Monday, September 05, 2016

WOLFFE HALL: Edinburgh Council racks up £53K legal bill in failed bid to recover ownership of Parliament House - as papers reveal Faculty of Advocates “occupied” Laigh Hall for 150 years without recorded title deeds

Costs mount for return of Scotland’s top court buildingsAN UNSUCCESSFUL legal action by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of Parliament House – the sprawling, high value land estate situated in Edinburgh‘s old town comprising Scotland's top court buildings - has so-far cost taxpayers £52,991 - according to figures released to the media.

The costs of legal advice and other legal services provided to the council, revealed in a Freedom of Information disclosure, list law firm Burness Paul as the largest single expense at £38,726, followed by Counsel’s fees listed as £10,620K and ‘experts’ and other professional fees reaching a total of £2,400 after VAT.

However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned - reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI revealed the then Dean of Faculty of Advocates - James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) - refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to former Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice  Alex Neil MSP – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates. However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant - James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service also disclosed their own figures incurred following legal fees in the action against the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the titles of Parliament House, Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall. The SCTS admitted it had incurred legal costs in respect of advice from solicitors amounted to £4,388.20 and costs of £3,980 in instructing Counsel.

The full listing of Legal Fees to City of Edinburgh Council: Parliament Hall Titles: Burness Paull 38,726.40, Charges/Diligence-Other Registers search fees 108.00, Counsel's fees 10,620.00, Courier Charge 30.90, Court Dues 213.50, Court Officer fees 479.28, Experts/Other Professional fees 2,400.00, Registers Form Reports 60.00, Registers - Copy/Extract Dues 236.40, Registers Direct search fees 21.60, Travel Expenses 94.92, Totals £52,991.00


In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Additionally, the position of the Faculty of Advocates in relation to their ownership claim over the Laigh Hall becomes a little clearer in a chain of correspondence from the Edinburgh law firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn to RoS, which follows on from a letter from Registers of Scotland to a law firm marked “Destroy correspondence after archive”.

In a letter dated 19 January 2006, a solicitor - David A Smith of for Shepherd & Wedderburn appears to admit the Faculty of Advocates “occupied” a key part of Parliament House known as the Laigh Hall, but held no recorded title to it.

Mr Smith writes to Registers of Scotland, stating: The Disposition by The Scottish Ministers is stated to be for no consideration, and as I indicated to you In the course of our telephone conversation, the position with regard to the Laigh Hall is that the Faculty of Advocates has occupied the Laigh Hall for approximately 150 years, and the records of the Faculty indicate that although the Faculty did not have a recorded title to the Laigh Hall, the Senior Officer Bearers of the Faculty in the Nineteenth Century were of the opinion that the Faculty had "undoubted title" to the Laigh Hall.

Parliament House Is in the course of being redeveloped by The Scottish Court Service, and in the course of the redevelopment it became clear to all concerned that The Scottish Ministers did not have a registered title to the whole of Parliament House and it was agreed in the course of discussions between The Scottish Court Service and the Faculty that The Scottish Ministers would register a title to the entire building and they would then grant the Faculty a Disposition of the Laigh Hall in order to regularise the de facto position which has applied since the mid Nineteenth Century.

In the hope that this explanation will be sufficient for your purposes, I look forward to hearing from you with a receipted Form 4 and confirmation that the Registers of Scotland will now process the Faculty's application for registration of its interest on the back of the application which was recently submitted on behalf of The Scottish Ministers in relation to the whole of Parliament House.

The solicitor at Shepherd  & Wedderburn acting for the ‘trustee’ for the Faculty of Advocates - David A Smith, was none other than David Alexander Smith - the husband of Court of Session judge Lady Anne Smith.

After his retirement from Shepherd & Wedderburn, David Smith served a term as a board member of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), where he sparked findings by Kevin Dunion - the then Scottish Information Commissioner - who demanded the release of censored comments by Smith targeting victims of corrupt solicitors who came before the pro-lawyer legal regulator.


Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP - revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation - revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen's Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government's position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ's Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister - Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.


Anonymous said...

Theft by any other name.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back and in style too!

I am sure Edinburgh's many residents will be interested to read how their council tax is being frittered away on even more lawyers to remedy a problem created by lawyers!

Anonymous said...

You nailed it right here "However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned"

Not really much point is there running to a court now owned and run by the same people who will rule on the case!

Another £53k wasted and listen to Sturgeon in that video clip.When lawyers are involved no chance of doing anything to remedy it!You should have titled it First Minister rendered powerless by her friends the lawyers!

Anonymous said...

so when do they sell it off right under our noses and make a killing?You just know this is got to be the next move right?

Anonymous said...

hah Lady Smith's husband right in the middle of it and he lets out the no titles line great stuff!Where did you obtain this from?If you asked about it I presume you knew/suspected beforehand!

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon is rubbish in your video clip on answering the questions from Allison Johnson.Just as rubbish as she was today in her opening speech at Holyrood.Same old fluff promises of investing in childcare infrastructure and health since the snp took power in 2007 and all our public services have fallen to bits under the nats and please NO more excuses for it wisnae us it was London who did it!

Did London also snatch the titles to Parliament House and hand them over?NO!

And just why the hell did no SNP msp or SNP councillor on the City of Edinburgh Council speak up when this was going off?

I smell corruption from start to finish.Actually your blog and Andy Wightman's campaign on this scandal have revealed a hell of a lot more than Sturgeon and her goonish uncivil serpents ever deigned to inform us!

Anonymous said...

Only in Scotland eh

Faculty engineer the Scottish Government hand over anything they want.What else has been handed over by the First Secret we dont know about.Bet you there are massive gifts given out by the Scottish 'Government' (haha more like THE MOB) to their pals (donors) around the corrupt business and lobbyist and legal fraternity.What buildings are next on the lawyers and advocates THEFT LIST I wonder?
Are they going after any of the closed court buildings?Any closed Police stations or former houses for cops accidentally fallen into the hands of advocates or lawyers?Better start digging before they build up an even bigger property portfolio.They got their hands on the top courts so easy so anything is possible.Bunch of thieves.

In Scotland you can have your property stolen and the First Secret will stand up and say (order) nothing can be done to get it back because lawyers did it.SICK OR WHAT!

Anonymous said...

No matter how seedy the situation lawyers make their money

Anonymous said...

sleekit FM wriggles oot another scandal!
I hope Alison Johnstone and the Greens keep up the pressure to return this property to CEC

Diary of Injustice said...

Comment @ 6 September 2016 at 13:53

There are suggestions a sale or redevelopment may be part of a long term plan.

Comment @ 6 September 2016 at 16:36

Yes, and good sources.

Comment @ 7 September 2016 at 01:53

The way property is taken by the legal profession from clients and public ownership for the profession's own use even today in Scotland 2016 is akin to the Highland clearances.

Another large scale property taking racket in Scotland appears to be run by lawyers and accountancy agents operation on behalf of the Accountant in Bankruptcy.

If anyone would like to share details of property dealings where the legal profession or others have taken land, properties or titles for their ownership please email material to

Anonymous said...

So when do we get our courts back?
Sturgeon and the Faculty have no leg to stand on now we know they never had a recorded title by their own admission
Hand it over!

Anonymous said...

Really they are going to sell it off?

Not surprised now you mention it.Thinking back to the £58 million renovation they dont do that for nothing.Makes sense tarting it up before selling off.

Asking price will be a nominal £1 to whoever gives the most bungs to the dishonest mob!

Anonymous said...

A word of advice.

A certain newspaper you may be familiar with received a polite request from the legal fraternity to remove all reporting on the question of who owns Parliament House.A second request is unlikely to be polite.

I suggest you save any coverage you are aware of before the inevitable.

Diary of Injustice said...

Comment @ 7 September 2016 at 19:51

Well some of the 'rumoured' discussions on a possible sale appear to tout larger figures than £1 ... however any potential sale value would naturally be offset by public grants, bungs and bribes for what would happen next.

Rest assured the public purse will not gain from any large scale conversion of Parliament House to a mixture of residential and business as a mixture of lawyers, accountants, judges, politicians and land developers appear to have in mind.

Diary of Injustice said...

Comment @ 7 September 2016 at 22:29

Thanks, will do.Email the blog with any more you wish to add on Scotland's well known legal censor crowd...

Anonymous said...

Well some of the 'rumoured' discussions on a possible sale appear to tout larger figures than £1 ... however any potential sale value would naturally be offset by public grants, bungs and bribes for what would happen next.

Rest assured the public purse will not gain from any large scale conversion of Parliament House to a mixture of residential and business as a mixture of lawyers, accountants, judges, politicians and land developers appear to have in mind.

8 September 2016 at 13:34

ouch! and so true!

Since reading your Wolffe Hall series of posts I tend to agree with comments already on the blog.There is an air something is in the works and as a previous comment mentions buildings are often worked on before being put on the market.

Your coverage of the £58million works and other material I read tends to point in the direction of a sale which will be as underhanded as the title transfer to the Faculty and the Court Service.

Anonymous said...

Clearly Edinburgh Council never had a hope in hell of getting back the titles so why spend £53k on lawyers when outcome already guaranteed.

Well done sourcing those documents and publishing all.I wish more would do this so we can make up our own minds after reading all the behind closed doors shenanigans by Sturgeon and the mob to protect the legal establishment.