Saturday, July 30, 2016

NO MONEY NO JUSTICE: Slow, costly courts, £220K a year judges on junkets & justice staff on the take prompt Scottish Government proposal for 25% hike in court fees

Scotland’s courts to become 25% more rip-off than before. EVERYONE knows the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) and our powerhouse Sheriff Courts & the fabled Court of Session teeter on the brink of consternation, calamity, comedy and collapse at the end of each working legal week.

Every time a member of the judiciary takes time off their busy schedule of frequently flying £5K international holidays on the taxpayer - to perform the actual £200,000 a year job of being a judge and sit and listen to the daily farce and often dodgy evidence presented by Crown Office prosecutors before the Criminal Courts - you would honestly think from their faces - the end of the world had arrived.

Judges are so rich poorly paid these days, they have to conceal their vast wealth with the threat of constitutional calamity if it were revealed - or flog their multi million pound Victorian villas, properties in the country, undeclared holiday homes in Dubai or wherever - to members of their own family – for millions of pounds and avoiding those awful taxes which apply to the rest of us.

Let’s not even talk about the others … week long holidays in Qatar, North America, the far east, or jetting off to New Zealand for a week, then retiring a few days later, the gold Rolexes, collections of valuable items, taxpayer funded security fit for Royalty, extra ermine gowns & hanging around the works of Leonardo Da Vinci in the hope of life eternal.

How about the well paid poorly paid overworked court staff you say? Well, not really.

‘Hospitality’, undeclared deals on the side with law firms and other less talked about financial arrangements for increasing numbers of court staff compensate for the daily struggle of putting pen to paper and reminding the elderly sheriff the one before him ‘is a bad yin’.

So, where does all the money come from to pay for your access to justice and the privilege of appearing before someone festooned in 18th Century fancy dress and surrounded by wood panelling and enormously expensive digital recording equipment - conveniently unplugged so as not to record the daily courtroom farce or your expert witness disagreeing with Lord know-it-all.

The Scottish Government gave the Scottish Court Service a whopping £88.9million of your cash in the 2016-2017 budget. Plenty there to go around.

The judiciary on it’s own receive a staggering £40million of public cash, to groan, grizzle, gloat & giggle as they listen to counsel after counsel, litigant after litigant – while dreaming of appearances & junkets to warmer, wealthier climes.

The Legal Aid budget – once standing at over £160million a year and now allegedly a very very very dodgy £136.9million in the 2016-2017 budget - your cash going on lawyers, criminals and some of the most laughable, inept court hearings in existence.

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – widely regarded by all sides as the pre-eminently most corrupt institution in the entire Scottish justice system – received a staggering £112.5million of your cash. To do what? to cover up it’s own staff and prosecutors leaking case files and evidence to criminals, or snorting cocaine and beating up Police Officers.

And, let’s not forget the £58 million of public cash spent by the Scottish Court & Tribunal Service on new doorknobs, a lick of paint and new scones for the Court of Session ‘powerhouse’ - which must rank as Europe’s slowest, most distorted, most expensive & interest ridden seat of justice, ever.

All this must be paid for, somehow. Loads-a-money. Your money. Certainly not theirs, for they are all public servants paid for by you.

So we come to the Scottish Government’s proposal to go for ‘full cost recovery’, buried in the now familiar loaded consultation papers issued by the Justice Directorate of the Scottish Government.

And, instead of blaming the fee rises on our slow, difficult and inaccessible courts, the Scottish Government instead has chosen to blame budgetary cuts imposed by Westminster.

The Scottish Government Consultation on Court Fees 2016 sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

Fee hikes across the board of almost 25% for civil actions in Scotland and alternative targeted rises are being proposed by Scottish ministers – as part of a consultation on Scottish court fees which runs until October.

Court fees have generally been reviewed every three years, with the last round being implemented in 2015, however this time around "the Scottish Government has decided to accelerate the move towards full cost recovery".

The Consultation on Court Fees – open until 12 October 2016 - sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

The Scottish Government states “It is necessary to raise fees so that the Scottish Court and Tribunals Service is able to achieve full cost recovery from its courts. We are consulting on two options seeking the views of stakeholders on the best way to achieve this. Stakeholders will be able to provide their opinions on which option is better from the point of view of their own court actions and, if they are an organisation, of their clients. This will help the Scottish Government's decision on which option should be incorporated into the necessary Scottish Statutory Instruments.”

“A review is justified both by the need to end the cost to the public purse of subsidising the civil justice system, and by the introduction of the new simple procedure which replaces the current small claims and summary cause procedures."

Simple procedure will be phased in from 28 November for actions worth not more than £5,000. It is planned to retain existing fee levels for summary cause and small claims actions, so that at present levels lodging a claim for up to £200 under simple procedure would mean a fee of £18, and £78 for a claim above that level and up to £5,000.

If a flat rise is the option chosen, all Court of Session and sheriff court fees will rise by 24%, the amount needed to fund a deficit of £5.4m on gross fee income of £22.2m in 2014-15. That would mean lodging fees of £22 or £97 for simple procedure cases, £119 (from £96) for summary applications and ordinary sheriff court actions, £187 (from £150) for non-simple divorces, and £266 (from £214) for Court of Session or Sheriff Personal Injury Court actions. Hearing fees would jump from £227 to £282 in the sheriff court, and from £96 to £119 per half hour (single judge), or from £239 to £297 per half hour (bench of three) in the Court of Session.

Suggested targeted fee rises, the other option, would raise more money overall. The £18 simple procedure lodging fee would remain unchanged, as would the £150 divorce lodging fee and the £227 sheriff court hearing fees, as well as fees in the recently introduced Sheriff Appeal Court. However there would be a £100 lodging fee for a simple procedure claim for more than £200, £120 for summary applications and ordinary causes, and £300 for a Court of Session action. In that court the cost of lodging a record would almost double from £107 to £200, and hearing fees more than double to £200 for every half hour before a single judge, and £500 per half hour before a bench of three.

The alternative scheme would also see the introduction of graded fees in commissary court proceedings for authorising executors to handle a deceased person's estate. Whereas at present for all estates worth more than £10,000 there is a flat fee of £225, it is proposed to exempt estates worth less than £50,000 but to charge £250 for estates between £50,000 and £250,000, and £500 for larger estates.

The consultation paper states on Page 8: "We are aware that there will be a tipping point where fee increases may deter people from raising actions", the paper observes. "We do not believe that the level of rises in either option 1 or 2 as proposed will have a deterrent effect as individual fees will still be relatively low, particularly when viewed against the total costs of taking legal action including the cost of legal advice."

Be sure to enter your thoughts in the Scottish Government’s consultation. Go here to do so: Consultation on Court Fees You have until 12 October 2016.

Friday, July 29, 2016

JUSTICE DENIED: Solicitor accuses Law Society of Scotland of "abuse of power" - as legal aid decision by solicitors regulator leaves disabled clients denied access to justice

Solicitor Daniel Donaldson campaigns for reinstatement of legal aid certification. THE Law Society of Scotland has been accused of “abuse of power” and terminating access to justice for disabled & vulnerable clients - after a law centre was forced to pull out of legal aid work due to what appear to be internal politics at the professional body for Scottish solicitors.

The claims are made by a disabled solicitor – Daniel Donaldson – who founded Legal Spark – a Glasgow based law centre - with the aim of helping disabled people and other clients excluded from Scotland’s legal system.

Last year, the Law Society of Scotland granted permission to law centre Legal Spark to take on legal aid cases – allowing the law practice to take on cases from disabled people who had been unable to secure legal representation for their discrimination cases.

However, after the Law Society approved the law practice to engage in legal aid work, certification for Legal Spark to take on new legal aid cases has since been withdrawn - with unconvincing explanations from the Edinburgh based regulator - resulting in clients facing an uncertain future in terms of their access to the legal system.

Daniel Donaldson – who qualified as a solicitor six years ago – spent a year discussing Legal Spark with the Law Society of Scotland - which originally described the disabled solicitor’s proposals to create a facility to provide disabled clients with access to justice as “refreshing” and “innovative”.

However, the solicitor has now accused the Law Society of abandoning disabled clients and has set up a public petition calling for help in restoring his law centre’s legal aid certification

Readers can view more details of the petition here: Law Society of Scotland: Allow Legal Spark Legal Practice to continue Legal Aid Work

Speaking to a DOI journalist earlier today, solicitor Daniel Donaldson said the Law Society’s decision would deprive disabled people of access to justice.

Mr Donaldson said: "It's completely unacceptable for any public authority to ignore disabled service users.  We set us Legal Spark because of a problem with access to justice.” 

“We volunteered to do legal aid work to help unrepresented disabled people.  Now the LSS has forced us to stop.  What's changed in six months? Nothing.  They've made this decision for other reasons and not ,"public protection" as claimed.”

“The LSS believes they can do what they like with no scrutiny or accountability. Individuals are free to abuse their position. I call upon the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to strip them off all their regulatory functions and being an end to their abuse of power"

Out of concern for clients welfare after the Law Society’s decision to revoke legal aid certification - Legal Spark contacted 134 lawyers from a list provided by the Law Society of Scotland of law firms who take on civil legal aid cases and specialise in discrimination law.

However, not one law firm has taken any of Legal Spark’s clients – a move which is generating suspicion among some legal observers that the Law Society is unfairly controlling and restricting certain law firms and their clients access to legal aid.

The Disability News Service reported on the story, quoting  a Law Society Scotland spokeswoman who said: her organisation had made “a mistake” in originally granting Legal Spark permission to carry out civil legal aid work, before realising that it was “not entitled to provide this type of advice under the society’s civil legal assistance quality assurance scheme”.

The Law Society spokeswoman said: “The committee made a final decision on 16 June that a waiver could not be granted for public protection reasons and as the compliance certificate for Legal Spark had been issued in error, it could no longer provide advice funded by legal aid.

“The committee agreed that given the circumstances, Legal Spark could continue working with its legal aid clients until 30 June, to allow sufficient time to make alternative arrangements for clients.”

She said law centres have to be “underpinned by a solicitor practice unit [which she said Legal Spark was not]in order to be able to be on the civil legal aid quality assurance scheme register and provide legal aid funded advice”.

She added: “While it is rare for something to go wrong, clients have to be able to seek redress and as it currently stands, Legal Spark is not in a position to meet those requirements.”

The Disability News Service further reported:  By noon yesterday (28 July), the Law Society Scotland had failed to explain why it has refused to enter into mediation, although it claims that it was “still in communication with Legal Spark”.

The website of Legal Spark describes the legal services provider as  an innovative legal practice. Legal spark is a law centre, not a firm of solicitors.

Legal Spark state: “All lawyers will provide legal services,  but our practice is unique. Our practice is driven to maximise social impact, rather than to maximise profits for shareholders. Our business is ethical, and our legal practice promotes social responsibility.”

The law centre also pledges to reinvest their profits of commercial legal work to help people by:

* organising and taking part in outreach events in communities

* providing legal advice and representation for disabled people

* maintaining a commitment to legal aid work

Legal Spark are located at 22 Montrose Street, Merchant City, Glasgow G1 1RE email:

Petition : Law Society of Scotland: Allow Legal Spark Legal Practice to continue Legal Aid Work

Campaign created by: Daniel Donaldson

Campaign website:

Campaign facebook:

To: The Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others

The Law Society and Legal Aid Board informed Legal Spark Legal Practice that they had to stop all legal aid work on 30th June. As a result, "A", "B' plus many other disabled clients are forced to forego representation. They have the power to reverse their decision, together we can make that happen.

Why is this important?

Legal Spark was formed as a result of the crisis in legal aid. People were going without representation because they could not afford a lawyer. This is particularly the case for disabled people.

No one else would do this type of work, as it was deemed too expensive, not financially viable and also too complex.

Daniel Donaldson, a disabled Solicitor, set up Legal Spark with the Support of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise under their Young Innovators Challenge 2015 programme.

Daniel wanted to develop creative solutions to help people access justice and to fix the exclusion that disabled people face from the legal system.

Daniel spent one year talking to the Law Society about this issue, highlighting that it was important that everyone could access a lawyer.

Legal Spark consulted with the Chief Executive (Lorna Jack), the Head of Professional Practice, the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar (James Ness) and the Secretary to the Civil Legal Aid Quality Assurance Committee (Hannah Sayers) amongst others.

A document was prepared that explained what Legal Spark was planning to do. The Law Society accepted this document and did not object. The Law Society encouraged Legal Spark and found their approach "refreshing" and "innovative".

Legal Spark was granted permission to do Legal Aid work in November 2015, and a compliance certificate was issued in December 2015. Legal Spark began helping the many disabled people that needed their help and began to have success.

In April 2016, the Law Society decided that they had made an "error" and instructed Legal Spark to stop all Legal Aid work by Thursday 30 June 2016. By this stage, Legal Spark had a number of clients, with active and complex cases, some of which were about to go to Court.

"A" is one such client. They had experienced awful disability discrimination from a University. They were not given adequate support to help them during a course, and had to leave. Additionally, Legal Spark uncovered evidence that the University's staff had used "unprofessional language" in their approach to "A". This case has now been lodged in Court.

"B" is another client adversely affected by this decision. B is also disabled and is housebound. They had tried to find a lawyer for sometime but because of their rural location in the Highlands there were no Solicitors available to help. Legal Spark took on this case and was successful (in part) in achieving a resolution for B. However, because B had been adversely affected by a decision of Highland Council, and had lost out financially, the case may need to go to Court. B is unable to find anyone else to help them.

These are only two examples of where Legal Spark is making a difference, there are others too.

Since establishing Legal Spark, Daniel Donaldson has not drawn a salary and has used some of his own money to sustain the Legal Practice while it develops and is able to stand on its own feet.

Legal Spark has also grown to enable it to employ staff and provide much need paid employment to some disabled people and unemployed law graduates.

The Legal Aid certificate meant that Legal Spark could help people who could not access help elsewhere. Now "A", "B" and other will have to go without representation because of the Law Society of Scotland's failures.

The Law Society's Chief Executive (Lorna Jack)says that they have to act in the public interest. The Director of Regulation (Philip Yelland) shares this view.

1. Where is the public interest in denying disabled people representation?
2. Also, where is the public interest is giving permission to do Legal Aid work only to revoke that permission 6 months later?

The Law Society say that there are other Solicitors who can help, however this is not true.

Legal Spark contacted 134 Civil Legal Aid lawyers with advertised specialism in discrimination law. Even the biggest Legal Aid firm in Scotland could not help.

The Law Society has said that this will cause Legal Spark’s disabled client’s “inconvenience”. This is an offensive comment; they have never met any client, they have ignored client’s opinions, and also refused to acknowledge that they will suffer substantial prejudice in their cases because of the Law Society’s decision.

This petition is addressed to the Law Society and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

It is important that you fulfil your roles correctly.

Overturn your decision to stop Legal Spark doing legal aid work, remedy the mistake you have made and apologise. This is the only way you can restore public trust and continue to say you act in the public interest.

Allow Legal Spark, and their clients the opportunity to continue to work together for the public interest and tackle the horrors faced by disabled people on a daily basis.
How it will be delivered

Signatures to this petition will be emailed, delivered in person, or a press conference will be arranged.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

LORDING IT MORE OPENLY: Scotland’s obsessively secretive judiciary reveal overseas junkets - after media spotlight on judges’ international air travel circuit increases judicial transparency

Media interest results in judges revealing overseas trips. THE MOST powerful & unaccountable figures in Scotland’s justice system – The Judiciary –  will now regularly publish details of their frequent use of taxpayer funded overseas travel junkets.

The transparency victory comes after a three year Freedom of Information & media spotlight on judicial overseas travel junkets forced the Judiciary of Scotland to come clean on judges’ opulent use of public cash to fly around the globe to lavish locations and events officially described as ‘law conferences’.

Of the thirty one overseas travel junkets taken by Scottish judges in the latest year of figures covering from April 2015 to March 2016 - members of the judiciary racked up a further £22,605.92 worth of international trips funded by public cash - including £2,052.97 of expenses claimed by the travelling judges.

Overseas travel records now released by the Judicial Office for Scotland reveal Court of Session judge Lord Brailsford – enjoyed a £4,898.94 eight day taxpayer funded junket to Sydney Australia from 11 – 19 November 2015 – making Lord Brailsford the top overseas judicial junket claimant of the past twelve months.

Lord Brailsford – who regularly appears in judicial overseas junkets lists - was recently outed in published documents obtained from the Scottish Government - as the listed owner of the Laigh Hall – which forms part of Court of Session buildings located at Parliament House, Edinburgh.

The Laigh Hall was effectively swiped from public ownership by the Faculty of Advocates in the Parliament House titles scandal - which saw the City of Edinburgh Council lose public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings to the Faculty of Advocates and the body which runs the courts – the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The overseas travel data also reveals Scotland’s former top judge - Lord Brian Gill and current Lord President Lord Carloway - as the two judges filing the largest expenses claims on top of the costs of overseas travel in the past year.

Lord Gill enjoyed a two day trip during the twilight days of his short, if stormy three year term as Scotland’s top judge - to the Forum of Chief Justice of British Isles - held in the tax haven of Jersey.

Figures reveal Lord Gill claimed £302.09 expenses on top of the £231.60  cost of travel to Jersey - taking the cost of his last ‘confirmed’ judicial overseas junket as top judge - to £533.69.

Known for previous overseas judicial trips taken at taxpayers expense – Lord Brian Gill travelled to Qatar in 2014 on a five day £2,800 taxpayer funded state visit - while dodging invitations to attend the Scottish Parliament to face scrutiny on his opposition to increased transparency of the judiciary.

And earlier this year, Lord Gill billed the Scottish Parliament a further £267.75 worth of expenses claims - after the former top judge travelled 1st class to Edinburgh in November 2015 - demanding MSPs drop a three year probe on proposals to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

Meanwhile Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) - who ascended to the top judicial post carrying the title of Lord President in January 2016 – claimed £352.51 expenses on top of the £650.47 cost of a judicial junket to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg during 24-26 January 2016 - bringing the total cost of Carloway’s latest taxpayer funded trip to £1,002.98.

Carloway – also well known on the judicial air miles junket set – previously took a £5,820.16 seven day trip costing taxpayers £5,820.16 to a law conference in Vancouver, Canada during 21 - 27 June 2014.

And, a two day group judges trip to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in late January – comprising Lord Carloway, Lord Braccadale, Lord Bannatyne, Lady Stacy, Lady Smith and Lady Paton - cost taxpayers a whopping £4413.23.

Full details of public cash funded overseas travel junkets by Scottish judges have previously been published by Diary of Injustice here: Overseas travel of Scottish judges in 2014-2015, Overseas Travel of Scotland’s Judges 2013-2014 & Overseas Travel of Scotland's Judges 2010-2013.

The latest transparency move by Scotland’s judiciary to reveal the secretive world of judges junkets and expenses claims comes after an earlier Freedom of Information campaign by DOI during 2009 –2010 resulted in the then Lord President - Lord Arthur Hamilton agreeing to publish regular disclosures on judicial expenses, featured in an article in 2010 here: Scots judges emerge from ‘Victorian veil’ as judiciary’s expenses claims set to be published online from November 2010 .

In response to a Freedom of Information request for information on the latest judicial overseas trips, the Judicial Office for Scotland confirmed the new policy of publication.

R. Gare, Policy Manager for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “The Judicial Office for Scotland now publishes information on overseas travel. Information relating to your request can be found on the Scottish Judiciary website. Further, I can confirm that no SCTS staff travelled with any of the members of the judiciary in relation to the trips contained within the table.”

Overseas travel of Scotland’s judiciary 2015-2016: Information released by the Judicial Office for Scotland to DOI, and now published on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website reveals the extent of overseas travel undertaken by Scotland’s judges in the past year: 

9 -10 April 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Group meeting in Lisbon £540.31

16 - 17 April 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ - RECJ meeting of the Project team "Development of minimum judicial Standards" in Brussels £566.57

29 -31 May 2015 Lord Gill Forum of Chief Justice of British Isles in Jersey £533.69

2 - 6 June 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ AGM meeting in The Hague £408.68

3 - 5 June 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ General Assembly meeting in The Hague £443.36

9 - 14 June 2015 Lord Brodie FBIJCC meeting in Paris £663.48

10 - 13 June 2015 Sheriff McGowan FBIJCC meeting in Paris £562.82

10 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff Welsh FBIJCC meeting in Paris £719.72

10 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff M Neilson FBIJCC meeting in Paris £710.75

11 - 14 June 2015 Lord Eassie FBIJCC meeting in Paris £646.55

11 - 14 June 2015 Sheriff L Drummond FBIJCC meeting in Paris £970.92

18 - 20 June 2015 Lord Tyre ERA meeting in Luxembourg £375.24

June 2015 ENCJ Reimbursement -£975.10 -£975.10 August 2015 ERA Reimbursement -£364.77 -£364.77

13 - 18 September 2015 Sheriff R Dickson CMJA Conference in NZ - Wellington £1,161.26

12 - 19 September 2015 Sheriff Fletcher CMJA Conference in NZ - Wellington £1,545.28

24 - 25 September 2015 Sheriff G Liddle ENCJ Project meeting in Paris £660.97

24 - 25 September 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project meeting in Paris £983.10

27 - 29 September 2015 Lord Matthews ECJ meeting in Luxembourg £522.25

3 - 5 October 2015 Lord Doherty Opening of Legal Year in Dublin £584.90

4- 5 October 2015 Lady Stacey Opening of Legal Year in Dublin £281.37

11 - 19 November 2015 Lord Brailsford International Hague Network of Judges in Hong Kong and Commonwealth and Common Law International Family Justice Conference in Sydney £4,898.94

30 November - 1 Dec 2015 Sheriff Liddle ENCJ meeting project on Funding of the Judiciary in Brussels £557.90

3 - 4 December 2015 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Meeting - Independence and Accountability in Brussels £508.36

24 - 26 January 2016 Lord Carloway European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £1,002.98

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Paton European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £650.47

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Smith European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £690.52

24 - 26 January 2016 Lord Bracadale European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £729.89

24 - 26 January2016 Lord Bannatyne European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £650.47 

24 - 26 January 2016 Lady Stacey  European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg £688.90

18 - 19 February 2016 Lord President  Bilateral Meeting in Dublin £110.51

28 February - 1 March 2016 Sheriff Liddle  ENCJ Colloque meeting - Dublin £253.00

7 March 2016 Lord Tyre ENCJ Project Group - Independence and Accountability in Brussels £322.63

Total: £20,552.95 £2,052.97 £22,605.92

Abbreviations: ENCJ - European Network of Councils for Judiciary, CMJA - Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, ECJ - European Court of Justice ERA - Academy of European law, FBIJCC - Franco -British - Irish Judicial Cooperation Committee Colloque

The decision in 2016  by the Judicial Office to publish judges overseas travel information and costs comes after several media investigations into the judiciary’s use of public cash to fund overseas trips.

In 2014, the Scottish Sun on Sunday newspaper investigated judicial overseas travel junkets, reporting:


Beaks Trips on Taxpayer

Exclusive : By Russell Findlay 17 August 2014 Scottish Sun

JET-SETTING judges spent £26,000 of taxpayers' cash on overseas trips last year, a Scottish Sun on Sunday investigation can reveal.

Top beaks flew out to destinations including Russia, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Qatar.

The most expensive was a £5,800 trip to Canada by Scotland's second most senior judge, Lord Carloway. Lord Gill - who is the Lord President - also spent five days on a £2,800 trip to Doha, Qatar, where he gave speech on judicial ethics.

Our probe found he jetted to the desert state — criticised for its human rights abuses - after twice snubbing calls to appear in front of the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee just 800 yards from his office.

Committee member John Wilson MSP said: "During his speech in Qatar he said that he had much to learn from that country's judicial system. But Qatar has a poor record on human rights, as identified by Amnesty International."

Legal campaigner Peter Cherbi added: "Judges are supposed to sit in courts, not in jets.

"It's hard to believe that Scotland and our judiciary can learn anything from Qatar, a country accused of funding war. mass murder and chaos throughout the Middle East."

In the past year the Judicial Office for Scotland has paid for Lord Carloway — who earns £208.000 a year - to take part in law events in Vancouver. Canada, and Dijon. France.

It also forked out public money for Lord Armstrong, Lord Boyd and Lady Dorrian to meet other Euro pean judges on a three-day trip to Luxembourg.

Lord Eassie travelled to legal events in St Gallen, Switzerland, and Yalta, Ukraine.

And Lady Clark spent four days at an Anglo-Israeli conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, while Lord Hodge went to Paris.

Meanwhile four sheriffs — Wendy Anne Sheenan, Frank Crowe. Nikola Stewart and Thomas McCartney — attended a four day family law event in Ireland.

It took place at luxury Carton House hotel and spa in Co Kildare where the itinerary included a lack tie gala dinner and optional round of golf on the hotel's course.

Last year Lord Gill — whose salary is £216,307 - also travelled to Jersey, while in the previous three years he went to Ireland, South Africa, Slovenia and Canada.

Last week he announced a clampdown on overseas travel by judges, sheriffs and JPs.

He will only allow judges to travel if they give a good reason to do so and they will also have to write a report about their trips.

The SNP's Mr Wilson added: "Given the pressures on our courts, it's welcome that Lord Gill is seeking to curtail future judicial travel and will hopefully lead by example."

The Judicial Office for Scotland was asked to give details of Lord Gill's itinerary for the rest of his Qatar trip and whether he regretted going after snubbing Holyrood.

A spokesman said they couldn't help as the Lord President is on holiday.

The Sunday Mail newspaper also investigated judicial overseas junkets in 2015 - revealing three sheriffs spent £15,000 on an overseas junket to Zambia in Africa JUDGE JET: Sheriffs’ £15K tour of Africa adds to air miles racket of Scots judiciary - as top judges' clampdown on judicial jet set junkets takes flight.

And a report in the Sunday Mail on June 2 2013 revealed Scottish judges spent over £83,000 on overseas travel junkets in three years - while top judge Lord Gill refused calls to appear before the Scottish Parliament to answer questions on the judiciary’s secretive financial interests & links to big business, banks & the professions.

Previous articles on the judiciary’s use of public cash to fund judicial overseas junkets can be found here: Overseas travel of Scottish judges.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors' self regulation & complaints system

Pro-lawyer regulator calls for solicitor complaints reform. THE ‘independent’ regulator of Scottish solicitors – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is calling on the Scottish Government to consult on reforms to the "complex and legalistic" system for handling complaints against solicitors and other legal practitioners in Scotland.

The ‘independent’ SLCC – controlled by the Law Society of Scotland and funded by legal fees from clients – has presented a paper titled Reimagine Regulation to Scottish Ministers – setting out six key priority areas the SLCC believes the Government, which has committed to consultation on a review of legal regulation, should focus on.

Explaining that the present system requires different processes depending on the level of seriousness attached to the complaint – inadequate professional service, unsatisfactory conduct or professional misconduct, with complaints sometimes having to restart under a different process – the SLCC wants to "reduce the whole process to three core stages", namely:

1. A single investigation – ensuring there are a range of flexible options to filter out vexatious and similar complaints and allowing processes proportionate to different levels; £200 or £20,000

2. Determination – by the same organisation in relation to lower level issues, or by prosecution at the professional tribunal for conduct which may lead to removal from the profession;

3. Appeal – to ensure accountability and meet the requirements of natural justice there should be a single opportunity to appeal at the conclusion of the process.

However, any limit of compensation is widely seen as a cave-in to the legal profession, given the fact accumulative financial losses suffered by clients of rogue solicitors can well exceed the £20,000 limit.

Reimagine Regulation – How pro-lawyer regulator views regulation.

The Law Society backed SLCC – is also calling for consultation on whether it is time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints against the legal profession. The single investigatory body was the previous model when the Law Society of Scotland handled all complaints against it’s own member solicitors.

To achieve faster, more efficient, and more targeted complaints handling, paper claims the government must focus on a simplified customer journey, not institutions and legislative detail. A consultation should focus on the key questions:

a)  Is it time for a single independent body to handle all aspects of complaints?

b)  If not, how could stages and hand-overs be dramatically reduced - for example, a single investigation covering service and conduct, even if conduct is still prosecuted at an Independent tribunal?

c)  How many chances of appeal should there be, and is it time to consider the Sheriff Appeal Court as a more proportionate forum than the Court of Session for consumer disputes

The SLCC contends other areas should also be explored such as:

* Whether complaints bodies should have more discretion, with appropriate safeguards, and less prescriptive legislation;

* How to ensure that compensation awarded is paid to the consumer;

* How issues of unfair fees should best be addressed;

* Whether it is time to move from "one size fits all" regulation to a focus on the areas of greatest consumer risk, engaging experts on how to tackle high risk areas;

* The appropriate balance between professional regulation and market regulation;

* And whether the SLCC should have the power to issue rules on how lawyers should handle complaints at first tier, and the power to impose "strict liability" offences where they do not have, or follow, their own internal process.

Reimagine Regulation - Appendices & further research:Following on from claims put forward in the SLCC’s call for a consultation, the regulator contends a framework Act allowing "proportionate and targeted" regulation would resolve complaints faster, benefiting consumers and lawyers; resolve complaints more cost efficiently, reducing the SLCC's operating costs paid for by the profession; increase the effectiveness of redress, a key public protection; reduce risk to consumers; and increase market confidence.

Commenting on the SLCC’s call for what some dubbed a window dressing exercise, former Law Society Director and now SLCC Chief executive Neil Stevenson said: "This is not about criticising current institutions or approaches – all organisations involved work hard to make the system work as best it can, and Scotland has an internationally well respected legal sector. However, after years of minor reforms we believe it's time to engage the Scottish public and legal community on what results we are trying to achieve with regulation and complaints handling, and the simplest and most efficient way to do that. We hope this paper provokes broad discussion, and that the fantastic opportunity of a review of current arrangements looks at big issues and not just adjusting technical detail with the current model.”

SLCC chair Bill Brackenridge said: "There is much to be proud of, but we are frustrated at a system which is more complex and legalistic than it needs to be. Based on feedback from lawyers and consumers, and drawing on expert evidence, we believe any consultation should aspire to improve the current system.”

Brackenridge continued: "Last year we helped hundreds of consumers reach an early settlement, and some areas of our work, like mediation, get hugely positive feedback from lawyers and consumers alike. We awarded over £400,000 of redress, but we also dismissed cases which were clearly unmerited, providing independent assurance and confirmation that a lawyer has actually provided an acceptable service."

Despite claims of high compensation payments, neither Mr Brackenridge or the SLCC has published figures revealing actual financial losses suffered by clients, compared to settlements and compensation awarded by the SLCC to victims of rogue solicitors.

Reimagine Regulation

The current arrangements for legal complaints, and how complaint outcomes are used to improve standards in the legal sector, are too complex, involve too many stages, and pass through too many organisations.  Faster, more efficient, and better targeted regulation can be delivered, to the benefit of consumers and the sector, by significant legislative reform.

The SLCC’s paper Reimagine Regulation - SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation sets out six key priority areas we believe the government should consult on when they deliver on their commitment to launch a 'consultation to review legal regulation'.  The changes would benefit both consumers and lawyers, by:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

2. Reducing statutory detail that focuses on processes, not outcomes for people

3. Ensuring that when redress is awarded the client receives it

4. Targeting risk, and not seeing all legal services as the same

5. Embedding the consumer principles

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission claims their aim in this mainly public relations driven exercise - is to ensure that if there is a government consultation or review around the regulation of legal services then the key issues we set out are opened up for debate by consumers, the public and lawyers.  Final decisions on these issues are for the government and for parliament.

Scottish Ministers have so far not commented on whether they will launch any loaded consultation on the SLCC’s published paper.

Get involved

The SLCC has issued a call for consumers and the legal profession to become involved in the debate:

If you are interested in this area and wish to assist the debate then you can:

* publish an article discussing our ideas

* invite us to come to speak to you, or ask to visit us, or for us to send further information

* Contact your MSP or your professional body

* blog or tweet - copy us in @slcccomplaints and use the hashtag #ReimagineRegulation

* share views with the SLCC by email to

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - A history of pro-lawyer regulation.