SLCC ‘little more than a duck-out house for law complaints’ as solicitors clients forced to foot huge salaries & expenses for do-little law quango. EXTRAVAGANT PAYMENTS & rocketing expenses claims of frequently flying board members at the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) are revealed today for the firs time in their full detail after a decision from the Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion forced the ‘do-little, do-nothing’ law complaints regulator to disclose the actual claims requests submitted by its board members in true Westminster MP expenses claims style, shining a light into the murky world of remuneration at Scotland’s ineffective law complaints quango.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information laws have revealed that in the 2009-2010 financial year, remuneration & expenses claims dished out to board members alone amounted to a staggering £158,329.04p yet after three years of existence, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has yet to contribute to a single prosecution of any solicitor at the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), a fact itself which earlier this year promoted criticisms from the Chairman of the SSDT in his annual report which I covered here : Law complaints quango Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 'a failure' as Discipline Tribunal reveals no prosecutions of crooked lawyers in two years
SLCC Chair Jane Irvine featured among expenses documents released under Freedom of Information laws. The documents reveal staggering daily salaries & remuneration of in some cases, well over £300 a day, wages which many employees across the UK can now only dream of yet it all comes so easy at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, a so-called ‘independent’ regulator of legal complaints in Scotland which has only managed to uphold one single complaint in its three years of existence as I reported here : ‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's 2010 annual report
Readers can download & inspect the actual expenses claims of the SLCC’s board members, who are comprised of lawyers, former lawyers, former senior Police Officers & quangocrats, here :
The rocketing figures of remuneration & expenses at the SLCC, which is expected to jump even higher in the next financial year after the addition of three new ‘non-lawyer’ board members including yet another soon-to-retire senior Policeman and an additional ‘lawyer-only’ board member who took the job after no one else in the profession bothered to apply, were criticised by consumer groups and solicitors alike today, as bearing little relation the reality of difficult financial times for all.
Several solicitors and law firms contacted by Diary of Injustice admitted the expense to the legal profession of running the SLCC has impacted on charges for legal services in Scotland as many solicitors & law firms faced with a general reduction in business and having to deal with a complicated complaints system using the SLCC & Law Society of Scotland, have been forced to pass on the costs to consumers.
Today, one senior solicitor branded the SLCC “The Scottish Legal Duck Out House Commission.”
He said : “As far as I am concerned the SLCC is nothing but a duck-out for a few people who haven't got much to show for their past three years of operation.”
He went onto claim “This free for all quango with ludicrous salaries & benefits for a few is doing nothing for client confidence in their legal representatives, or restoring any general confidence in the Scottish legal profession yet clients fees have went up to cover the enormous amount of paperwork needed to deal with the SLCC.”
An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations commenting on the documents said : “The SLCC appears to spend more time & detail on its expenses claims than actual complaints investigations.”
Last year, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission gave two different figures for expenses claims in an effort to mislead the media. The first figure offered up for their 2008-2009 financial year was a meagre £6408.96 yet after further investigations & tip offs, the SLCC was forced to correct the suspiciously low figure and reveal a whopping £128,624.00 had actually been paid out to its board members, many of whom have several other jobs and positions on other taxpayer funded quangos.
A feature on the numerous jobs of many of the SLCC’s current board members can be found in an earlier article, here : More ‘jobs for the boys’ than action on ‘crooked lawyers’ : What it takes to be a Board Member at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to repay £1.7million public funds as board member revealed to sit on Govt. Accounts scrutiny quango
The now former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman at 70K a year was named in a survey as one of the highest paid quango Chiefs in Scotland at the time. Last year it was revealed While board members of the SLCC raked in a staggering £135,000 plus in expenses claims over the past year, and its Chair, Jane Irvine netted in the region of £308 a day, along with the now resigned due to ill health Chief Executive Eileen Masterman who earned a whopping £1350 per week. During 2009, the complaints body showed itself over the past year to be a very poor regulator of complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’, leaving many clients finding their complaints have been ‘whitewashed’ in a way reminiscent of the Law Society of Scotland’s Client Relations Office investigations, which are well known to have let thousands of crooked lawyers off the hook from even the most serious of complaints.
This year, in spite of the same little-work regime at the SLCC where yet again, most complaints have been passed back to the Law Society of Scotland by the ‘independent’ law complaints quango, an extra £23,000.00 seems to have been added to the expenses & remuneration totals.
Slip-up or deliberate attempt to mislead ? : SLCC provided misleading information only admitting to £6k expenses on earlier FOI request. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had in 2009, apparently intentionally provided deceptive information to an earlier FOI request from the media over members expenses, where the SLCC claimed the total sums claimed and paid to Members between 1 October and 31 August 2009 at £6408.96. However, when quizzed further on the figures, the SLCC Chair, Jane Irvine issued a new statement contradicting the earlier FOI response on members expenses, and admitted that between 1 October 2008 and 31 August 2009 members received total further payments of a staggering £128,624.00 by way of fees, giving the following 'varying interpretation' reason for the staggering £122,216.00 error in the Commission's expenses accounting figures.
SLCC Chief Jane Irvine threatened media after FOI requests for board members expenses details. After having to admit the huge discrepancies in the FOI release of expenses claims, the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine, threatened to brand journalists Freedom of Information enquires as “vexatious” in an attempt to control publicity on the SLCC’s board members expenses claims habits. Ms Irvine said : "Having stated all this I have very carefully considered the exact wording of your request as you have directed me to. This might be read two ways. Either as a request for records of all claims for expenses and money paid as expenses - which we have answered, or a request for records plus a request for records of all money paid. I have not sought to clarify this with you. Rather I have interpreted it expansively and in this context advise that between 1 October 2008 and 31 August 2009 Members received total further payments of £128,624.00 by way of fees."
The SLCC had previously argued the mental health & ‘safety problems’ of its board members would preclude any significant disclosure of their expenses claims.