Thursday, March 10, 2011

Out of Focus : Consumer Focus Scotland’s “qualified support” for self regulation of lawyers halts Holyrood moves to scrap Solicitors Scotland Act 1980

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s support of self regulation closed Holyrood petition, say campaigners. A CLAIM by Consumer Focus Scotland that self regulation of lawyers “brings a number of benefits to consumers” along with a statement by the consumer organisation’s policy of ‘qualified support’ for the Law Society of Scotland’s model of self regulation of the legal profession, is today being blamed by campaigners for the failure earlier this week of a public petition which called for repeal of thirty year old legislation which continues to allow Scottish lawyers to investigate themselves while consumers in England & Wales now have fully independent regulation of legal services via the Legal Ombudsman.

The consumer organisation was also criticised by a solicitor for its apparent lack of understanding of how the Law Society’s Council operates behind closed doors, where Consumer Focus’ expectations that yet another, to-be-announced Law Society run Committee with ‘equal lay membership’ will resolve many of the concerns highlighted in the now closed petition.

Petition PE1388, which called for the repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 was briefly heard at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Tuesday of this week. However, with all respondents to the committee, the Scottish Government (pdf), Law Society of Scotland (pdf) & Consumer Focus Scotland (pdf) failing to support the petition, it was left to one committee member, Robin Harper MSP to call for it’s closure, citing the highly controversial policy shift by Consumer Focus Scotland as one of the chief reasons the committee should not consider the petition any further.

Consumer Focus Scotland’s support for self regulation ‘played key role’ as Robin Harper MSP calls for closure of Petition PE1388 during Tuesday’s committee hearing (Click image to view video footage)

Members of the Petitions Committee were asked by its convener, Rhona Brankin MSP for their views on the petition, resulting in Robin Harper calling for the petition to be closed. Mr Harper said : “Happy to close it under Rule 15.7 Convener, the Scottish Government has indicated it’s got no plans to repeal the Solicitors' (Scotland) Act 1980, it responded to the question raised about the resignation of John McGovern, the repeal of the act is not supported by the Law Society of Scotland and Consumer Focus has a qualified support for self regulation on the grounds it does bring certain benefits to consumers.”

As I reported in early February, Consumer Focus Scotland refused to support the petition calling for repeal of legislation which allows solicitors to regulate & investigate themselves. Consumer Focus’ response came after I reported on the Scottish Government's refusal to repeal the 1980 Act and the Law Society of Scotland’s warning to the Petitions Committee over the petition which I reported on here : Law Society ‘warns’ Scottish Parliament : Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 ‘should not be repealed’ by msps or Scottish Government

Consumer Focus Scotland’s response (pdf) to the Petitions Committee, as briefly referred to Mr Harper during Tuesday’s meeting at Holyrood stated : While it is clear there is the potential for conflict between the representative and regulatory functions of the Society, we believe that self-regulation brings a number of benefits to consumers. These include : (i)The regulatory system will be tailor made for the needs and problems of that particular sector, and will reflect inside knowledge about the realities of that sector, (ii)The benchmarking of best practice over and above the basic minimum requirements & (iii)Self-regulation is quicker and less costly to put in place (and adapt to changing needs) than legislation.”

“However, our support of self-regulation by the legal profession (other than for investigation of complaints) is qualified. The SCC produced a good practice guide on effective self-regulation, which made clear that one of the key principles of a credible self-regulatory scheme is independent representation on its governing body.”

Consumer Focus Scotland’s response to the Petitions Committee also talked about the establishment under the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 of a regulatory committee of the Law Society of Scotland with at least a 50% non-solicitor membership and non-solicitor convener, which in the quango’s view would give the Law Society the opportunity to demonstrate clearly that it is acting in the public interest in carrying out its regulatory functions.

Consumer Focus Scotland further stated : “The independence of the regulatory committee will be an important tool in ensuring public confidence in its regulatory functions and we were pleased that provisions were inserted into the 2010 Act to ensure that the Society’s Council must not interfere unduly in the regulatory committee’s business.”

“The provisions of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended), which set out the Society’s role in the regulation of solicitors, provide an important consumer protection. It is critical that there is a robust regulatory framework in place to protect consumers should things go wrong. While we have been critical in the past of the Society’s regulatory regime, we believe the changes being introduced by the 2010 Act should lead to increased public confidence, transparency and effectiveness in the regulatory process. This Act is not yet in force, however, and we believe it is important that an opportunity be given to demonstrate whether these changes do lead to such improvements.”

“For this reason we do not support the petition’s suggestion that the Scottish Government should repeal the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 to end self-regulation of the legal profession. Should this restructuring of the Society’s governance arrangements and the application of the regulatory objectives not act to improve public confidence in its regulatory functions, however, we believe the dual regulatory and representative roles of the Society should be reviewed.”

One msp speaking to Diary of Injustice over the failure of Petition PE1388 branded Consumer Focus Scotland’s idea that a Law Society regulatory committee with a 50-50 lay member involvement will restore public confidence in regulation of the legal profession as “nonsense”.

He said : “I think Consumer Focus Scotland seem to have drifted off course from the widely held & clearly justifiable public perception that self regulation is not really an open or honest method of regulating any commercial or public service by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, would Consumer Focus Scotland claim the actions of various bankers were well regulated by their colleagues or the FSA in the light of the banking crisis and massive cuts to public services ?”

He continued : “Consumer Focus as the Scottish Consumer Council supported the introduction of the LPLA Bill which brought the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in as an independent regulator. However we have recently learned there have been no prosecutions of solicitors under the 2007 LPLA Act and the SLCC which has the same proposed 50-50 lay member complement on its board is itself lacking public confidence. Why on earth would Consumer Focus Scotland believe the same arrangement at the Law Society could resolve the difficulties over regulation or complaints ? This is nonsense.”

There was further support today from a Glasgow solicitor who is keen to see reforms & amendments to the Solicitor’s (Scotland) Act 1980. However, he was severely critical of Consumer Focus Scotland for its apparently lack understanding of how the Law Society Council operates, particularly in the light of recent media attention & high profile resignations from the Law Society's Council over backdoor dealings & censorship of some its own members views on everything from regulation to saving money from the legal aid budget.

He said : “The Consumer Focus plan that an equal membership solicitor-lay committee at the Law Society will solve the ills of complaints will not work and as far as there being no interference from the Law Society’s Council, well I think recent events are enough to show us the people at Consumer Focus have no idea how the Law Society Council functions or operates, which seems to be mostly behind the membership’s backs. I think its a bit airy fairy to suggest the Council wont intervene with a committee, don’t you ?”

He also called for those solicitors who have publicised their disagreements with the Law Society over issues such as regulation & membership requirements to work with consumer campaigners to return the issue to Holyrood

He continued : “I don't think Holyrood can turn its back on this issue so easily, given msps have already intervened on the issue of regulation by way of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Act. Perhaps there may be a greater chance of success if those within the legal profession who are allegedly disgruntled with the Law Society’s poor representation of its members interests and consumers or campaigners who share similar views over the Society’s responsibilities for regulation can come together to take this issue back to the Scottish Parliament after the elections in May.”

Mr William Burns, the petitioner who brought Petition PE1388 to the Scottish Parliament was scathing of the Petitions Committee’s consideration of the issues. He also revealed the Petitions Committee had refused to allow any oral evidence to be presented on the aims of the petition and public experiences with the Law Society’s control of self regulation of solicitors.

He said : “The result of the approximately 30-second hearing, coupled with the repeated refusal to allow us to give oral evidence before the Public Petitions Committee, confirmed of what I accused the nine members prior to the final hearing, that they ignored our abundance of written evidence in its entirety.”

He continued : “Prior to the decision being taken to close PE1388, I accused the committee members of being elected nobodies taking orders from unelected nobodies in the Scottish Government's legal division; legal collaborators with their comrades in the Law Society. The PPC confirmed this by not denying the accusation, before rushing their decision through on a fast track to close the petition.”

Readers should also note demise of another petition this week which the Law Society unofficially objected to, as Petition 1354 calling for Education of legal & consumer issues in Scottish schools was also closed by the Petitions Committee. Consumer Focus Scotland had rather heavily supported this petition as I reported earlier, HERE, however the Scottish Government and various education bodies said the idea was a non starter and with dwindling media coverage due to some over inflated egos, the petition fell flat on its face.

Petition PE1354 calling for education of legal & consumer issues in Scotland’s schools, closed also, apparently on Law Society orders (Click image to view video coverage)

It should be noted legal insiders have since claimed talks between the Scottish Government and the Law Society of Scotland have taken place on the issues raised in Petition 1354, as the Law Society is rumoured to be seeking to establish itself as the sole educator of legal issues in Scotland.

More worryingly, the petition was also rumoured to have been delayed by the Scottish Parliament, as its own lawyers were involved in an event held jointly with Law Society of Scotland at last year’s Festival of Politics held at Holyrood and chaired by Liz Campbell, the Law Society's director of Education and Training. Those who participated at the event included the latest Law Society Vice President, Austin Lafferty, of Austin Lafferty Solicitors and Law Society Council Member, Gavin Henderson, from the Office of Scottish Parliamentary Counsel and Patrick Gaffney of the Schools Law Web.

Scottish Government insiders have since revealed the Law Society of Scotland is attempting to ensure that the Schools Law Web, which claims its aims to bring teachers and lawyers together in an effort to introduce young people to the legal system and those who work within it, will be the sole provider of education of legal services to young Scots. Parents and those concerned with education may well want to take a closer look at this arrangement as time goes on.

John Lamont MSP, the Scottish Conservatives Justice spokesman & Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee was asked if the Scottish Conservatives have plans to further raise the issue of teaching consumer & legal issues in Scottish schools, given these subjects are apparently taught in England & Wales.

He said : “Those at school could gain hugely from knowledge of consumers’ rights and the roles and responsibilities of the legal profession and as such the Scottish Conservatives have actively encouraged and continued to support the idea.”

He continued : “As there is no national curriculum in Scotland however, there is no obligation on schools to adopt the idea; but we will be doing all that we can to encourage them to adapt citizenship into their pupils’ studies.”

Consumer Focus Scotland were asked today for their comments on the failure of both petitions at the Scottish Parliament.

On the issue of Petition PE1388 and its closure, a spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland said : “As detailed in our submission to the Petitions Committee on Petition 1388, we consider that regulation of the legal profession can be split into two broad categories: the complaints handling functions, and other regulatory matters such as regulating admission to the profession and setting and maintaining professional standards.”

The spokesperson continued : “Our primary concern regarding regulation of the legal profession has been with the issue of complaints against the profession. The Scottish Consumer Council, one of Consumer Focus Scotland’s predecessor bodies, published research in 1999 on complaints about solicitors, which revealed a clear perception that the Society was not impartial in its handling of complaints, appearing to take the side of the solicitor. Following the publication of the research, the SCC campaigned for a number of years for the establishment of an independent body to deal with complaints against solicitors, to ensure that the public has confidence in the legal system. As detailed in our evidence on Petition PE1388, Consumer Focus Scotland’s preference would be for the Legal Services Complaints Commission to have responsibility for investigating all complaints against solicitors, not just service complaints.”

On the matter of Petition 1354 and its closure, a spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland gave more hope the issue would be pursued as part of its work on civil justice reform.

The spokesperson said : “Consumer Focus Scotland has a keen interest in the issue of pubic legal education. In our report ‘Making Civil Justice Work for Consumers,’ published in March 2010, we identified a public legal education strategy as being the first step in our four-step approach to removing barriers to access to justice. Most recently, the report of the Civil Justice Advisory Group, published by Consumer Focus Scotland in January 2011, made recommendations around public legal education and our consumer agenda for Scottish Parliament, published in February 2011 also highlights this as a key policy issue.

Their spokesperson continued : “While our work plan for 2011-12 is still to be agreed by the Consumer Focus Scotland Board, we expect that the issue of public legal education will be an issue we pursue as part of our work on civil justice next year.”


Anonymous said...

Consumer Focus support self regulation. Money changing hands here, they are being bought off.

A Consumer organisation wants lawyers to remain omnipotent. Rename it Lawyer Focus Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Every democracy has its share of those who hide behind the curtain of self regulation, where their corruption goes unpunished.

Liberal democratic legal systems are meant to protect the weaker parties in disputes.

Consumer Focus mean lawyers can steal clients money, plunder wills, cause suicides. It has been happening and lawyers are protected. Some Consumer Focus.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell believes lawyers should investigate themselves ? Only a lawyer !

Anonymous said...

This seems to be more of a turf war with the Law Society telling msps and petitioners to keep out of its territory.

I agree it might be a good thing if you all get together (solicitors & campaigners) although is this a realistic proposal ? I doubt it.

Anyway excellent work Peter this is a very revealing report as always !

Anonymous said...

When Robin Harper finishes his speech he's looking around to see if anyone actually believes him lol

I dont know much about the other petition although it sounds like the Law Society ruined it too

Anonymous said...

Why bother having a petitions committee if the Law Society run it all their own way ?

As you said one before Peter its beginning to look very obvious now any petition dealing with the legal system or Law Society is squashed like an insect.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Consumer Focus support self regulation. Money changing hands here, they are being bought off.

A Consumer organisation wants lawyers to remain omnipotent. Rename it Lawyer Focus Scotland.

10 March 2011 16:35

Yes I think the same as you - they have been bought off big time

Anonymous said...

One msp speaking to Diary of Injustice over the failure of Petition PE1388 branded Consumer Focus Scotland’s idea that a Law Society regulatory committee with a 50-50 lay member involvement will restore public confidence in regulation of the legal profession as “nonsense”.

Yes bravo to whoever you are mr/miss/mrs msp.The idea any Law Society committee can be trusted to restore public confidence in regulation of the legal profession is bloody stupid to put it in terms Peter will allow this comment to be published.

Anonymous said...

Yes I've just watched the video clip (very good you have these facilities Peter)

Robin Harper looks like a kid who lost his lollipop in the playground after he says all that about Consumer Focus supporting the self regulation.

What a joke !

So the Greens are big on wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons but no f*ing way are we ever going to have independent complaints against lawyers !

Anonymous said...

Good sources Peter.Your information on the Festival of Politics meeting and its effect on Mr MacKenzie's petition is very accurate.

Anonymous said...

So a door left open by Consumer Focus in their closing statement to you?

Anonymous said...

Why should I allow my son to be educated on subjects of justice by an organisation which had one of its own head honchos cut up outside his own house

Anonymous said...

What kind of country do we live in where the guy who ruined the bank gets more justice than us?

Sir Fred Goodwin, former RBS chief, obtains super-injunction

Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has obtained a super-injunction banning the publication of information about him, it has been disclosed on the floor of the House of Commons.

Mr Goodwin is nicknamed Fred "the shred" for his management style Photo: REUTERS
By Steven Swinford 2:13PM GMT 10 Mar 2011

The existence of the draconian injunction - so strict it prevents Sir Fred being identified as a banker - was disclosed by John Hemming, a back-bench Liberal Democrat MP, in a question during a business debate at the House on Thursday morning. His comments are protected by parliamentary privilege.

He said: "In a secret hearing Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.

"Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there's one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?"

Leader of the House Sir George Young said a forthcoming Westminster Hall debate would explore freedom of speech, adding: "I will raise with the appropriate minister the issue he has just raised."

The terms of the injunction are so strict that the Daily Telegraph cannot reveal the nature of the information that Sir Fred Goodwin is attempting to protect.

Sir Fred, nicknamed Fred "the shred" for his management style, presided over the near collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had to be bailed out by the taxpayer.

He left with a pension of £700,000 a year and a lump sum of nearly nearly £3 million. Following a public outcry he later agreed to reduce his payout by £200,000 a year.

Super-injunctions - under which even reporting the existence of the injunction is banned - are increasingly being used by powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to stop the media from publishing information.

Last month a sportsman known to have cheated on his partner with two women won an appeal to remain anonymous. The judge said his identity had to be protected because the fact he had conducted a previous affair would make it easier for people to work out the nature of the allegations.

Three days later Mr Justice Eady granted anonymity to a married TV personality identified only by the random initials OPQ. The judge asked the media to leave the court, saying that "to proceed in public would defeat the object of the application".

Anonymous said...

Yes they are completely out of focus Peter!

Anonymous said...

This is a disgraceful betrayal of trust by Consumer Focus Scotland which has clearly shown where it's allegiances have always been - with the establishment.

I for one will be keeping a very close eye on where its soon to be redundant management end up - this must be worth a quango appointment or two surely.

Anonymous said...

I agree Peter has brought to attention the fact msps are shutting down any debate about the legal profession and the Law Society.The thing is what are we going to do about it if our politicians are constantly shutting us out like this ?

I think we need a demonstration group to start lawful protesting for people who are victims of no justice in a more public venue until our politicians start to listen

Anonymous said...

All the msps were too busy sucking up to the likes of Goodwin to care what he was up to and the same for Consumer Focus and the rest.Still its disgusting he uses the law to silence the media much like the Law Society regularly do ? or do they just use certain parts of the media to silence everyone else..

Good work Peter keep it up!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

What kind of country do we live in where the guy who ruined the bank gets more justice than us?

Well its all over the papers today so good on the mp who exposed it unlike our own rotten mob in Edinburgh who shut down debate on stuff like Goodwin and others

Anonymous said...

Idea of campaigners & solicitors from the GBA working together is a no brainer I'm afraid.
The one who caused most of this has such a big ego he cannot work with anyone except himself!

Carry on stirring!

Anonymous said...

I knew this would happen and with all your own experience you probably did too.

As someone else said we need some public demonstrations about the lack of justice in Scotland

Anonymous said...

A real stab in the back then from Consumer Focus Scotland, at least those doing the dirty deed are recorded for all to see, courtesy of your blog.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

One msp speaking to Diary of Injustice over the failure of Petition PE1388 branded Consumer Focus Scotland’s idea that a Law Society regulatory committee with a 50-50 lay member involvement will restore public confidence in regulation of the legal profession as “nonsense”. SELF REGUALTION IS TYRANNY. HOW CAN AN MSP BE TRUSTED NOW?

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote all that bs for Consumer Focus knows nothing of what goes on at the LSS'Council.

Anonymous said...

This is enough proof to me our MSPS dont care one bit about us

Anonymous said...

Not even allowed to give oral evidence yet the Law Society and their goons are regularly invited in by the Petitions Committee for tea & cakes.

Whats the word I'm looking for ?


Anonymous said...

I notice the newspapers have yet again stayed away from reporting efforts to get rid of the Law Society by ordinary people yet they are all over it when some jumped up lawyer says he disagrees with the Law Society.Free speech in Scotland sure has become a joke!

Anonymous said...


11 March 2011 Last updated at 13:53

A Paisley-based law firm which repaid almost £222,000 in misclaimed legal aid has been banned from providing any further taxpayer-funded assistance.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board removed Robertson and Ross Limited, and one of its directors, Fraser Currie, from an approved list of practitioners.

It took similar action in 2010 against the firm's director Iain Robertson and former associate Alistair Gibb.

They were found to have overcharged the board for travel to various prisons.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said the removal of the firm and Mr Currie followed investigations which "revealed significant failures to comply with" its code of conduct "which included the submission of accounts that overcharged travel to prisons".

The board monitors and investigates legal aid expenditure involving both legal aid applicants and the legal profession.

While it can stop solicitors undertaking criminal legal aid work, only the Law Society of Scotland has responsibility for stopping solicitors from providing civil legal aid services.


Anonymous said...

Lawyers can steal anything and get away with it, especially if they control the cops.

Anonymous said...

"My wife left me, took my children, and I now have little hope of ever working again. I am shattered and have been diagnosed with depression, but the solicitor I originally complained against has a good life, is an outwardly respectable member of the community, but in reality is a thief who embezzled tens of thousands of pounds from my business, and ruined my business just to make sure he could buy up the bankrupt parts for himself which is what he actually did."

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Consumer Focus Scotland that self regulation of lawyers “brings a number of benefits to "Consumer Focus" yes we agree it has, no doubt some of you are heading for the SLCC.

Anonymous said...

We have two legal systems in Scotland a public one for non professionals and a private one which protects professionals.

Members of the public are jurors in complex murder cases, but are not smart enough to be jurors in complaints against lawyers.

The self regulators are not policed, they are protected so Consumer Focus are now as crooked as our MSP's and lawyers. Some justice.

Anonymous said...

Concerning the Law Society attempt to take over education of children - I hope these people are being screened by the Police because from what I've read in the papers a good few lawyers should be on the sex offenders list and not allowed anywhere near a school.