Friday, July 29, 2011

Investigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's links, secret 'off the record' dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union

slccREVEALED : Law regulator’s dealings with organisation linked to client suicides & blocked prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters. AN INVESTIGATION by Diary of Injustice into dealings between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘independent’ quango which regulates complaints against Scottish lawyers and the Legal Defence Union, an organisation which represents the best interests of lawyers, recently linked to blocked criminal prosecutions of legal aid fraudster lawyers & also the suicide of a married Oban family man in the SLCC’s 2009 report into the Master Policy, has revealed a series of cosy meetings between the regulator & pro-lawyer lobby group at expensive Edinburgh hotels which the heads of both organisations agreed to keep off the record and away from public gaze.

According to claims from SLCC insiders who are fed up with the non-achieving law complaints regulator, the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union have now become so close, SLCC staff privately joke it is now “routine” for the Legal Defence Union to intervene in complaints investigations on behalf of solicitors interests while consumers who make complaints about their solicitors to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are not represented in any way and have no organisation to turn to for help with their complaints.

SLCC to LDU no records of meetings keptSLCC Chair Jane Irvine agreed no records of discussion between regulator & lawyer’s lobby group at Balmoral Hotel. A limited amount of papers reluctantly disclosed by the SLCC under Freedom of Information legislation show a series of discussions between the two pro-lawyer bodies bosses, Jane Irvine for the SLCC and LDU Solicitor Director William Macreath, also a partner at law firm Levy McRae, who, according to the text of one of the letters disclosed to Diary of Injustice under FOI laws, both agreed “there would be no formal records of any element of the discussion.”. The letter from Jane Irvine to the LDU Director which disclosed the secret no-records-of-meetings policy went on to detail several technical issues about complaints regulation and how the SLCC should deal with solicitors & consumers, the former apparently having much greater priority over the latter.

The limited Freedom of Information disclosure of documents disclosed by the SLCC documenting only a fraction of its dealings with the Legal Defence Union can be viewed online or downloaded here : FOI Disclosure : Involvement & meetings between Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Legal Defence Union

However, there is even darker news for clients of solicitors who are forced to make complaints to the SLCC, as it can now be revealed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has never disclosed the involvement of the Legal Defence Union to any client who has made a complaint, raising the possibility many clients who complained to the SLCC did not receive a fair hearing due to the fact they were not represented by anyone other than themselves while their solicitor was represented by the Legal Defence Union and other organisations such as LAW CARE, a lawyer operated ‘charity’ which ‘looks after’ & represents solicitors who regularly claim they are too sick to face complaints made by their clients.

The SLCC admitted in its latest  FOI response : “I confirm that the SLCC has been contacted by the LDU in relation to specific complaints”. The response to the FOI request went onto confirm : “The SLCC does not as a matter of routine notify complainers if the LDU or Law Care have contacted us about a complaint, nor do we as a matter of routine send out copies of correspondence that we have received from them..unless we consider it necessary to enable investigation and could demonstrate that it was, we would not automatically or routinely send out copies of letters from the LDU or Law Care.”

The SLCC further stated : “The SLCC is also subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and so is mindful of not disclosing personal data. Given the nature of the range of work that the two organisations you asked about carry out, we also have to take care that we do not release personal data, irrespective of whether disclosure was necessary to our investigation or not.”

The SLCC refused to officially confirm the volume & frequency of the contacts, instead suggesting Diary of Injustice contact the LDU itself. The SLCC refused to provide any further information on contact between the SLCC & LDU to Diary of Injustice on the basis it would cost too much for the SLCC to retrieve it. The limited Freedom of Information response from the SLCC specifically referring to its dealings with the Legal Defence Union on complaints about solicitors, can be viewed online or downloaded here : Legal Defence Union & Law Care involvement in complaints to SLCC

Consumers are therefore advised by Diary of Injustice they should contact the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission immediately to request full copies of any & all Legal Defence Union submissions on behalf of solicitors being complained against.

A legal insider close to the SLCC commented they were not surprised by the refusal to release information regarding the Legal Defence Union’s massive involvement with the SLCC in complaints against solicitors.

The insider said : “As there is so much contact between the SLCC & Legal Defence Union on complaints made by clients against their solicitors, the public perception of some of the LDU’s submissions on behalf of solicitors if they were made public via FOI would portray the SLCC in a very damaging light.”

The insider continued : “Lets just say the submissions made on behalf of solicitors are in some cases, so threatening and with such intent, it is difficult for the SLCC to do anything other than throw the complaint out and let the solicitor off the hook.”

According to the Scottish Law Agents Society website : The Legal Defence Union (LDU) was formed in 1987 for the specific purpose of promoting and protecting the welfare of solicitors in Scotland. Indeed, the concept of an independent defence body for solicitors received unanimous support at the 1987 Annual General Meeting of The Law Society of Scotland. It is committed to protecting the interests of all solicitors in Scotland whether engaged in court, conveyancing or commercial work, in town or country, and in all areas of activity. At a wider level, the LDU aims to promote the interests and defence of solicitors in Parliament, in the media, and to the general public.

Consumers of legal services in Scotland and clients of solicitors should be in no doubt whatsoever, the Legal Defence Union has no interest in defending the rights of clients.

A senior official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said she was horrified at revelations the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had agreed to meet a pro-lawyer organisation such as the Legal Defence Union on a secret and unrecorded basis.

She said : “Secret meetings taking place between what is supposedly an independent regulator and what is effectively a lawyer’s lobby group with agreements no notes or records be kept of the discussions taking place is highly improper and in my view, completely compromises the credibility & the claimed independence of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

She continued : “In view of these highly damaging revelations I suggest anyone who has made a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission now contact the SLCC to find out what involvement the Legal Defence Union had in their complaint and what if any representations have been made on behalf of the solicitor being complained against.”

A Scottish Government insider has come forward to Diary of Injustice, confirming the Legal Defence Union “had significant involvement in the cases of several high profile legal aid fraud cases”, where a number of solicitors who were referred to the Crown Office by the Scottish Legal Aid Board for legal aid fraud, were let off the hook by the Crown Office, who strangely concluded in each & every case there was not enough evidence to prosecute the FOURTEEN crooked lawyers for massive legal aid frauds, events which occurred under the tenure of former Lord Advocate, now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC.

The Government insider questioned why the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should be engaged in dodgy unrecorded meetings with a pro-lawyer lobby group such as the Legal Defence Union which has been identified as being involved in efforts to block criminal prosecutions of solicitors alleged to have committed legal aid fraud, among other things. 

The insider called for an investigation into the LDU’s activities and also called for all contact between the law complaints regulator & the LDU to be made public and for clients to be given the full facts of LDU involvement in their complaints.

He said : “In view of the mounting revelations of interference in criminal prosecutions and consumer complaints there should be an investigation into the scale of the Legal Defence Union’s activities which appear not to be in the public interest or the interests of justice.”

Clearly the relationship between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union, a body linked to client suicides and to a string of 14 legal aid fraud cases in which the Crown Office failed to prosecute any of the solicitors concerned, raises serious questions as to the honesty & credibility of the SLCC to perform its regulatory function while giving consumers a fair hearing. Would you trust a regulator with such links & dealings with lobby groups of professions it is charged to regulate ?

Background to Legal Aid Frauds where Legal Defence Union represented accused solicitors who escaped criminal prosecutions :

The investigation into the scandal of the 14 failed prosecutions, with even more damaging revelations about to emerge, was reported exclusively in the Sunday Mail newspaper, and later by Diary of Injustice, here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

NO CASE TO ANSWER Sunday Mail 17 July 2011ONE LAW FOR THE CROOKED: Crown Office failed to prosecute any crooked lawyer for legal aid fraud in 5 years. THE CROWN OFFICE & PROCURATOR FISCAL SERVICE, Scotland’s ‘independent’ prosecution service headed by the Lord Advocate, currently Frank Mulholland QC, has admitted that during the term of the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, it somehow FAILED TO PROSECUTE any of FOURTEEN as yet unidentified lawyers accused of legal aid fraud and referred to it for prosecution by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). The frauds allegedly committed by the 14 accused lawyers all members of the Law Society of Scotland, collectively amounted to millions of pounds of taxpayers money, the bulk of which appears to be unrecoverable.

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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lay representatives able to speak on behalf of party litigants in Scottish courts : Your views required by 31 August 2011 for consultation

Lord Hamilton judicialLord President Lord Hamilton considers talking lay representatives in Scotland’s Courts, strict rules & no pay required. LORD HAMILTON, Scotland’s chief judge, the Lord President, is to consider how LAY REPRESENTATIVES with the ability to make oral representations on behalf of party litigants who cannot obtain the services of a lawyer will function in Scotland’s Courts after rules allowing ‘speaking’ lay assistants eventually come into force sometime in 2012. Plans to allow the access to justice reforms have already seen proposals from a judge led working group which include even stricter regulation than appears to be applied to solicitors, the banning of any expenses being recovered by party litigants represented by lay assistants, and the notable capital offence forbidding of any payment to lay representatives, the latter move encouraged by Scottish lawyers worried they may lose out on client fees.

The reform allowing ‘speaking’ lay assistants comes after the Court of Session was given power in Sections 126 & 127 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 to make rules permitting a lay person to make oral submissions to the court on behalf of a party. The provisions for talking lay representatives come into force on 1 September 2011, however the rules governing their use & conduct will not be enacted until sometime in 2012, such is the mediocre pace of change in Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system.

To assist the Lord President Lord Hamilton & the Scottish Court Service in their consideration of how talking lay representatives can be ‘managed’ in Scotland’s courts, a working group was established, chaired by Lord Pentland. Its members are drawn from the Court of Session and Sheriff Court Rules Councils and the Scottish Government.  Its aim is to present policy proposals, accompanied by suitable amendments of the rules of court, to the councils by the end of October

Lord  Pentland’s working group has now published its consultation, to which consumers are urged to participate in, to give balance to the weight of proposals, and I dare say, objections from the legal profession who have already made their feelings known about increased competition in the  courts where members of the public can potentially save themselves tens of thousands of pounds by using lay representatives rather than expensive legal representation which, in particular types of cases, does not seem to function in the client’s best interests.

Lord Pentland’s working group’s analysis of the current provisions in the Legal Services Act note some important points consumers & court users may wish to consider raising in responses to the consultation :

The new provisions only permit the making of an oral submission by a lay person. They do not facilitate any wider ability for a non-lawyer to represent a party, such as is permitted by section 36(1) of the 1971 Act in relation to summary causes.  It is noted, accordingly, that the submission of documents in support of an oral submission, such as supporting written submissions or a rule 22 note in ordinary actions in the Sheriff Court, will still require formally to be performed by the litigant.

The group also notes that the new  provisions do not afford any scope for a lay person to engage in the examination of witnesses.  This falls beyond the concept of an oral submission.

The group observes that the new  provisions permit a lay person to make submissions only “when appearing  at a hearing…along with a party to the cause”.  Given that only natural persons can appear as parties, it is clear that the new provisions do not extend  to permitting the making of an oral submission on behalf of a company or other non-natural person.

The group considers that a lay  representative must be regarded as distinct from a person affording lay assistance under the new rules recently made to that end (Chapter 12A of the Rules of the Court of Session and rule 1.3A of the Ordinary Cause Rules).  In some cases a lay assistant might also be considered suitable to be a lay representative, but this would depend on the particular circumstances

Assistance and representation would be subject to the control and discretion of the court and permission would be given only if the court was satisfied that this would help. The court would have to be satisfied as to the character and conduct of the proposed representative and would be at liberty to withdraw permission for that person to act for the party.  In particular, the court would wish to be satisfied that the McKenzie friend was not offering his services for financial reward.”

Lord Pentland’s group favoured adopting the test recommended by Lord Gill’s Civil Courts Review, namely that the test for granting an application should be that it would “assist the court”. This differed  from the test in relation to granting an application for lay assistance, which was that it should be refused “only if it would be contrary to the efficient administration of justice to grant it”. That test is appropriate given the particular role of the lay assistant. But in relation to lay representation, the test should be a somewhat tighter and more focussed one.

The working group also favoured including in the rules a requirement that an application for lay representation should be made in advance of the hearing concerned.  It was felt that the interests of the other party or parties needed to be protected.  It was also felt that such an approach was warranted by the need for the efficient disposal of business as well as ensuring that the person was a suitable person to make an oral submission

The group discussed the form which the application should take in the ordinary case where it was made in advance of the hearing. There was some resistance to the suggestion that a written motion should be required in the Sheriff Court on the basis that this would give rise to a fee, though it was difficult to see how the application could be made without a motion.  It was noted that it would be open to the Scottish Government to amend the fees order if the view was taken that charging a fee was inappropriate.  In the Court of Session, the model of Chapter 12A should be followed – that is, that there would require to be a motion accompanied by a suitable form

The group discussed whether it would be possible in the rules to allow a standing authorisation for a lay representative in relation to all hearings in a case; or for representatives from a certain organisation in all cases.  However, it was noted that it was not the intention of the power conferred by sections 126 and 127 to create a class of authorised lay representatives (something the Scottish Courts & legal profession are eager to block at all costs) and the question of whether the making of a submission by a particular person in a particular hearing would assist the court required to be judged according to the circumstances of the hearing itself.

Finally the question of payment for lay assistance was debated once again, a matter generating strong opinions within the legal profession who see paid lay assistants as a threat to the business & extortion profit models of Scottish law firms.

Unsurprisingly, Lord Pentland’s working group came down hard on the remuneration subject, as eager as the Court of Session to stamp out any thought a lay assistant could be paid for their services in a Scottish court, while in England & Wales, remuneration, at least for McKenzie Friends has been allowed and is now even case law in : [N (A Child) [2009] EWHC 2096 (Fam)] to support the right or entitlement of a McKenzie Friend to charge or at least receive some form of remuneration for their services.

On the remuneration subject, Lord Pentland’s working group agreed that it was appropriate for the rules to prohibit the lay representative from receiving remuneration, directly or indirectly, from the litigant.  This was consistent with the position reached in relation to lay assistance. However, it was claimed this prohibition on remuneration for lay assistants “was not intended to operate as a barrier to representation by remunerated members of advice agencies.”

As with lay assistance, the working group was of the view that:

(a)  permission to make an oral submission should be automatically withdrawn in the event of the litigant obtaining legal representation;

(b)  the court should be able to withdraw permission in the event that it considered that the test for permitting it was no longer met or that the person was no longer suitable (though this would not of course apply once the submission had commenced);

(c)  where permission was granted:

(i)  the litigant would be permitted to show the representative any document (including a court document);

(ii)  the litigant would be permitted to impart to the representative  information without contravening prohibitions on its disclosure but the representative would then be subject to the same prohibitions;

(d)  any expenses incurred by the litigant as a result of the representation were not to be recoverable expenses in the proceedings.

The full consultation can be downloaded from the Scottish Courts website HERE (pdf)

YOUR VIEWS are sought on the initial policy proposal and on any other matter which is considered relevant. You may also wish to consider asking your MSP to write into the consolation giving their views on the subject. Views should be directed, in writing, not later than 31 August 2011 to:

The Lord President’s Private Office
Parliament House
Edinburgh  EH1 1RQ
or by email to: lppo@scotcourts.gov.uk

Responses will be made available to the members of the working group and also to the members of the Rules Councils. They may also in due course be published. Please indicate in your response if you do not wish it to be published.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Annual report of Legal Ombudsman of England & Wales is ‘streets ahead’ of anti-consumer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Legal OmbudsmanLegal Ombudsman’s first annual report is ‘streets ahead’ of Scottish attempts at complaints regulation via SLCC. LAST WEEK the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) for England & Wales, Adam Sampson, issued his first annual report on regulation of complaints against the legal services market for England & Wales. Mr Sampson’s first report, which features stories from the LeO’s investigations into complaints has been for the main, well received, and is noticeably much more consumer friendly than the notoriously anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which has produced three annual reports since it came into being in 2008, the latest of which showed SLCC had managed to uphold only one single complaint in three years.

The full annual report of the Legal Ombudsman can be downloaded here : Legal Ombudsman Annual Report 2010-2011. The LeO’s website is a world away from the Scottish SLCC’s poor offering. The LeO also offers information on case examples where the LeO have investigated complaints, more of which can be found HERE while decisions of the LeO can be viewed HERE. The Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman also has an online blog, well worth a visit HERE.

Within the LeO’s report, some of the following stories are featured in a significantly more detailed manner than anything seen in Scotland. The problems encountered by consumers in England & Wales when dealing with the legal profession will be familiar to Scots consumers of legal services, the only difference being in Scotland, consumers have to deal with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Law Society of Scotland, two of Scotland’s self regulators of the legal profession renowned for their anti-consumer stance when dealing with complaints against solicitors.

Mr Sampson said in his report : “We use lawyers at key points in our lives – at important, and often upsetting or stressful times like when we move house, have an accident or get divorced. I have included these stories in my first Chief Ombudsman's report because the experiences of the people involved demonstrate the impact of a changing and developing legal services market.”

In the case of a will gone wrong, where a client had initially gone to a solicitor for a will then had been introduced to a will writer by the solicitor, the LeO reported :

Mr F complained to us that he had gone to a high street solicitor to write a will. He was then introduced to an individual in an adjoining office whom he was told would provide the service. In the event, the will proved defective. However, when he complained, Mr F was told by the firm's senior partner that the will writer concerned had been working for a linked, but unregulated, company offering legal services, including will writing.

This was the first of a number of similar matters raised with us about the same company. Although the company claimed to be out of jurisdiction and the service – will writing – is not a reserved activity, we considered that the connection between the solicitors firm and the company complained about was umbilical: the firm had made the introduction, the complaint was answered by the senior partner on behalf of both entities, and the senior partner was the owner of both. Since the senior partner was a regulated individual, we judged that the company fell within our jurisdiction.

In the event, and to complicate matters further, while our investigation was nearing its end, the senior partner died. The company was then taken over by another, similar company which appears to have even less connection with a regulated individual. Nevertheless, we believe that the remedy we ordered in this case will be enforceable, either against the successor company or the legal insurers.

In another example, the LeO reported :

Mr P is a trustee of a social club. He and his fellow trustees employed a firm of lawyers to sell the club's premises and to distribute the payment of the proceeds of sale to all the members of the club – about 180 people. The club found buyers, the sale went through and the proceeds were paid to the law firm, as is normal practice. Part of the money was used to pay off the club's final bills and some loans, which the firm handled, leaving a substantial amount of around £180,000 to go to members. The firm also advised that there would be a delay in distributing the money to members for various administrative reasons. Not being an expert in conveyancing, Mr P was satisfied with this. After six months the firm got in contact to begin to sort out the payment to members... and then went silent.

Mr P tried to raise his concerns with the firm. He then came to the Ombudsman, as the firm had not explained what had happened to the money from the sale and the members had not yet received any cash. He also asked that the firm refund the fees the trustees had already paid them, as the work had not been carried out properly.

We found that the firm had been a sole practice – but that the lawyer was no longer practising. This seemed to be why Mr P hadn't heard about the money from the sale of the club, though it was confusing as the solicitor occasionally got in touch. Mr P didn't know what to do, so had sought advice from a second firm of solicitors. They also tried to contact the first firm but had no reply. Mr P heard again briefly from his first lawyer to say that members would get their money soon... and then heard nothing again.

When we looked into this case, there was very little written down about what had happened. There was no client care letter, no written details about how the cash from the sale had been handled, or even about what money had been paid to clear debts and loans. What was clear was that there was some sort of problem in the law firm, and that the lawyer had tried to delay this matter. It was also clear that most of the money from the club was still in the solicitor's client account, even though the firm's records were very poor.

There had been no attempt to pay this money to the club members – but the money was the club's and should not have been kept for so long by the solicitor. It had been three years since Mr P and the other trustees put the club up for sale.

Our Ombudsman decided that there was around £180,000 outstanding and required the firm to re-pay this, with interest, to the club and its members. A formal Ombudsman's decision was required as the solicitor did not cooperate throughout our investigation. We also referred this and the outcome of this case to the regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, for their help in getting the club's cash out of the solicitor's client account and returned to Mr P and the other members

In a third example, the LeO reported :

Mr and Mrs N had taken on a solicitor to help with two separate matters - an employment tribunal and the other to do with their mortgage insurance. They were clearly not happy with aspects of his work and felt that the lawyer had not taken their concerns seriously. After trying to raise their concerns with him, they complained to us.

We first contacted the solicitor in October 2010. He repeatedly failed to respond to or comply with our requests for documents and information. Mr and Mrs N now saw the solicitor ignore the Ombudsman – and were again left waiting for an outcome to their complaint. Eventually, after seven months had gone by, we decided to take enforcement action against him as he had repeatedly failed to produce documents or provide information – even when he received a formal notice requiring him to. There were some eight prior letters, phone calls or emails from the Ombudsman, plus a formal notice and a letter from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, before proceedings were issued.

The court first dealt with the case in May, but the solicitor failed to attend the hearing and so the judge ordered his arrest. A few days later, the solicitor surrendered to the court and was brought before the judge, when he was released after a court date had been set.

At the formal court hearing, the solicitor promised the High Court that he would cooperate with an investigation into a complaint against him – or risk being punished by the court. The judge emphasised to the solicitor that it was "absolutely essential" he communicate with the Ombudsman and cooperate to a high professional standard. Failure, said the judge, was "likely to attract the sanction of the court".

The lawyer gave an undertaking to the court that he would do everything he could to help find the files needed by the Ombudsman, to cooperate with the investigation into the complaint and any others against him, and keep the Ombudsman updated with his contact details. He was also ordered to pay the Ombudsman's costs in the case so far of just over £11,000. At the time of writing, we are still waiting for the information we need to resolve this case – but there is another court date set, so, while it is disappointing to have had to go to these lengths, there is an end in sight for Mr and Mrs N.

At the same time as we were dealing with this case, which ended up in the High Court, we were having similar issues with another solicitor.

This one - a busy sole practitioner with a general practice - had failed to respond to our correspondence about Mr O's complaint. So he was also served with a notice requiring him to produce the relevant documents and other information. When he ignored it, we reported him to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. When more time passed again without hearing from him, we also said that we had the power to ask the High Court to compel him to cooperate. At the last minute, when faced with having to explain his non-compliance to a judge, the lawyer reconsidered his position. He provided us with the information we needed, reconciled with Mr O and continued to represent him.

adam_sampsonLegal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson. Mr Sampson also wrote in his report about the blurred edges of regulation : “There have been cases which have begun to clarify some of the jurisdictional tests which we will apply to complaints raised with us. These include whether the person making the complaint has been provided with legal services (a test which is significantly wider than whether the complainant was a "client" of a lawyer); whether the complaint was within the timescales laid down by our Scheme Rules (normally within a year of the complainant having knowledge that there was reason to complain); whether the complaint was from an individual, small charity or micro-enterprise (rather than a larger, corporate entity), and so on. We believe that, although we will need to keep these aspects of our jurisdiction under review, there is nothing inherently so opaque about these tests that cannot be clarified over time.”

Which logoConsumer Group Which? gave its reaction  to the Legal Ombudsman’s first Annual Report, stating : As the Legal Ombudsman publishes its first annual report today, Which? supports its call for greater protection against confusing structures and dodgy claims management and will-writing companies. Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “We want the government and regulators to wake up to the current lack of clarity and to provide a clear and straightforward route of redress for consumers”.

Undercover investigations : Which? undercover investigations into both will-writing firms and claims management companies have revealed examples of poor practice. But the Legal Ombudsman does not currently have the powers to investigate these types of organisations. Many consumers believe they are getting a legal service from such companies, but don't realise that the work may be carried out by someone who isn't authorised to do so.

Route for redress : Expanding the remit of the Legal Ombudsman would allow it to tackle problem areas of the market, give it greater scope to challenge future issues and offer customers a clear means of redress where they have received a poor legal service.

Richard Lloyd said: “As the legal services market continues to grow in both size and complexity, it's crucial that consumers who have paid for a legal service that's not up to scratch know where to turn to get help”.

Gaps in regulation : Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: “The gap in regulation which allows unregulated cowboys to operate in areas like will-writing doesn't just cause unfair competition to solicitors, who provide a regulated, professional service. It is also damaging to consumers, because the unregulated providers aren't insured, don't provide a compensation fund, and aren't covered by the Legal Ombudsman's scheme for consumer redress.”

38,000 legal complaints : The Legal Ombudsman service was established in October 2010. Its remit is to make sure legal complaints are 'resolved quickly and with minimum formality by an independent person'. More than 38,000 people contacted the Legal Ombudsman during its first six months in operation. The organisation has launched nearly 4,000 investigations into the service provided by lawyers, and resolved 1,450 cases.

SLCC Scottish Legal Complaints Commission a complete failure for Scots consumer protection against poor legal services. Well, the differences in how the Legal Ombudsman and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission operate are astounding, to say the least. Perhaps Scots should flock south of the border to use English legal services given the prejudice & poor regulation offered by the Scottish legal services market. At least the LeO appears to have more of a will to tackle the main problems of regulation rather than the SLCC who have done little for the past three years other than soak up over half a million pounds in expenses claims & remuneration, while chalking up a few bar tabs at the same time.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Standards, but not as we know them : International Bar Association’s ‘Fantasy’ ethics guide for lawyers broken daily in Scots legal profession

Michael ClancyNo standards are good standards : Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Law Reform Michael Clancy sits on International Bar Association. A CODE OF ETHICS, a term not widely associated with the Law Society of Scotland & Scotland’s legal profession who were recently revealed to have hacked ‘difficult client’s private details in cases connected to complaints & financial damages claims made against negligent or ‘crooked’ Scottish solicitors, have been ‘updated’ in a guide published by the International Bar Association which describes itself as ‘the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies’.

A clue to how useful the guide is to consumers may be in the inclusion of the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Law Reform, Michael Clancy, who has at least twice stepped in to curtail moves to reform ethics, regulation & complaints in Scotland’s legal profession. Several currently serving & former MSPs at the Scottish Parliament have disclosed discussions with Mr Clancy over constituents problems & issues connected with ethics & regulation of the legal profession which fall very wide of the mark of what is little more than a ‘fantasy guide’ from the IBA as any client caught in the maelstrom of dealing with a complaint against their legal representative will know.

The International Bar Association's website states in a release on the subject :

The IBA International Principles is the 21st century version of a set of ethics for the legal profession first introduced more than 50 years ago, with the precursors to today’s edition as the ‘IBA International Code of Ethics’ (1956 and 1988). The gathering pace of globalisation and increase in cross-border transactions has led to the Code of Ethics being  revisited and republished, resulting in today’s publication. A thorough process with input from representatives of the legal profession from all continents has produced 10 core principles which should be common to all lawyers. 

The 10 core values constituting the IBA International Principles, compiled from input from representatives of the legal profession from all continents has produced principles which, the IBA says, should be common to all lawyers in 10 core areas:

1. Independence
  A lawyer shall maintain independence and be afforded the protection such independence offers in giving clients unbiased advice and representation. A lawyer shall exercise independent, unbiased professional judgment in advising a client, including as to the likelihood of  success of  the client’s case.

2. Honesty, integrity and fairness
  A lawyer shall at all times maintain the highest standards of honesty, integrity and fairness towards the lawyer’s clients, the court, colleagues and all those with whom the lawyer comes into professional contact.

3. Conflicts of interest
  A lawyer shall not assume a position in which a client’s interests conflict with those of the lawyer, another lawyer in the same firm, or another client, unless otherwise permitted by law, applicable rules of  professional conduct, or, if  permitted, by client’s authorisation.

4. Confidentiality/professional secrecy
  A lawyer shall at all times maintain and be afforded protection of confidentiality regarding the affairs of  present or former clients, unless otherwise allowed or required by law and/or applicable rules of  professional conduct.

5. Clients’ interest
  A lawyer shall treat client interests as paramount, subject always to there being no conflict with the lawyer’s duties to the court and the interests of  justice, to observe the law, and to maintain ethical standards.

6. Lawyers’ undertaking
  A lawyer shall honour any undertaking given in the course of the lawyer’s practice in a timely manner, until the undertaking is performed, released or excused.

7. Clients’ freedom
  A lawyer shall respect the freedom of clients to be represented by the lawyer of their choice. Unless prevented by professional conduct rules or by law, a lawyer shall be free to take on or reject a case.

8. Property of clients and third parties   
  A lawyer shall account promptly and faithfully for and prudently hold any property of  clients or third parties that comes into the lawyer’s trust, and shall keep it separate from the lawyer’s own property.

9. Competence
  A lawyer’s work shall be carried out in a competent and timely manner. A lawyer shall not take on work that the lawyer does not reasonably believe can be carried out in that manner.

10. Fees
  Lawyers are entitled to a reasonable fee for their work, and shall not charge an unreasonable fee. A lawyer shall not generate unnecessary work.

Each principle is clearly defined in the booklet available HERE and contains expanded commentary on how it could be used as a basis to establish codes of conduct for lawyers within different jurisdictions.

James Klotz, Chair of the IBA BIC says : We are hopeful that the “IBA International Principles” will serve as a basis for codes of conduct throughout the global legal profession and beyond. It is our aim that governments and other appropriate authorities in relation to furthering and improving the rule of law and defending liberty and justice will also realise the value of the core principles, so essential to the independence of the legal profession and democracy.’ He added, ‘We believe that fledgling bar associations struggling to establish independence, will find the principles a particularly great resource.”

For a reality check on the IBA’s guide to ethics, the following article may provide a more informed view on the realities of relationships between clients & solicitors in Scotland’s legal services market : Toxic levels of complaints, poor standards of service & soaring fraud by solicitors makes Law Society of Scotland 'World's worst regulator'

In the cold reality of what is Scotland’s invariably dishonest legal services market, each & everyone one of the IBA’s 10 principles, values or whatever they wish to call them, appears to be broken multiple times on a daily basis.

Scots clients & consumers, especially in today’s difficult financial times,, have no guarantees, safety or reason to put any faith or trust in their relationship with their legal representatives as far as I can see from the weekly lists of cases of breaches of client trust brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice on a regular basis.

Michael Clancy BACKGROUND :

Michael Clancy recently stepped into block a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for the repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980, which I reported on here : Law Society ‘warns’ Scottish Parliament : Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 ‘should not be repealed’ by msps or Scottish Government

Mr Clancy also recently served on the Calman Commission review of devolution, viewed by many Scots as little more than a move to curtail more power being handed over to the Scottish Parliament & Scottish Government. An article reporting on Clancy’s role in this matter is here : Vested interests take priority as Calman Implementation Group ‘contaminated’ by Law Society of Scotland’s ‘reform blocker’ appointment

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Emphasis on gifts, less on upheld ‘crooked lawyer’ cases as FOI forces publication of Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ‘Hospitality Register’

SLCCFOI legislation shines a much needed light into murky world of gifts for law complaints regulator. THE use of Freedom of Information legislation and its application to scrutinise the duties & somewhat abysmal performance of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has finally forced the notoriously anti-client law complaints quango to publish its register of gifts & hospitality, some three years and several scandals since the SLCC was created in 2008 at huge public expense of TWO MILLION POUNDS to deal with complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’.

While a steady stream of gifts & hospitality flowed into the SLCC, the organisation’s latest annual report for 2010-2011 revealed in three years, it had only upheld one single complaint while sending most others back to the Law Society of Scotland. Earlier this year, the SLCC announced yet another cut in the complaints levy, effectively gifting a whopping ONE MILLION POUNDS back to the legal profession after the quango revealed it had at one point, a £1.8 million cash surplus in its bank accounts.

An SLCC insider speaking to Diary of Injustice said the organisation had decided to throw in the towel and publish its Hospitality registers after receiving several Freedom of Information requests from the media & individuals over the past three years which asked questions on undisclosed links & Hospitality between law firms and the SLCC’s Board members & staff. The SLCC on the other hand, claimed the move was a result of its commitment “to the principles of openness and transparency”, however legal observers view this as a victory for Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland.

The move was confirmed by the SLCC’s response to a Freedom of Information request earlier this week in which the SLCC indicated its hospitality registers would now be published on its website at the following link : SLCC Gifts & Hospitality Registers with updates to be applied quarterly.

2010_11 staff gifts and hospitality register redacted_Page1The Hospitality Club : More gifts than complaints findings at Scotland’s law complaints quango. The SLCC’s registers of gifts & hospitality contains items such as invitations to dinners, drinks parties, lectures events and other gifts offered by several personalities from Scotland’s legal world including past Law Society Presidents Ian Smart & Jamie Millar, law firms such as Pagan Osborne, Shepherd & Wedderburn, Anderson Strathern, Beveridge & Kellas SSC, auditors KPMG & Deloitte, consumer organisations Consumer Focus Scotland & Which?, the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland, the Medical Protection Society, the Administrative Justice & Tribunals Council Scottish Committee (AJTC), Scottish Government & others. While some members of staff are identified, others apparently are not, leaving a degree of suspicion over who attended some of the events such as law lectures at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.

A full summary of the SLCC’s Hospitality Register from 2008 to the publication date of this article can be viewed online here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission hospitality & gifts 2008-early 2011

A legal insider commenting on the register this morning said : “Perhaps the SLCC should focus on some of the duties the public expected it to be getting on with now such as monitoring the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund  rather than going to dinners & parties with members of the legal profession.”

The insider also noted some of the law firms mentioned in the SLCC’s now published hospitality register had been identified in serious complaints made by clients against their provision of legal services, and one firm of auditors appearing in the hospitality register has been identified in a long running scandal currently dragging on in the Court of Session which has also been brought to the attention of the SLCC by way of a complaint involving a law firm which the Law Society of Scotland have apparently purposely delayed consideration of for several years.

SLCC resisted Freedom of Information requests to reveal secret payoff for SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman (pictured in foreground). While this is a small victory for Freedom of Information & a small degree of openness in the world of regulation of the legal profession, readers may wish to note the SLCC has stubbornly refused to disclose what is rumoured to be a massive payout to former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman, who remained in her £1350 a week position at the law complaints quango’s lavish Edinburgh offices for just over six months before quitting allegedly on grounds of ‘ill health’.

More about the SLCC’s refusal to hand over any details of the secret Masterman Payoff, which was secretly passed by the Scottish Government, can be found here : HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers

Diary of Injustice revealed how members of the public had been shut out of the SLCC’s latest research into the Law Society of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt Master Policy, when heavily censored documents were released by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in response to Freedom of Information requests for details of the latest Master Policy research project.

The censored documents released by the SLCC revealed Marsh UK, a subsidiary of the Marsh McLennan Companies, the US insurers convicted of criminal charges several years ago, had been entrusted to hand out questionnaires to selected individuals it would be hoped would give the Master Policy a more favourable write up than those in the Manchester University of Law School’s 2009 report, which liked the Master Policy to : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hacking your life ? The Law Society are experts. Memos & more proved information sharing, surveillance, hacking of Scots public goes right to the top

Douglas Mill 4Strong questions and a lack of custard pies in 2006 ensured Law Society Chief Executive fell on his information gathering memos. IN a favourable comparison to yesterday’s Westminster Culture Committee session in which hardly anything new was gained from the questioning of Rupert & James Murdoch & Rebekah Brooks on a what did they know and when did they know it theme regarding the News of the World “phone hacking” scandal, readers may wish to take note us Scots visited this same topic in 2006, where, albeit accidentally, the ‘dark art’ of information sharing & hacking into the lives of the public was revealed during questioning the Law Society of Scotland’s then Chief Executive, Douglas Mill by the now Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney.

Hacking for some seems to, suspiciously, focus only on hacking phones, yet as we all know, hacking into your own life can mean a lot more. Legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, with our own Scottish version (RIPSA) has effectively promoted an uncontrolled culture of hacking throughout the UK so should we be surprised certain sections of the media felt left out and did their own hacking ? No.

Things like, hacking your medical records, hacking your financial details, hacking your mail, hacking your email, hacking into your home, hacking into your legal aid, hacking into your relationship with your own lawyer, hacking into your family life, and all done pretty much without so much as a whimper from anyone willing to stop it. We have seen it all before, yet nothing has ever been done until now. Did the same happen in Scotland ? Yes, although in the case of Scotland, you can be assured there will never be a Westminster style inquiry into it, ever.

As documents came to light at the Scottish Parliament in 2006 which touched on the subject of the legal profession hacking into the lives of clients, no one thought to ask the appearing Law Society officials exactly what methods they had used when intervening in the lives of members of the public to block their access to justice.

By today’s standards, not pursuing such a line of questioning when faced with documentary proof those before you had personally intervened in the lives of members of the public, gathered information which could not have been obtained in many cases, legally, had applied that information to blocking legal representation or interfering in court cases, or had knowledge that the Police had been used to thwart investigations, would in itself be suspicious. This is exactly what happened, and nothing more was said, nothing more was done.

Targeting clients : John Swinney asked stern questions of Law Society Chief Mill in 2006 which exposed lawyers using information to undermine members of the public. (Click image to view video)


John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney (then in opposition in 2006) knew how to ask some questions, yet he should be asking more. You can read more about the content of Mr Mill’s memos to the Law Society of Scotland President & the disgraced insurance firm Marsh, who were convicted of criminal offences in the United States, here : Law Society boss Mill lied to Swinney, Parliament as secret memos reveal policy of intervention & obstruction on claims, complaints. The memos between the Law Society & employees of an insurance firm portrayed an information sharing agenda on members of the public which existed in order to undermine any court actions or access to justice for those victimised by the legal profession. Clearly a degree of spying against members of the public was being practised by the Law Society and its insurers, and clearly the legal profession had undermined an earlier Scottish Parliamentary inquiry, yet no searching questions were asked.

In one of the memos, sent from Alistair Sim, the Director of Marsh UK to Mr Mill, Sim suggested collecting information on clients while in another memo, Mill refers to a proposed Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 1 inquiry into regulation of the legal profession in Scotland, which was held in 2002-2003 under the Convenership of the Christine Grahame MSP, who is again, coincidentally of course, the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.

It was clear from the content of the memos Law Society officials & Marsh employees were involved in an attempt to undermine the 2003-2003 Justice Committee hearings and prevent anyone attending who might have exposed the hacking culture at the Law Society of Scotland and its insurers which was going on in the name of protecting the legal profession’s Master Policy, a massive multi million pound client compensation scheme. which oddly enough, hardly ever pays out.

During the 2002-2003 inquiry, not one single member of the public was allowed to testify before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee after the Law Society of Scotland demanded members of the public be banned from speaking at Committee hearings. The 2002-2003 inquiry under Christine Grahame did not discuss the memos made available to John Swinney, and Ms Grahame’s team subsequently went onto conclude regulation of the legal profession should remain as it was, under the control of the Law Society of Scotland.

It took a second inquiry into regulation of solicitors, held in 2006 by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 2 Committee, initially chaired by Annabel Goldie (who resigned due to a conflict of interest) subsequently replaced by David Davidson, which brought the Law Society’s meddling in cases & client’s lives to the fore.

During the 2006 enquiry,  members of the public were allowed to testify before the Justice 2 Committee and subsequent to Mr Swinney’s encounter with Douglas Mill over the secret memos, Mill was forced to resign, albeit only after video footage of the incident was posted to video sharing website You Tube. Yet amid all this, no searching questions were asked by MSPs as to exactly what methods the Law Society of Scotland and its insurers employed to intervene in the lives of members of the public.

As readers will now be well aware, the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has done nothing to clean up the corruption in the world of regulation of the legal profession, in fact, probably worsening it. My previous coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, itself branded a “Front Company for the Law Society of Scotland”, can be found here : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : The story so far

Readers can find out more for themselves in my previous coverage of just how the Law Society of Scotland and agents acting for its Master Policy insurers hack into the lives of clients, here : Spies, Lies, Hacking & Facebook : Law Society Master Policy snooped on ‘difficult clients’ to undermine damages claims, complaints about lawyers & here : Suicides, ill health, financial ruin : Will SLCC's latest Master Policy report deliver solution to Law Society 'pro-crooked lawyer' insurance scheme ?

421Who headed the hacking ? Law Society’s now former Chief Executive Douglas Mill & Philip Yelland, head of Client Relations. Regular readers will be well aware I was significantly targeted by both Douglas Mill who personally blocked my legal aid, and the Law Society of Scotland’s Director of Regulation, Philip Yelland, who personally intervened with my solicitor at the time and ordered him not to take my instructions. Correspondence which revealed the actions of Mill & Yelland against me, can be viewed HERE & HERE. I can assure you all, these people and agents working for their “Master Policy” made my family life and my access to justice, a living hell. Almost, a death sentence, all in the name of protecting crooked Borders solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. The Andrew Penman scandal was heavily reported in the Scotsman newspaper during the 1990s.

Indeed, I have not forgotten that during the time of the Scotsman’s coverage, disruptive relationships between the legal & accounting profession who were intent on preventing further media reporting on Mr Penman, and, officers of Lothian & Borders Police came to the fore in several incidents, one of which involved the compromising of a costly & lengthy CID surveillance operation. Details of this scandal may well soon be appearing in a newspaper near you.

In my experience investigating & reporting on the legal profession for five years, and campaigning for legal reforms since the 1990s, information sharing, hacking, operating a policy to undermine critics by any means necessary, including the use of surveillance, and relationships involving the Police, goes right to the very top of any organisation which is very much involved in undermining the public good for its own ends.

Monday, July 18, 2011

FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

Crown OfficeONE LAW FOR THE CROOKED: Crown Office failed to prosecute any crooked lawyer for legal aid fraud in 5 years. THE CROWN OFFICE & PROCURATOR FISCAL SERVICE, Scotland’s ‘independent’ prosecution service headed by the Lord Advocate, currently Frank Mulholland QC, has admitted that during the term of the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, it somehow FAILED TO PROSECUTE any of FOURTEEN as yet unidentified lawyers accused of legal aid fraud and referred to it for prosecution by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). The frauds allegedly committed by the 14 accused lawyers all members of the Law Society of Scotland, collectively amounted to millions of pounds of taxpayers money, the bulk of which appears to be unrecoverable.

The information disclosed by Scott Pattison, the Director of Operations for the Crown Office to a Freedom of Information request which forms part of an ongoing investigation by Diary of Injustice into widespread systemic corruption & fraud in the Scottish legal profession which receives up to £160 MILLLION POUNDS of taxpayer funded legal aid from the Scottish Government each year, stated :

FOI Reply_Page1• Since the start of 2005, SLAB has submitted nine reports to Crown Office alleging criminal offences by a total of thirteen solicitors. One report related to a firm of five solicitors;

• The allegations relating to eleven of these solicitors were marked for no action on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence. This related to seven separate reports (for which Crown Counsel’s Instructions were obtained in three);

• A report relating to one of the eleven solicitors referred to above was referred to the Civil Recovery Unit for their consideration;

• One solicitor died before criminal proceedings were commenced;

• One solicitor was placed on indictment for Sheriff and Jury proceedings for fraud. That solicitor entered a preliminary plea in bar of trial on the grounds of insanity which was sustained by the Court.  In light of that decision, the case was deserted pro loco et tempore; and

• In relation to the final solicitor, the matter remains under consideration.

FOI Letter Page1Crown Office admitted even more lawyers escaped prosecutions over legal aid frauds. A further admission on lawyers referred by the Scottish Legal Aid Board over legal aid irregularities was made from the Crown Office relating to an additional case which had not been initially disclosed to Diary of Injustice. The admission contained details of yet another lawyer accused of allegations of a criminal nature, stating SLAB made allegations of a criminal nature against a solicitor and sought preliminary advice from Crown Office. SLAB did not submit a crime report but were assisted by the police in carrying out further enquiries.  A report was thereafter submitted by the police to the local Procurator Fiscal rather than Crown Office. The case was marked for no proceedings by the Procurator Fiscal.

Law Society & faculty of advocatesCrooked solicitors & advocates are accused of negotiating undisclosed off-the-record cash payments from clients in legal aid cases. Amid further allegations made to Diary of Injustice that well known leading members of the Law Society of Scotland and some well known members of the Faculty of Advocates have negotiated cash payments, commonly known as ‘BUNGS’ to continue representing or ‘better defend’ cases involving accused individuals (and their relatives) receiving criminal legal aid, and civil cases involving recipients of civil legal aid, a legal insider close to the Scottish Legal Aid Board condemned both the Crown Office & SLAB for failing to uphold the law against corruption in the legal profession. He also went onto condemn the refusal by the Crown Office & SLAB to name any of the accused 14 lawyers and called for a full investigation into the lack of any prosecutions.

He said : “It is a disgrace meriting a full inquiry where the Crown Office have failed to prosecute any solicitors accused of legal aid fraud by the Scottish Legal Aid Board after complex investigations have taken place by the board. There must be a full independent investigation into these failures at the Crown Office, which could easily be perceived by the public as the law operating one way for members of the legal profession and another way for members of the public.”

He continued : “It is safe to say if any of these 14 solicitors have fraudulently claimed public funds, although it now appears we will never know for sure, the chances are they will also go on to commit similar frauds against their private clients. It is therefore imperative the Crown Office or the Scottish Legal Aid Board take steps to identify those concerned and detail exactly what the allegations where against them. This information must be published in the public interest.”

A client who is pursuing a complaint with the Law Society of Scotland against a solicitor for legal aid irregularities said he was shocked by the extent of the admission from the Crown Office.

He said : “I find it shocking it must have taken so long for SLAB & the Crown Office to investigate these lawyers, one of them died, and one other was able to claim insanity as they were about to face the court. I am left wondering if the latter recovered from his insanity condition and returned to work as a lawyer after the court case was dropped.”

He continued : “If the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Police, Law Society of Scotland and Crown Office cant protect legal aid money from crooked lawyers, the Scottish Government should stop all legal aid payments to any lawyers and their law firms if there is even a whiff of stealing going on. All these lawyers who are stealing legal aid money are members of the Law Society of Scotland. They are to blame directly because they must have no standards at all.”

An official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations joined in calling for the names of the accused solicitors to be released to ensure consumers are protected.

She said : “As consumers of legal services in Scotland, clearly the public have a right to know exactly who these 14 lawyers are and what they were accused of by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in connection with their misuse of public funds. The fact they may or probably are still practising law necessitates the disclosure of this information.”

She continued : “I think it is very likely any solicitor or advocate who has been accused of legal aid fraud by the Scottish Legal Aid Board has probably gone on to commit fraud involving the funds of their other clients. Consumers must be told who they are so they can protect themselves by staying away from these unscrupulous members of the legal profession.”

Reporting on the Scottish legal profession as I have since January 2006, and for many years since the early 1990’s as a campaigner for legal reform of regulation of the legal profession, I can say without a shadow of a doubt the lack of prosecution of any solicitor for legal aid fraud is down to one issue, that of self regulation of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates, along with both these organisation’s power & influence over public life, the media and, as this investigation today demonstrates, the application of justice and the law itself.

As long as the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, and ‘front companies’ such as the much protesting as ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission control the regulation of the Scottish legal profession, clients, whether they are private, corporate, criminal, or civil, are not safe in the hands of the law.

I therefore support calls for an independent investigation into the Crown Office for its failure to prosecute any of the 14 solicitors alleged to have fraudulently taken public funds and also a similar investigation into how solicitors who fraudulently claim legal aid are investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, given what we all learned from the Niels S Lockhart case, where the Law Society of Scotland and elements of the legal profession such as the Legal Defence Union intervened in the case to block a prosecution.

I am prepared to take this matter to the Scottish Parliament and seek the support of readers & the public at large in this endeavour to prevent legal aid public funds falling into the wrong hands, and prevent those members of the legal profession accused of legal aid fraud committing the same kinds of frauds or worse against their private clients.

This investigation, which is ongoing, was covered exclusively in the Sunday Mail newspaper, yesterday :

NO CASE TO ANSWER Sunday Mail 17 July 2011FOURTEEN LAWYERS ARE REPORTED TO PROSECUTORS ACCUSED OF FIDDLING LEGAL AID ... WHAT'S THE VERDICT ? NO CASE TO ANSWER

Five years .. not one prosecution 

Jul 17 2011 Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail

LEGAL aid bosses have reported 14 lawyers to prosecutors for allegedly fiddling a fortune in taxpayers' cash - but not a single one has been put in the dock.

Eleven suspected fraud cases were marked no proceedings, one lawyer was declared insane, one died and the other is still being considered.

Crown officials did not identify any of the lawyers involved or reveal the scale of their alleged fraud. The revelations were made by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service director of operations Scott Pattison in response to a freedom of information request.

His first reply identified 13 cases reported to the Crown Office since 2005. He later revealed there had been a 14th case. He said: "The Scottish Legal Aid Board did not submit a crime report but were assisted by the police in carrying out further inquiries."

Mr Pattison added that this case was also marked no proceedings by the procurator fiscal.

Last year, Scottish lawyers were given £155million of taxpayers' money for legal aid work. Despite public spending cuts biting elsewhere, they have opposed justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's attempt to reduce legal aid costs.

Legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi said: "It seems that the Crown Office - which is run by lawyers - has one rule for the legal profession and another for the rest of us. "If you receive taxpayers' money, you should be open to full public scrutiny."

And MP Brian Donohoe added: "This is outrageous but hardly surprising given that it's lawyers regulating lawyers. "We need an independent system of regulation. Until that happens, people will have no confidence."

The Sunday Mail have led the way in exposing lawyers accused of legal aid rackets.

Four months ago we revealed that Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, 60, raked in more than £600,000 in two years. Legal aid watchdogs ruled that Lockhart made dodgy claims but did not call in police. He is still practising but no longer claiming legal aid.

We also exposed three lawyers who worked for Paisley firm Robertson & Ross. Ian Robertson was forced to hand back £221,847 in claims and banned from further claims. Colleagues Fraser Currie and Alastair Gibb were also banned.

And last year we told how a lawyer banned from claiming huge sums of legal aid was back in business.

Steven Anderson, 52, who worked in Springburn, Glasgow, pocketed £560,330 in one year. Slab blocked £500,000 of pending payments and banned all future claims by Anderson, but he was not struck off.

Slab said: "We provide all relevant and available information to the police and Crown Office. It is for the procurator fiscal to decide if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

HACKED BY THE LAW : Hacking in UK public life reveals deals between professions, vested interests, business, lawyers & crooked cops for YOUR details

Consumers HackedDealt with a rogue lawyer, the Law Society or Master Policy ? You have been hacked. Oh yes you have. HACKING IN PUBLIC LIFE in the UK is much more commonly practised and goes far wider than one rashly closed down newspaper, as anyone who has become a figure of public interest, a celebrity, a politician, a critic of industry or vested interests, a campaigner of any kind, and yes, anyone who has made some kind of court claim against big business, the professions or even public services should know. I even know journalists who have been hacked, because they were investigating some kind of scandal which vested interests, some political, some commercial, and some public, did not want their names, companies or organisations dragged through the media in entirely justifiable headlines exposing scandal upon scandal.

Hacking, or as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown referred to earlier this week as “Law breaking on an industrial scale” as he spoke in Parliament about rather unnecessary news reports relating to his son’s medical condition, is most definitely not limited to certain sections of the media. Even if we don't particularly want to admit it, I think most of us and accept that hacking in UK public life and all that illegal information sharing by professions, vested interests, big business and even public servants, exists, happens with alarming frequency, involves substantial amounts of money and personal gain for those involved, and is completely out of control. In short, it wasn't just the News of the World now, was it.

The area of journalism I cover, is of course, the justice system and all its ills. Believe me, there are many and I don't need to go far to find examples.

SLCC Master Policy report 2011However, after my article on 3 July 2011 in which I wrote : SUICIDES, ill health, death, family break-ups, personal threats, repossessed homes, unsolved burglaries, tampered mail, spurious Police visits or raids on your home with following arrests & charges withdrawn, benefits cheat investigations, Inland Revenue investigations, losing your job, DVLA inquiries, TV license inquiries, even RIPSA surveillance by local authorities, actions all apparently instigated by aggrieved lawyers out to discredit troublesome clients, are now known to form a catalogue of common experiences in varying combinations which keep cropping up with clients who attempt to pursue ‘rogue Scottish solicitors’ through the courts by claiming against the Law Society of Scotland controlled Master Policy, the Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme which protects solicitors from damages claims from clients for negligence and other rip-offs”, little did I realise my coverage would bring some individuals out of the woodwork who are now admitting to practising the ‘dark arts’ against disgruntled clients of Scotland’s less than honest legal profession.

Was I surprised. Well, no. However I was surprised at the number of contacts from clients caught in the loop of hiring yet another lawyer to repair the damage a previous lawyer had done to their case, or those clients now trying to pursue their former lawyers through the courts.

Strangely enough, all of these individuals now caught in the system appear to have suffered a string of multiple problems in their life which were not present before they had become involved with the legal system, and had clearly suffered some kind of information sharing exercise between professions & in some cases even the Police who had turned against them on all counts.

In short, the Scottish justice system had clearly turned from an allegedly well respected system of dispute resolution, to that of a finely tuned, well oiled weapon used against anyone who disagreed with it or sought to recover from damages inflicted by it.

After careful consideration of material presented to Diary of Injustice, material which portrays an oh-so-obvious favour-&-trade-for-information policy involving agents working for the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy, I wrote a further article on 11 July 2011, reporting admissions from a legal insider that Private Investigators were routinely used to hack the details of clients who were pursuing negligence claims against their crooked lawyers, claims which involve the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Policy, an insurance protection scheme for the legal profession which is brokered by a UK subsidiary (Marsh UK) of a US company called Marsh McLennan Companies (MMC) who were found guilty of bid rigging in the US.

One firm of Private Investigators admitted to working for law firms connected to the Master Policy after being challenged with information. Since I wrote the article on Monday of this week, another firm has also acknowledged its part in monitoring and seeking, on behalf of law firms who in some cases have links to the Scottish Government, details of clients private lives.

Even better, a now retired Private Investigator who has gone on to confirm much of what has been said this week and provide further insight into highly questionable surveillance on clients and even some of the legal profession’s critics, has informed Diary of Injustice that law firms who represent the Master Policy “are now engaged in an effort to find out who talked”.

One particular incident is certainly much more clearer to me after this week.

I am now in a much better position to understand why, for instance, Board members of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) felt they were able, with impunity to brand claimants to the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund as “chancers” and “frequent flyers”.

Simply, it was all down to the level of information on those individuals these particular SLCC Board members had access to, although how & why that information was compiled, what ‘questionable methods & relationships’ were used to compile it, and who was involved in compiling it, is, anyone’s guess for now, as is whether there is even one shred of truth to the information which was generated, and perhaps in some instances, fabricated by the legal profession itself.

However one thing can be clear. This particular information obtained on clients which allowed some people at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to feel good enough to hurl a few insults at those attempting to recover financial losses incurred by their solicitors, certainly did not come willingly from any client.

Any organisations, particularly a statutory regulator which benefits in any way from such acts of spying on clients denied justice, or whose who are caught up in trying to prove an injustice, acts clearly many of which are illegal, is not a fit or proper organisation to represent the public interest in legal matters, or protect clients interests in dealings with the legal profession.

Similarly, an insurance company which has already been convicted of bid rigging in the United States and has, in conjunction with the most senior officials of a statutory regulator, coordinated a series of acts against consumers to prevent them getting to court to settle negligence claims against crooked lawyers, or crooked anyone for that, is not a fit or proper organisation to offer insurance policies which are held up by equally crooked regulators as client protection schemes, which are nothing of the sort.

So this takes us back to one now very clear fact. If you have dealt with the legal profession on the basis you have tried to take legal action against a solicitor, or if you have raised what could be classified as serious or controversial complaints against members of the legal profession, particularly high profile members of the legal profession, you, like many others caught in the same position you have never met in your life, may well have been hacked. Hacked to an unimaginable degree. If anyone wants to do something about it, you know where I am.

Readers may also wish to note the fine article in today’s Guardian by Heather Brooke, which goes far in explaining some of the information sharing cartels existing in UK public life, here : Phone hacking: let's break up this information cartel

And finally … to the scandal which catapulted hacking in public life into the media headlines, the story of the News of the World, which met its untimely end because, as Rupert Murdoch said today in his apology printed in several newspapers, “The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself.”

Need I remind you all, the same relationships between former journalists and corrupt Police Officers which ultimately brought down the News of the World, still exist in the same quantities, perhaps even more so, in many walks of life, in big business, in public services, and in the legal profession and indeed right at the very top of its regulatory bodies.

Do you ever think the legal profession and its regulators will ever apologise for, and attempt to put right the wrongs they have committed against members of the public. No they wont. Never.

This is exactly why we need newspapers & journalists with integrity, bloggers, campaigners and victims of injustice who can turn the tables on those in power, do the investigative work which needs to be done, and hold the vested interests, the crooked professions, big business, crooked politicians, the justice system, and those in public life who put on a double face, to account.