Friday, May 27, 2011

FREQUENT SPENDERS : Cash rich Scottish Legal Complaints Commission gives £1million back to lawyers, avoids repaying £2 million owed to public purse

SLCC 2 millionCash rich law quango SLCC gives £1 million gift back to lawyers in latest budget. GREED IS GOOD if you happen to work in the Scottish legal profession as it was revealed today the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which received a massive TWO MILLION POUNDS from taxpayers to fund its start up costs which included luxurious offices, financial perks & lavish expenses claims for board members, is yet again giving greedy lawyers a financial boost by releasing £1 million of its near £1.8 million cash stash back to the legal profession to reduce levies on crooked lawyers.

While the SLCC and its extravagantly expenses claiming & quangocrat filled board continue to refuse to repay even one penny of the £2 million of public funds it received in 2007- 2008, money which could prop up a wide range of public services or be put to much better use inside other parts of the justice system, today’s announcement on the SLCC’s 2011-2012 budget shows there appears to be no reluctance to hand millions of pounds back to the very same legal profession the scandal laden law complaints quango is supposedly tasked to regulate.

The figures announced in the SLCC’s budget for 2011-2012 laid before the Scottish Parliament today show a cut in the standard levy applied to all solicitors (and conveyancing and executry practitioners) of £26 to £209 for the year from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. Those in the first three years of practice will pay £105 (also the figure for advocates), and in-house lawyers and those practising outwith Scotland £69. The complaints levy remains unchanged, ranging from no charge where a complaint is resolved at mediation, up to £2,000 for a formal determination upholding a complaint on a third or subsequent occasion, although given the fact the SLCC has only upheld one single complaint since it began ‘regulating’ lawyers in 2008, little in the way of formal determinations have actually been made and certainly not published.

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentFergus Ewing as Minister for Communities & Justice wrote letter praising the SLCC for paying back solicitors a few million, no thought of asking for the £2m to be returned. Given the poor state of public funds throughout the country, one might have thought Scottish Ministers would have pressed for some kind of repayment of taxpayers money from the SLCC yet no such moves were made, and stunningly, the now former Minister for Communities & Justice, Fergus Ewing, wrote a letter to the SLCC’s new Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew, praising the SLCC for “listening to representations from the Law Society” and handing back millions to the legal profession.

fergus ewing msp response to consultation 2011-2012Fergus Ewing said in his letter of 2 March 2011 : “I am pleased that the SLCC has been able to take account of the representations from the legal profession and plans to keep a tight rein on running costs for 2011/2012, estimated at just under those for the current year. I note this has allowed the top-end annual levy to be reduced by a further 28 and I am sure this will be welcomed by the profession. I am aware that reducing the amount held in reserve, closer to the minimum of three months running costs recommended by your independent auditors, will put pressure on the levy rates for future years. To reduce this risk, I expect the SLCC to continue to look for further efficiency savings, and I am pleased to note that you are exploring options including the provision of shared services with other public bodies. Jill Clark and her sponsorship team in Legal System Division remain available to help in any way they can with this process. Officials hope to continue dialogue with you towards the end of the year when you are considering setting the rate for the levy 2012/2013.”

Rosemary AgnewSLCC’s new Chief executive Rosemary Agnew replaced remarkably short tenured former CEO Eileen Masterman. Speaking for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Chief executive Rosemary Agnew announced a whopping one million pounds would be handed back to the legal profession although she avoided any mention or concern for the repayment of millions of pounds of public funds squandered on the SLCC. Ms Agnew said: “The general levy for 2011-12 has been set below the amount required to recover our full expenditure costs, which means £1m will be released from our reserves leaving sufficient funds to cover 3.5 months' running costs. This means the general levy will be cut by £26; however, I must emphasise that this level is unlikely to be sustainable in future years. Importantly, although expenditure is budgeted to remain the same, the SLCC aims to deliver a wider range of functions, particularly in relation to the development of our oversight role.”

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said the SLCC would do better to meet its public expectation of cleaning up the legal profession instead of gifting back most of the money it has accrued to solicitors.

He said : “While I’m sure the Law Society will be very happy to hear the SLCC are reducing levies once again, the fact is that consumers of legal services in Scotland are in just as precarious a position with regard to the regulation of solicitors as they were before the SLCC was created. Perhaps instead of handing out annual gifts to solicitors, the SLCC and its board should concentrate more on its duties mandated in legislation, among them the monitoring of claims against the Master Policy.”

The Law Society of Scotland today said it was happy the SLCC had ‘listened’ to the society’s ‘representations’ over the levy charges, due to solicitors allegedly experiencing a “tough economic situation”.

Philip YellandLaw Society of Scotland’s Philip Yelland, in charge of regulation of crooked Scottish lawyers for over 20 years. Commenting on the reduction in levy fee by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Philip Yelland, director of regulation at the Law Society of Scotland, said in a press release : "We are glad that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has listened to our representations about the level of fee solicitors will pay in the coming budgetary year. Many solicitors are still making difficult business decisions as there is still a careful balancing act for many solicitors during this ongoing tough economic situation. The £26 decrease in levy fee, which practicing solicitors pay to fund the Commission, is to be welcomed and the Society will continue to represent the profession's interests to the Commission as it carries out its functions."

Clearly the Law Society representations and the bias of Scottish Ministers won the day to keep the legal profession happy, although the £1 million would have been better returned to public funds, where the money is really needed.

BACKGROUND of Law Society’s Regulation Chief.

Philip Yelland letter to David Reid ordering him not to take client instructionsPhilip Yelland ordered solicitors not to take their clients instructions in cases in Scotland’s Court of Session against crooked & negligent lawyers. Mr Philip Yelland was formerly the head of the Law Society’s “Client Relations Office”, holding the position since 1990 and has been involved or in charge of regulation of “crooked lawyers” in Scotland for over twenty years in a period which coincidentally saw huge numbers of complaints against the legal profession which in one year alone topped 5000 complaints against Scottish solicitors. Mr Yelland was also identified in private correspondence sent to solicitors demanding they refuse to represent or take instructions from clients involved in Court of Session cases against some of Scotland’s worst rogue lawyers, among them the well known crooked lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling solicitors, Kelso, in the Scottish Borders.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland blacklisted clients from legal representation & legal aid. Unsurprisingly, many solicitors who face complaints handed by Mr Yelland’s office ended up receiving little more than a slap on the wrist while ruined clients were barred from court, blacklisted from obtaining legal representation, were privately investigated and were subject to “information gathering exercises” by senior Law Society officials revealed in 2006 at Holyrood’s Justice 2 Committee’s investigation of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill. It was also revealed most clients who ended up victims of the legal profession had received little or no compensation for millions of pounds of plundered client assets.

Mr Yelland’s name was also allegedly linked to the suicide of an Oban client in a report on the Law Society of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt Master Policy Insurance scheme compiled by Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville of the Manchester University of Law School in 2009. Papers studied by the University team yet not released to the public alleged a man from Oban had been sent to a Glasgow law firm to represent him in a court case against a crooked law firm yet the Glasgow law firm did nothing for a period of three years and after it was revealed the same firm also represented the Legal Defence Union, the shady organisation which represents crooked lawyers against complaints, the Oban client committed suicide.

The final report from the University of Manchester Law School on the Master Policy can be viewed or downloaded here : Report on the Master Policy by University of Manchester Law School, Dr Angela Melville & Professor Frank Stephen.

My coverage of the report’s release & conclusions is here : 'Ground-breaking' investigation into Law Society's Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers & here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'

The Law Society of Scotland & others linked to the Oban case have never commented on their role in events which some allege drove the unnamed client to suicide and readers may recall from recent news the Legal Defence Union played a significant part in negotiating a secret deal with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to secure no action against solicitor Niels S Lockhart for alleged legal aid irregularities.

All this trouble, expense, political interference from Scottish Ministers, clients intimidated & suicides just so lawyers can sleep soundly at night, as the report on the Master Policy from Dr Melville & Professor Stephen so accurately stated.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Victorian,prejudiced,politicised & definitely a little crooked, yet First Minister feels Scotland’s justice system should be its own final arbiter

Scottish judgesScotland’s “Victorian” justice system in the dock after UK’s Supreme Court overturns yet another criminal conviction. AS the ash cloud caused by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Nat Fraser’s appeal continues to spark protests from First Minister Alex Salmond & Justice Secretary MacAskill of the necessity of the Scottish legal system being the final arbiter of cases brought before it, we would all do well to remember that Scotland’s justice system which has been branded Victorian, prejudiced, restrictive, most certainly a little crooked, open to political manipulation and by all accounts certainly racist and even sectarian, cannot in any circumstances be regarded as a justice system fit for a modern democracy which gives those brought before it in criminal law, or those who must use it for civil law, a right to a fair hearing or even a right to access to justice itself.

Yesterday’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court which overturned Nat Fraser’s conviction after a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh in 2003 found him guilty of killing his wife Arlene who vanished from home in April 1998 has led to accusations yet again that the Supreme Court in London threatens the independence of Scotland’s criminal legal system. However, the only real threat to the independence, (and don't forget the integrity & credibility) of Scottish justice and Scots Law, is Scots Law itself.

First MinisterFirst Minister Alex Salmond being sworn in by .. Scottish judges. Predictably, the First Minister reacted bitterly to the perceived intervention of a court outside Scotland which decided Mr Fraser’s rights to a fair hearing had been breeched. Mr Salmond said : “I have no comment on the specifics of the case, which is live. But what needs to be addressed is the underlying issue - the principle that Scotland has, for hundreds of years, been a distinct criminal jurisdiction, and the High Court of Justiciary should be the final arbiter of criminal cases in Scotland, as was always the case.”

Mr Salmond continued : "Before devolution, the House of Lords had no jurisdiction whatever in matters of Scots criminal law. The increasing involvement of the UK Supreme Court in second guessing Scotland's highest criminal court of appeal is totally unsatisfactory, and creates additional delay and complexity which cannot serve the interests of justice.As we said in our evidence to the Scotland Bill Committee, the Scottish Government believe that the UK Supreme Court should have no role in matters of Scots criminal law, whether by way of devolution issues or appeal."

A legal observer, commenting on the ruling & the criticisms of the Supreme Court by the First Minister pointed out the Scottish legal system, with Scotland currently a member of the EU must be ECHR compliant. He said : “First thing is that the London Supreme Court was simply upholding the ECHR, which applies to the UK and by direct application, Scotland.”

Criticising the now notorious woes of Scots Law, he continued : “The Scottish legal and political system is the worst in the British Isles, even worse than the system in the Republic of Ireland. I´m all for further intrusion by the Supreme Court in the Scottish criminal system.”

Let us take a closer look at the Charges facing Scotland’s Justice system, both criminal & civil :and judge for ourselves whether it is fit for a modern democracy as we are supposed to be.


Lord GillLord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill branded Scots civil law “Victorian” yet clearly Scots criminal law also has major problems. It wasn't too long ago Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Brian Gill said in a speech to a Law Society of Scotland conference which preceded publication of his Civil Courts Review, branded Scotland’s civil justice system as “a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms … 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.” Clearly the judge said it, so it must be true. Lord Gill said a lot more and put forward many recommendations to fix Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system yet the reaction of the Scottish Government to Lord Gill’s damning indictment of Scotland’s civil justice system was to launch another review of Lord Gill’s review, which I reported on here : Scottish Government delay reforms on costs of litigation & access to justice as Minister announces 18 month 'time wasting' review by retired sheriff.

Many of the same failings of the civil justice system are also true of Scotland’s criminal law system, which is clearly out of touch on many occasions with human rights issues, so out of touch the Supreme Court also had to correct the rights of accused to be able to consult a solicitor when being interrogated by Police, as occurred in the Cadder (Appellant) v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland) (pdf) ruling which caused similar huffing & puffing from Mr Salmond & Mr MacAskill, who were apparently keen to maintain the lack of such rights to accused, before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

A review of a very damning review and attempts to restrict the rights of individuals already accepted across Europe does not inspire confidence in the need to update a justice system Mr Salmond claims is already fair and should be its own final arbiter.


Do you need legal aid to fund legal representation ? Whether its a civil or even a criminal case, the Scottish Legal Aid Board may very well refuse it, clearly hindering your right to a fair hearing or a fair trial. Legal Aid refusals appear to be based more on personal prejudices of some in the justice system rather than whether a case stands a chance of success or not.

Don't have a lawyer ? then don't expect to get into court, and expect a lot of grief if you try to do it. Try taking a civil case to the Court of Session as a party litigant after being denied legal representation simply because solicitors do not wish (for a variety of reasons including orders from on-high) to progress your case. Never has a class of litigant been so prejudiced in the entire UK as party litigants are in Scottish courts. The eyes of the £200,000 a year judge and equally costly defending counsel before you in the court say it all “Why does this person exist. What gives this person the right to intrude into our cosy club and challenge our right to stand here with the full backing of the legal establishment and decide who should come before us.”


From the Law Society personally targeting the lives of those who complain against their solicitors, to our judges being controlled by male prostitutes, to Police Officers leaking data to criminals to fingerprints being planted at murder scenes, to lawyers getting away with legal aid fiddles, to the law itself being manipulated by its servants to bring charges against individuals, one may argue the Scottish justice system is a lot more crooked than the media can keep up with all the scandals requiring exposure.


The Lockerbie Trial, and the controversy that will never go away over the hearings at Camp Zeist and the subsequent conviction of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. Just imagine what may have happened if, rather than being conveniently released on compassionate grounds by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who was obviously keen on avoiding making the Scottish Court of Appeal look even more a fool than it is, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi had finally been able to take his appeal to the Supreme Court in London ? If the court had ruled in his favour and quashed his conviction, how much huffing & puffing would the First Minister and Justice Secretary done in that event ?


In the case of Surjit Singh Chhokar, the Crown Office was and still is, branded as “institutionally racist”. There is little doubt race and racial discrimination places a huge part in Scotland’s justice system today, no matter how many statistics the Crown Office may tout on hate crimes or race crimes.

As the Telegraph newspaper reported at the time : “SCOTLAND'S most senior lawyer announced sweeping reforms of the Scottish criminal justice system yesterday following the publication of two damning reports into the murder of an Asian man. Although the reports reached conflicting conclusions on institutionalised racism, both investigations uncovered serious mistakes by the prosecution service in its handling of the Surjit Singh Chhokar case.”

“Comparisons between the Chhokar case and that of Stephen Lawrence had been made following the acquittal of three men accused of murdering the Sikh waiter three years ago. Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Colin Boyd, the Lord Advocate, admitted that the legal system had "failed the Chhokar family" and offered his apologies to them. Mr Boyd accepted the findings of a report by Raj Jandoo, Scotland's most senior Asian advocate, which found evidence of institutionalised racism in the way police officers and the Procurator Fiscal dealt with the bereaved family.”

We all of course remember what happened to Scotland’s most Senior Asian Advocate Raj Jandoo after he wrote the report, BBC News reported Mr Jandoo was convicted of endangering an aircraft and breach of the peace for mentioning a bomb and being regarded as terrorist causing fear and alarm to passengers and crew. Meanwhile other [white] Scottish legal luminaries dragged off aircraft & charged with offences, had their charges dropped.

Racism is still very much alive in the Scottish justice system today.


Surprise ! Even though no one wants to admit it, Scotland’s justice system is just as sectarian as those individuals or groups the Justice Secretary now seeks to legislate against with what will probably be poorly thought out laws rushed through the Scottish Parliament which may well end up being challenged on ECHR compliance later on, possibly in the Supreme Court once again.

According to a report authored by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University for the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, there is firm evidence to show the Scottish Justice system is itself sectarian, holding harsher positions, verdicts & gives out longer term sentences against catholic defendants and other religious minorities than other groups who come before it on criminal (and quite possibly civil) matters, according to coverage from Scottish Law Reporter, available here : Report published by Holyrood Committee says justice system may be prejudiced against Catholics, confirms higher numbers in Scots jails.

The report, which msps were reluctant to publish, presumably because it revealed there were indeed sectarian issues in the Scottish justice system itself, can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament’s website, here : Offender Demographics and Sentencing Patterns in Scotland and the UK: Research commissioned by the Public Petitions Committee in consideration of PE1073 (203KB pdf)

Is such a justice system worth defending when clearly it fails to serve Scotland and the Scottish people, rather only serving its own vested interests and of those who support it ?

First Minister Alex Salmond’s criticisms of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling and his views on Scotland’s justice system being its own final arbiter are not consistent with the realty of justice in Scotland. Little wonder therefore that those who require a fair hearing in criminal or civil law should now look to the Supreme Court and even Europe because Scottish justice is unfair and all the things above.

Of course, Mr Salmond, you’d know all this anyway if you actually spent some time in the justice system yourself …

Thursday, May 19, 2011

HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers

SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman (foreground) received Scottish Government approved pay off after lawyers intervened says auditor report. RUMOURS that Eileen Masterman, the former Chief Executive of the much derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), received a SUBSTANTIAL PAY OFF after she resigned on grounds of “ill health”, after serving less than SEVEN MONTHS in the £80,000 a year, £1,350 plus, a week job have now been confirmed with the publication of a “Key Memorandum Issues” document prepared for the SLCC by the Edinburgh offices of auditors Grant Thornton. Grant Thornton were called in to replace the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) as the SLCC’s auditors, after SLAB were abruptly sacked from their auditing role by the SLCC’s board in 2009 after much bickering over the Legal Aid Board’s scrutiny of the failed law complaints quango.

However, the report now published by Grant Thornon FAILS to mention any references to official claims Ms Masterman resigned due to “ill health”. The report instead documents a battle negotiations between lawyers, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even the Scottish Government over what is referred to as an unspecified “Ex-Gratia payment”, which one legal insider this morning said may have been made to head off any legal proceedings against the SLCC by Ms Masterman. The figure, which Grant Thornton, the SLCC and the Scottish Government have so far failed to disclose, is rumoured to be substantial.

Grant Thornton’s audit of the SLCC’s problems revealed Scottish Government approved payoff to former CEO. Referring to Ms Masterman’s payoff while managing to omit the figures, page eight of the report from Grant Thornton states : “Ex gratia payment to former CEO : Rosemary Agnew was appointed the role of Acting CEO in November 2009 and the former CEO, Eileen Masterman departed from the post in February 2010, with Rosemary Agnew continuing in her role. We understand that an ex-gratia payment was paid to the former CEO. The amount of this payment was determined through consultation between the former CEO, the Board and the respective lawyers. The payment was then authorised and approved by the Board and the payment approved by the Scottish Government.”

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - Eileen Masterman steps down  as Chief  Executive 19 April 2010SLCC release on Masterman resignation claimed illness, omitting details of Scottish Government approved pay-off. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a public press release regarding Ms Masterman’s resignation, stating : “The SLCC has now informed its staff and stakeholders that after a period of illness, Eileen Masterman, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has left the organisation. The Commission wishes her well for the future. Jane Irvine, SLCC Chair, confirmed that Rosemary Agnew, the SLCC Head of Investigations, will continue in her role as Accountable Officer and Acting Chief Executive until further notice. The position of Chief Executive is filled through the Public Appointments process run by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland (OCPAS). The recruitment process will commence in due course.”

Following the ‘recruitment process’, Ms Masterman was eventually replaced by Rosemary Agnew as Chief Executive in 2010. The SLCC have since removed any references to Ms Masterman’s resignation from their website.

Sources in late 2009 had informed Diary of Injustice that Ms Masterman had failed to respond to correspondence from consumers & msps, however it was not until early 2010, firm evidence was made available Ms Masterman had been missing from her role as the SLCC’s Chief Executive for some time, as I revealed in an article on April 13 2010, here : £70K Chief Executive ‘missing for 6 months’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Secretary dodges questions on scandal-hit law quango

The day after my initial article on Ms Masterman’s disappearance from work, April 4, 2010, the SLCC were forced to announce the resignation of Ms Masterman from her post on grounds of “ill health”, which I reported on, here : SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney revealed he felt Ms Masterman had mislead him over accounts of meetings. However, Eileen Masterman’s resignation leaves questions over increasingly bitter exchanges between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief, John Swinney, on a matter which I have previously reported where further documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation revealed the SLCC had clearly mislead Mr Swinney over secret meetings between its officials including Ms Masterman and officials from Marsh, the Law Society’s Master Policy insurers.

John Swinney 09032009 to SLCC 1Cabinet Secretary Swinney demanded explanations of SLCC's minutes contradictions. Letters written by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney dated March 2009 to the SLCC's Chief Executive Eileen Masterman brand her explanation 'contradictory' to details in the Commission's own minutes : "In your response on the 12th of December to *** subsequent letter on the 2nd of December in which *** had stated 'clearly you are saying that no date has yet been arranged for the Marsh presentation'. You indicated that a meeting took place with RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) in July 2008 but that no meeting had occurred with Marsh."

Mr Swinney went on to state in his letter : "*** has drawn to my attention the fact that the minutes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 11th of March 2008 and 7th July 2007 indicated firstly in March 2008 that 'Jane Irvine confirmed she had arranged an introductory session from Marsh' and the minutes in July said that a meeting had taken place with RSA. I have to say that I feel there is a contradiction between the correspondence you have sent to *** dated 1st and 12th of December and the minutes of the SLCC meetings of March and July."

John Swinney 03062009 to SLCCSLCC's answers to Cabinet Secretary Swinney were far from clear. Ms Masterman’s responses to Mr Swinney's allegations of contradictions in correspondence between himself, a constituent and the SLCC, to keep secret any meetings with the insurers, fell through after details of the secret meetings emerged in board minutes of meetings of the Commission, leading to further correspondence between the SLCC & Mr Swinney, who went onto brand Ms Masterman’s explanations as "far from clear" after Ms Masterman informed Mr Swinney in letters dated 15 January 2009 "The SLCC has not consulted with Marsh or the Royal Sun Alliance about the operation of the Master Policy" which was contradicted by emails from November 2008 between Ms Masterman & the then Head of Investigations Rosemary Agnew, which read : "We received our tutorial yesterday on the Master Policy from Marsh".

Eileen Masterman then wrote to John Swinney in a letter dated March 2009 claiming "I have not met with Marsh", clearly contradicting the course of events revealed in documents released under FOI legislation where SLCC officials including Ms Masterman had in fact met Marsh.

Frequent Flyers SLCCFrequent Flyers : SLCC’s David Smith expressed anti-client jibes to Eileen Masterman in emails around the anti-consumer law complaints quango. Among the papers ordered to be disclosed in a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, emails containing anti-client jibes were revealed to have been sent by SLCC board member David Smith to Ms Masterman in July 2009. Mr Smith, husband of Court of Session judge Lady Smith, was personally appointed to the SLCC by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Mr Smith, a lawyer who served much of his career at law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, who themselves often act for the Master Policy in protection of questionable solicitors against negligence claims, referred to participants in the Master Policy survey & deceased clients who had committed suicide as a direct result of involvement with the Master Policy, as “Frequent flyers”.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailCalled to the Bars : Evidence from earlier FOI releases featured in newspapers point to SLCC’s anti client culture among board members & senior officials. The emails from David Smith to SLCC staff including the SLCC’s then Chief Executive Eileen Masterman, support evidence from earlier FOI releases which featured in the national media of a bitter, hate fuelled anti-client culture operating at the highest levels of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has seen other board members such as Glasgow divorce lawyer Margaret Scanlan who rubbished victims of crooked lawyers as “complete chancers”. In additional emails, other board members chastised consumer organisations, and sought to exclude them from the inevitable results of the SLCC’s Master Policy investigation, which the deaths of clients to the Law Society of Scotland, its insurers and the Master Policy itself.

A client who has been waiting months for the SLCC to take action on his complaint about his solicitor, condemned the organisation for its inaction over complaints and internal secrecy. He said : “I’ve been waiting nine months for a result on my complaint which has been back and forth from the Law Society to the SLCC yet neither can work out who should investigate my case. They seem to be more able to pay off their staff in the snap of a finger and make sure the dirt is kept secret rather do their job which is supposed to be investigating complaints about solicitors.”

Scottish GovernmentSomething to hide : Scottish Government Ministers refuse to comment on audit report’s claims they approved a payoff to the former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman. The Scottish Government were asked for comment on their role in approving the pay off to Ms Masterman amid claims that a series of leters from Mr Swinney & a law reform campaigner over the Master Policy meetings led to her downfall. The Scottish Government refused any comment, their spokesperson briefly stating : "This is a private personnel matter for the SLCC and its former employee."

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also refused to comment on the matter or release any details of the payoff and how it was negotiated. It was also noted the SLCC’s media response was emailed at exactly the same time as the response received from the Scottish Government.

Ian GordonFrequent Fryers of FOI requests : SLCC Board Member former Deputy Chief Constable Ian Gordon is also the Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland for the next four years. Given the many questions raised over the resignation of Ms Masterman, and the lack of progress the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had made on key issues including scrutiny of the Master Policy, Freedom of Information requests were made to the SLCC asking for details surrounding the resignation. They were refused. Upon a request for a review of the SLCC’s refusal to disclose information through Freedom of Information legislation, one of its board members, former Tayside Deputy Chief Constable Ian Gordon, who is also, amazingly, the Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland, abruptly refused the Freedom of Information review, as did the SLCC’s new Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew, who considered and again abruptly refused a second request for an FOI review.

The Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion is now investigating the SLCC’s refusal to release any information on Ms Masterman’s absence and resignation from the SLCC.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Crooked & The Crooked : Scottish solicitors claim banks & financial services ‘are historically too crooked’ to own Scots law firms

slasBanks are too crooked to own law firms, FSA is rubbish at regulation, say Scottish Law Agents Society. BIZARRE CLAIMS that High Street Banks and other ‘Financial Service Providers’ are TOO CROOKED to hold majority ownership in equally crooked Scottish law firms have emerged today in a response from the Scottish Law Agents Society to a Scottish Government consultation on proposed changes to the ownership of law firms as laid down in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, passed last year by the Scottish Parliament only after a raft of changes & amendments had been ordered by the Law Society to water down the Scottish Government’s initial proposals to expand Scotland’s closed shop legal industry.

The Scottish Government consultation on which categories of regulated professionals other than solicitors should qualify to meet the 51% ownership requirement in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 has caused fierce bickering within the Scottish legal profession over their decades old control of Scotland notorious closed shop solicitor dominated legal profession where members of the public who require access to justice or the courts are forced to go solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Today, amid the fears of lawyers the financial industry will come into Scotland’s legal profession and scoop up law firms, or even open their own and bring much needed competition into the legal services marketplace where solicitors have got used to charging sky high fees for doing very little work on behalf of their clients, the Scottish Law Agents Society issued a series of damning accusations against the financial services sector, essentially claiming financial services providers are historically too corrupt to own a majority stake in a Scottish law firm.

In a response to the Scottish Government consultation, the Scottish Law Agents Society claimed : “The financial services industry over the last 30 years does not inspire confidence in the professional standards in the industry. There have been widespread scandals with the mis-selling of endowment policies, personal pension plans, home income plans, precipice bonds and other structured investment products. Currently there is a further scandal with the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.”

The same is true of the legal profession in Scotland. Solicitors have spent decades mis-selling legal services to clients who end up paying extortionate fees for useless and often unsuccessful litigation.

The response from SLAS continued : “The key to each of these scandals is the selling of the products. Notwithstanding the veneer of professionalism the old adage that financial products are sold and not bought remains true. The whole culture of financial services remains one of sales rather than the provision of professional services where the professional puts the interests of the client ahead of his own interests. The regulatory scheme which has applied since the Financial Services Act 1986 has done little to curb this culture.”

While it is true regulation may well have done little to curb bad practice in the financial services sector, it is equally true regulation in the legal services sector, provided in Scotland by the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal & last but not least, the Faculty of Advocates, has collectively done little or nothing to curb the incessant corruption, client rip offs, negligence, dishonesty and bad service which continues to plague Scotland’s legal services sector today.

The statement from SLAS also attacked the Financial Services Authority, claiming : “The present regulator of financial services is the FSA and, despite its wide ranging powers, the provisions of the Legal Services (S) Act 2010 with tests of fit to own and fit to manage are not sufficiently robust to allow us to have confidence that the public would be protected from a sales culture approach which could lead to the mis-selling of legal services.”

It should be noted the response from the Scottish Law Agents Society fail to contain any references to many Scots law firms who are themselves caught up in similar scandals of mis-selling of mortgages & financial products and even legal services to clients who are then forced to lodge complaints with the Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Unsurprisingly the Law Society & SLCC are reported to be ignoring such complaints.

While SLAS went onto cover themselves by stating : “It would degrade significantly the intended benefits of the Act and indeed the rationale for liberalising the provision of legal services if regulated professions were restricted only to those of Solicitor and Accountant”. Although it would require approved regulators to evolve and enforce robust “fitness for involvement” tests, it would be inconsistent with the purpose of the Act to deny the opportunity to participate in the provision of legal services to other regulated professionals.” the response indicated they would be happy to form “associations between solicitors and surveyors or indeed any regulated profession as defined in Article 3 of European Directive 2005/36 with one exception“, that exception being the Financial Services Industry.

I am not surprised solicitors are happy to form associations with the likes of surveyors.

Law firms forming associations with surveyors is something I’ve seen first hand in Edinburgh and particularly in the Scottish Borders, usually ending up in a very corrupt arrangement where surveyors dish out fraudulent valuations to house buyers or sellers or solicitors on behalf of executry estates of deceased clients, resulting in one particular case I remember where a single solicitor ended up owning twelve properties, some purchased through middle men after it took years to sell particular properties of deceased clients which ended up being sold in some cases for a quarter of their value during the property value boom between 2000 – 2008.

The response from the Scottish Law Agents Society also came down hard on will writers & confirmation agents, stating : “Will Writers and Confirmation Agents are not professionals. At present they require no proper education and training. The qualifications needed to do that work properly requires the same training that solicitors receive. A full training in and understanding of the law on all aspects of property law, succession, taxation etc, are required to offer proper advice. It is obvious that no one should offer services in Will writing and Confirmation without current practising solicitors trained in that area.”

SLAS continued : “Furthermore we note that there are no adequate mechanisms for consumer complaints to be made and investigated free of cost to the consumer and no evidence of adequate professional standards or disciplinary procedures. There is evidence of widespread consumer detriment in the quality of services provided and in the marketing practices of will writers.”

Clearly standards must be kept, but with the ever increasing amount of fraud by solicitors against executries & wills in Scotland, reaching into the tens of millions of pounds each year or by some estimates much more, I hardly think trusting regulation of the legal services market to the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and the remains of the current self-regulation of solicitors gang, including the SLCC, will do anything to improve regulation, increase public confidence or increase consumer protection in Scotland’s best-to-be-avoided legal services marketplace, even after terms of the much-watered-down Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 takes hold.

The Scottish Government were asked to comment on the SLAS response and their accusations against the Financial sector. A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 will modernise the Scottish legal profession, and will offer firms of every size the flexibility to adopt a business model that works for them and their clients. It will give Scottish firms greater opportunities, within a robust regulatory system, to expand and compete effectively, both within and outwith Scotland.”

"The consultation in question sought views on those who should be permitted to own a majority or controlling share in the new licensed legal services providers. All responses will be analysed and considered along with other evidence before a decision is taken. A report on the consultation will be prepared in due course, and will be available on the Scottish Government website.”

We are therefore left to ask ourselves as consumers of legal services, are banks & financial services providers too crooked to own outright a law firm, or is it just these law firms are themselves too crooked to want anyone else to own them or compete in their markets ?

Judge for yourselves on the evidence aplenty already reported on Diary of Injustice, although you may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion neither of the professions can really be trusted with our financial or our legal & justice needs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

CALLED TO THE BOARD : Documents reveal 89 applications from quangocrats to join £2 MILLION cash stash Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

SLCCScotland’s ‘Crooked Lawyer” complaints quango experienced a rush to join its high paid do-nothing Board. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Government under Freedom of Information legislation have revealed there was a ‘mad rush’ of EIGHTY NINE applications by ‘people from other quangos all walks of life’ to fill THREE highly paid non-lawyer positions on the board of the notoriously anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the ‘not-so-independent’ regulator of complaints against crooked lawyers in Scotland which has so far only upheld one complaint in its three years of existence after soaking up TWO MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money in start-up costs.

The full Freedom of Information release revealing the Scottish Government’s rather tedious recruitment process including the eighty nine applications received by the Scottish Government to fill the non-lawyer board jobs can be viewed online or downloaded as an acrobat pdf document, here : Scottish Government Recruitment Process : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission Board Members 2011.

The huge volume of applications to fill the SLCC’s non-lawyer posts which attract a recession busting £212 a day together with access to massive expenses accounts & other perks all ultimately paid for by ever-rising solicitors fees to their clients, is in marked contrast to the lawyer-only board member position advertised by the SLCC, which I revealed in February in an article here : Poisoned Chalice : MacAskill forced to parachute Government’s own lawyer onto Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after Advocates shun job, attracted only one application after all but one member of the Faculty of Advocates shunned the offer.

The SLCC’s lawyer-only board member position ended up being ‘taken’ by the Scottish Government’s own standing junior counsel Maurice O’Carroll after no one else wanted the job.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailCALLED TO THE BARS or BOARD : SLCC new recruits join hapless anti client law complaints quango board. As I revealed in an earlier article in March, here : One more ex-cop for anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Secretary hands out five year quango jobs at £212 per day, the three non-lawyer positions were filled by yet another soon to retire Senior Policeman, Grampian Superintendent Iain McGrory, Ms Fiona Smith, formerly of Standard Life & a former Human Resources Director with NHS Orkney who resigned from her NHS Orkney post “for personal reasons, and Siraj Khan, who trained as a barrister and was called to the bar in 2010. More on the SLCC’s board membership and what it takes to be a law complaints quangocrat can be found in an earlier article from January 2011, 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

One Scottish Government insider commenting on the SLCC’s latest recruitment drive said the ‘mad rush’ by some to join the SLCC had been expected as many of those already on quangos or in other highly paid-for-by-the-public positions appeared to fear for their current jobs and were actively seeking out additional equally highly paid positions on other quangos.

He said : “I’m sure the remuneration package including £212 a day and access to expenses claims facilities of up to £15,000 a year played a big part in the stampede to sit on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s board, particularly considering quite a few of the applications came in from individuals already on quangos or in other positions which they expected to shortly lose.”

He continued : “After all, the SLCC is well known to have done nothing for three years so its basically money for nothing. Maybe the SLCC should replace their logo with a pound sign so the public don't get any false impressions about what they are really all about.”

A legal insider who was aware of the SLCC’s recruitment drive said : “We knew there were a few campaigners and those with consumer slants in the pot, however they never stood a chance because you have to remember what type of recruit the SLCC were actually seeking. Nothing controversial and obviously only those acceptable to the Law Society please.”

You can tell we are in the middle of a recession when there is such a mad rush by some on those lists to join a quango which is supposed to be investigating complaints against the legal profession yet has been reported in the press as being pro-lawyer. Its also telling exactly who applied to join, not only the volume of applicants. An earlier attempt to recruit additional lay members to the SLCC’s board in 2009 (when other quangos & jobs were not under threat) backfired, after one of the current SLCC lay members threatened to resign then had second thoughts. I reported on this in an article in July 2009, here : SLCC appointments scandal 'humiliation' for Justice Secretary as MacAskill forced to abandon new lay member recruitment. Indeed, what a difference a recession, cuts to quangos, and cuts to public services makes.

Just to set the record straight, I was ‘encouraged’ by a solicitor to apply to join the SLCC in this latest round of non-lawyer appointments. However, after consultation with a well placed Scottish Government source, I chose not to, given the hostility of the SLCC’s chair & board towards myself & colleagues in the media, which has spilled over in emails to several institutions including the Scottish Information Commissioner.

I really do not feel I am able to work with or be associated with people who are supposed to be in positions of protecting consumers, but who in reality exhibit an unhealthy level of HATE, PREJUDICE & a willingness to twist facts, misrepresent issues, deny the release of information and intimidate those who work in the media and all the while, belittling & discriminating against those who have already fallen victim to the legal profession itself. Taking blood money for watching consumers fall victim to a corrupt regulatory process is not my idea of consumer protection or effective, honest & impartial regulation of legal services.

Master Policy Report Suicides revealedNo more news of suicides please : SLCC’s new secret Master Policy research questionnaires are being handed out by Marsh. And on the subject of blood money, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has revealed in its March 2011 Board Minutes it will wait yet another month for new research into the suicide linked Master Policy, the Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme operated by the Law Society of Scotland which insures all of Scotland’s lawyers and allows them to sleep at night while their regulators & insurers cover up their crimes against clients. The unpublished consultation & research which the SLCC apparently does not want the public to know about, probably to avoid any further controversial evidence, can be viewed in an earlier article I published, here : CENSORED : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's secret new Master Policy & Guarantee Fund research 'shuts out' real victims of crooked lawyers

Monday, May 09, 2011

LEGAL PAID : Clients of legal aid lawyers should come forward with information on fake work claims & scams, say Scottish Legal Aid Board

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board asks for clients to tell on go-nowhere cases funded by legal aid. IF YOUR LAWYER IS ABUSING OR FALSIFYING CLAIMS FOR LEGAL AID FUNDS, COME TO US say the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) after clients of legal aid scandal solicitor Niels S Lockhart demanded an investigation by authorities into accusations by Legal Aid Chiefs exposed in a Sunday Mail newspaper investigation the solicitor made “unnecessary & excessive” claims for legal aid, while raking in over £600,000 in legal aid funds paid out of the public purse in over two years.

The announcement from the Scottish Legal Aid Board comes in response to a further article in the Sunday Mail newspaper reporting on the concerns of clients of solicitor Niels Lockhart. One client referred to in the latest Sunday Mail report on the Lockhart-Legal Aid scandal said he had been to Mr Lockhart’s offices on a staggering SEVENTEEN VISITS yet his case had not advanced.

However while SLAB are apparently now keen to speak to Mr Lockhart’s former clients over their concerns, it appears the board are also keen to stress they “saw nothing to indicate fraudulent practices” yet in an amazing contradiction, the board accused Mr Lockhart of making “unnecessary & excessive” claims for legal aid, accusations which in the eyes of many, clearly amount to abuse of public funds.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said on Friday : "During the Board's thorough scrutiny of Mr Lockhart's accounts we saw nothing to indicate fraudulent practices as opposed to what appeared to be unnecessary and unreasonable work. In addition, public money was protected because we only paid for work we were satisfied had actually been done and was necessary to advance the clients' cases. Any work thought not to be reasonable was not paid.”

“The issue here was that the work Mr Lockhart did was not consistent with the principle of working with "due regard to economy". For example, having an excessive number of meetings which did not advance a case. Where we thought there were too many meetings or meetings which were of no value, we did not pay Mr Lockhart for those meetings. In coming to these decisions, we had full access to the evidence on the case files.”

Keen to stress public funds had been “protected” from the solicitor who had claimed over £600,000 in legal aid funds in two years, SLAB’s spokesperson continued : “The key issue is that as a result of the work done by the Board in investigating this matter, we protected public funds and Mr Lockhart can no longer do legal aid work. The Board played an important role in trying to bring this matter to an end and achieved the best outcome for the taxpayer as Mr Lockhart can no longer do legal aid work.”

The statement ended, calling for Mr Lockhart’s former clients to contact SLAB with their concerns : “Should any former legal aid clients of NS Lockhart have information which would constitute fraudulent activity they can contact the Board or the Police about their concerns."

If clients of Mr Lockhart or indeed any clients of solicitors across Scotland have concerns about their cases and legal aid funding, I would urge them to approach the Scottish Legal Aid Board immediately, while also copying in their information & concerns to myself via to ensure positive action is taken in relation to legal aid abuses while also enabling the media to report on these matters and alert other clients to the potential dangers of using solicitors & law firms who abuse legal aid.

The latest report from the Sunday Mail :

THE CLAIM BLAME : Clients want probe into lawyer's Legal Aid scam

Apr 10 2011 Exclusive by Lauren Crooks, Sunday Mail

FORMER clients of rogue lawyer Niels Lockhart want police to probe his Legal Aid scam.Lockhart was banned from Legal Aid work after claiming £600,000 of taxpayers' cash in two years.

A Scottish Legal Aid Board report said he routinely made "unnecessary and excessive" claims. But the Law Society of Scotland took four years to act on the report and then cut a secret deal which allowed him to simply agree to stop claiming Legal Aid. Slab ruled there had been no criminality - but admitted they didn't speak to any of his clients.

Andrew Garland, 52, hired Lockhart to represent him in a compensation claim in 2009. The fees were paid by Legal Aid. He said: "I went to his office about 17 times and it was always the same. I was wasting my time because we were getting no further forward.

"Not once has SLAB been in touch - I can't believe it. If it's a case of them not having enough information, I'd be first in line to tell them what he was doing."

Another client, who asked not to be named, fumed: "I can't understand why the police haven't been involved with this. I was being called in and he would just read me a letter or something he could easily have done over the phone. "When I read the Sunday Mail's story, it all suddenly made sense."

Slab said Lockhart's tricks were "not appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor" - but the 60-year-old continues to run his one-man firm in Kilmarnock.

I reported on the secret deal between the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board and the little known Legal Defence Union in an earlier article, reprinted below :

Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case

Legal Aid Chiefs accused lawyer Niels Lockhart of excessive claims yet no prosecution or repayment took place. A SECRET REPORT by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) into “excessive” claims for legal aid made by Kilmarnock based solicitor Niels S Lockhart who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years can now be published, revealing the full extent of SLAB’s accusations against the sole practitioner, the FOUR YEAR WAIT for the Law Society of Scotland to rule on the case and the intervention of the Legal Defence Union who brokered a deal allowing Mr Lockhart to walk away from all accusations over his claims for legal aid.

On 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board sent a report to the Law Society of Scotland in terms of S32 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 against the sole practitioner firm of Niels S Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock. The secret report, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf)

The Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”

The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :

(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.

The report by the Scottish Legal Aid Board revealed that, of all firms in Scotland, the sole practitioner firm of NS Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock, granted the highest number of advice and assistance applications for "interdict" (392) for the period January-October 2004.The next ranked firm granted 146, while the next ranked Kilmarnock firm granted only 30.

The report stated : “While conducting a selective analysis of Niels S Lockhart's Advice and Assistance accounts, it was clear from the outset that much of his business comes from "repeat clients" and/or members of the same household/family, whom he has frequently admitted to Advice and Assistance. The analysis revealed persistent patterns of excessive client attendances, the vast majority of which are irrelevant, unnecessary and conducted without due regard to economy.”

“It was also clear that Niels S Lockhart makes grants for a number of interlinked matters, where there is clearly a "cross-over" of advice. Consecutive grants are also often made as a continuation of the same matter shortly after authorised expenditure has expired on the previous grant.”

“This appears to the Board to be a deliberate scheme by Niels S. Lockhart to make consecutive grants of Advice and Assistance on behalf of the same client for the same matter, for personal gain. By so doing, he has succeeded in obtaining additional funds by utilising new initial levels of authorised expenditure for matters where, had further requests for increases in authorised expenditure under the initial grant been made to the Board, they would with every likelihood have been refused by Board staff.”

“Closer scrutiny of Niels S Lockhart's accounts and some client files has given rise to a number of other serious concerns, e.g. numerous meetings, standard of file notes, encouraging clients to advance matters while demonstrating a lack of progress.”

“After a meeting between SLAB officials & Mr Lockhart on 14 April 2005, Mr Lockhart was advised that SLAB’s Executive Team had approved of his firm’s accounts being removed from the guarantee of 30-day turnaround for payment of accounts, and that henceforth, to allow the Board the opportunity to satisfy itself that all fees and outlays had been properly incurred and charged by the firm, he would be required to submit additional supporting documentation and information with his accounts (including client files).”

The report continued : “Over the next few months, Mr Lockhart telephoned Accounts staff many times, often on a daily basis, repeatedly asking questions about the type of charge they considered acceptable or unacceptable in a variety of situations. Staff reported that, despite their having given Mr Lockhart the same answers time and again (both via correspondence and over the telephone),he continued to submit accounts with unacceptable charges. In a final effort to counter these continuing problems and to emphasis the Board’s stance in relation to the various issues of concern, our Accounts Department sent him a letter on 23 December 2005.”

“Mr Lockhart did not provide a written response to this correspondence. He did however contact Mr McCann of the Legal Defence Union, who wrote to the Board seeking a meeting with Board officials to try to resolve the payments issue. Our view however was that this would not advance matters as Mr Lockhart had been given a clear steer both after the April 2005 meeting and in the December when Accounts wrote to him on a number of matters.”

However, a key error was made by the Legal Aid Board, who stunningly failed to interview any of Mr Lockhart’s clients despite SLAB’s claims of excessive legal aid claims.

The SLAB report revealed : “Board staff have not interviewed any of Mr Lockhart’s clients as we have no reason to believe that, for example, the multitude of meetings that he held with them—sometimes more than twice daily—did not take place; our concern is that they DID take place and he has sought to claim payment for these multitudinous meetings,very few of which could be described as necessary and reasonable. We believe that such work had no regard to the principle of economy: our contention is that it is highly unlikely that any private paying client would be willing to meet the cost of the service provided by Mr Lockhart. That aside, there are cases set out in the report where it is difficult to see what advice or assistance has actually been provided. Our Accounts staff are continuing to assess a number of his accounts and examining the corresponding client files which indicate repetition of the issues that gave rise to our initial concerns.”

Outline of Correspondence SLAB-LSS re NS LockhartSLAB’s report was heavy on accusations yet achieved little, as did their complaint to the Law Society. The Scottish Legal Aid Board presented its report & complaint to the Law Society of Scotland on the 5th June 2006 but had to wait until a stunning FOUR YEARS until August 2010 before the Law Society even got round to sending SLAB a copy of the Law Society investigator’s report, which recommended that 11 out of 12 of SLAB’s complaints were “made out” and also recommended that the Law Society exercise its powers to exclude Niels Lockhart from giving advice & assistance to or from acting for a person to whom legal aid is made available.

However, two months later in October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a prospective offer that Mr Lockhart would withdraw fully from providing legal aid if SLAB’s S31 complaint was withdrawn. A Minute of Agreement was drafter and agreed with Niels Lockhart & the Legal Defence Union outlining the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from the provision of all firms of legal assistance (funded by legal aid).

The Minute of Agreement also outlined the Board’s intention to make a press release detailing that following SLAB’s investigation into the firm and their subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, SLAB had accepted this permanent withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from providing all forms of legal assistance.

Letter to LSS, 11-10 redactedLegal Aid Board asked Law Society to withdraw complaint after secret deal was reached with Legal Defence Union. “In November 2010 SLAB advised the Law Society of Scotland that they had negotiated with Mr Lockhart his voluntary removal from the provision of legal assistance with effect from 1 November 2010 and acknowledged that the Society had separately received information from Mr Lockhart signalling his intention to withdraw from provision of all types of legal assistance. In the light of this, we sought to know from them whether they accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the S31 complaint against Mr Lockhart.”

“In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

In the light of revelations by the media that solicitors have been able to quietly withdraw from the legal aid register after secret deals were struck between the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board & the Legal Defence Union over irregularities which collectively, could run in to millions of pounds, the issue is likely to receive calls for a full investigation when the Scottish Parliament, now dominated by msps from the Scottish National Party, reconvenes for its next session.

The issue of abuse of legal aid may well be a test of the Scottish Government’s resolve to ensure legal aid is targeted towards those who actually need it, while also bringing into focus the Scottish Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the massive £150 million pound legal aid budget, where the pressure will be on to investigate why secret deals between elements of the legal profession can see a lawyer escape penalty for misusing funds, while benefits cheats regularly face criminal convictions or even jail for their actions in cheating the public purse.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Access to Justice ? Law Society's insurers Marsh UK linked to SIXTEEN YEAR Court of Session civil damages claim against Motherwell College

Marsh UK, the UK subsidiary of the US insurance firm Marsh & McLennan companies which saw some of its directors plead guilty as a result of an investigation by the New York District Attorney's Office of bid-rigging and price-fixing in the insurance industry has now been linked to Scotland's longest running civil damages action claim, now in its SIXTEENTH YEAR in the Court of Session, involving Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council after the local authority released details in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Lord WoolmanCourt of Session judge Lord Woolman hears Scotland’s longest running civil damages claim. Now in its Sixteenth year in the Court of Session, fresh hearings in the long running civil damages claim in front of judge Lord Woolman began earlier on Tuesday of this week. M.Wilson v North Lanarkshire Council & Others (A1628/01) which has its origins in the mid 1990’s and brought about Scotland’s first civil law McKenzie Friend in late 2009, involves a sole party litigant, Mr Martin Wilson, a former Music lecturer of Motherwell College who, according to media reports was forced out of his job after sustaining severe back injuries during the course of his duties as a music lecturer during his time at the College in the 1990’s.

Responses obtained by Diary of Injustice in reply to Freedom of Information enquiries reveal that Marsh, the insurance firm who insure all members of Scotland’s legal profession without exception, now also insure North Lanarkshire Council, who operate Motherwell College.

An official from North Lanarkshire Council replying to an FOI request admitted : “I can advise that North Lanarkshire Council’s Insurance Brokers until 30 September 2007 were AON, and from 1 October 2007 this service has been provided by Marsh. I can advise also that Travellers Insurance Company Limited have provided employers liability cover for the whole period of your request.”

In what is now Scotland’s longest running civil damages claim, Mr Wilson, the party litigant, has been forced to represent himself after several of Scotland’s leading law firms suspiciously abandoned his case at the very last minute. Mr Wilson is facing North Lanarkshire Council and their indemnity insurers, Travelers Insurance Co Ltd who are both being represented in court by Edinburgh law firm Simpson & Marwick. Senior Counsel for Simpson & Marwick is Ian MacKay QC, Junior Counsel being Calum Wilson both of Compass Chambers.

Now, following further investigations by Diary of Injustice and despite the outrageous time it has taken for Scotland’s civil justice system to hear their testimony, hearings in the Court of Session have shown that many internationally acclaimed experts have supported the party litigant’s claims.

I first reported on Mr Wilson’s case late last year, here : FIFTEEN year wait for justice against Motherwell College marks poor state of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System on European Civil Justice Day where legal insiders who attended previous court hearings reported that Mr Wilson, who had been put in the position of having to represent himself after several big name law firms, who were at the time & are currently all insured with Marsh UK, withdrew from Mr Wilson’s case at the last minute prior to scheduled hearings of the Proof. Mr Wilson had also encountered repeated & numerous refusals of ‘expert witnesses’ from Scotland to assist his case as long as he was unrepresented. As a party litigant without representation, Mr Wilson was, according to court observers, forced abroad to Japan and the United States for supportive expert medical reports.

According to court documents seen by Diary of Injustice last October, Mr Wilson was previously represented by the well known Edinburgh law firm of Balfour & Manson, who were appointed by Scotland’s largest teachers & lecturers Union, the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), who spent tens of thousands of pounds assessing Mr Wilson’s injury as a valid claim, and that it should proceed to court. Amazingly it took the EIS almost THREE YEARS to lodge the summons against Motherwell College.

Papers studied by legal insiders reporting on the case revealed that Balfour & Manson, after being appointed by the EIS spent a staggering EIGHT YEARS working on Mr Wilson’s injury claim, and then at the last minute, decided to withdraw from acting for their client with only weeks to go before scheduled Proof Hearings in the Court of Session.

Balfour & Manson’s withdrawal from acting for Mr Wilson then became a suspicious pattern followed by further four law firms, including the Glasgow based Harper Macleod also withdrawing at the last minute, some eighteen months after representing Mr Wilson. Harper McLeod claimed they had ‘suddenly discovered’ “a commercial difficulty” in that they had an annual retainer from Motherwell College for several years, and had represented the College in Mr Wilson’s Employment Tribunal hearing over his unfair dismissal, which Mr Wilson won on a unanimous decision. Motherwell College also appealed the Employment Tribunal decision on Mr Wilson’s case and lost again.

A further two legal firms took on Mr Wilson’s case and then were apparently persuaded to drop their client, amazingly even returning fees paid to them for their service.

College's 300K Bully Bill Sunday Mail June 15 2003Motherwell College squandered £300K of taxpayers money fighting a string of Tribunal hearings involving bullying allegations against lecturers which the College lost. A number of media reports, referred to in recent coverage of the case by Scottish Law Reporter, show Motherwell College were involved in a string of Employment Tribunal decisions the college lost during Richard Millham’s term as Principal of Motherwell College. Allegations in newspapers including the Sunday Mail reported that “In 1999, lecturer Martin Wilson won £4000 after a tribunal ruled he had been unfairly fired. He had a back injury and could not work. A close friend said : "He was targeted by Millham. There was a strong climate of fear, which is still there ."

According to Scottish Law Reporter who last year reported on the case, “From 1995-1998 Motherwell College opposed Mr Wilson's claim for Unfair Dismissal while on long term sickness leave and lost, to a unanimous decision. Undeterred Motherwell College appealed the decision, and lost again. This was the first of several high profile Employment Tribunal cases lost by the Board of Management of Motherwell College, often to unanimous decisions against it.”

Simpson & Marwick, who are representing Motherwell College & North Lanarkshire Council, are themselves famed for their representation of solicitors accused of professional negligence & client swindling, all supposedly covered by the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme, operated by Marsh to defend against negligence claims raised by clients. The Master Policy and its administration, operation was linked in 2009 to client suicides in an independent report published by the University of Manchester’s Law School.

One of Simpson & Marwick’s partners, Dr Pamela Abernethy famously appeared at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee during 2008, telling msps that pleural plaques, an asbestos related condition, could actually be good for people. I reported on Dr Abernethy’s incredulous claims in September 2008, here : Insurance lawyers argue against laws to help asbestos victims asserting part of their suffering 'is a good thing'

Marsh UK, the British end of the gigantic US insurance operation appear to be linked to many insurance deals in the public & private sector, ranging from multiple services provided by local & national government including law & order, to the private sector. Marsh also enjoy a monopoly on the insurance of all solicitors in Scotland through the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘brutal enforcement’ of the Master Insurance Policy arrangements where all solicitors are required to pay into the professional indemnity insurance scheme if they want to practice any form of law.

Marsh appear to have heavy political influence in the UK, with Conservative Lord Ian Lang now the Chairman elect of Marsh & McLennan companies, according to his register of interests published as per his duties as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Lord Lang joined the Marsh & McLennan board in 1997 and has assiduously refused all invitations to comment since news of the 'Marsh Frauds' broke, frauds which were accompanied by valid injury and disability claims being routinely denied. More on Lord Lang’s position at Marsh & McLennan and his career history, along with documents detailing serious allegations against many directors of Marsh including Lord Lang, can be viewed at Scottish Law Reporter, HERE

This reporter and the Scottish Law Reporters team will continue to follow this case closely.