Scotland’s first Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion & his team have shone a much needed light on the justice system. WITH Scotland’s first Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion stepping down last week, Diary of Injustice & independent law journalist Peter Cherbi would like to thank Mr Dunion and his hard working, attentive team at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office for their significant contribution in ensuring for the first time ever, consumers of legal services in Scotland, court users, party litigants, McKenzie Friends, lay assistants, journalists, campaigners, individuals and even solicitors, have finally had access to key information on the secret parts of Scotland’s justice system, such as regulation of the legal profession, which has remained a closed shop secret world for decades until the FOI compliant Scottish Legal Complaints Commission came along in 2008.
Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and its many other connected bodies, along with Mr Dunion’s investigations & decisions on requests where the SLCC refused to disclose material, have without doubt, helped the media report on the many pitfalls of how badly solicitors are regulated in Scotland, and on the inner workings of regulatory bodies which are by most accounts, hostile to consumers who have found themselves placed in the unenviable position of having to complain about their solicitors.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been caught out so many times in Freedom of Information disclosures & investigations, which revealed anti client hate fuelled rants by drunken board members, to attempts to conceal board members lavish expenses claims running at well over 150,000 a year and so many more reports on failings of the SLCC, with a good helping hand from Freedom of Information, available HERE
Freedom of Information legislation requests & investigations by Diary of Injustice have also contributed to a wider understanding of how the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) operate, where SLAB & Crown Office officials appeared to be more interested in expenses claims & flying high on intercontinental air carriers than pursuing sleazy solicitors who make off with millions of pounds of taxpayer funded legal aid.
Scotland’s Crown Office have also been caught short, awarding themselves HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS in staff bonuses from the top of the organisation down, yet by all accounts failing to enforce the law when it came to instances such as the 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 , and all because the Lord Advocate’s ‘independent’ Crown Counsel kept saying there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute.
The Scottish Government too have come in for exposure, where FOI requests revealed its own Ministers directly intervened with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, demanding the SLCC hand back ONE MILLION POUNDS to lawyers who pled poverty over last year’s complaints levy, reported by Diary of Injustice here : Undue Influence : Freedom of Information reveals how Law Society used Scottish Government Ministers to reduce complaints levy for crooked lawyers. Further requests revealed the Justice Secretary himself even signed off on a secret payoff for the allegedly ‘too sick to ever work again’ now former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman, reported by Diary of Injustice here : HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers
Even the judiciary of Scotland have come in for improvement after FOI requests forced the publication of JUDGES EXPENSES, allowing the public to peer into the murky world of Scottish judges earning up to TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS a year plus expenses, tips & hospitality so far unrecorded. Diary of Injustice first reported on the issue of judicial expenses, here : The costs of Scotland's 'Victorian' Justice System : Court of Session judges paid £6.1 million as litigants struggle to obtain hearing dates and further reports continued HERE, all brought to you by Freedom of Information legislation & tips from well placed sources.
It’s not all about the justice system though … Freedom of Information investigations by journalists and individuals all over Scotland have contributed to significant news stories, the publicising of injustice, scandals in our hospitals, poor services, scandals or treatment of individuals by local authorities, unfair practices in the financial world, corrupt politicians stealing from the public purse & much more which have or will result in improvements to the quality of life in Scotland throughout a wide variety of fields.
Mr Dunion’s last decision as Scottish Information Commissioner is reprinted below, reminding us of the failings in our health service, uncovered by an NHS employee’s Freedom of Information request. Remember everyone, you too can use Freedom of Information to uncover information which should be in the public domain. Use FOI productively. If your FOI investigations relate to the justice system and if you want your story to be publicised here on Diary of Injustice or in a newspaper, email Peter Cherbi via firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Dunion’s last decision : Commissioner criticises "catalogue of failings" at NHS Ayrshire and Arran
The Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion has issued his last decision, criticising NHS Ayrshire and Arran for some of the most serious failings in records management and information recovery he has seen in his nine years in office.
NHS employee Mr Rab Wilson had asked for copies of Critical Incident Reviews, Serious Adverse Event Reports and associated action plans, which are used in the primary care field as a structured way of investigating incidents and ensuring lessons are learned. NHS Ayrshire and Arran advised Mr Wilson that they held only one action plan.
However given the potentially serious nature of the incidents which give rise to Critical Incident Reviews, and the Board's stated policy on these reviews, the Commissioner challenged this position when the case was appealed to him, and over the coming months more than 56 action plans were found. The Commissioner has ordered the Board to disclose anonymised versions of the reports and plans to Mr Wilson.
Mr Dunion, who demits office tomorrow, said: "This case has involved a catalogue of failings by NHS Ayrshire and Arran to search for and find information falling within the scope of Mr Wilson's request – perhaps the most serious such case by an authority in my time as Commissioner. Claims made to Mr Wilson turned out to be wrong and prior assurances given to me and my staff turned out to be unjustified. At the very least, this constitutes a significant failure of records management, but, given the nature of the information which was the subject of the request, the failings may point to wider governance issues which have to be addressed.
"Mr Wilson's persistence was characterised by the Board as being vexatious, but perhaps instead should have raised concerns that records concerning critical incidents which should have been held were missing, policies regarding action plans were not being adhered to and public confidence that plans had been drawn up and acted upon could be affected. Certainly I found it so difficult to believe that such documents could be unaccounted for in terms of whether they had been created, acted upon or destroyed that it caused me to continue with my investigation despite the Board's protestations.
"As this is my last decision, I will recommend to the new Commissioner, who takes up post on 1 May 2012, that consideration is given to carrying out an assessment of NHS Ayrshire and Arran's freedom of information practices."
The Commissioner has taken the unusual step of writing to Dr Martin Cheyne, Chairman of Ayrshire and Arran NHS Board, to bring these serious breaches directly to his attention, as well as to Mr John Burns, the Chief Executive. The case will also be brought to the attention of Scottish Ministers and other relevant bodies.