Your cousin or mine? Investigators at legal regulator forced to reveal links to lawyers. COMPLAINTS about dishonest or unscrupulous solicitors made to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) stand little chance of a fair hearing, according to clients & consumer specialists who have unearthed a web of personal, business & other links between members of staff at the SLCC and solicitors and law firms under investigation by the so-called ‘independent’ regulator of Scotland’s legal profession.
There are also accusations from clients, and even murmurs from some in the legal profession itself that certain solicitors under investigation by the SLCC, which took over complaints handling from the Law Society of Scotland in October 2008, have allegedly received inside help from within the legal regulator to escape expected punishment for poor and negligent legal service provided to clients & consumers.
SLCC staff declarations of interest for 2011-2012 show true extent of problems for fair hearing at legal regulator. Amid the media investigation into links between the legal profession and it’s own regulator, a response to a Freedom of Information request made by Diary of Injustice journalists to the SLCC conformed that ‘special relationships’ between SLCC employees, the legal profession and the vested interests of the Law Society of Scotland are affecting complaints investigations.
A client who has previously had difficulties with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission commented on the revelations, saying : “While the response shows members of staff have declared at least some conflict of interest in the past year with regards to complaints, it is difficult to imagine that any complaint made by a member of the public to what is supposedly an independent regulator of complaints about the legal profession can get anything approaching a fair hearing when everyone at the regulator is connected to lawyers or the Law Society itself.”
The SLCC also confirmed in it’s response to the FOI request the actual numbers of staff who have links to the legal profession and the body which represents Scottish solicitors best interests, the Law Society of Scotland.
15 members of staff qualified as solicitors.
No members of staff hold current positions with the Law Society of Scotland or any law firm.
5 members of staff held a previous position at the Law Society of Scotland
8 members of staff held a previous position at a law firm.
5 members of staff have held previous positions at a law firm and Law Society of Scotland.
The SLCC’s Freedom of Information response sought to comment on how staff interests relating to complaints investigations are currently handled, stating : “I think it would be helpful to make clear that where staff have previously worked at a firm prior to joining the SLCC and or know personally a practitioner and or been a client etc, they will not be involved in any complaint investigation or related. In such cases the complaint shall be passed to an SLCC investigator with no current or previous history/dealings.”
The SLCC refused to release the identities of any of those who have such connections, declaring it would not be in the public interest to do so.
The SLCC said : “The data we are withholding is the personal data of members of staff of the SLCC and legal practitioners, and I am of the opinion that to release the information into the public domain would be unfair in these circumstances, as disclosure may cause them damage and distress, and disclosure would not be within their reasonable expectations. As non-senior or public officials, they would not expect that disclosure into the public domain.”
However, allegations have now been made that the numbers of undeclared meetings involving SLCC employees, solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland, and lawyers who represent solicitors who are the subject of complaints investigations far outweigh declarations made or even details known to the SLCC’s own board members, some of whom have suspected for some time that inappropriate contact between SLCC insiders and the legal profession has taken place.
Speaking to Diary of Injustice earlier this week, a legal source known to have close links to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission described the legal regulator’s internal complaints culture as “Cover my back quickly”.
Commenting on the material provided to Diary of Injustice and SLCC’s response, the source described regular situations where solicitors being investigated were thought to have used influence to obtain internal details of clients complaints and statements not already handed over by the regulator after it became clear that lawyers and law firms under investigation appeared to have access to content held by the SLCC and were using it to pressure clients to close their complaint.
In some cases, it has also been alleged solicitors and their representatives were using the SLCC’s own material to pressure the ‘independent’ regulator into closing investigations prematurely or refusing to investigate complaints point blank.
In one case cited to DOI which cannot be published for legal reasons, it is alleged a solicitor who was the subject of a serious complaint involving a significant amount of client funds, secretly met with a member of the SLCC’s staff who is alleged to have provided information and an opinion of how far the complainant was willing to go with regard to their complaint, along with information on the complainant’s then legal representatives.
It transpired a week after the apparently undeclared meeting between the solicitor and the SLCC insider, the complainant’s recently acquired solicitor suddenly withdrew from acting for them without any explanation, leaving the complainant’s family in a position where they have not been able to secure new legal representation since.
With such close relationships in play, it is clear that staffing a legal regulator with legal insiders, family & friends has created a so-called ‘independent’ legal regulator with about as much credibility as the Financial Service Authority at the height of the UK’s Banking collapse.
If you feel you have a complaint about a Scottish solicitor where close relationships within the legal profession are or have prejudiced your right to a fair hearing, email us the details via firstname.lastname@example.org