Thursday, January 27, 2011

Enterprise Minister & Scottish Government’s working group on UK reform of consumer & enforcement bodies ‘could help save’ Consumer Focus Scotland

Consumer Focus Scotland logoScottish Government’s working group will consider implications of Westminster decision to kill off Consumer Focus Scotland. FURTHER enquiries by Diary of Injustice regarding the largely anti-consumer decision by the Westminster coalition Government to axe Consumer Focus & Consumer Focus Scotland have revealed the Scottish Government has formed a ‘working group’ to consider the implications on consumer protection in Scotland and develop practical outline variations which optimise future arrangements for Scots consumers, who face a raw deal from the UK Government’s decision to scrap Scotland’s key consumer champion, Consumer Focus Scotland.

Details passed to Diary of Injustice last week revealed the Scottish Government established the working group on the UK reform of consumer and enforcement bodies in November 2010. This group is chaired by a member of the Scottish Government Business Directorate, with representatives from Consumer Focus Scotland, Citizen’s Advice Scotland, OFT, COSLA, the Trading Standards Institute, the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland, and representatives of relevant Scottish Government departments.

The remit of the working group is to:

· Consider the feasibility of implementing the proposed UK model in Scotland, with a focus on accountability, capacity, and resources;

· Develop practical outline variations which optimise future arrangements for consumers in Scotland, encompassing links to relevant devolved policy and services, and specifically the scope for devolution of consumer advocacy and/or enforcement policy and delivery, and/or resource transfers;

· Support all relevant organisations to individually and collectively influence the Scottish content of UK consultation and develop an informed view ahead of that UK consultation.

The Group is due to report to Scottish Ministers by the end of January 2011. Scottish Ministers will then take a view informed by the work of the working group, on what arrangement would best serve the interest of consumers in Scotland.

A Scottish Government spokesman commenting on the working group’s aims, said: “The working group was formed to consider the implications for Scotland of the UK Government’s proposed reform of consumer and enforcement bodies, including the abolition of the Office of Fair Trading and Consumer Focus Scotland. It includes representation from various stakeholders, including the afore-mentioned bodies, the Scottish Government, trading standards professional bodies and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

“The working group is examining distinctive Scottish issues associated with implanting the UK proposals and possible variations including the scope for further devolution. The group has been liaising closely with the relevant Westminster department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rather than the Scotland Office. The groups findings will in due course be shared with the UK Government (both BIS and the Scotland Office) to inform wider consultation.”

sologo_blueScotland Office were not invited to be part of working group. While the working group is taking into account the views of some of the consumer bodies facing the axe, and others who will be left to pick up the pieces after Consumer Focus is axed, it transpires not all have been made welcome to the working group, as was revealed during Westminster questions where, in response to a question from Glasgow North MP Ann McKechin, the Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore revealed his department, the Scotland Office “has not been invited to be represented on the Scottish Government working group”, promoting some to wonder why the Scottish Government were not seeking more allies in the fight to keep Consumer Focus Scotland from being closed, given the organisation has played a key role in many reforms in Scotland, particularly those relating to justice.

ann_mckechinAnn McKechin MP, Glasgow North (Labour). Commenting on the Scottish Government’s decision to shut out the Scotland Department in London, Ann McKechin M.P. Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland said : I am also deeply concerned about the proposed abolition of these bodies and the levels of resources that will be available to any successor bodies. From my previous experience as a Scotland Office Minister, I consider it extraordinary that the Scottish Government should have set up a working group on an area of reserved policy without any direct representation from a Whitehall department even at official level. This is a major change in consumer protection and the UK Government must take a proper part in ensuring that consumers’ interests north of the border are adequately covered. It would appear that the alleged “respect agenda” between the two administration is wearing thin.”

Earlier this week, further developments on the issue occurred at the Scottish Parliament, where in response to a question from Peter Peacock MSP, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy & Tourism, Jim Mather indicated he was expecting the working group’s report in February.

However, it was then revealed by Mr Peacock in his response that “the UK Government is entirely open to there being an outcome in Scotland that is different from that for the rest of the UK”, a position which now raises the possibility of saving of Consumer Focus Scotland, if of course, the Scottish Government are minded, or motivated to do so.

An additional, and if I may say so, excellent suggestion by Kilmarnock and Loudoun MSP Willie Coffey (SNP), “that the Minister take up with his UK counterparts the need for manufacturers to publish details of known faults with their products” brought a reply from Mr Mather he would do as the members ask.

Mr Coffey’s suggestion could well be applied to many areas of commerce & business, particularly of course, legal services, where law firms should be required to publish the regulatory records of their solicitors, to enable consumers to make an informed decision as to whether any particular solicitor or law firm is the right one to represent their legal interests.

The Scottish Parliament’s website reported the session as follows :

UK Consumer Protection Bodies (Reform)

Peter Peacock (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):

5. To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking and what progress is being made in examining the United Kingdom Government’s proposals for the reform of UK consumer protection bodies; what devolved implications there are for Scotland and its consumers, and when it will report its findings on the proposals. (S3O-12661)

The Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism (Jim Mather): “Those are reserved matters, as the member will know. Although the UK Government proposals will have implications for Scotland, the policy detail is not yet fully defined. We invited key Scottish stakeholders to form a working group to consider how we might optimise future arrangements in Scotland and influence decisions in Whitehall. I expect the group’s report in February.”

Peter Peacock: “I am grateful to the minister with regard to that plan, and I am grateful for the work that he indicates is being done. I understand that the UK Government is entirely open to there being an outcome in Scotland that is different from that for the rest of the UK. I urge the minister to make early proposals to the UK Government to influence its forthcoming consultation on the future of Consumer Focus Scotland and to work with other parties across the Parliament to try to secure a consensus on the various options and build on the common ground that I believe will exist between members on the issue.”

Jim Mather: “That was a constructive contribution from the member, and my answer is yes to all of that. I reinforce the message that we are maintaining close contact with the UK Government. We view this as an opportunity to create a model that provides a best solution for Scotland. The more voices that are involved in that, the better.”

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): “Will the minister take up with his UK counterparts the need for manufacturers to publish details of known faults with their products and for consumer organisations to take into account the variety of ways in which customers now choose to complain about products and services, notably via internet postings?”

Jim Mather: “We are entering a new era, following the financial services crash, in which people are looking to manufacturers and all businesses to be much more aligned with customers and their wellbeing. I will make a point of doing as the member asks.”

Given the chance of saving Consumer Focus Scotland for Scots, I would urge readers to write to their own MSPs and the Scottish Government, especially the Minister responsible, Mr Mather, making your feelings on the issue known and supporting the retention of Consumer Focus Scotland, which has done so much for Scots consumers in many areas including justice, over many years.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's 2010 annual report

SLCCThe Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received 1452 complaints last year, however it only fully upheld one single complaint. ANYONE hoping for a crackdown on 'crooked lawyers' in Scotland will be in for a shock today after the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, revealed in yesterday's announcement of the SLCC’s 2009-2010 Annual Report (pdf), it fully upheld only ONE SINGLE COMPLAINT against an ‘unknown legal practitioner’.

The SLCC’s evident unwillingness to tackle head-on the many well known rogue elements of Scotland’s legal profession appears to be the staggering product of a decade long consumer campaign & the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government’s attempt to bring ‘independent’ regulation to Scotland’s legal services industry in the form of what is now widely regarded as little more than a quango staffed by lawyers, ex-lawyers, retired senior Police Chiefs, legal academics and other multi-job quangocrats.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 How we dealt with complaints Page 14Musical chairs or musical complaints ? For the second year running, the SLCC sent most complaints back to the Law Society of Scotland. The amazing figures released yesterday in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s second annual report also show the famously anti-client SLCC yet again sent most of the complaints it received this year back to the Law Society of Scotland, just as it did last year. The second annual report, covering the period from 1 July 2009 until 30 June 2010 reveals the SLCC received a total of 3,561 enquiries during that period, resulting as it claimed, in 1,452 cases classified as “legal complaints”. However, the majority of these cases (928) were sent back to the Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates under the SLCC’s controversial policy of refusing to deal with any legal business or cases involving instructions given to solicitors which occurred prior to 1 October 2008, the date the SLCC formally began operating, while others were apparently closed ‘as being out of the SLCC’s jurisdiction’.

After sending the majority of the “legal complaints” back to the Law Society of Scotland, the overfunded Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has also received millions of pounds of taxpayers money during 2007-2008, revealed it is now carrying a whopping current cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’) of nearly two millions pounds while only managing to accept a meagre 204 complaints to be dealt with by its highly paid staff & board members, some of whom are pocketing salaries of around £1,300 per week.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 Complaints statisticsComplaints, and how they were handled by the SLCC. Of the 204 complaints the SLCC reported it had or was actually dealing with during the last year, amazingly, the law complaints quango only managed to fully uphold one single complaint, along with a handful of others being ‘mediated’ or ‘resolved’ in ways not fully described. The Annual report states : *17 complaints were resolved through mediation and 17 others still under consideration for mediation at the end of the year; * 170 complaints went to investigation, of which 92 were still in hand at the end of the year; * of these, 23 were resolved at or before the stage of an investigation report; * seven were withdrawn by the complainer; * 48 complaints were referred for determination, of which eight were partially and one fully upheld, 15 were not upheld, one was withdrawn, and 23 were still being considered at the end of the year.

Rosemary AgnewChief executive Rosemary Agnew said the number of enquiries and complaints coming to the SLCC was lower than originally predicted. She commented: "This may be due to a number of factors such as the economic downturn. We have responded by adopting a cautious approach to recruitment, expanding only to meet the needs of our current workload, and at the end of the financial year, we employed 29 members of staff instead of the predicted 45, which was the anticipated figure prior to our opening in 2008.”

Ms Agnew continued : “We have successfully established the ‘gateway’ for all complaints about legal practitioners and deal directly with complaints about inadequate professional service. In line with our aim to resolve complaints at the earliest opportunity, we continue to develop our mediation function and aim for resolution through both formal and informal approaches.”

SLCC Annual Report 2010 Performance Page 0013Breakdown of complaints made against solicitors to the SLCC. The SLCC’s media release reported that the largest proportion of complaints received related to residential conveyancing, areas of business not specified, followed by litigation, Employment Law, Executries & Wills (a favourite client rip-off) and family law. Complaints about a solicitor's or advocate's conduct are still referred to the relevant professional body. In the year there were 142 such complaints against solicitors and two against advocates. In addition 216 cases were accepted under the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman jurisdiction, and 180 opinions completed.

SLCC Annual Report 2010 reveals 1.8million reservesSLCC’s 2010 Annual Report (page 19) revealed the quango currently holds a whopping £1.86 million in ‘reserves’. The SLCC, attempting to play down its controversial gigantic cash surplus (dubbed a ‘reserve’), reported the figure it was currently holding, of £1.86 million, (£1,867,000.) compares with one of over £1.5m for the first nine months of the SLCC's operation, following which the Commission cut the annual levy payable by solicitors to £235 for the current year. The SLCC went onto claim that “actual reserves” at year end were £1.12m, or just under five months' operating costs” as it had decided to ring-fence some £740,000 to underwrite the generally levy in the 2010/11 operating year by transferring it from reserves to income – in other words, the SLCC is, of sorts going to hand back £740,000 to the legal profession when it reduces next year’s levy on all legal practitioners which are covered by its regulation.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee said the SLCC should be ‘taken over’ by the Law Society. The reported surplus of £1.86 million now confirmed in the SLCC’s 2010 Annual Report also pokes significant holes in the Law Society of Scotland/SLCC takeover spat which hit the headlines last year, when the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Access to Justice’ Committee alleged the SLCC was supposedly carrying a gigantic six million pound surplus, with Society representatives apparently going onto suggest in the same newspaper stories that the Law Society of Scotland should, in the name of saving the taxpayer some money, take over both the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even more worryingly, the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Readers can find out more about the battle between the Law Society & the SLCC over a suggested takeover, and dubious media fiddling regarding a now wholly untrue surplus figure, here : Dailly's Law : Law Society ‘takeover plot’ for SLCC & Legal Aid Board backfires over leak of law complaints quango’s alleged £6 million surplus. The idea of a Law Society takeover was, however swiftly rebuffed by one of Scotland’s leading QCs, Paul McBride, who compared the idea to putting Homer Simpson in charge of a doughnut factory, reported here : Doughnuts, principles and no £6m surplus : Law Society’s backroom plot to take over Legal Aid Board attacked by top QC Paul McBride. The argument was closed down when the Law Society issued a media manipulation directive, reported HERE which may well also be aimed at me, bless their souls (if they have any).

Jane IrvineSLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine wrote in her annual message about providing a complaints service. Jane Irvine wrote : “Our priority this year has been to provide a complaint service. In my view, the range of legal services provided means our complaints are very diverse. The range can include complaints about limited advice on dog control, complaints that poor representation was provided in a murder trial or complaints regarding badly drawn up title deeds in a multimillion pound international property development. Every case we receive involves something important to the person who raises it and the person who provided the service, and just like diverse complaints, diverse people's’ needs do not always fit rigid systems. As a result we must flex our complaint handling powers to ensure we work in a way that meets multiple needs.”

On the issue of the many legal challenges to the SLCC’s powers over complaints in Scotland’s Court of Session, Ms Irvine went onto say : “It is inevitable that new legislation will be challenged. Our board prepared for this by setting aside money to fund any legal processes and during the year, we received 11 challenges with the majority still being heard in the Court of Session at the year end. The outcomes of these appeals are important to us”.

Readers can compare the ‘progress’ the SLCC has made in a year by reading last year’s SLCC Annual Report, which can be read in more detail, here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveals it passed most complaints about lawyers back to Law Society, has failed to act on Master Policy report where the quango revealed it was then carrying a surplus (now called a ‘reserve’) of £1.565 million pounds The SLCC’s full audited accounts for 2009-2010 can be found HERE (pdf)

The Law Society of Scotland’s almost simultaneous Press Release responding to the publication of the SLCC’s Annual Report quickly called for further reductions in the charges levied on all its member solicitors, charges which fund the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Lorna JackLorna Jack Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, revealed in emails to have apparently bullied Communities Minister Fergus Ewing into threatening the SLCC over the question of its levy rate earlier this year, said: "We are pleased that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has said they will be "asking for less" when they set the levy for solicitors later this year. We hope this will be a meaningful reduction given the Commission's reserves now stand at over £1 million.

Ms Jack continued : "It is important for the Commission to work as efficiently as possible and carefully manage its budget, particularly in the current economic climate when the solicitors who fund the Commission still face tough business decisions. The consultation on the Commission's budget will begin shortly and we are urging solicitors to contact us so their views can be included in our own submission to the Commission as part of that consultation."

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation & previous Director of the Society’s ‘Client Relations Office, well known for its brutal, even deadly treatment of clients who dared complain about their solicitor, said: "It is good to see a fall in the number of complaints made against solicitors compared with last year, which we believe has been party driven by firms dealing more effectively with complaints at source. However, more work needs to be done to ensure a better understanding of the reasons behind this reduction."

While the legal profession pats itself on the back for yet another year which has seen such successes as the SLCC board member’s lavish expenses claims, its continuing failure to monitor the Law Society of Scotland’s infamously corrupt Master Policy & Guarantee Fund after more than two years of operation, an unrivalled anti-client attitude openly displayed by many of its board members & staff, and of course, its mounting troubles in the Court of Session with lawyers openly seeking to challenge its remit, any thoughts of consumer protection appear to have taken a back seat against the many rogue lawyers who remain working in Scotland’s legal services market.

One single complaint fully upheld in a year. Its not much of a badge of success now, is it. We don't even know which law firm this one complaint involves, nor do we know the identities of all the other law firms, solicitors & others reported to the SLCC, Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates. However, in England & Wales, their new Legal Ombudsman may soon be publishing the names of solicitors & complaints decision. Now … how about bringing some of that openness to Scotland, so consumers really do know what they are getting into when they walk through the doors of a lawyers office ?

Kenny MacAskillJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill spent over £2 million of public funds on the SLCC’s lavish start-up costs. I’d also like to suggest, as we are in a recession, and since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is so flush with cash, the SLCC should now begin to pay back its start-up costs of two million pounds to the public purse. After all, two million could be better used for hospitals, community care, or even other parts of the justice system such as Policing & anti-crime measures, rather than continuing to give taxpayers money to the legal profession and its anti-client regulatory regime which is anything but independent.

My earlier coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its much less than expected performance as a regulator of complaints against Scotland’s legal profession, can be read here : The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – The story so far

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where there's a will there's a crook & a silent Law Society Complaints Chief : Jailed lawyer Michael Karus stole £400k from will, free after 12 months

Karus YellandLaw Society of Scotland’s regulation boss Philip Yelland & released ex-lawyer Michael Karus. THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND’S Philip Yelland, the Society's well known ‘Complaints Chief’ who, for the past twenty years has been in charge of the Society’s ‘Client Relations Department’, regulation and complaints against crooked lawyers, was, surprisingly nowhere to be seen in this week’s news of the early release from jail of crooked lawyer Michael Karus, who was sentenced in October 2009 for three-and-a-half years after he admitted embezzling nearly half a million pounds from a client's will.

However during October 2009, Philip Yelland, a now well known figure to clients who have complained about their solicitors to the Law Society of Scotland, appeared on television & in newspapers, detailing & praising the way in which the complaints process had worked as Mr Karus was jailed for three & a half years at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Mr Yelland as the head of complaints against solicitors at the Law Society has been involved in hundreds, if perhaps thousands of complaints involving crooked lawyers, many of whom are still practising today, in spite of committing some of the most serious of financial frauds against their clients.

At the time of Karus being sentenced, Complaints Chief Mr Yelland, said on television and in a Law Society media release on the case : “... in previous cases where this type of situation has arisen, the tribunal have decided to formally strike a solicitor off the roll of solicitors, which means they can never practice as a solicitor again”.

Wrong. In reality, most solicitors who are the subject of complaints regarding their mishandling of wills continue to work as solicitors, while clients are not even aware of the fact their solicitor has probably committed a string of similar offences to those which Karus was found guilty of involving his deceased client.

Law Society of ScotlandPull the other one - Law Society’s Complaints Chief claimed solicitors are expected to maintain highest standards. Mr Yelland further commented : “Solicitors are expected to maintain the highest standards both in their professional and personal lives. Honesty is paramount in solicitors’ dealings with their clients. Mr Karus has clearly breached this fundamental principle of being a solicitor. Once the Society has official notice of his sentence from the courts, we will be able to raise a formal complaint against him to allow us to prosecute Mr Karus before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal.” except of course Mr Karus is no longer a solicitor so the SSDT cant really prosecute him.

However, with news reports this week covering the release of Mr Karus some 12 months early, with even Police voicing surprise Karus was released so quickly, the Law Society of Scotland and Mr Yelland chose to make no comment at all, no media fanfare, nothing.

Look whose not talking now : The Law Society’s Philip Yelland made copious media appearances when Karus was jailed, however, no comment was forthcoming on his early release this week. (Click images below to watch video footage)

As the story goes, Michael Karus admitted embezzling over £413,052 while acting as executor of the estate of Edith Hampton, 89, formerly of the Victoria Manor Nursing Home in Albert Street who died in 2003. Ms Hampton, a former teacher who never married and had no children, hired the now free Karus in 1992 to draw up a will leaving her estate to the Cancer Research UK charity.

However, Ms Hampton changed her will seven years later to leave the money to June Pirie, her cousin's daughter and Karus used one of the well used tricks in a lawyer’s book, informing the beneficiaries it had all gone to a charity – in this case, Cancer Research., while in reality Karus had pocketed the money himself.

It is reported that Karus, in keeping with the best traditions of the Scottish legal profession when dealing with wills & deceased clients, boasted of being a "shark" who preyed on vulnerable victims and even named two of his firms GWS which stood for Great White Shark and Mako, after the shark, in celebration of his predatory style.

Following Ms Hampton’s death, Karus, acting has his deceased’s client’s legal agent, and by the sounds of it, Executor, transferred the money into his personal account, where an audit revealed he had paid £115,000 to Edinburgh Metropolitan Properties, of which Karus was a director, some £82,000 to the Karus & Co pension fund and a further £60,000 to a judicial factor, clearing off his own law firm's debt, and up to £5000 went to pay off debt on Karus' credit cards.

Cancer Research UK, who were made aware of Ms Hampton’s wishes in her initial will, repeatedly contacted Mr Karus at his law firm to ask why the bequest had not been paid, however Karus told the charity a second will leaving the money to Mrs Pirie had emerged. Cancer Research then contacted the Police who began an investigation in 2007 after it was found Ms Hampton’s second will made out to her cousin’s daughter had not been registered.

In an attempt to cover his tracks, Karus then registered the second will in April 2008, although this came some three weeks after he had appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on charges connected with the case. The contents & wishes of Ms Hampton’s second will, leaving her money to her cousin’s daughter were confirmed after Lothian & Borders Police obtained a copy of the will and handwriting confirmed its authenticity, confirming Mrs Pirie as the legitimate beneficiary. Michael Karus was subsequently found guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in 2009 & jailed for three & a half years, now since released.

COPFSCrown Office claimed at the time of Karus’ sentence, those like him will be made to face justice, while little in the way of prosecutions against crooked lawyers have occurred since. Speaking at the time after Karus was sentenced, Scott Pattison, Crown Office Director of Operations, said: “Michael Karus abused his position as a lawyer and the trust placed in him by Edith Hampton in order to steal her life savings, which amounted to over £400,000. Ms Hampton entrusted him to ensure that her property was passed on according to her wishes; but he took advantage and took this money for himself."

He added: “This case shows that those like Michael Karus who use their professional status to perpetrate crime will be made to face justice.”

Well, not really .. as most people who report crooked lawyers to the Crown Office or the Law Society of Scotland, find out in cases such as : Crown Office claims its too costly to keep details on legal profession's crooks, or Law Society ‘routinely fails to report crime' as Crown Office admits it never received report on Glasgow lawyer theft cover-up investigation or even more recently : Justice for all ? Scotland’s Crown Office refuse to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ who 'wrongly' claimed £221K in Legal Aid funds

Asked about any further investigations taking place against Michael Karus, a spokesperson for the Crown Office released a statement confirming there would be further proceedings. He said : “There is a live Proceeds of Crime action against Mr Karus. The case is next due to call for a confiscation hearing on 21 February 2011.”

A legal insider today advised people making a will to make sure they left some form of second copy with a trusted source other than their lawyer, as it is now becoming increasingly popular due to the recession and ever decreasing profits of law firms for Scottish solicitors to abuse the contents of a deceased client’s will and pocket the money themselves, with the tactics used by Karus, telling one beneficiary it had went to charity, and informing the charity a new will had been discovered, becoming commonplace.

He said : “The fact of the matter is there is very little the Law Society will do to most solicitors who are caught pocketing the contents of a dead client’s will for their own benefit. The situation is now so bad the Law Society are even refusing to accept complaints from beneficiaries who discover their loved one’s final wishes have been usurped by a crooked lawyer, with the proceeds of their residual estate ending up in the lawyers pocket rather than the intended beneficiaries.”

A solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice this afternoon revealed he is dealing with case on behalf of a beneficiary to a will where a partner in a well known Edinburgh law firm, who is the subject of an ongoing complaint regarding the contents of a will, stands accused of much the same offences committed by Michael Karus, involving significant amounts of money from a deceased’s estate.

A complaint was made to the Law Society by a beneficiary who discovered a second copy of the will which named family members of the will, rather than a charity, which all investigations so far have shown, was not known to the deceased. However, the solicitor further revealed the Law Society of Scotland have consistently refused to accept the complaint regarding the handling of the will, claiming the beneficiary, who discovered the ongoing fraud regarding the handling of the will, did not have an interest in the case, and therefore could not make a complaint.

I would advise any beneficiaries who are attempting to make complaints to the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission regarding the conduct of a solicitor involved in a will, to pursue their complaint with determination, no matter how many times the Law Society or SLCC refuse to deal with it. I would also advise those involved in such cases to publicise their complaint and details of what the solicitor did in the national press, or to contact Diary of Injustice at

While I stress it is a very noble and welcome gesture of public spirited persons to leave amounts to charities, I would advise beneficiaries to check the contents of wills, especially when large amounts are left to institutions, to ensure the will and its terms are authentic and are being handled according to the final wishes of the deceased, rather than the final wishes of a crooked lawyer.

I have written more on the subject of wills, HERE, and particularly, here : Consumer warning on wills : Don't make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of 'will fraud' show Law Society closes ranks on complaints

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanMany crooked lawyers & accountants who ruin wills for their own motives, still work today. Speaking from my own bitter experience of being ripped off by a crooked lawyer – Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso, and an accountant – Norman Howitt of JRW Group, both based in the Scottish Borders, more of which you can read about HERE & HERE, I would stress anyone thinking of making a will, or those of you who have already made a will, if you have made your solicitor or accountant an executor, have it re-written now, otherwise your final wishes could well end up in the lawyers pocket just as it did with Mr Karus and his still working colleagues spread across Scotland, rather than your family or loved ones, or even the charity of your choice.

Background information on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) prosecution of Michael Karus :

A 2005 decision from the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, the well known puppet of the Law Society’s complaints process, supposedly suspended Karus from legal practice for 10 years : The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 4th August 2004 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Michael Louis Karus, Solicitor, 72 St Stephen Street, Edinburgh; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his breach of Rules 4(1), 8, 9 and 10 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts, Accounts Certificate, Professional Practice and Guarantee Fund Rules 2001, his continuing to act as a principal solicitor in private practice while his practising certificate was restricted during the period between 14th December 2001 and 28th February 2002 and his uttering a cheque in the sum of £70,000 payable on the Karus & Company client account and making the withdrawal without the authority of the principal and notwithstanding the suspension of his practising certificate; Suspend the Respondent from practice for a period of 10 years; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and in the expenses of the Tribunal as the same may be taxed by the auditor of the Court of Session on a solicitor and client indemnity basis in terms of Chapter Three of the Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business and Direct that publicity will be given to this decision and this publicity will include the name of the Respondent but such publicity will be deferred until the conclusion of any criminal proceedings against the Respondent.

The full finding by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be downloaded HERE (pdf) Earlier findings by the SSDT regarding Michael Karus, can be downloaded HERE & HERE

Where there's a will there's a crook - Sunday Mail November 28 2010Remember Remember – Where there’s a will there’s a crook. Suspension from legal practice is, however, no deterrence for crooks to come back and rip off people and their wills, as a recent Sunday Mail article exposed the case of the former jailed lawyer Valerie Macadam, now Valerie Penny returned from legal oblivion & started her own will writing business without telling her new clients she was jailed for embezzlement. One can only wonder what Mr Karus will come back as, however he may be forgiven for viewing himself as slightly unfortunate, as Andrew Penman & Norman Howitt got away with it quite nicely, courtesy of the self regulating Law Society of Scotland & Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, neither of which I would ever advise anyone to trust.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Civil Justice Advisory Group calls for radical reform of Scotland’s civil justice system, says people should be at the heart of Scottish civil justice

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s Civil Justice Advisory group publishes its report on civil justice reform. SCOTLAND's “Victorian” civil justice system came in for yet more criticism today as the Civil Justice Advisory Group, reconvened in January 2010 by Consumer Focus Scotland under the chairmanship of Lord Coulsfield with a remit to consider the proposals of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, published its report and called for a radical rethink on how the civil justice system in Scotland can be reformed to make it more fit for purpose & user friendly.

In today’s report the Civil Justice Advisory Group proposes that the focus should be on creating a civil justice system designed around the people who use it, addressing the various needs that users have at each stage in resolving their disputes, to ensure that these are resolved in the most effective way as early as possible.

“Ensuring effective access to appropriate and affordable dispute resolution”, the Final Report of the Civil Justice Advisory Group (pdf), published by Consumer Focus Scotland, makes a series of recommendations that include:

* The development of a ‘triage’ approach to civil justice problems, aiming to ensure that users are directed to the most appropriate pathway for the resolution of their problem.

* The creation of a web-based system bringing together information on rights, responsibilities, sources of help, and advice and options for dispute resolution.

* Funding should be made available to pilot more proactive public legal education initiatives to build legal capability amongst particular groups.

* The introduction of new court rules to encourage, but not compel, parties to seek to resolve their dispute by mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution, prior to going to court.

* A mediation scheme should be available which could be accessed before a court action is raised, as well as being available to the court.

* The need for a clear separation between civil and criminal business in the third-tier of civil jurisdiction proposed by the Gill review.

* The third-tier should operate within a simplified process, with plain English, user-friendly rules, and clear, simple forms. Efforts should also be made to ensure the culture of the third-tier is not intimidating for litigants.

* The establishment of a specialist jurisdiction to deal with housing cases.

* The Scottish Government to review the way in which family cases are dealt with, including the rules and procedures which should apply.

* National roll out of in court advice services, although these should not necessarily be based within individual courts.

The report also calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that the full range of relevant interests should be given the opportunity to provide sufficient input to future civil justice reform. It will now be submitted to the Scottish Government to support its implementation of the Gill review proposals on civil justice.

Lord Coulsfield said the Group’s aim is to make the civil legal process more effective and efficient as well as easier for its users: “I hope that we have made suggestions which will contribute to the creation of a system which will encourage the resolution of disputes by agreement wherever possible, but also provide for an unintimidating and accessible and efficient court procedure where agreement cannot be reached.”

Lord Coulsfield continued : “Our intention was, through taking a broader look at the experience of people who need the help of the civil justice system, to make recommendations that will spare those who do not need to go to court from having to do so, and reduce the stress for those who do.”

Welcoming the report, Scotland’s Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing MSP, said the Group is putting forward an important set of options: “Scotland’s civil justice system must be open to all who need it and has to offer support that is neither too slow nor too intimidating for users.”

Mr Ewing continued : “I would like to thank the Civil Justice Advisory Group under Lord Coulsfield for their work. They have given us a series of very helpful recommendations for future reform, which we shall now consider as part of our approach to reforming the wider civil justice system.”

The Civil Justice Advisory Group was first established in 2004 by the Scottish Consumer Council, one of Consumer Focus Scotland’s predecessor organisations. It published its report Civil Justice in Scotland: A Case for Review? (available as a PDF by clicking here) in November 2005, and four of the six recommendations of this report were incorporated in the remit of the Scottish civil courts review. The Civil Justice Advisory Group was re-established in January 2010 to consider some of the key proposals of the Scottish civil courts review.

In addition to Lord Coulsfield who chairs the Group, its membership includes representatives from the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Court Service, Consumer Focus Scotland, Citizens’ Advice Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board, Scottish Association of Law Centres, Scottish Mediation Network, Scottish Committee of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, as well as Professor Alan Paterson from the University of Strathclyde.

The full report “Ensuring effective access to appropriate and affordable dispute resolution – The Final Report of the Civil Justice Advisory Group” can be downloaded HERE (pdf). A summary of the final report can be downloaded HERE (pdf).

I have previously reported on the Civil Justice Advisory Group’s consultation and its activities, HERE

As Consumer Focus have said today, people should be put first and at the heart of Scotland’s civil justice system, and no effort should be spared to ensure all Scots have access to justice, an access which comes as a right, at a reasonable cost which all can afford, and free of the obstructions of vested professional interests whose aims are more often than not to stifle or defeat the aims of justice and the individual’s access to justice out of financial motives, or protection of those who use the law as nothing more than a business model to control who among us gains access to the courts.


Lord Gill Lord Justice ClerkThe 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."

Readers can find out more & download a copy of 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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Court Transcripts in Scotland : Prohibitive costs & profits are hindering Scots access to justice say litigants, lawyers & consumer groups

Lord GillLord Gill’s two year investigation of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Civil Justice system recommended major legal reforms. NEARLY two years on from a speech to a Law Society of Scotland conference in which the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill branded Scotland’s civil justice system as “Victorian”, having structures and procedures of a century and a half ago & failing society and litigants, calls to act now & implement Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review recommendations to digitally record evidence in all court cases are being made by consumers & legal insiders after several litigants, a solicitor and a consumer group agreed that the huge costs of court transcripts and the complicated, sometimes awkward procedures needed to go through to obtain them are effectively blocking Scots access to justice.

The Scottish Court Service were asked for information on how users could obtain copies of court transcripts. A Scottish Court Service (SCS) spokesperson said: "There is no published list of costs for court transcriptions. In many instances transcriptions are requested by the court and the costs are met by the SCS. Costs will vary according to the length and complexity of each transcription. There are also instances when an individual may seek a transcription. The procedure to follow in criminal cases is provided by statute in section 94 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. In these instances the applicant is liable for payment of the transcription costs and an estimate of that charge will be provided before hand. Currently, the standard rate for the transcription of one hour of court proceedings is £126."

Curiously, while Scots litigants appear to be having a harder time obtaining what are generally expensive transcripts of court hearings, which leading Scots QC Donald Findlay once described as “Bloody Awful” in terms of their quality in a Scotsman newspaper article, and which have been condemned in other circles as being incomplete, inconsistent and even omitting key evidence or rulings, court users in England & Wales apparently have an easier set of well publicised online procedures to follow for obtaining the same kinds of transcripts of court proceedings.

EX107_INFO_0709 Transcript costsNot in Scotland : Court users in England & Wales can download a form (pictured) with costs & guidance on how to apply for court transcripts. While the Scottish Court Service currently do not publish costs for court transcriptions, court users in England & Wales need only visit the HMCS website to find the necessary forms and guidance on how to apply for court transcripts. These forms, which are of little use to Scots court users although readers may wish to download them to compare the services offered in the English courts to those of Scotland, can be found at the following links : EX107 Info (Guidance, transcription panel list and prices) & EX107 Tape Transcription Request

While most people generally assume recordings or transcripts of courtroom testimony are easy to come by, applying to the court for these highly prized verbatim accounts of courtroom activity is a far from clear exercise in Scotland, a fact confirmed by a litigant who spoke to Diary of Injustice yesterday, who produced letters confirming his legal team had informed him they were facing problems in acquiring transcripts of court proceedings in a long running action, where claims & counter claims disputing the accuracy of testimony & court interlocutors have arisen in an action which connects back to the legal profession itself.

In this digital age, it appears goings-on in the courts, particularly the Scottish courts have been left far behind in terms of the ability of the courts system to accurately and perhaps as importantly, within a sensible cost, record and make available access to transcripts to litigants, whether they be represented or unrepresented, a matter which was investigated by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill during his two year study of the civil justice system.

Lord Gill recommended significant upgrades to the information technology although with the pace of change & reform in the Scots justice system being itself, “Victorian” it will come as no surprise Lord Gill’s recommendations have as yet, not been acted upon.

Lord Gill noted in Chapter 6 of his Civil Courts Review : “Currently where evidence is recorded in civil cases this is done manually by a shorthand writer. In our view it would be more efficient to record digitally all evidence in civil cases, as happens in criminal cases. The cost of this should be borne by the SCS. The availability of digital recording facilities in all courtrooms would contribute to more flexible usage of accommodation. We understand, however, that to equip a court fully for digital recording could cost up to £15,000. That may be prohibitive in smaller courts. Mobile facilities could be made available in those courts when required. If parties required a transcript of the evidence a charge would be made for this service. In many instances a recording of the evidence would be all that would be required.”

Lord Gill later concluded in his recommendations on the increased use of information technology, specifically on the recording of evidence that “All evidence in civil cases, apart from those under the simplified procedure should be recorded digitally.”

A party litigant who recently approached Diary of Injustice over the matter of the huge costs of court transcripts revealed he is facing a staggering bill for nearly nine thousand pounds to obtain transcripts of court hearings, a bill he cannot afford to pay. The litigant is not wealthy, has not been able to obtain legal representation, and does not have access to legal aid funding.

After studying the litigant’s case and letters exchanged with the pursuers, which appear to detail several differing views on what transpired in court, it does appear the litigant’s access to justice is being obstructed by the exorbitant costs of obtaining courtroom transcripts, where a cheap digital recorder purchased for a few pounds and used under supervision of the court, would have provided the litigant a verbatim record of actual events in court to assist the progress of his case. In my view, the litigant’s access to justice has been denied by the costs of the transcripts.

Another court user who has also encountered difficulties in obtaining transcripts commented : “One thing is certain, digital recording is ubiquitous and software transferring cassette recordings and converting these simultaneously into digital files has long been available. Simply put there should be no need for any cost to parties, far less denying them access to recordings of evidence in their own case.”

A solicitor who spoke to Diary of Injustice on the issue said he was aware of Lord Gill’s recommendations to digitally record all proceedings & evidence in civil cases. However he feared the judge’s recommendations would take ‘some time’ to be implemented or arrangements put in place where litigants could request a copy ‘without having to pay through the nose’ due to a general reluctance by the courts system to embrace new technology.

He said : “Lord Gill is certainly on the right track with his review, however the technology to digitally record for lengthy periods without causing undue fuss or diversion to the court process is now available to all at a considerably reduced cost than the services provided by those who transcribe the current system of recordings used in Scottish courts. With regard to civil actions such as damages claims, small claims etc, I personally believe party litigants should be able to take their own digital recorder into court and use it, depending of course on the circumstances & nature of the case.”

An official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations speaking on the matter said he was aware of the difficulties & costs incurred by court users who sought copies of courtroom transcripts.

He said : “The current system of providing transcripts of court proceedings in Scotland to party litigants is unclear, complicated & costly to the point of discouragement. Such a set of circumstances has a negative impact on consumers access to justice. There must be a fairer & cheaper way of making transcripts available in cases especially where party litigants who are unrepresented in court because they cannot afford legal representation have a genuine need to obtain them. I would therefore urge the Scottish Government to deliver on Lord Gill’s recommendations in this area.”


Lord Gill Lord Justice ClerkThe 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."

Readers can find out more & download a copy of 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.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More ‘jobs for the boys’ than action on ‘crooked lawyers’ : What it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCCBoard Members of the do-little Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have record numbers of ‘other jobs’. IT MAY COME as no surprise the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and the Law Society of Scotland have been busy priming their well-oiled media spin machines for the imminent publication of the SLCC’s latest annual report, which is expected to show the number of complaints have dropped against solicitors in Scotland with the SLCC apparently being left with almost little to do by way of regulating anything past a dog biscuit.

Yet while complaints have dropped, and thumbs are twiddled at the SLCC’s lavish Stamp Office Edinburgh HQ, the SLCC is, as I reported in November 2010 about to attempt to hype itself as being more effective in dealing with complaints against crooked lawyers, than it actually is in reality, adding four new Board Members to its already over-the-top line of quangocrats & lawyers who, in some cases, are currently holding down more than 10 jobs each.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill will soon announce new additions to SLCC’s expensive expense claiming board. While the new appointments are yet to be officially announced by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in the usual fanfare, according to information seen by Diary of Injustice, the SLCC's now overdue annual report attempts to spin around the real reasons for the fall in complaints against solicitors & law firms, reasons which appear to be mostly due to the financial downturn, with clients being unable to afford to use solicitors, along with a general downturn in property sales, and perhaps a slightly increased willingness on the part of some law firms to discuss & resolve client difficulties before the matter develops into complaint and attracts unwanted media attention, rather than any sudden increase in the standards of legal services offered to consumers in Scotland by legal practitioners.

SLCC RECRUITMENT APPOINTMENTS November 2010Whopping expenses claims by SLCC’s Board Members expected to increase with additional appointments. With the further imminent announcements of the latest appointments to the SLCC’s Board of three ‘non-lawyer’ board members with legal & ‘consumer’ backgrounds at £209+ a day along with one extra lawyer board member to ensure the legal profession continues to have its way against client complaints, it is perhaps fitting to reflect on exactly what it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, along with all that lolly money one can expect by way of expenses claims for ensuring the vast majority of complaints made by members of the public or clients against solicitors & law firms which operate in Scotland’s notoriously hugely expensive yet poor quality legal services market succumb to the same whitewash treatment typical of the Law Society of Scotland’s tenure as self regulator of lawyers in Scotland, a tenure which has led to thousands of financially ruined clients while even the most negligent solicitors (in some cases with criminal records) remaining in practice, unbeknown to their clients …

Jane Irvine

Jane Irvine
• Immediate past Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.
• Professional contact with solicitors' firms Burness, Leslie Deans & Co and Allan McDougal.
• Professional contact with advocates Derek O'Carrol and John Campbell QC.
• Director, Daleway LTD.
• Deputy UK Pensions Ombudsman.
• Chair of the Disciplinary Board of the Faculty and Institute of Actuaries (from January 2010).


Douglas Watson
• Former lay member of a Law Society of Scotland Committee dealing with Access to Legal Information. The role was unpaid.
• A cousin, Bruce Minto, is a partner in Dickson Minto, Solicitors.
• Formerly a Chief Superintendent with Lothian and Borders Police.

Dr Linda Pollock

Dr Linda Pollock
• Executive Nursing Director (1989 -2006).
• Interim Board Nurse Director (2002-2003).
• Chief Nursing Officer’s Professional Advisor on nurse prescribing (2005-6).
• Past External Examiner with Robert Gordon’s University and Queen Margaret University.
• Research Honorary Fellow in the Social Science Faculty of Edinburgh University.
• Formerly, a part time nurse member of the Mental Welfare Commission (1997- 2005).
• Currently, working as a Primary Care Consultant, undertaking research work commissioned by the Queen’s Nursing Institute in Scotland.
• Registrant member of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Appointments Board.
• Member of the Royal College of Nursing.
• Dr Pollock has a track record of authorship and chapter contributions in professional books, and continues to write articles in nursing journals.
• Board Member of the Accounts Commission (from 1st October for three years).
• Chair to a UK-wide Advisory Board with Pain Concern (from Jan 2010).


George L Irving CBE
• Director of Social Work North Ayrshire Council 1999-2000. • Chair of Ayrshire Council on Alcohol.
• Ex-President of the Association of Directors of Social Work (Scotland).
• Chair of NHS Ayrshire and Arran from 2001-2006.
• Led the National Support Team, Management of Offenders 2005-2007.
• Visiting Professor to Glasgow Caledonian University School of Health.
• Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine.
• Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
• Member of the Rotary Club of Alloway.
• Member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon OBE, QPM, LL.B (Hons)
• Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland (from 1 February 2010 for four years).
• Member of the Registration and Conduct Sub Committees of the Scottish Social Services Council. Appointed by the Council on 29 April 2010 for 3 years.
Payment from Scottish Social Services Council.
• Associate Professor in Policing for Charles Sturt University (Australia)
• Director (Trustee) of Blairgowrie and Rattray Regeneration Company (BARRC) Registered Charity – Not remunerated.
• Member of Rotary International
• Retired Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police.
• Formerly Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS)
Professional Standards Business Area.
• Formerly Vice-Chair of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 email

Margaret Scanlan
• Consultant, Russells Gibson McCaffrey, Solicitors.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland and holder of current practising certificate.
• Husband is a senior partner Russells Gibson McCaffrey.
• Husband is a member of the Law Society of Scotland and holder of current practising certificate.
• Past Chair of the Family Law Association.
• Former member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

David Smith SLCC

David Smith
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Former member/partner of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP, Solicitors. Retired on 30/04/08.
• Non-Executive Director, Value and Income Trust Plc.
• Wife is a Senator of the College of Justice and a non practising member of the Faculty of Advocates.

David Chaplin SLCC

David Chaplin
• Former member of Anderson Fyfe LLP, Solicitors. Retired on 30/04/08.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Director and shareholder in Baliol Properties Limited.


Alan Paterson
• Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Studies at Strathclyde University.
• Research adviser to the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
• Member of the Law Society of Scotland.
• Professional contact with Guild & Guild, Solicitors and McCash & Hunter, LLP.

Master Policy Report Suicides revealedSLCC report on Master Policy revealed clients had committed suicide at the hands of crooked lawyers but still nothing has been done after two years. Having all these second, third & forth jobs appears to have got in the way of the SLCC doing its job, particularly when it comes to monitoring the Law Society of Scotland's Master Policy (the Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme run by the infamous insurers Marsh to cover solicitors negligence), which was revealed by an independent report carried out by Manchester University of Law School to have caused the deaths of clients, simply to ensure lawyers could sleep at night. More on the Master Policy report can be read here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night' and the latest attempt by the SLCC to fulfil its ‘monitoring role’ over the Master Policy adds to its long running failure to attend to its legislated duties, reported here : 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

Going on the above evidence, it clearly would take more than 9 people at the SLCC to change a light bulb, never mind attending to consumer expectations of independent regulation of legal services in Scotland and all the safeguards which come with independent regulation, which at least, the English seem to be enjoying via their own Legal Ombudsman, as I reported last October, here : Scots consumers stuck with 'crooked' self-regulation of lawyers as England & Wales go fully independent with new Legal Ombudsman

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Multi-Party actions remain out of reach in Scotland's 'Victorian' justice system as Class Action suit against Royal Bank of Scotland fails in US

rbs_logoRoyal Bank of Scotland faced Class Action from UK investors in US Courts. The Royal Bank of Scotland, and perhaps numerous members of Scotland’s legal profession (even those such as the current Dean of Faculty, Richard Keen QC), can, as the Herald newspaper reported earlier this week, breathe a sigh of relief as the Class Action case which was raised by UK investors in the American courts, failed after a New York district judge threw out the main claims of the action, which were based around the bank’s semi-nationalisation in 2008. After taking into account a similar ruling in the Supreme Court in June, relating to National Australia Bank, this week’s decision in New York effectively means UK ordinary shareholders cannot pursue claims against RBS in the US courts.

The Class Action suit raised in the US, involved a number of investors who had acquired shares in the bank between 1 March 2007 and 19 January 2009, during which time their value dropped 98% amid fears over the bank’s potential exposure to sub-prime lending losses which crippled many banks across the globe. A number of those involved in bringing the suit participated in RBS’s £12bn rights issue just months before the bank was effectively nationalised. The RBS of course, welcomed the collapse of the case, and said it would defend the remaining claims vigorously” although given the state of the UK’s justice system when it comes to Class Actions (otherwise known as Multi-Party actions) the RBS or indeed any other institution which in any other country might find itself a target of a Class Action wont need to worry too much …

Class Actions, as most readers will be well aware, are largely non existent in UK Courts or the Scottish justice system, the latter where reforms which take place south of the border can take up to 40 years to cross the green hills of the Scottish Borders to reach Scotland’s supreme court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Indeed, with the pace of change so slow in Scotland, one may almost be forgiven for thinking big business and vested interests have a greater say, and representation in the justice system and how it is gummed up to prevent access to justice, than ordinary members of the public who mostly fund the courts system through taxes.

It is true the Scottish Government have ‘proposed’ the introduction of Class Actions to Scotland in their response to the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review. However, as I reported in early November 2010, the Scottish Government’s ‘proposal’ may well take years to implement, and in the current climate of consumers ever eager to take on the banks and other powerful or influential institutions and even, professions, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise for any introduction of Class Actions to come after the old trick of ‘time bar’ would ensure any further litigation against such fine upstanding financial institutions which have crippled the entire country and affected everyone would not be able to proceed.

My earlier coverage on the issue of Class Actions can be viewed here : Class Actions for Scotland ? - The story so far

While the Scottish Government, the legal profession and other vested interests play with the idea of introducing Class Actions to Scotland’s Courts, let us remind ourselves of at least one MSP’s views on the issue, those of Shirley Anne Somerville (SNP), who spoke in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review in October 2009.

Shirley Anne Somerville speaks on Class Actions & Lord Gill Civil Courts Review (Click image to view video)