Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review of 2010 : Scots legal system ‘remains Victorian’, party litigants, court users & consumers face a continued battle for access to justice

Court of Session EdinburghScotland’s Court of Session still rules over ‘Victorian’ justice system. WHILE 2010 has brought a few, welcome, if ever-so-slightly-forced-by-media-attention reforms & changes in Scotland’s creaking ‘Victorian’ civil justice system, there is still, undeniably a long way to go for the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament & Scottish Courts in ensuring access to justice, legal services & access to the courts for all Scots, especially those who cannot obtain or afford the services & typically outlandish fees of law firms who offer little in the way of speedy dispute resolution or even a modicum of success in many common types of legal disputes.

Over a year and a half on since the high profile announcement & publishing of the Civil Courts Review, the two year plus investigation of Scotland’s civil justice system undertaken by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, and the high hopes many pinned on a speedy implementation of the hundreds of recommendations made by the Lord Gill, many consumer organisations, court users, and even solicitors themselves see the past sixteen months as providing Scots with little more than a talking shop for justice reforms. I reported on the lack of developments on the Civil Courts Review back in August 2010, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests

Lord HamiltonLord Hamilton enacted McKenzie Friends in Scotland 40 years after the rest of the UK had the facility. For instance, one of the few tangible-to-court-users reforms enacted to-date has been that of allowing McKenzie Friends to operate in the Court of Session, a right hard won after a campaign mounted by consumer organisations, campaigners, continued reporting by the media, an original recommendation by Lord Gill himself to allow McKenzie Friends, and all spurred on by a ruling in the Court of Session last November which eventually led to the Lord President, Lord Hamilton enacting an Act of Sederunt in June 2010, allowing Scots (who, in April 2010 he branded too ignorant to know what a McKenzie Friend is), a facility the English & Welsh courts & public had enjoyed for a full forty years before and it should be noted that Scottish Sheriff Courts are still to enact McKenzie Friends, expected eventually in February 2011.

Judiciary of Scotland website coverScots Judiciary’s new website – a welcome move in bringing transparency to the judiciary, but like scenery, you cant eat it. Some may say, oh but what about the new Judiciary of Scotland website, the new GUIDE FOR PARTY LITIGANTS ; “Raising & Defending ordinary actions in the Court of Session(pdf), increased competition by way of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (pdf) etc etc .. but after forty, fifty, sixty plus years, its just not enough to tinker with the curtains and hope everyone falls into line, proclaiming a new era in Scots justice, especially when the UK’s Supreme Court based in London, can, in a few hours, change Scots criminal law in an instant, as I reported in late October, here : Access to justice ? Scots criminal law changed by UK Supreme Court in a day, ‘Victorian’ civil justice reform proposals ‘growing older by the year’

There are, of course, some little gems from the new Judiciary of Scotland website, such as Scots now being able to see for ourselves how much the justice system costs us, despite most of us apparently not having access to it : Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online although again, these little gems appear to have been reared for publication after a dose of media attention and with the helpful assistance of Freedom of Information legislation.

The Scots judiciary’s shiny new website, as welcome as it is, has existed in an equivalent, perhaps better organised format in England & Wales for years, as well as the guide for party litigants, and the Scottish version Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 asp 16 (pdf) of the Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales has been so brutalised, butchered, twisted, tortured & re-written by the Scottish legal profession itself, eventually being passed by msps who were more concerned with doffing their caps to the Law Society’s influence in politics than the public’s right to justice, it has given Scots little more rights or choice against the legal services monopoly controlled by the legal profession after its near two year talking-shop passage in the Scottish Parliament.

Indeed, comparing the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 asp 16 (pdf) and the Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales is like comparing a horse & cart to an Aston Martin DBS … with the Scottish Government & Parliament version giving the appearance of trying to fit the Aston’s Bridgestone tyres onto a wooden cart pulled by a donkey, such is the value they place on the Scots public’s access to justice and meanwhile the Law Society of Scotland was busy worming its way onto the Calman Implementation Group to ensure it had a say in giving the Scottish Parliament some tax raising (and doubtless expenses claims raising) powers, while also lobbying for the Society to be made an ‘approved regulator’, giving crooked lawyers an eternal Christmas.

In truth therefore, at the end of 2010, Scots access to justice, access to legal services or even access to the courts itself has changed little at the end of this year, with solicitors, advocates and law firms still effectively the gate keepers of the doors of justice, which remain so obviously closed in the face of anyone the legal profession doesn't care for, or takes a slight to.

Richard Keen QCCurrent Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Richard Keen called for Class Actions two years ago, little happened since. Whatever happened to multi-party actions (Class Actions) being speedily introduced to the Scots justice system so the legal profession could, under the clarion call (made two years ago in January 2009) of the Dean of Faculty of Advocates, Richard Keen QC, take on the might of the banks and allegedly represent & protect the interests of consumers so robbed by many of Scotland’s financial instructions who themselves coincidentally sponsor many events within the legal profession itself ? Nothing, that's what happened, nothing. Class Actions are still being talked about, talked about, talked about … with little movement made on the issue in the past sixteen months Lord Gill originally said Class Actions should become a reality and two years since the dean himself started shouting about it in the newspapers.

Of course, Mr Keen has been busy with other things since January 2009, such as representing the insurance industry against paying out damages in asbestos claims cases & challenging the new legislation (the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009) which brought pleural plaques into the scope of asbestos claims. Mr Keen and the insurance industry, many of whom also coincidentally fund or have financial interests in the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, the Master Policy, went onto lose their court challenge against the new asbestos compensation laws, as I reported at the beginning of the year, here : Lord Emslie defeats legal challenge over pleural plaques as Insurers ‘big name’ legal team fail to overturn Holyrood’s Asbestos compensation law

Just think if Scots could enter into Class Actions in such cases as asbestos claims, instead of victims having to approach only a few select law firms which end up dealing with the claims on a case by case basis while piling on the fees & time-to-claim-resolution to the point their clients end up dying before receiving any compensation. Of course, we are told it may come in 2011, or 2012 or 2013 … so as the clock ticks on and the years fly by, the next hope for developments in the long running saga of bringing Class Actions to Scotland, apparently lies with the considerations of the Civil Justice Advisory Group, under the chairmanship of the Right Honourable Lord Coulsfield. The CJAG is due to publish a report with recommendations for the way forward in early 2011.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government eventually agreed to introduce Class Actions & other reforms to civil justice system ‘over years’. The Scottish Government, ‘ever swift’ to claim the high ground in all things Scottish, announced its intentions in late November to implement ‘some’ of Lord Gill’s Civil Courts review recommendations to reform the Scots ‘Victorian’ civil justice system, bringing Class Actions, a new tier of judge & ‘more effective’ case management to Scotland’s courts system, which I reported on here : Scottish Government’s response to Civil Courts Review : Class Actions, more cases to Sheriff Courts, & faster, easier access to justice ‘over years’.

Lord gillThe Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, author of the Civil Courts Review. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, reproduced in full here said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society. It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice."

Lord Gill continued : "Unless there is major reform and soon, individual litigants will be prevented from securing their rights, commercial litigants will continue to look elsewhere for a forum for their claims, public confidence in the judicial system will be further eroded, Scotland’s economic development will be hindered, and Scots law will atrophy as an independent legal system.”

This is the 30th of December, 2010 and sadly little has changed, making 2010 another year that access to justice for all Scots was again, denied. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone expect too much in the way of speedy reforms, unless campaigning is stepped up, along with perhaps a few public petitions, court rulings & media attention in 2011 to prompt changes & reforms which should have been introduced in Scotland decades ago, since everyone else had those same ‘reforms’ decades ago …

Readers are as ever, encouraged to download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

My coverage of the Civil Courts Review from its publication to the present, and the pace of reforms to civil justice in Scotland can be found here : Civil Courts Review - The story so far.

Whatever 2011 will bring for access to justice in Scotland, I will continue to report …

Friday, December 24, 2010

Season’s Greetings : Give Scotland a lasting Christmas present by signing Holyrood petition to rid Scots consumers of unjust ‘Law Society’ regulation

Lewis Chess ChristmasSeason’s Greetings from Scotland. As the year draws to a close, and reflecting on nearly twenty years of campaigning for legal reforms, ten years of reporting matters connected with Scotland’s justice system, and soon to enter a sixth year of writing articles on this, my personal blog, “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland”, I would like to take the opportunity on this somewhat chilly Christmas Eve to wish all my readers, my colleagues in the media who have assisted the aims of fighting injustice over the years by their work, all the victims of injustice, themselves & their families, whether the injustice it be at the hands of the professions or even the justice system itself, and those inside the Scots legal profession I personally know who do their utmost for clients, Season’s Greetings, a Merry Christmas, and good luck for the New Year, 2011.

I will also take this opportunity to remind everyone there is a petition currently at the Scottish Parliament which readers may wish to consider signing, if you are of the opinion the Law Society of Scotland has had its day, both as a representative of the legal profession, and as a representative of the client’s best interests … the latter of which we all know has always been an issue which comes second to the Law Society’s protection of their own members interests. I have signed the petition and would encourage others to do so, and to attend the Scottish Parliament when the petition is to be heard, a date I will inform readers of when more information becomes available.

The e-petition which is currently open for signatures until 6th January 2011 calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, end self-regulation, and remove the independence of the legal profession, bringing it onside with true democracy.”

To sign the e-petition and learn more about it’s aims, CLICK HERE. Alternatively you can text '421' and your name to 07537 400395 to add your e-signature to this e-petition. (Texts are charged at your standard network rate. Text signatures will not appear instantly.)

You can read more about the petition in my previous coverage of it in early December, here : Law Society’s legislative powerbase 'is anti-consumer' as Holyrood to hear petition calling for repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

‘Law unto themselves’ Judicial Factors to be modernised as Scottish Law Commission reviews ‘Victorian’ Scots laws on court appointed administrators

SLCThe Scottish Law Commission’s latest consultation on the work of Judicial Factors. THE SCOTTISH LAW COMMISSION has announced a consultation with the aims of modernising yet another part of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ justice system, the one hundred year old plus legislation of the Judicial Factors (Scotland) Act 1889 which governs Judicial Factors, who are more often than not solicitors or accountants appointed by the court to ‘look after’ or to gather in & distribute property belonging to someone else, living or more usually dead, in cases such as where disputes rage between beneficiaries & executors over the progress of a deceased’s estate being wound up, or if someone died without leaving a will.

The Scottish Law Commission’s announcement described the legislation relating to Judicial Factors as being “extremely old and is no longer fit for purpose”. The role & duties of Judicial Factors are featured in many well used if antiquated & sometimes heavily abused pieces of legislation such as the Trusts Act (Scotland) 1921.

Judicial Factors fees for their work, particularly when brought in to deal with a will have been known to be almost limitless, and near impossible to challenge in terms of regulation when things go wrong, therefore it is certainly in the interests of consumers there is as much public input into this consultation as possible, rather than simply allowing the legal & accountancy professions & their regulators to play the usual game with reforms being mostly directed in their members favour, rather than consumers and the public, who, in quite a few cases over the years, have been extremely ill served by Judicial Factors.

Indeed in certain cases, where allegations or evidence of corruption on the part of solicitors & accountants who have themselves mishandled, fleeced or plundered the estates of dead clients has been made by families & beneficiaries, the appointment of a Judicial Factor has sometimes been used as a threat against beneficiaries, accompanied with a letter from a solicitor reminding anyone the fees of appointing a Judicial Factor and the subsequent costs of their work may well make mincemeat of any assets left in the estate after the solicitor & accountant have helped themselves.

Law Society of Scotland & ICASUnsurprisingly the Law Society of Scotland & Institute of Chartered Accountants hardly ever take action on complaints against members appointed as Judicial Factors. Given the self regulating Law Society of Scotland & Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland stand by, ever eager to whitewash any complaints which may impugn their members reputations, it is often the case solicitors or accountants who are alleged to have plundered deceased client’s estates are almost never brought to justice for their misdeeds after a Judicial Factor has been appointed.

Two options for reform of Judicial Factors are are being put forward by the Scottish Law Commission, although more proposals of reform of the regulatory framework which govern their duties would have been welcome in a more consumer protection oriented society as we are now supposed to be.

The first proposal is to keep the existing structure but to modernise it and make it more efficient by means such as updating the powers and duties of judicial factors as well as the procedure by which they are discharged.

The second option proposes a new public official, the Official Judicial Factor, who would carry out all judicial factory work unless the court wished to appoint someone else. An existing public official would become the Official Judicial Factor so that the functions would be part of the functions of an existing public office. Costs would generally be recovered from the property being managed.

Patrick Layden QC, the lead Commissioner for this project, said: “The office of judicial factor is a useful institution which needs to be brought up to date. If it were properly modernised, it could be very helpful in a wide range of situations, from looking after the property of people who cannot do it themselves to taking charge of assets confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime legislation."

Mr Layden continued : "We would welcome comments on this Discussion Paper. The Discussion Paper is available on the Commission’s website at and comments on the proposals are welcome by 15 April 2011. The Commission would also be grateful for suggestions as to an appropriate alternative for the name “judicial factor”.

The Scottish Law Commission’s discussion paper on their proposals to reform Judicial Factors can be downloaded here : Discussion Paper on Judicial Factors (DP 146). The Commission state they would be most grateful to receive comments on our proposals, or any part of them, by 15 April 2011. Where possible, we would prefer the electronic submission of comments, for example by using the electronic response form, and more information if required is available from

Where there's a will there's a crook - Sunday Mail November 28 2010Judicial Factor was appointed to wind up Valerie Macadam’s (now Valerie Penny) law firm in 2003 after embezzlement of £130K client finds was detected. A classic example somewhat related to recent events, of a Judicial Factor being appointed to wind up a law firm came after breaches of accounts rules and discrepancies in client accounts were uncovered during an inspection by the Society of law firm Macadams SSC in 2003, owned by the then Valerie Macadam, who was jailed in 2008 for three years for embezzling £130,000 of client funds. However, Valerie Macadam recently returned to fame with a new name, Valerie Penny, after being exposed by a Sunday Mail newspaper investigation into her new ‘will writing’ company, which I reported on, here : Former lawyer jailed for stealing clients £130K returns to run will-writing business as Law Society protects its own will rip-off solicitors

It should be noted while there are cases of complaints regarding the work of Judicial Factors with it coming as little surprise very few are ever resolved, equally the work of Judicial Factors can sometimes be invaluable, if pricey, when appointed in roles such as administration of a charity when allegations of fraud or misconduct emerge.

Equally, not all Judicial Factors appointed to handle the estates of deceased persons mishandle their work, however, as the circumstances of some appointments of Judicial Factors can leave much to be desired, it is well past time for a review and inquiry into the laws which permit their office & work, along with how they are regulated and how the affected persons can challenge their activities should the need arise.

Currently, the supervision of the work undertaken by Judicial Factors falls to The Accountant of Court, who is an Officer of Court appointed to :

  • supervise the actings of individuals appointed by the Courts as Judicial Factors or Administrators to manage estates under the Judicial Factors Act 1849 and the Proceeds of Crime (Scotland) Act 1995
  • administer or supervise the administration of property belonging to children under the age of 16 years as required by the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
  • administer Child Trust Fund accounts where there is no person who has parental responsibilities for a child under the age of 16 where the child is in care and accommodated in Scotland, all in terms of the Child Trust Fund Act 2004
  • manage funds consigned with the Accountant of Court in accordance with a Court of Session interlocutor or in the process of liquidation proceedings.

Perhaps an extra layer of independent scrutiny may be required, especially when the Judicial Factor turns out to be a solicitor or indeed any person who is a member of a self regulating profession such as an accountant.

While the Scottish Government have a track record of not always paying attention to consultations carried out by the Scottish Law Commission, I would encourage readers to participate in this consultation, to ensure all aspects of the one hundred year old laws which relate to Judicial Factors be looked at and brought into line with our times. Its in your interests as consumers and members of the public to do so.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Access to justice for Scots still out of reach as Legal Aid Board’s annual report published, one law firm 'booted out' of legal aid money pot

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board’s 2009-2010 annual report published, reveals little improvement for Scots in access to justice stakes. THE Scottish Legal Aid Board late last week published its annual review and statement of accounts for 2009-2010 which reveal little has been done by way of applying fairness to legal aid applications for tough cases such as allegations of negligence concerning Scotland’s many professions (including of course the legal profession), challenges to the way people are mistreated by public sector bodies or quangos, and of course, the way victims of injustice are themselves treated by Scotland’s internationally famed prejudiced justice system.

SLAB revealed the cost of legal aid in 2009-2010 was £150.5m, almost the same as the previous year. This figure was around £3m less than it would have been because of the reduction in the VAT rate which came into effect in December 2008. The net cost of civil legal assistance – after taking account of contributions and recoveries – increased by 9.5% to £47.2m, which includes £0.9m additional targeted funding by the Scottish Government for work associated with the economic downturn. The increase in civil legal aid applications will lead to further increases in civil legal assistance expenditure in future years.

SLAB did however claim they were “increasing access to justice” in their report, stating : “The Scottish Government increased financial eligibility for civil legal aid so that those with disposable incomes of up to £25,000 could qualify albeit with contributions. As a result, we granted 616 more applications for civil legal aid last year. This change particularly helps those with more expensive cases who previously would not have qualified for legal aid and would not have been able to defend or pursue cases.”

However, of some 25 cases currently known to me of persons seeking legal aid to recover financial losses attributed to their solicitors negligence, or theft, either little progress, considerably difficulty, or general refusals for legal aid funding appear to be more the order of the day. In essence therefore, nothing much has changed with regard to how Scots who are victimised by their legal representatives can attempt to use the justice system to put right the wrong done to them.

Additionally, the Scottish Legal Aid Board has apparently increased availability of in-court advisers across Scotland (if you find any, please report back on your experiences)

Commenting on the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report, its Chairman, Iain A Robertson CBE, said : “This has been an extremely busy year for the Board with the highest number of civil legal aid applications for a decade. We have increased efficiency, reduced bureaucracy and delivered value for money; it now costs the taxpayer less in real terms to run the Board than it did three years ago, yet we are responsible for delivering much more than we were then. We are committed to providing access to justice and value for money for the people Scotland.”

Lindsay Montgomery CBE, SLAB’s Chief Executive stated, “Scotland is very fortunate to have a non cash limited system of legal aid which is able to respond to changes in people’s needs, as has happened during the recession. As a result many more people have been able to access civil legal assistance over the past year. However, a system like this can only operate successfully if there are robust controls over legal assistance and its cost. This is a key role which the Board provides. These controls become even more important with the increased pressure on public finances.”

From April 2011, the Scottish Legal Aid Board will be changing the way it accepts legal aid applications, abandoning the current paper format to go completely digital, with all applications & accounts being submitted online, a policy SLAB contends will be more efficient & economic for solicitors and SLAB, although it remains to be seen as to whether it will be guaranteed clients will receive full copies of everything their solicitor submits in the online application on their clients behalf.

Commenting on the online application development, Iain A Robertson CBE commented, “The move to legal aid transactions with solicitors being wholly online is a key part of the Board’s strategy to further reduce its running costs. We also believe that in order to deliver continued access to publicly funded legal assistance, but at lower cost, further changes will be required in the way legal aid operates. This will impact on the Board and the legal profession. The Board is already working with the Scottish Government and the Law Society’s Legal Aid Committee on proposals for how this can be achieved.”

On the issue of Legal Aid Fraud, where clients or solicitors lie in legal aid applications to SLAB, the annual report for 2009-2010 stated : “As a result of the work we did in investigating applicants, we withdrew and refused legal aid in a number of cases. This work, in addition to other proactive checks of financial eligibility, led to us recovering or preventing unnecessary expenditure estimated at over £1 million. In the most serious cases, we report the person to the procurator fiscal. In 2009-2010, we made 27 reports to the procurator fiscal where applicants did not tell us about properties they owned or money they had in bank accounts. In such cases, in addition to repaying the cost of their legal aid, the outcomes could include convictions for fraud or warnings or fines.”

However, very few law firms appear to have been prosecuted for legal aid fraud, with either SLAB or the Crown Office itself historically reluctant to send any solicitor into the dock and accuse them of fraud, a matter brought to the fore with a Press Release issued three days before the annual report was announced.

SLAB’s conveniently timed Press Release on a Kilmarnock law firm which ‘withdrew itself’ from legal aid work (pdf) just a few days before announcing it’s annual report stated : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board announced today that it has accepted the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by the firm of N S Lockhart Solicitors, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock, KA1 1PT and its sole partner Niels S Lockhart from the provision of all forms of legal assistance; following an investigation into the firm’s practices by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.”

“Mr Lockhart will no longer provide publicly funded legal assistance or have any involvement in any capacity as an agent or working for any other firm or solicitor in any matter which involves publicly funded legal assistance. The withdrawal follows an investigation of the firm carried out by the Board and a subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland.”

“The Law Society Reporter sent its report to the Law Society in July 2010. This confirmed the concerns raised by the Board, about practices Mr Lockhart had adopted in the provision of legal assistance, which had resulted in the submission of many accounts which were not consistent with the principle of working with “due regard to economy” and were not acceptable practices for a solicitor undertaking civil legal assistance.”

“The Law Society can determine whether the conduct of a solicitor provides good reason for them to be excluded from providing legal assistance, in accordance with section 31 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986.”

“Mr Lockhart acknowledges that the investigation carried out by the Board and subsequent report to the Society raised continued concerns about his practices. As a result of Mr Lockhart’s permanent and binding withdrawal from legal aid, the Scottish Legal Aid Board has withdrawn its complaint to the Law Society.”

A spokesperson for the Board stated, “Public money has been protected as we have only paid the firm for work which we thought to be reasonable. Any work thought not to be reasonable was not paid.”

Obviously a few blushes spared for the Law Society of Scotland there … but why no prosecution and why no publishing of the investigation & complaint ?

The Law Society of Scotland issued a Press Release in response to SLAB’s latest annual report, although strangely didn’t bother to comment on the law firm which … ‘removed itself’ from legal aid work after the SLAB investigation and complaint to the Law Society.

Oliver Adair, Legal Aid Convener of the Law Society of Scotland, commenting on SLAB’s annual report said: "The concern for the Society and our members - who deliver legal advice to people funded through legal aid - is how they continue to do that with the cuts in public funding announced by the Scottish Government last month. The Society is entering discussions with the Scottish Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) about how an 8% cut to the legal aid budget can be met while maintaining core areas of work and allowing practitioners to afford to provide a service for those who can't afford it themselves. We have asked the profession to give us their feedback before we go back to Government on how we think the saving might be reached. However, the amount of legal aid money which firms are paid should be viewed in context - it covers the costs of solicitors, support and administrative staff, and the other overheads associated with running a business."

Readers should note that currently, there are no legal requirements on the Law Society of Scotland to report any allegations of legal aid abuse to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Discussions have apparently been going on with regard to ‘Memorandums of Understanding” to be created between SLAB, the Law Society of Scotland and even the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for well over a year, with so far, no outcome. Just why this has taken so long is a matter of public interest in its own right, and I will report further on the matter in the new year.

For now, readers can download the latest annual report from SLAB, and find out which law firms, solicitor advocates or Advocates have received legal aid payments :

Annual Review 2009-2010 pdf

Statement of Accounts 2009-2010 pdf

Press release

      Statistics 2009-2010:

      Commentary on statistics / trends - click here

      1. Key statistcs pdf

      2. Performance pdf

      3. Civil tables pdf

      4. Criminal tables pdf

      5. Children's tables pdf

      6. Contempt tables pdf

      7. Payments tables pdf

      8. PDSO / CLAO tables pdf

      9. Other informaton tables pdf

      Friday, December 17, 2010

      Unfit for Consumer Consumption : How the Law Society views itself illustrates why consumers will never be protected by Scots lawyers regulator

      Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland’s latest foray into the world of video gives a rose-tinted view of regulation. THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND have, in a rare foray into the world of published video footage, given notice they intend to apply to the Scottish Government as an “approved regulator” of legal services in the ‘new’, ever-so-slightly expanded Scottish legal services market which will begin to take shape next year, 2011, after the passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 which came into being as a result of a less than successful consumer campaign to open up Scotland’s justice sector to allow wider access to justice for Scots who have until now, been forced to use the services of a solicitor (member of the Law Society of Scotland) or advocate (member of the Faculty of Advocates) to obtain legal services or access to justice.

      The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991You cant mention the Law Society without mentioning crooked lawyers. The video footage, apparently posted by legal insiders, also shows a stunning arrogance on the part of Law Society officials, who remain unrepentant about the way the organisation has treated everyone in the past. On-camera performances from the Law Society’s top officials may lead readers to wonder why even some solicitors accused the Law Society’s top brass of voting fiddles & much more in the ever so slightly overcooked debate on Alternative Business Structures (ABS) and the Legal Services Bill at the Scottish Parliament, accusations & squabbles which boiled over in the unforgettable televised interview with the Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly and the former Law Society of Scotland President, Ian Smart, HERE

      Current Law Society President Jamie Millar introduces the meeting with a joke on abs & Toyota which goes down with the audience like an old British Leyland Morris Marina (click image below to view video)

      Unfit for Consumer Consumption : Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation Philip Yelland discusses the Law Society’s new regulatory role relating to the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 (click image below to view video)

      Practice Rules changes : Digital images, digital fiddles, a consultation & money laundering rule changes also announced by the Law Society’s Phillip Yelland (click image below to view video)

      More video footage from the Law Society’s meeting can be viewed at Lawtalks including footage of the Law Society’s ‘current’ Chief Executive Lorna Jack & others discussing what are issues which will heavily affect Scots consumers of legal services.

      Call me old fashioned, but I always thought Douglas Mill could give a better speech, and well .. a much more honest indication of just how honest the Law Society of Scotland really is when it comes to regulation of ‘crooked lawyers’ ..

      Douglas Mill tells the Scottish Parliament he never became involved in crooked lawyers, while John Swinney reveals Mr Mill did exactly that … (click image below to view video)

      Just why the Scottish Government would allow the historically crooked & unrepentant Law Society of Scotland a position as an “approved regulator” in the new post Legal Services Act expanded legal services marketplace in Scotland is beyond the realm of common sense, or concern for protection of consumers & fee paying clients who will again, suffer the Law Society of Scotland, and now the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s anti-client, anti-consumer attitudes on regulatory matters where protection of the public & fee paying clients should come first, not last.

      Monday, December 13, 2010

      Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online

      Lord HamiltonScotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton now publishes his & judicial colleagues expenses online. EXPENSES CLAIMS of Scotland’s Court of Session judges, Sheriffs & Part-Time or Temporary Sheriffs have now been published on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website, after Freedom of Information requests earlier this year first revealed on Diary of Injustice, the true, if at times, staggering expenses claims of members of Scotland’s judiciary where Scotland’s 34 Court of Session judges were revealed to have claimed £78,988 in expenses on top of their already huge salaries ranging from a mere £172,753.00 for ‘outer house judges’ to the Lord President’s staggering £214,165.00, making a a collective annual salary of just over £6.1 million for the 34 Senators of the College of Justice as they are known, to keep the painfully slow wheels of Scots justice rolling & the Court of Session in business.

      Travel & Subsistence expenses claimed by Judges Court of Session & High Court 1 April - 30 September 2010Quarterly figures now published by the judiciary itself reveal the extent of judges expenses claims. Figures now published by the Judiciary of Scotland website reveal the highs & lows in expenses claims of Scotland’s Court of Session judges, with Lord Kinclaven making the highest claim for travel & subsistence in the last available financial quarter at £3,656.40, closely followed by Lord Uist who claimed £3,011.72, Lord Woolman who claimed £2,217.78, Lord Pentland who claimed £1941.38 and Lady Clark of Calton who claimed £1,613.25, although all these judges are assigned ‘circuit duties’, meaning they sit in various courts throughout Scotland. The Lord President, Lord Hamilton himself claimed £259.90 while Lord Gill, the Lord Justice Clerk claimed £118.60. Several Court of Session judges claimed nothing at all in travel & subsistence, leaving the total expenses claimed by the 34 Court of Session judges at £15,945.99 from 1st April to 30 September 2010, full details available here : Senators of the Court of Session (pdf)

      Edinburgh Sheriff CourtFull time Sheriffs expenses claims finally revealed. Among the Sheriffs, examples of expenses claims range from £4,503.50 for Sheriff R Anderson QC (who sits at ‘remote’ courts), £4,633.02 for Sheriff DO Sutherland, £3,719.01 for Sheriff AD Miller (floating Sheriff & formerly a part time Sheriff), £4,433.30 for Sheriff A Berry (floating Sheriff), and £3,411.51 for Sheriff Principal Sir ST Young Bt QC, to Sheriff MGR Edington, who claimed nothing, Sheriff Edington being one of the few, fine honest lawyers during his time in legal practice I’ve known, also not forgetting Sheriff Principal R A Dunlop QC, who claimed £752.60. The now Sheriff Dunlop was my Senior Advocate for my negligence case against crooked Borders lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. However, Alistair Dunlop QC as he was then was made a Sheriff the next week and conveniently taken away from my legal team, such is the fairness in the Scottish justice system no other Advocate could be found to take the case.

      Many other Sheriffs claimed little or nothing at all, the full details of their expenses claims, which total £7,760.99 for the period 1st April to 30 September 2010 can be found here : Sheriffs Principal and Sheriffs (pdf)

      Shamed Lawyer in Tennis Racket - Michael G Robson (Sunday Mail 21 october 2007)Part-Time Sheriff who was involved in years-long tennis-playing crooked lawyer case, claimed £2,350.55 in expenses this year. A very much higher set of expenses claims are made by the Part-Time Sheriffs, who beat full time Sheriffs & the Court of Session judges by a long way with examples of claims ranging from £6,738.80 for Sheriff G Fleetwood, £5,048.25 for Sheriff DW Hall, £7,624.97 for Sheriff PGL Hammond, £4,252.35 for Sheriff EG Savage, £4,124.30 for Sheriff D McCaffrey, £4,854.98 for Sheriff V Johnston to £2,350.55 for Sheriff PA Reid who ‘prosecuted’ the tennis playing crooked lawyer Michael G Robson on behalf of the Law Society and decided to leave out my testimony for fear of giving me a fair hearing. You can read more about the Michael Robson case, here : Revelations in Court of Session appeal show Law Society & Fiscal deliberately failed to take witness affidavit and excluded crucial evidence

      Some Part-Time Sheriffs claimed nothing, although not many. The full details of Part-Time Sheriffs expenses claims, which totalled a whopping £126,399.69 for the same period 1st April to 30 September 2010 can be found here : Part-time judicial office holders (pdf)

      Judiciary of Scotland website coverJudiciary for Scotland website published judicial expenses after FOI requests revealed cost of Scottish judiciary. The decision by the Judicial Office to publish expenses claims of Scotland’s judicial office holders comes after my earlier investigations into the expenses claims of Scotland’s judiciary, reported in August : The costs of Scotland's 'Victorian' Justice System : Court of Session judges paid £6.1 million as litigants struggle to obtain hearing dates & here : Justice Delayed ? Not when it comes to expenses claims as high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims

      The Scottish Government, responding to an initial Freedom of Information request in August of this year from Diary of Injustice on expenses claims by the judiciary stated : ”The total Travel & Subsistence claims from Scotland’s 34 Senators of the College of Justice for the financial year 2009-10 was £78,988 of which, £16,299 was for Inner House judges, and the remaining £62,689 was for Outer House. The Scottish Government said the only other expenses they would record in the accounts are the Wig & Gown allowance, a one-off payment when a new judge is appointed. It transpired no such payments were made during 2009-10”

      However, The Scottish Government admitted in FOI responses there were no details held of the individual expenses claims for judges on a central database as the accounts system only recorded the totals charged against headings such as Travel and Subsistence. The new policy of publication of all judicial office holder’s expenses claims in Scotland brings transparency in expenses into line with England & Wales, details of which can be viewed on the English Judiciary’s website, here : Judicial Expenses for England & Wales

      Expenses Claims of Scotland's JudiciaryScottish Government FOI release of Judicial Office holder’s expenses claims earlier this year. The figures released by the Scottish Government in September in response to a Freedom of Information request revealed while a Sheriff receives an annual salary of around £128,296 per annum, Scotland’s Sheriffs collectively claimed a further £176,431.37 in expenses in the last financial year 2009/2010, while part time sheriffs who are paid a daily fee of around £575 for each day of service claimed an additional much larger figure of £281,085.07 in expenses. The figures also reveal earlier & current expenses claims of £106,367.09 & £77,259.31 respectively for Scotland’s Court of Session judges (Senators) on salaries ranging from £172,753.00 to the Lord President’s staggering £214,165.00.

      Will the increased transparency by way of publishing the judiciary’s expenses claims bring savings to the public purse ? We will just have to wait & see .. and monitor.

      However, if anyone from the Judiciary of Scotland website is reading this, I would recommend publishing the expenses claims in normal web available html format as well as in pdf, to ensure taxpayers, constituents & court users can more easily check on how much the judiciary are costing us. Who knows, perhaps one day we may even see performance tables showing, for instance, how long cases take before Sheriffs, along with the decisions handed down etc

      More information relating to how the judiciary conducts itself, along with recommendations for more transparency can be found at the following links :

      The Report of the Scottish Civil Courts Review by the Lord Justice Clerk, the Rt Hon Lord Gill launched in September 2009 gives recommendations in relation to the provision of civil justice, including the structure, jurisdiction, and procedures of the courts.

      The Independent Review of Sheriff and Jury Procedure by Sheriff Principal Bowen, published in June 2010 reviews sheriff and jury practice and procedure in Scotland with the aim of ensuring that the system is fair, efficient, modern and effective.

      A Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics for the Scottish Judiciary published April 2010 offers guidance and a framework of principles for members of the Scottish judiciary. More information and the full Statement can be found here.

      Friday, December 10, 2010

      Law Society's ‘Killer Insurance’ in the dock as solicitor says only way ‘adversarial’ Master Policy will be revealed is if it ends up on Wikileaks

      Master Policy Report Suicides revealedThe 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.

      slcc_logoScottish 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'.

      SLCC report headerOnly 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.”

      Page 8 - Consumer Focus Scotland refused cooperation from Law SocietySuicides, 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."

      0048Insurers 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 …

      Wednesday, December 08, 2010

      Law Society’s legislative powerbase 'is anti-consumer' as Holyrood to hear petition calling for repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980

      Petitions CommitteeScottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to hear petition calling for Law Society to be stripped of its power. LEGISLATION created at Westminster which has given the Law Society of Scotland a right to self-regulate Scotland’s 10,000 plus solicitors for over thirty years, a right which has in the eyes of many been abused to the point the phrase “crooked lawyer” has become common place in Scotland, is now facing a challenge at Holyrood after an online e-petition was filed at the Scottish Parliament calling on MSPs to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and end self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession.

      The e-petition, filed by a Mr William Burns which is currently open for signatures until 6th January 2011 calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, end self-regulation, and remove the independence of the legal profession, bringing it onside with true democracy.”

      To sign the e-petition and learn more about it’s aims, CLICK HERE. Alternatively you can text '421' and your name to 07537 400395 to add your e-signature to this e-petition. (Texts are charged at your standard network rate. Text signatures will not appear instantly.)

      Mr Burns, speaking to Diary of Injustice said today :Every MSP has been provided free of charge a copy of the book “Legal Hell” by Angus M. Brown, a True Story illustrating how self-regulation is incontrovertibly wide open to corruption. This specific matter of policy and a superabundance of other material were submitted to the Justice 1 Committee of the Scottish Parliament between 22 June 2001 and 17 April 2002 for the “Regulation of the Legal Profession Enquiry” and can be found at: Justice 1 Committee Regulation of the Legal Profession Inquiry.”

      Mr Burns continued : “My own submissions can be found at No 19 on the page. Representatives of the Law Society presented their own submissions and were also allowed to make lengthy oral presentations, unlike members of the public, creating an unfair imbalance in their favour. Many members went down various avenues to attain justice, but the common stumbling block is the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which allows the Law Society to protect its members through this self-regulatory legislation.”

      The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991A 30 year run of Scots crooked layers may become less frequent if fully independent regulation of Scots legal profession takes place. Any client of a solicitor in Scotland having been put in the unenviable position of having to complain about the legal services provided to them by their legal representatives will be well aware of the problems in trying to pursue complaints against solicitors, while having to deal with the almost unearthly processes employed by the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to defeat the aims of consumers who for the most part, used the services of a solicitor expecting a fair deal and access to justice.

      Indeed, many clients have come to realise that using Scottish legal services can mean lengthy waits of years for court appearances, common failures to deal with even the simplest of tasks, and the inevitable ‘padded’ and unexplained huge fee demands of solicitors for very little coherent work carried out on their clients behalf.

      Forcing the Scottish Parliament to confront the Law Society’s legislative powerbase, the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which, as many legal insiders admit themselves, allows the Scots legal profession almost a free hand in the world of regulation & political double-dealing, may finally bring changes of increased consumer confidence in what is one of Scotland’s worst performing in terms of public trust, yet highest earning professions which, as the almost compulsory route for access to justice in Scotland, everyone at some stage in their lives must use.

      The complaints process operated by both the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC has consistently been described by many involved in it as “Torturous” & “Prejudiced against clients while protective of crooked lawyers”, and the passage in the Scottish Parliament in 2006 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which created the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)after a long campaign to reform the legal complaints system, a campaign which involved many consumer campaign groups, organisations, individuals and even the media, has so far done nothing to resolve the intense prejudice consumers & clients face when attempting to secure a fair hearing of complaints they are inevitably forced to make against their solicitor when things go wrong.

      The Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 established the Law Society of Scotland in terms of legislation, giving it many controversial powers & duties including representing the interests of its solicitor membership and the interests of the public (& client)in relation to the legal profession.

      The 1980 act also empowered the Law Society of Scotland to maintain professional indemnity insurance cover and a ‘guarantee fund’ to ‘protect’ solicitors clients from negligent & crooked lawyers. Both schemes, the first known as the “Master Policy”, an insurance scheme run by brokers Marsh UK and backed by insurers Royal Sun Alliance & others, and the “Guarantee Fund”, an in-house compensation scheme managed by the Law Society itself are ultimately famous for their failures to pay out in most cases where solicitors have either stolen or frittered away their clients finances through theft, or their poor quality of work on their client’s behalf.

      The Master Policy itself was the subject of an independent investigation carried out during 2009 by the University of Manchester’s Law School, The investigation’s findings linked the insurance arrangements for protecting crooked lawyers to the deaths of clients, while the Guarantee Fund was revealed as little more than a multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption.

      Law Society of ScotlandRepealing the 1980 Solicitors Act and the Law Society will bring a fairer deal for public in access to justice & regulation of legal services complaints says petition. The Scottish Parliament’s website gives the following background information in relation to the petition : The action requested in the petition is necessary because, hitherto, decisions have been made by, for example, previous Justice 1 and 2 Committees, loaded in favour of a self-regulated legal profession, detrimental to the best interests of the public. Section 1(3), in particular, of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 epitomises the limitless scope the Law Society has to protect its members at the expense of the public, which states:

      The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of the functions [i.e., the promotion of- (a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and (b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession] or the attainment of those objects.?

      Section 1 of the Act states, verbatim:

      1.--(1) The Law Society of Scotland (referred to in this Act as "the Society") shall continue to exist and shall exercise the functions conferred upon it by this Act.

      (2) The objects of the Society shall include the promotion of

      (a) the interests of the solicitors? profession in Scotland; and

      (b) the interests of the public in relation to that profession.

      (3) The Society may do anything that is incidental or conducive to the exercise of these functions or the attainment of those objects.

      (4) Schedule 1 shall have effect in relation to the Society.

      Schedule 1 of the Act, under the heading "Powers", at 10 (e) and (f) state, respectively:

      The Society may

      (e) accept any gift of property for the purposes of the Society;

      (f) accept, hold and administer any gift of property or hold as trustees any property for any purpose which the Society consider to be for the benefit of solicitors in Scotland or their dependants or employees or any substantial body of such solicitors or dependants or employees.

      The use of the adverb "anything" in Section 1(3) above is not restrictive and does not limit the application or reference of the term and to what extent the Law Society can and does protect its members at the expense of the public. In fact, the Law Society has a vested interest in protecting its members. This creates a conflict of interest between Sections 1(2a) and 1(2b) because, if the Law Society is to choose who to protect, either a fully paid up licence member of the Society, or Joe Bloggs, their loyalty will naturally, and almost invariably, come down in favour of one of their members.

      Furthermore, Schedule 1(10) (e) and (f) could reasonably be viewed as an invitation to prosperous solicitors to proffer gifts, monies or properties to the Society in exchange for quid pro quo favours. This additional bond of fellowship between the Society and its membership does nothing for the confidence of an aggrieved client with a justifiable complaint against a solicitor.

      The 1980 Act is, therefore, potentially and actually a distinct conflict of interest. The aforementioned Section and Schedule alone leave the 1980 Act wide open to abuse. Self-regulation in any way shape or guise is the pivotal enemy of any true democracy; therefore any civilised society. It is not only undemocratic it is antidemocratic, anti-society and hostile to a public unconversant with all the nuances of our ambiguously cryptic laws.

      There have been no Bills passed or laws enacted since 1980 that does anything to remedy this stark conflict of interest and there have been no recent announcements made by the Scottish Government that might have a bearing on our petition.

      My advice ? If you have been forced by the actions of your solicitor or your legal representatives to make a complaint to either the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), you may wish to consider signing the petition, and ensure the focus of attention in the debate on self regulation of the legal profession shifts to the legislative power the Law Society of Scotland uses against consumers & clients to preserve itself, preserve its members and preserve its political power to prevent legislative reforms aimed at giving the consumer & client a fair deal.

      The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were asked for comment on the aims of the petition. A spokesperson said "The SLCC has no comment to make about this petition as this time."

      No one was available at the Law Society to give comment although a source close to the legal profession said “the Law Society will use any means to fight any attempt to remove its powers of self-regulation.”

      A Holyrood insider commenting on the petition said he “could imagine various Directors of the Law Society again preparing their poison pen letters & ‘on the qt’ briefings for MSPs to save their skins once again” which, from my own personal experience with the Petitions Committee is probably what will happen next … so being forewarned, I would advise readers to sign the petition and spread the word !