The Law Society’s secretive Master Policy insurance protection scheme was linked to deaths in SLCC report. AS the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission effectively signalled earlier in July of this year it had abandoned its less than determined two year quest to secure documents & details from infamous insurers Marsh UK & the Law Society of Scotland of of how the Master Policy operates to protect the legal profession, a solicitor who has come forward over the issue said today the only way the SLCC or the public would ever see the inner workings of the notoriously anti-client Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme for the Scottish legal profession would be if it ends up on the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks.
The solicitor, whose identity I have agreed to withhold on the grounds he may face intimidation from the Law Society over his stance on the matter also said this morning he was fed up with the situation where the Master Policy brokers & insurance companies effectively make the whole process of dealing with clients ‘adversarial’ as soon as any doubt or questions over the solicitors work are raised.
He said : “Having read of the flawed, reticent steps the SLCC have so far taken in their attempts to secure documentation relating to how the Master Policy operates, I am now convinced the only way the SLCC or anyone outside the Law Society or Marsh will ever see a copy of the Master Policy and be able to understand its inner workings & policies on claims is if it all ends up on Wikileaks.”
He continued : “While I make no excuses for colleagues who provide clients with shoddy legal services, I would like members of the public to understand we are currently operating under a regime where as soon as a client raises issues with our work which may potentially lead to a complaint, the Law Society require us to inform them of what is going on. The solicitor client relationship possibly built up over a number of years then turns into an adversarial exercise of effectively closing down our end in representing a client’s best interests while the Law Society and Marsh work out the impact of a complaint or a potential claim against the Master Policy. Ultimately the solicitor & client part company and the client then experiences significant problems in obtaining any further legal representation.”
An official from one of Scotland's consumer organisations, commenting on the issue said today : “If we are serious about restoring client confidence in the legal profession, one of the first obvious steps is to open up the Master Policy to full transparency. Whatever way this is achieved, full disclosure must be realised in an effort to break from the way in which claims for negligence have been historically handled, in a manner of full confrontation which has ultimately caused the profession more grief that what its worth.”
A client who has been pursuing a claim against the Master Policy for over 5 years, a claim which involves the loss of the client’s home and business after his solicitor’s negligent actions wiped out his assets & livelihood described the Master Policy as “A killer insurance policy which is out to maim anyone who tries to recover from what the legal profession did to them.”
Earlier last month I reported how the ‘besieged’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had effectively wound down its pursuit of information connected to the Master Policy which would allow the SLCC to fulfil its “monitoring role” as mandated to it in Section 39 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which states :
(1) The Commission may monitor the effectiveness of—
(a) the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund vested in the Society and controlled and managed by the Council under section 43(1) of the 1980 Act (“the Guarantee Fund”);
(b) arrangements carried into effect by the Society under section 44(2) of that Act (“the professional indemnity arrangements”);
(c) any funds or arrangements maintained by any relevant professional organisation which are for purposes analogous to those of the Guarantee Fund or the professional indemnity arrangements as respects its members.
(2) The Commission may make recommendations to the relevant professional organisation concerned about the effectiveness (including improvement) of the Guarantee Fund, the professional indemnity arrangements or any such funds or arrangements as are referred to in subsection (1)(c).
(3) The Commission may request from the relevant professional organisation such information as the Commission considers relevant to its functions under subsections (1) and (2).
(4) Where a relevant professional organisation fails to provide information requested under subsection (3), it must give reasons to the Commission in respect of that failure.
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have not done enough to secure Master Policy documents. However, despite having the power in law to monitor claims against the Master Policy, the SLCC’s board has singularly failed to achieve any movement on its request to Marsh & the Law Society of Scotland for accurate information on how the Master Policy operates. The SLCC’s board minutes of July 2010 depressingly concluded : “5.1 Master Policy and Guarantee Fund: A verbal update was given which touched upon the issues of the time it was taking to obtain information, and the fact that information may never be forthcoming from Marsh as they are under no legal obligation to provide it and because of commercial sensitivity may not be able to provide it. A discussion took place on the merits of splitting the research and Members agreed to separate research in relation to Master Policy and Guarantee fund and press on with research on the Guarantee Fund.”
You can read more about the University of Manchester’s report on the Master Policy, here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'.
Only a few days after the release of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's investigation into the claims process against solicitors, harsh evidence emerged of the human cost to clients, where suicides, illness (some resulting in death), family break ups and huge financial losses are the horrific consequences sustained by members of the public who have tried to make claims against the Law Society of Scotland's 'Master Policy' insurance scheme, touted by the legal profession as protecting lawyers and clients but which the ground breaking report released by Manchester University School of Law on Monday reveals “is simply designed to allow lawyers to sleep at night.”
Suicides, illness, family breakdown, loss of homes, loss of livelihood were all identified by interviewees as being directly associated with members of the public’s dealings with the Law Society & Master Policy. During the research team's investigation of claims against the Master Policy, team members were told of suicides which had occurred due to the way in which clients of crooked lawyers had been treated by the Law Society of Scotland and the insurers who operate the Master Policy protection scheme for solicitors against negligence claims. Quoting the report : "Several claimants said that they had been diagnosed with depression; that they had high blood pressure; and several had their marriages fail due to their claim. Some had lost a lot of money, their homes, and we were told that one party litigant had committed suicide."
Further excerpts from the Manchester University report into the Law Society's Master Policy & Guarantee Fund show the intolerable strain clients who attempt to claim against their 'crooked' solicitor have to endure : 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."
One direct quote from the report, depicts a claimant, who was forced to become a party litigant : "I keep fighting cases, and they keep coming at me, and now I have become ill. But they still keep coming at me. They threw me out onto the street, I couldn’t get my medication, I’ve got nothing, I was homeless, ill, sleeping in the car. Now I am appealing. But I can’t get a solicitor. They are just shutting me down…. My health has been damaged, they kill you off. It's a proven fact. All of us have stress related problems after years and years of stress."
Insurers Marsh & Law Society imposed conditions on SLCC’s research team. However, in a startling revelation which gives an insight into the difficulties the research team faced in compiling the report, legal insiders allege that corruption is so rife in the legal services sector, the Law Society refused to hand over actual copies of the Master Policy to the research team, fearing disclosure of the highly secretive & sensitive documents would cause a rush of bad publicity to the Scots legal profession for its consistent cover up of claims & complaints against highly corrupt law firms and individual solicitors. In response to enquiries, Dr Angela Melville, who interviewed many clients for her final report, confirmed the research team did not receive a copy of the Master Policy, despite requesting it. Instead, a letter from Alistair J Sim, Director of the US Insurer Marsh, who had executives convicted of criminal offences in the United States , attached strict conditions to what little information was disclosed : “Please note that the consent of Marsh and Royal & Sun Alliance plc to the production of the enclosed documents is condition on the research team agreeing not to quote from the documents, or any part of them, whether text or figures, in the report to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”
The letter from Marsh banning the SLCC or University of Manchester from publishing information and refusing a copy of the Master Policy went onto say : “The documents which are produced are confidential and are commercially sensitive. They are provided to the research team only and neither the documents nor copies should be provided to any other party nor should the content of the documents be disclosed to anyone outside the research team. At the conclusion of the research project, the documents should be returned with confirmation that foregoing conditions have been complied with and that no copies have been retained. If the research team is unable to agree to the foregoing conditions, the documents should be returned along with confirmation that no copies have been retained.”
The latest annual report of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is, apparently, weeks, if not days away from being published, and is expected to show a sharp drop in complaints, although suspiciously there is expected to be little mention of the SLCC’s failure to address the Master Policy issue, being one of the cornerstones of corruption in the Scots legal profession which has led to unrivalled consumer suspicion & distrust of the Law Society and individual solicitors.
So, while some appear not to be encouraging anyone to do or leak anything, in view of the fact people have died to allow lawyers to sleep soundly at night, I think its high time the public were able to inspect the full horrors of the Master Policy, the people involved & implicated in it, and how the Law Society of Scotland cut clients off at the knees from obtaining access to justice … just so some lawyers who would probably end up in jail if their acts were criminalised, rather than being investigated & judged upon by their own peers, can get a good night’s rest …