Thursday, February 28, 2013

A little less Victorian, Lord Gill ? Proposal to ‘transform’ Scotland’s antiquated courts is little more than ‘updated business model for lawyers’, will have little impact on Scots access to justice

Lord Gill

In reality, proposals to transform Scotland’s Courts will have little real effect on access to justice. THE LATEST plans to transform Scotland’s antiquated, prejudiced & famously ‘closed-shop-to-all-but-lawyers’ courts & justice system are now upon us in the form of the Scottish Government’s Courts Reform Consultation, coming somewhat desperately a whole four years after Lord Gill, now Scotland’s top judge, branded the Civil justice system as “Victorian” and “failing society”.

The plans are presented as a sweeping sea change to the speed of justice in Scotland, like so many earlier proposals which have led to the current daily chaos of Scotland’s courts where cases can languish for decades without a result.

The Courts Reform Bill as it is being presented follows Lord Gill’s earlier criticisms, stating that Civil courts are vital to the effective functioning of a civil justice system. However, the structure of the civil courts in Scotland is still largely based on a Victorian model. Because of that, and the massive social and legal changes which have taken place over the last century, the structure is now under a considerable degree of strain: too much business is taken up in higher courts - particularly the Court of Session - which could be more appropriately dealt with by lower courts; cases need to be better monitored and managed; the civil procedure rules urgently need modernised and made more accessible to the citizen; and there needs to be far greater flexibility in the ways actions can be brought and funded.

However, and in keeping with any in-house driven “reform” of a justice system notoriously dominated by the vested interests of a money making legal profession who regularly overcharge clients and prolong legal actions in court for no other purpose than making money, the plans may well end up as so many other ‘reforms’ to the justice system have ended up – putting money into the pockets of lawyers while clients and consumers not able to afford justice, lose out.

The Making Justice Work - Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill - A consultation paper, published yesterday by the Scottish Government “invites views on proposals to restructure the way civil cases and summary criminal cases are dealt with by the courts in Scotland. The proposals provide the legal framework for implementing the majority of recommendations of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, led by Lord Gill the former Lord Justice Clerk and now Lord President of the Court of Session. The proposals discuss a redistribution of business from the Court of Session to the sheriff courts, creating a new lower tier of judiciary in the sheriff court called the summary sheriffs with jurisdiction in certain civil cases and summary criminal cases. Other proposed measures include the creation of a new national sheriff appeal court and a new national specialist personal injury court.”

The somewhat hard-to-find consultation papers for members of the public who wish to give their views, can be downloaded HERE although readers would be advised to grab the documents quickly before the usual pettiness of the Justice Department kicks in and the links are changed to avoid too many submissions being made by the public at large. Replies to the consultation must be submitted by

The key proposals in the consultation include:

* Increasing the threshold under which only the Sheriff Court can deal with civil cases from £5,000 to £150,000 so that more can be dealt with locally - freeing up the Court of Session to deal with the most complex disputes.

* The creation of a new judicial post – the summary sheriff – to hear lower value civil cases and less complex criminal cases. These sheriffs will have expertise in such casework and, in many cases, will use a new simpler procedure to resolve disputes fairly, swiftly and efficiently.

* The creation of a Sheriff Appeal Court to deal with civil appeals and less serious criminal appeals.

* The creation of a national personal injury sheriff court as a centre of expertise.

* Improvements to judicial review procedure, including introducing a three-month time limit for applications to be brought.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was on hand to make the usual if somewhat nonsensical sweeping claims of change in the courts system for the better. Mr MacAskill said : “The civil justice courts have remained relatively unchanged for more than a generation. These reforms will help us ensure that the right cases are heard in the right places and therefore reduce unnecessary delays, cost and bureaucracy.”

Mr MacAskill continued : “The proposals will also mean that Scotland’s top civil judges will deal with Scotland’s most complex civil legal cases, with others being dealt with in local sheriff courts where they will still be subject to the same level of scrutiny as before and will be heard more quickly and efficiently, for the benefit of all. The impact of current delays and high costs go beyond the courts themselves to the very businesses and individuals seeking both quick and efficient resolution. As part of our Making Justice Work programme, we are working to create a modern justice system that is fair, accessible and efficient and that better meets the needs of the people of Scotland today and these reforms are a key part of this.”

Mr MacAskill could only rely on supporting comments from a solicitor, and the Association of British Insurers, both of whom predictably welcomed the Scottish Government’s proposals.

However, a representative from one of Scotland's consumer bodies told Diary of Injustice she felt the proposals were little more than “an update to a profitable business model for lawyers” and are a far cry from what is actually needed to give Scots consumers a more fair, less expensive & direct route to access the courts & justice system.

She said : “The proposals currently put forward appear to transfer the problems from one set of courts to another and do little to help people without legal representation access the courts. Party litigants and those who cannot afford legal representation will invariably find themselves excluded from the new arrangements which are clearly aimed at promoting the use of solicitors & other legal professionals.”

A court user who is currently stuck in a years long battle in the Court of Session was also critical of the plans, pointing out there is nothing in the bill to encourage more honesty on the part of law firms who take on legal cases just to “drum up business and fees no one can really afford”.

He said  : “Mr MacAskill’s plans fail to encourage higher standards in legal services and cut down on the numbers of victims falling to law firms who make false promises to clients of speedy results in cases which more often than not take years and end up in failure and clients personal finances swallowed up in legal fees.”

Cutting through the Justice Minister’s incredulous claims on the subject, what we are actually talking about in these reforms is, simply, creating new business markets for lawyers and the legal profession rather than giving the Scots public direct access to justice.

If, for instance, you are a party litigant, either through circumstances of not being able to afford the daft rates charged by Scots law firms for poor legal work with little chance of success, or perhaps you find yourself on the legal profession’s boycott list, these latest proposals from the Scottish Government will do little to give you increased access to the courts.

So, again, those vested interests in the courts system, in the form of solicitors & law firms, will as usual gain the most as in ramping up legal business on the back of feeding clients glorious tales of securing them massive settlements in ‘quick’ legal actions which actually will end up taking years to proceed to court at the usual vast expense to clients, and will simply clog up the Sheriff Courts instead of the Court of Session.

It is also of interest to note the plans put forward by the Scottish Government of creating a new judicial tier as well as effectively localising many more claims in local court cases will inevitably bring dangers where the currently undeclared interests of the judiciary may well begin to conflict with claimants cases being heard in Sheriff Courts.

The pitfalls of localising claims to local courts may begin to affect personal injury or damages claims, where for instance, undeclared links between members of the judiciary, their families and local professions, industries & public bodies who are subject to legal actions, will end up resulting in cases not be heard on a fair basis, for example, where a litigant may be suing a health board, law firm or other defender which has a connection to a member of the judiciary or someone in the local court staff rolls.

Such problems of conflict of interest are not resolved in the Scottish Government’s Courts Reform Bill, given the fact the same Lord President who once called Scotland’s justice system as “Victorian” has vehemently rejected a need for a register of interests as has been proposed to the Scottish Parliament here : Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

Lord Gill is also bitterly resistant to outside transparency of the judiciary as reported in an earlier article here : VICTORIANA : Report reveals Lord President Lord Gill ‘froze out’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer amid series of revoked findings, secret unshared memos & dismissed complaints

Monday, February 25, 2013

CREDIBILITY KNOCKS : New £313-a-day Chair of Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claims 'anti-client' regulator will be ‘more effective’ in dealing with crooked lawyers

New £313-a-day Chair for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. THE widely disrespected Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘single gateway’ for all complaints made by clients against Scottish solicitors, has a new Chair with the announcement of the appointment of Bill Brackenridge, who takes over the £313 a day position of what many observers now accept is little more than a “front company” for the Law Society of Scotland.

Mr Brackenridge claims the SLCC, with its annual budget of nearly £3 million pounds, paid for by client fees to solicitors, will be made more effective in dealing with complaints and will encourage improved standards in the legal profession under his leadership. Mr Brackenridge replaces Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s first Chair,and former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, who retired from her position on 31 December 2012.

The SLCC announced the appointment of Mr Brackenridge last week in a low key Press Release. The SLCC said Mr Brackenridge will bring “considerable Corporate Governance experience to the SLCC”, on the basis that as a management consultant for 25 years he has extensively advised public and private sector clients.  Among his former appointments, Bill Brackenridge has served as a non-Executive Director on Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and on NHS Highland, chairing the Argyll & Bute CHP for five years.  For six years he chaired the Board of the Scottish Ambulance Service.  He comes to the SLCC aiming to build on its formative years and intent upon developing positive relationships with its stakeholders.

Mr Brackenridge said : "I'm pleased to be joining the SLCC at such an important time in its development. We're now established as the gateway for all legal complaints in Scotland but there's much more for us to do to build trust and confidence in legal services. I'm looking forward to working with the team to make us even more effective and influential in dealing with complaints and in encouraging improved standards through our powers of guidance and oversight. The legal market is changing. Our hard-won experience will contribute to maintaining and strengthening public trust and confidence in buying and using legal services."

Omitted from the SLCC’s Press Statement, it is also known Mr Brackenridge was appointed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the Vale of Leven Monitoring Group which was set up to advise NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde on the future of the Vale of Leven Hospital in West Dunbartonshire and modernisation of health services at the hospital.

However, during Mr Brackenridge’s tenure at the Vale of Leven Monitoring Group, it is worth noting and perhaps of considerable concern, that eleven lay members from the Vale of Leven Monitoring Group resigned their positions in a mass resignation, claiming their views were being ignored by the health board after a number of decisions were apparently taken by the Health Board contrary to input from the group’s lay members.

At the time of the mass resignation by the lay members, Mr Brackenridge in his capacity as Chair, told a meeting of the Vale of Leven Monitoring Group he was "disappointed" by the resignation of 11 lay members. However, the incident was widely reported in the media, with opposition politicians calling for Mr Brackenridge’s group’s disbandment, on the basis it had “no credibility”.

It may well be worth noting that Mr Brackenridge now finds himself heading a legal complaints regulator also well known for its lack of credibility.

The Scottish Government’s similarly low key announcement of Mr Brackenridge’s appointment, made by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, without a personal comment, claimed “The SLCC also promotes and advises on good complaint handling and makes recommendations to promote good legal practice in Scotland. The SLCC aims to resolve complaints quickly and effectively.”

However, some cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice appear to show the SLCC has told some clients it may be up to EIGHT MONTHS before their complaint is assigned to an investigator, while other cases have shown the SLCC is refusing to consider any evidence submitted by clients to challenge spurious claims made by solicitors who have the backing of organisations such as the Legal Defence Union to ‘persuade’ the SLCC to drop cases “on demand” as one insider put it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Conduct complaints about crooked lawyers lack transparency, face delays says Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after 'indy' regulator awards “reasonable” rating to Law Society of Scotland

SLCCLawyers look after their own as ‘independent’ regulator rates Law Society. CONDUCT COMPLAINTS against Scottish Solicitors, like all complaints about poor legal services provided by Scotland’s legal profession, are, according to a report released by the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), ‘reasonably’ handled by the Law Society of Scotland, even though the entire complaints process lacks any transparency and clients are left facing lengthy delays of up to a year before the Law Society may eventually reach a conclusion.

The SLCC’s Review of the Law Society of Scotland's timescales in relation to conduct complaints handling, carried out in November 2012 and only recently published states concludes that the SLCC Board could take 'reasonable assurance' in the Law Society's overall complaints handling system but recognised that the processes, procedures and controls under review could benefit from a number of improvements.

Findings in the SLCC report stated : It was identified that there were no formally approved documented timescales or targets in place for investigating complaints under Law Society’s seven-stage complaint investigation process under the 2007 Act. In addition there were no formal timescales/targets in place to effectively measure the progress of a complaint through the Law Society‟s seven-stage conduct handling process.  However, we note that there are now some targets set out in the Complaints Investigator Manual (Conduct Complaints) which was approved by the Client Care Sub Committee in April 2012. These targets include timescales for dealing with correspondence,telephone calls and update letters.

A quarterly report of “Regulation-Conduct Complaints‟ is produced for the Board tracking progress against key indicators.  A copy of the report from November 2011 to end of January2012 indicated that the average number of days to process and conclude a complaint was 320 days. Our manual calculation identified a discrepancy (349 days) in the average number of days to process and conclude a complaint. We were informed that the average number of days is calculated automatically from Visual Files and is not manually verified prior to reporting to the Board.

The SLCC obtained a sample of 30 complaints covering the period of 01 October 2008 up to the planning phase of the Audit. The sample consisted wholly of closed cases which had reached the Closure stage. We identified those cases which exceeded the target of 320 days and split these into each individual stage of the seven stage complaint handling process.

Where complaints exceeded the average timescale, these were further investigated to identify at what stage(s) delays had occurred. From this we identified that the majority of delays/lengthy timescales in the process were within the Ingathering Evidence and Reporting Stages.

Further investigation of these stages identified the following factors created delays:
* delays responding to complainers‟ correspondence;
* cases being re-allocated to another Complaints Investigator during the process;
* re-organisation of the department;
* dealing with backlog of work; and
* non co-operation of the solicitors complained of leading to the issue of Section 48 Notices.

The SLCC found instances where parties were not kept informed when their case was being transferred from one Complaints Investigator to another, or where the Complaints Investigator was going to be absent for a period of time, e.g. annual leave. Lastly, we identified instances where there were large periods of inactivity in the complaint file, which could not be readily explained.

The SLCC recommended that the Law Society keeps the SLCC updated on the IT Visual File project and notifies the SLCC of any timescales which are set.

The SLCC also recommended that once timescales have been set, a process is developed to monitor timescales and targets to ensure these are met. These should be periodically reviewed to ensure that they accurately reflect the complaint handling process.

The SLCC also recommended the Law Society’s Regulation office should consider regularly publishing timescale targets on the website to ensure transparency.  It should consider publishing a summary of the numbers, business category of complaints received and the timescales in which they were resolved.

It should be noted many of the SLCC’s findings could just have easily been made every year over the past two decades as the Law Society of Scotland’s Complaints Department have consistently treated client complaints with year long delays, a lack of transparency and record levels of prejudice, proving that in 2013, little has changed with regard to regulation of Scotland's legal profession with clients & consumers getting a raw deal from poorly regulated solicitors who look after their own.

While no Press Release has been issued by the Law Society of Scotland, the SLCC said on their website the Law Society has accepted the overall finding of 'reasonable assurance' and has provided a detailed response as to what actions have been undertaken since the audit was performed and other actions that are in the pipeline. The SLCC went onto claim the Society will be monitored by the SLCC in terms of its on-going oversight role and some will form the subject of future reviews/follow-up work.

If you have a conduct complaint against a Scottish solicitor and feel the Law Society or SLCC are mucking you about, or you wish to publicise the case, contact us at

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lawyers FOI secrecy feud with regulator wrecks £10K ‘Complaints Handling Research’ as 75% of solicitors, advocates refuse to disclose client complaint statistics

SLCCLawyers survey boycott & unverifiable data ruins complaints research. COSTLY RESEARCH undertaken by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) into how lawyers & advocates ‘handle’ complaints from their clients has today been labelled “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise” after results revealed a staggering 75% of all Scottish law firms & advocates either “refused”, were “not available” or “terminated” their participation in the research which sought disclosure of key details on how complaints from dissatisfied clients are handled made to them before clients are forced to approach regulators such as the SLCC or Law Society of Scotland.

And while the lack of participation effectively rendered the ‘independent’ SLCC’s research unusable, insiders at the regulator now also believe many law firms fiddled the numbers and simply LIED in what little data was actually handed over by the legal profession, as none of what was submitted can be independently verified or subject to public inspection.

Figures released in the two reports published by the SLCC show that of the total numbers of questionnaires & letters sent out to every law firm & advocate in Scotland by research firm TNS-BMRB who were commissioned by the SLCC to carry out the research, 850 law firms and 350 advocates either refused or for a variety of other reasons, failed to disclose any details on how complaints made by dissatisfied clients are handled.

Although TNS BMRB had undertaken the research in May & June 2012, both reports had curiously remained secret until the SLCC responded to a Freedom of Information request from Diary of Injustice, which can be viewed online in its entirety, here : FOI Release - SLCC Research into complaint numbers & complaints handling by practitioners

Later that same day (31st January) after the documentation was released to Diary of Injustice journalists, the SLCC issued a press release with a short comment from Richard Keen, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. There has so far been no comment from the Law Society of Scotland on the survey or the lack of participation of its members.

Both reports can be viewed on the SLCC’s website HERE & HERE or online here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Advocates & here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Legal Firms

The mass non-participation of Scotland’s legal profession in the ‘independent’ regulator’s complaints survey comes as no surprise after Diary of Injustice earlier reported on calls by various sections of Scotland’s legal profession to boycott the survey after lawyers groups such as the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) voiced fears that any information handed over to the SLCC would be released to the media via Freedom of Information Requests.

To allay the lawyers concerns over complaints data being released to the public, the ‘independent’ SLCC brokered a sinister deal of secrecy, and ordered research firm TNS BMRB not to hand over any data to the SLCC directly, thus avoiding Freedom of Information and its requirements. The SLCC issued a public statement to the legal profession saying : “While it is the case that the SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), it should be noted that information is being ingathered on a confidential basis by the researchers purely for the purpose of statistical analysis by them. Information from individual legal firms, or data that could identify any legal firms or individual practitioners, will not be passed on to the SLCC.”

DOI reported on this highly questionable move on the ‘independent’ SLCC’s deal with lawyers to avoid FOI disclosure of complaints information, here : Law regulator SLCC responds to lawyers call to boycott complaints research : ‘We will AVOID Freedom of Information by stashing data with researchers'

TNS BMRB were tasked with securing the following information for their research :

Statistical Information
1. To establish number and type of transactions by practice area, since 2008;
2. To establish number of complaints dealt with since 2008, by practice area;
3. To identify from where complaints originate;
4. To establish the outcome and disposal of complaints.

Complaints handling
1. To identify management information systems in place for complaint record keeping;
2. To establish how lessons learned about complaints handling are captured and cascaded through the firm;
3. To assess how clients and others are informed about how to make a complaint;
4. To determine the type and provider of any training/guidance received on complaint handling;
5. To ascertain the appeal of different options for further support on complaint handling

The SLCC claimed that the research, the first of its kind in Scotland, was intended as an initial fact-finding exercise. As such, it has highlighted scope for further work which the SLCC will undertake as part of its on-going oversight role.

However, the information which made it into the research and the conclusions of both reports unsurprisingly reveal complaints records within the Scottish legal profession are at best, a mess.

More worryingly, if unsurprisingly, analysis of the reports by consumer campaigners reveal a deliberate act of deception on the part of lawyers to avoid accurate reporting of client dissatisfaction with Scottish solicitors & law firms, now rated as among the worst & most expensive in the entire European Union.

Critics who have viewed & studied both the report into law firms & advocates have raised serious doubts over the accuracy of information handed over to the research firm by Scottish lawyers & advocates, highlighting the fact there is absolutely no way to authenticate any of the data handed over to the researchers in interviews or questionnaires.

One senior spokesperson for a Scottish consumer group said she believed “much of the material was probably fabricated by law firms who were told not to reveal accurate complaints data to the SLCC or their researchers.”

Speaking about its piece of expensive, unverifiable research, David Buchanan Cook, the SLCC’s Head of Oversight issued a vague public statement claiming: “While the reports show that complaint levels are low, they are increasing. Complaints have a direct impact on any business, so it's surprising that more practitioners don't take simple steps to listen and to put matters right. The reports show that in a quarter of complaints resolved a simple apology was all that was needed yet a large number of practitioners faced with a complaint do nothing at all. In these cases both the complainer and the practitioner lose out.”

Mr Buchanan Cook continued “The reports do highlight that it can be more challenging for smaller firms and sole practitioners to deal with complaints in terms of resources, processes and experience. We will be working with both the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates to draw up best practice guidance later this year to help. We will also be using the reports to identify where we can help the profession to improve complaint handling. The public has a right to expect complaints to be listened to and where something has gone wrong, the practitioner should put it right. It's not just a question of fairness- it's good business sense too.”

The SLCC refused to answer questions on the low participation rate of the survey and offered no comment on the legal profession’s call to boycott the SLCC’s research, which will be met out of its 2011-2012 budget. However, a legal insider at the SLCC admitted “lawyers had been expected to lie in their responses to the research”, now branded “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise”.

With the Law Society of Scotland apparently refusing to issue a press statement on the research, Richard Keen QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates was wheeled out to provide some backup to the beleaguered SLCC. Mr Keen said : “The Faculty of Advocates takes its responsibility for complaints handling extremely seriously and notes from the report that the level of complaints to new cases is "undoubtedly low." The Faculty will study the report and engage with the SLCC in taking forward a number of broad themes that have been identified.”

It should be noted that clients & consumers were completely shut out of this SLCC research project, as Diary of Injustice earlier reported here : Consumers ‘locked out of debate’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission carries out yet more research on how solicitors handle complaints

Monday, February 11, 2013

VICTORIANA : Report reveals Lord President Lord Gill ‘froze out’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer amid series of revoked findings, secret unshared memos & dismissed complaints

Lord GillLook who’s Victorian now – Lord Gill criticised over conduct towards Judicial Complaints. SCOTLAND’S top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill, who once branded Scotland’s Civil Justice system as “Victorian”, a failure to Scots society, unfit for purpose, and went onto proposed wide ranging reforms which have not been implemented some five years on, has himself come in for severe criticism over the judiciary's attitude towards complaints made against judges after it was revealed that Moi Ali, the independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) tasked with looking into complaints made against Scottish judges has been “frozen out” of the process by angry members of the judiciary who despise independent scrutiny of their own activities.

The revelations, coming from Moi Ali’s first annual report as Judicial Complaints Reviewer were published only last week after the Scottish Government ignored a series of Freedom of Information requests made byDiary of Injustice journalists over the course of 2012 asking for the disclosure of information about the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s appointment, her activities over the past year, and costs of her office.

Ms Ali’s first annual report, which can be read online here : Judicial Complaints Reviewer Annual report 20011- 2012 or on the JCR’s website HERE reveals a series of incidents where her office has been blocked by the Lord President from accessing communications, internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.

Ms Ali has also revealed in her report that, staggeringly, she has not even been able to meet the current Lord President, Lord Gill, or the previous Lord President Lord Hamilton.

In one particular case, Ms Ali revealed in her report “When the Judicial Office made an initial assessment of this complaint, it was not reasonable for them to conclude that the behaviour complained about, which left the complainer “insecure and scared”, fell into the category of judicial decision/case management/court programming. According to the Rules, they should have referred that element of the complaint to the disciplinary judge for consideration. This did not happen, and instead the complaint, in its entirety, was dismissed. For that reason I made a referral to the Lord President, who then revoked that part of the original determination and referred it to the disciplinary judge, who then dismissed the complaint.”

Clearly Scotland’s judiciary have operated in a closed world for too long, and have become used to writing their own rules, and living above expectations of transparency which the rest of us – even the Prime Minister, have to adhere to. In this regard, Lord Gill also attacked proposals put before the Scottish Parliament in the form of a Public Petition calling for a register of interests of Scotland’s judiciary, more on which can be read here : DECLARE YOUR INTERESTS M’LORDS : Scottish Parliament seek views on Public Petition calling for a Register of Interests of Scotland’s wealthy Judges & Sheriffs

Lord Gill heavily criticised the plans for a register of interests of judges, claiming he and his fellow colleagues should have their significant wealth & assets shielded from public disclosure in case "aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants" were to find out the true state of judges wealth and their connections to big business, including financial connections with insurance companies, offshore tax-dodging trusts, and somewhat odd property ownership schemes.

Lord Gill’s full letter to the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary will be reported further on Diary of Injustice later this week.

The Sunday Mail newspaper has featured a report on Moi Ali’s difficulties with the Scottish Judiciary, and Lord Gill’s attack on plans to make Scotland’s judiciary more transparency & accountable. Since yesterday’s report in the press, sources within the Scottish Government have this afternoon informed DOI journalists that “officials had operated a policy of deliberately ignoring FOI requests relating to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer's office from Diary of Injustice.”.

For the record, Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Information Commissioner was made aware of the Scottish Government’s refusal to answer any Freedom of Information requests relating to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer during 2012 and the SIC were copied in on the relevant FOI requests made to the Scottish Government at the time.

The Sunday Mail reports :

Judicial Investigator Moi Ali left in the dark over complaints against Scottish Judges - NO She May Not 10 Feb 2013 Sunday MailJUDICIAL INVESTIGATOR LEFT IN THE DARK

May the watchdog appointed by the Scottish Government to investigate complaints against judges have leave to approach the bench, Your Honours? 

SILENCE IN COURT Lord Gill has not met judicial investigator so far.
EXCLUSIVE, By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 10 Feb 2013

A watchdog appointed to look into complaints against Scotland's judges fears she is being frozen out.

Moi Ali has accused the country's most senior judge, Lord President Lord Gill, of undermining her work by blocking access to vital documents.

She revealed her frustration in her first annual report since taking up the newly-created role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Ali said she was only seeing the correspondence between the Judicial Office, who act for the judges, and the complainers.

But she was not allowed to see the internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.

She said: "I believe that in order to conduct a review, and to make wider recommendations on complaints handling, I need to see files in their entirety. "Without this, it is difficult to satisfy myself, let alone complainers, as to the fairness of the process. "I have continued to complete reviews but have made it clear to complainers that I have not had access to all documentation in their complaint file."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defied judicial opposition to create the part-time job to monitor how complaints against judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled.

And Ali fears there is still resistance from within the judiciary to her role as an independent investigator.

She said: "With any profession, there's a feeling that regulation should come from within. "But this is the first time that the judiciary have been exposed to this kind of scrutiny, which other professional groups are more used to. "Most have accepted there is some kind of mechanism to scrutinise their conduct. That doesn't mean that we don't have a free and independent judiciary."

Ali also revealed that she has still not met 70-year-old Lord Gill, who was appointed to his £214,165-a-year post last June, and did not meet his predecessor Lord Hamilton.

She said: "I'm not overly concerned but I'm slightly surprised that the Lord President did not proactively suggest a meeting. I don't need to meet him but I think it would have sent out a positive message."

Ali is more concerned at the decision to block her access to documents.

She said: "This came to light because in review number one I was sent all the documents but then I didn't get the same ones for the second review. "At that point I discovered that I had been given them in error the first time. "I can't see any reason why and that worries me because I can't understand it."

Ali also voiced concerns that judges being investigated could evade punishment by quitting before the probe is complete. And she found there has been a breach in the rules in the way one of the four complaints she reviewed had been handled. Ali also urged the judiciary staff to use plain English when dealing with the public.

Her lack of administrative support was also highlighted - on her first day, she did not have a computer, printer, phone, email address or stationery - and she said it meant she was "unable to give the level of service that I would like to provide".

A Judicial Office for Scotland spokeswoman said: "In the short time the JCR has been in the post, we have worked very closely with Ms Ali in implementing, developing and reviewing the rules and how they are applied.

"With any new system, there is always a period of adaptation and adjustment and we are grateful to Ms Ali for the helpful suggestions and recommendations she has put forward and which, for the most part, have been implemented.

"A review of the rules is due to take place shortly and the Lord President is committed to working constructively to ensure the complaints procedure develops effectively."


Lord Gill has rejected calls for judges to register their interests - because he fears they may be harassed by "aggressive media".

A petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament is calling on the judiciary to reveal any commercial, business or legal links in case they raise possible conflicts with their cases.

But in a letter to the public petitions committee, Scotland's most senior judge said current safeguards are enough.

Lord Gill said: "In practical terms, it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case.

"The terms of the judicial oath and the statement of principles of judicial ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset."

He said details held on a register could be abused by "aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants".

The call for a register has also been rejected by the Law Society of Scotland.

Monday, February 04, 2013

SWINDLE SOCIETY : Profits dive at troubled Scots law firms while legal aid fraud, client rip-offs, solicitors negligence, dishonesty & complaints increase sharply

Law Society of ScotlandScots law firms feel the financial squeeze while clients feel the effects of rising fees, rip offs & legal aid swindles. TIMES ARE TOUGH as we all know, but many clients will feel it hard to shed a tear over recent news from the Law Society of Scotland announcing that Scottish solicitors are apparently earning less cash for their greedy partners as profits take another dive at Scots law firms. Should ordinary Scots feel sorry for a profession which writes its own rules, charges what it likes, has talked up and abused the housing market to the point of making homes unaffordable for many, has ruined families for their own financial benefit and even stolen from the dead ? Hardly.

The Law Society of Scotland reported in a recent Press Release : Drop in profits shows market still tough for Scots law firms that trading conditions remain tough for solicitors' firms, despite an increase shown in profits for sole practitioners and larger firms, according to a survey commissioned by the Law Society of Scotland. The Law Society's Cost of Time survey for 2012, based on the results of 244 participating firms, showed an overall drop in profits per partner levels which are now on a par with those of 2010, with cash flow issues proving to be a particular problem for solicitors.

However, while lawyers profits may be down, complaints made by clients, legal aid swindles, theft, dishonesty, embezzlement. negligence and client rip-offs are unsurprisingly all on the rise as Scottish solicitors follow tried & tested methods of extorting every penny from already impoverished clients and even taxpayers & the public purse, as increasing amounts of cash greedy law firms who previously refused to offer legal aid to clients now scramble to sponge off the Scottish Government’s £160 MILLION legal aid budget.

In December 2012, Diary of Injustice reported on the latest annual report from the hapless, anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), who were themselves forced to admit that complaints against Scottish solicitors had risen significantly on the previous year at a figure of 16% here : From Bad to Worse : Complaints against lawyers up 16%, few cases upheld, Board members on £20K expenses, reports anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2012 annual report

The Law Society of Scotland’s survey claimed : Median profits for equity partners in Scotland have dropped to £64,000, the same level as two years ago, following an increase in 2011. Partners in medium sized firms have seen the biggest drop, with 2-4 partner firms dropping from £75,000 to £67,000 in 2012 and 5-9 partner firms seeing a £4,000 fall to £76,000 in 2012. However the survey showed an increase of £7,000 to £53,000 on average for sole practitioners and those in 10+ partner firms have seen a rise in their per partner profits from £144,000 to £163,000.

The results illustrate the extent of the difference between the profitability of larger firms with 10 or more equity sharing partners and smaller firms, with larger firms' average profit per equity partner exceeding those at smaller firms by £79,000. Equity partners in a law firm are not paid a salary, and the profits they earn are often used to fund working capital, so the figures have to be interpreted with care. The apparent paper profit is not the same as actual earnings.

The research has also shown a drop in law firms' bank balances in the past year from over £200,000 last year to just over £50,000 this year for 10+ partner firms. 2-4 partner firms have seen their median bank balance fall from £27,000 to £6,000, and 5-9 partner firms have also seen a major fall.

Clearly however, the reduction in law firms' bank balances and lack of cash for partners have made dishonesty, negligence and almost bare faced theft of client funds an even more tantalising way out of many law firms’ financial black holes as clients experience large fee demands for legal services which seem to have no effect on clients legal troubles.

In some cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice, some of Edinburgh’s ‘top’ law firms are regularly charging clients well over £150 plus VAT for letters & emails which comprise only a few lines of text and many of which appear to be repeated communications, or in other words, lawyers using both email & written correspondence to inflate fees demanded from clients.

In other cases, clients have been contacted by a solicitor years later, the solicitor claiming fees had not been accurately charged (in once recent case up to £30,000) and were now being demanded within seven days, otherwise the solicitor would apply to have clients sequestrated.

In several such cases currently being monitored by Diary of Injustice, not one of the solicitors or law firms have been able to substantiate work now being claimed for which in certain cases is claimed to date back to 2001. However, as Scotland’s Sheriff courts, the Court of Session and regulators such as the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission appear unwilling to the point of prejudice to hear out the clients side of the story, there appears to be little help for those who are now being trapped by greedy solicitors effectively demanding money with menaces which clearly are not due.

However, it is not just clients who are feeling ripped off, as figures reveal many law firms are going back to the legal aid register, apparently with intentions to plunder public coffers to make up for shortfalls in business …

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) confirmed in a statement published along with in their latest annual report that the number of solicitors and firms registered to provide civil and criminal legal assistance has increased again and is at the highest level for five years. At the end of March 2012 there were 662 firms registered to provide civil legal assistance (36 more than 2009) and 591 firms and 1,431 solicitors registered to provide criminal legal assistance (25 more firms and 75 more solicitors than in 2009)

Sources within the Scottish Government have now told Diary of Injustice the Scottish Legal Aid Board have reason & increasing evidence to suspect that law firms re-entering the Legal Aid register and many currently on its books are submitting increased numbers of false claims for legal aid work on cases which are clearly going nowhere.

Lorna Jack, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, who is more used to issuing lavish claims about the size of Scotland’s legal industry, regularly putting out statements claiming a Scotland wide worth of over £1 billion pounds, told the media: "The cost of time survey is a good indicator of the general health of the profession on an annual basis and it's clear that the effects of the recession are not over.We're all well aware of tightening budgets right across the private and public sectors and we are encouraging our members to think very seriously about how they shape their business and look hard at their strengths and weaknesses to make the most of available opportunities.

Ms Jack continued : "The legal services sector is, and will remain, highly competitive. We anticipate the arrival of the first licensed legal services providers in Scotland in the first half of this year and we will undoubtedly see further consolidation. As the legal market continues to change it's vital that our members make sure that they are running a tight ship and take steps to ensure that they are effective business managers as well as excellent solicitors. Our professional practice team at the Society, headed by Coral Riddell, are more than happy to provide information and advice to solicitors who want to discuss best business practice."

While the Law Society of Scotland has plenty of advice for law firms on how to increase their profits, there is precious little advice or help available for clients who are caught in complicated swindles masterminded by their solicitors who operate safe in the knowledge that weak self-regulation will see them escape any punishment or need to pay compensation for their wrongdoing.

However, consumers can help themselves and avoid the rip offs by taking this simple advice : Let’s be honest folks, this recession is a tough one. Save your money. Don't feed the legal profession, feed yourself and your own family, and, if you do have problems with a solicitor, or have been forced to make a complaint about your solicitor, tell someone in the media about it.