are pursuing a personal injury client they dropped for 'disputed feels', after complaints were made about their service, stunningly reveal two of the law firm’s partners made almost identical submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee in 2006, challenging legislation created to usher in independent regulation of complaints against solicitors. The Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, as the legislation is now known, was eventually passed in December 2006.
Last week Diary of Injustice reported on Perth law firm pursues client for disputed fees. Last week, Diary of Injustice reported on a year long case in Perth Sheriff Court where a local law firm Kippen Campbell, are pursuing a former client, Mr William Gordon for allegedly due fees (Kippen Campbell v William Gordon A334/09). Documents seen by Diary of Injustice show Mr Gordon had been dropped by the law firm after he made complaints to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Law Society of Scotland over the level of service he had received from Kippen Campbell in connection with a personal injury claim in the Court of Session (A625/04 William Gordon v Arriva Motor Retailing Ltd Party Litigant - HBM Sayers), now stalled due to lack of legal representation. Kippen Campbell then attempted to charge Mr Gordon for dealing with the complaint.
Kippen Campbell partner Sally McCartney sent letter to Scottish Parliament over ‘concerns’ of independent regulation of solicitors. Documents provided to Diary of Injustice today now reveal Kippen Campbell solicitor Ms Sally McCartney, who ironically represented Mr Gordon’s legal interests and is named in Mr Gordon’s complaints to the SLCC & Law Society of Scotland, sent a template letter distributed by the Law Society of Scotland to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee who were considering the LPLA Bill and independent regulation of complaints against solicitors in 2006. The letter challenged & questioned legislative moves to bring increased protection to consumers of legal services in Scotland in the shape of independent regulation and independent oversight of claims against ‘crooked lawyers’.
Ms McCartney wrote : “As a practising solicitor I am extremely concerned with some of the provisions of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, particularly with regard to the handling complaints against solicitors.”
Ms McCartney’s letter to Holyrood’s Justice 2 Committee continued : “The Law Society of Scotland previously backed an independent complaints handling body. However, the Bill goes significantly further in a number of areas where the Society made it clear in its response to the consultation that it did not believe action was required. The Society made it clear when it backed an independent complaints handling body that it must be demonstrably better than the current system, particularly so given the cost and disruption involved. There are a number of areas where the Society, and I, as a member of the Society, believe that the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will not fulfil this aim.”
“Independence – The new Commission has to be independent from Government. The proposals in the Bill suggest that the appointments to the Commission Board should be made by Scottish Ministers. This not appropriate – they should be made by an independent body which is free from political influence. Also, there is no guarantee of solicitor representation on the nine-member Board, despite the fact they comprise around 95% of the legal profession in Scotland.”
Former Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill threatened Scottish Parliament, Government with legal action over complaints legislation. Ms McCartney’s letter then went on to mention the Law Society of Scotland obtained an ECHR opinion from an English LibDem Peer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, who claimed it was against the human rights of a solicitor for a complaint to be independently investigated by anyone other than another solicitor. The Law Society of Scotland’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill challenged the Scottish Parliament’s right to pass the LPLA Bill, and issued a threat of legal action to the Parliament & Scottish Government, based on Lord Lester’s opinion.The Law Society of Scotland’s threat of legal action against the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government was not pursued, although amendments to the LPLA Bill passed by MSPs did stymie some of the original measures designed to protect consumers from ‘rogue solicitors’.
Ms McCartney said in her letter : “ECHR Compliance – This is related to the issue of independence (see above). The Bill at present does not allow for the right of appeal for the public or the profession about a decision by the Commission on a service complaint. The current system has safeguards – a Reporter makes a recommendation and a Committee, made up of solicitors and non-solicitors, reaches the decision. If solicitors believe that the Society has reached the wrong decision, in a service complaint, they have a right of appeal to the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. The complainer is entitled to take the Society’s handling of the matter to the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman. I understand that the Society has obtained an Opinion from Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Q.C. and he is of the view that the Bill, as it stands is not ECHR compliant.”
Ms McCartney’s letter also went onto challenge the increase in compensation to clients of solicitors who had provided inadequate service, a complaint now levelled at Ms McCartney and Kippen Campbell by their former client Mr Gordon. Ms McCartney’s letter continued : “Compensation – This relates to the issue of cost (see above). The increase in compensation for Inadequate Professional Service from £5,000 (a level which was raised from £1,000 just last year) to £20,000 is excessive and no explanation for such a large rise is given. The English white paper on complaints handling introduced the £20,000 figure – it appears that an English solution is being imported to resolve a perceived Scottish problem, despite the promise of Scottish solutions for Scottish issues.”
SLCC’s investigation linked Master Policy to client suicides, in the name of allowing solicitors to sleep at night. In the key area of claims made by clients against solicitors involving the Master Policy, the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme operated by Marsh UK which was investigated last year by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and subsequently revealed to have caused the deaths of clients who had attempted to make claims against the Master Policy, Ms McCartney stated in her letter to the Justice 2 Committee : “Negligence – It appears the Commission would take on the functions of the courts in negligence matters where the claim is less than £20,000, even though there is no consultation mandate to do so. Again, this raises issues in relation to ECHR compliance. Negligence should remain a matter for the courts. Every solicitor pays a premium additional to his or her Practising Certificate subscriptions to be covered under the Master Policy for Professional Indemnity Insurance. That already covers claims up to £1.5m for clients if there has been negligence by the solicitor. Many solicitors are prepared to advise and take on cases from the members of the public where there is a concern that a solicitor has been negligent.”
Readers familiar with the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee of the LPLA Bill during 2006 will remember it was questions over the operation of the Master Policy, which resulted in a bitter confrontation between the then Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill and the current Scottish Government Finance Chief, John Swinney MSP, eventually leading to Mr Mill’s resignation from his post in early 2008. The report on Douglas Mill’s resignation is here : Breaking News : Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill who lied to Parliament, pursued 'personal vendetta' against critics - to resign
Second Kippen Campbell partner sent almost identical letter to Scottish Parliament challenging move to reform regulation of complaints against lawyers. In a curious case of dejavu, Holyrood insiders & law reform campaigners have pointed out an almost identical letter to that of Ms McCartney’s, challenging the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee consideration of the LPLA Bill, was sent by a second partner of the same law firm, Kippen Campbell. Both letters are still available on the Scottish Parliament’s website here : 115_LB115_SallyMcCartney.pdf and the second one here : 203_LB203_SusanWightman.pdf. The two letters form a long list of similar, almost identical correspondence sent in by solicitors as part of the Law Society of Scotland’s campaign against the bitter Holyrood passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. Submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee consideration of the LPLA Bill, as it was in 2006 can be viewed here : LPLA Bill Evidence (Scottish Parliament Justice 2 Committee 2006)
On reading the almost identical submissions made to the Scottish Parliament by partners from Kippen Campbell, who are now involved in the now publicised Perth Sheriff Court action over disputed fees, law reform campaigners suggested this afternoon anyone considering using a Scottish solicitor should check their prospective legal representative’s stance on complaints handling, and also ensure any work they ask a solicitor to undertake for them is properly estimated in terms of costs before clients agree to proceed.
Clients are also advised to thoroughly check fee demands from their solicitors to ensure they are not being ‘ripped-off’ or charged for issues such as complaints handling, if a client has been forced to submit a complaint to either the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or Law Society of Scotland regarding their solicitor’s poor service or conduct.