Friday, February 16, 2018

PROBE THE FED: Calls for Holyrood to probe secretive Scottish Police Federation as files reveal SPF General Secretary asked Scottish Government to withdraw £374K public cash grant funding - after social media transparency calls from cops

Calls for MSPs to probe ‘secretive’ Scottish Police Federation CALLS are being made for an influential Scottish Parliament committee to probe the highly secretive Scottish Police Federation (SPF) - which has received substantial public cash grants from the Scottish Government cumulatively totalling millions of pounds over a period of years.

The call for an audit & scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation - which represents rank & file Police Officers – comes as files obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – reveals the General Secretary of the SPF asked the Scottish Government in May 2017 to withdraw £374,000 of public cash funding to the cash rich Police Union.

Coincidentally, the request by Police Federation boss PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government to drop the cash payments – came seven days after the Scottish Information Commissioner stated on their twitter social media account that the Scottish Police Federation would be added to their recommendations to the Scottish Government - for compliance with Freedom of Information legislation.

However, nine months on from the Calum Steele’s request to cancel the public funding arrangement, the Scottish Government has now admitted it is still considering public cash grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation – and has not actually agreed to cut the public cash – as requested by Steele..

While the Scottish Government have so far refused to release much of the discussions on the SPF’s public cash funding arrangements, a list of payments disclosed in papers reveal the sequence of grant funding payments for the year 2016-2017 - where a total of £368,778 public cash was paid in four payments of £92,197 during April, July, October 2016, and a further payment in January 2017.

Peter Jamieson of the Scottish Government's Police Powers and Workforce group confirmed funding is still being considered, stating: “To note, that we are still considering the Scottish Police Federation grant funding for 2017/18.”

The Scottish Government have yet to respond to a request for further details on why they are still considering public cash for the Scottish Police Federation,

However, sources have indicated civil servants and Special Advisers (SPADS) have discussed the matter of ending the grant funding, where some expressed the view that the public cash grant funding gives the Scottish Government a ‘carrot and stick’ hold over the SPF – which regularly supports Government policy in any area.

More recently, the Scottish Police Federation has been accused of having a vested interest in the leadership crisis at Police Scotland – which saw extensive efforts to oust the now former Chief Constable Phil Gormley, and replace him with DCC Iain Livingstone.

However, while the Scottish Government delay a decision on how to slip more public cash to the Scottish Police Federation, a letter from the SPF’s General Secretary Calum Steele  to Tansy Main, the Head of Police Workforce Team – claims the Scottish Police Federation is no longer reliant on the public cash.

The letter from PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government reads as follows:

I refer to the above and to our ongoing conversations on the subject.

As you are aware the history of the Scottish Police Federation Grant was simply to ensure that no single police force was left carrying the costs of the elected officials of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF). The Scottish Government (and its predecessor bodies) paid a grant to the SPF, which was in turn utilised to reimburse the relevant force for the costs of the elected officials. This was entirely appropriate.

Since the creation of the Police Service of Scotland the issue of which force pays the costs of the elected officials of the SPF is no longer relevant. The practical effect is therefore that the SPF receives the grant in quarterly instalments only to immediately pass them to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to meet the costs of the official's salaries. This however creates an administrative burden for both the SPF and SPA that is completely unnecessary. It demands amongst other things that the account is audited, that accounting fees are paid and that a purely administrative set of accounts is created and published.

The grant also covered the costs of ancillary matters including (but not limited to) accoutrements, rates and rent for the SPF headquarters, the costs of the then annual conference, and the costs of the statutory meetings of the Joint Central Committee. You will be aware that the grant has reduced in value in recent years and as the accounts show, whilst continuing to cover the cost of officials, it no longer comes close to covering the costs of the items it was originally intended to.

Whilst the grant accounts shows a paper loss, the SPF considers that beyond costs of officials, we are no longer reliant on the additional grant monies to pay for these elements.

The SPF considers therefore that continued payment of a grant to the SPF makes little sense and formally request the termination of SPF grant facilities, with the monies being paid directly to the SPA, as part of the global policing settlement (or otherwise as Government sees fit).

Self-evidently the SPF would expect that in doing so this would result in the termination of the expectation that the SPF continues to reimburse the SPA for the cost associated with officials, without detriment to the provisions of the Police Federation (Scotland) Regulations, insofar as they relate to the payment of pay and pension for officials of the SPF in particular.

The SPF would also ask that the surplus elements be considered to cover any notional future costs the SPF might be expected to incur as a consequence of the Trade Union Bill.

Any scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation’s use of public funds, and their position as a body created by legislation, is liable to be carried out by the highly effective Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) – which took on the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in spectacular style, providing ground breaking scrutiny of a dysfunction, secretive authority dubbed a “secret society” by MSP Alex Neil (SNP).

Among the additional FOI documents disclosed by the Scottish Government include some, but not all minutes of meetings & discussions around the grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation, and as has been consistent with recent Scottish Government releases, documents are subject to significant redactions.

However, while the letter from the SPF General Secretary to the Scottish Government reveals scant detail of SPF finances, former and currently serving Police Officers have posted their concerns on social media with regards to figures of up to ten million pounds held by the Scottish Police Federation in bank accounts & assets.

Social media postings by current and former Police Officers also refer to trips undertaken by SPF representatives including Callum Steele and suspended Sheriff Peter Watson - to various gatherings funded by the Scottish Police Federation.

Meanwhile, as current & former Police Officers & journalists asking questions of the SPF are either blocked online, or subject to social media attacks by supporters of the Scottish Police Federation and politically friendly elements – some of whom give after dinner speeches or lobby for public cash for their ventures, the Scottish Information Commissioner appears to have reneged on their enthusiasm for recommending FOI compliance for the SPF.

An earlier statement from the Scottish Information Commissioner claimed the SIC would add the SPF to their list of organisations which should be covered by Freedom of Information legislation.

The statement came in response to a request made on behalf of serving & former Police Officers - who queried why the Scottish Police Federation remained except from Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland, while their English counterpart was brought within FOI laws in England & Wales some years ago.

A twitter post from Scottish Law Reporter on 17 May 2017 pointed out  “as @PFEW_HQ is #FOI compliant in England, @ScotsPolFed should comply with #FOIScotland suggest you call for this improvement”

A tweet dated 18 May 2017 from @FOIScotland in response stated “Thanks - we'll add it to our list of bodies to propose to Ministers. Individuals can also make their own representations to the Scot Gov”

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is funded in part by police officers who pay subscriptions from their wages.

Differing from it’s Scottish counterpart – the Scottish Police Federation - which has cumulatively received millions of pounds in public cash over the years, the PFEW is not a public body and not funded by the public and is the only staff association to be subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) - which came into effect for the PFEW in April 2017 by way of the following legislation:

Freedom of Information Act etc: Police Federation for England and Wales: The Police Federation for England and Wales is to be treated for the purposes of— (a)10the Freedom of Information Act 2000,(b)the Data Protection Act 1998, and (c)section 18 of the Inquiries Act 2005, as if it were a body listed in Part 5 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act (public authorities).

However, nine months later in Scotland, after the Scottish Information Commissioner had said it would act on the matter, no action has been taken by the Scottish Information Commissioner to include the Scottish Police Federation in their recommendations of FOI compliance to Ministers.

Queried over the lack of action on the subject, a response from the SIC claimed the Scottish Information Commissioner could not divert financial resources to make any necessary representation to the Scottish Government.

A journalist who viewed the SIC’s claim of being under resourced -  branded their response as “a delaying tactic”.

Scottish Information Commissioner’s role in FOI transparency.

A query to the Scottish Information Commissioner of 30 May 2017 on the subject of recommending Freedom of Information compliance be applied to the Scottish Police Federation generated the following response from the SIC:

The power to designate bodies as Scottish public authorities under sections 4 or 5 of FOISA lies with Ministers. Section 43(4) of FOISA provides that the Commissioner can, from time to time, make proposals to the Ministers “for the exercise by them of their functions” under those provisions. Of course anyone can make such proposals to Ministers and we know that people do so.

It’s important that proposals to Ministers are framed in terms of considerations for designations of each body. The Commissioner’s Special Report in 2015 FOI 10 years on: Are the right organisations covered? (copy attached) suggests the sorts of considerations Ministers might apply to deciding whether or not to designate bodies under section 5 (the more complex of the two designation provisions).

We’ve made a number of proposals to Ministers over the years about bodies they might consider for designation. Most of those proposals have concerned section 5 – see consultation responses at http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/SICReports/OtherReports/otherReports.aspx

We’ve made few proposals to Ministers for consideration of designation of bodies under section 4. This is because there is rarely a need to do so. Scottish Government Bill Teams routinely ensure that primary legislation founding new bodies includes a modification of Schedule 1 of FOISA to ensure they are included as bodies under jurisdiction.

The most recent example I can recall of a section 4 proposal from the Commissioner is one in 2010 for consideration of the Court Rules Councils. I’ve attached a copy of the submission which sets out the sorts of considerations that Ministers might consider. These bodies were subsequently designated by Ministers.

The reference in our tweet is to a working list we maintain of bodies that the Commissioner might propose to Ministers. We revisit that list annually, at the latest, in the final quarter of each operational year (January – March). We research the possible considerations that might apply to designation of those bodies. If we conclude there is a persuasive case for a proposal, the Commissioner will make a proposal to that effect to the Ministers. Currently our list includes the following bodies:

Adult Protection Committee, Leisure trusts, etc, which were established other than by one or more local authorities, Learning Network West, Police Federation of Scotland

In terms of your request for comment on “non compliance of SPF in Scotland”, I hope you will appreciate that there is nothing we can offer until we have researched any designation considerations for that body. We’re grateful to you for bringing to our attention what appears to be an anomaly arising from the designation of a similar English and Welsh body under UK FOI law, but we have not yet looked into the background. Our research in this case will include looking at the reasons for the UK FOI designation and comparing issues such as legal status, function and control.

A further enquiry of September 2017 to the Scottish Information Commissioner on the subject of the Police Federation’s FOI compliance was then treated as an FOI request by the SIC, who responded, claiming they could not divert resources away from other work.

Shockingly, the Scottish Information Commissioner requested journalists make a submission to the Scottish Government instead of a fully researched submission by the Information Commissioner with all the weight such a report would carry in government & parliamentary circles.

The Information Commissioner’s response reads as follows, and accompanying documents released with the response can be found here:

Thank you for your enquiry on 29 September 2017 in which you asked for an update to the SIC’s position with regard to research or a recommendation for the inclusion of the Scottish Police Federation in FOISA. I have treated your enquiry as a request for information that we hold, because you are seeking information about the progress we have made since your media enquiry of 30 May 2017 about the FOI status of the Scottish Police Federation (our reference 201700982).

I also attach copies of my correspondence with Andrew Gunn of the FOI Unit in the Scottish Government (described in the attached schedule). I have redacted both Andrew’s, and Sinead Campbell’s email addresses as these may be personal information to which section 38(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies. This should not affect the readability of the information and it is not information you asked to see.

I expect you will also want to know when we expect to carry out our research. When I wrote to you in May this year, I explained that our usual timetable for looking at potential recommendations for designation is the final quarter of the operational year (January to March 2018). This work is set out in our operational plan http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/AboutSIC/StrategicPlan.aspx. The relevant reference can be found on p10, line item 4.

Though I appreciate you are keen for us to research the status of the Police Federation of Scotland, regrettably there has been no opportunity to divert resources to the work ahead of our schedule. You do not, of course, have to wait for us to reach our conclusions; anyone can make a designation proposal to Ministers. Making your own proposal would ensure your own arguments for designation of the Police Federation of Scotland were taken into consideration. 

To-date, the Scottish Information Commissioner has not made any submission to the Scottish Government on recommending the Scottish Police Federation be brought within Freedom of Information legislation – as is the case with the Police Federation of England & Wales.

And while this exemption continues, serving and former Police Officers who are still members of the SPF are effectively blacklisted or blocked on social media when they try to obtain answers to the lack of support they received from the SPF when help was needed.

Currently it is known the Scottish Police Federation are represented by law firms such as Levy and Mcrae, and Peter Black Watson of PBW Law.

During 2015, Levy and Mcrae, and their former partner Peter Black Watson were named in a multi million pound civil claim in the Court of Session.

Peter Watson – who is a member of Scotland’s judiciary, was suspended “to protect public confidence in the judiciary” by the then Lord President Lord Brian Gill.

How Scottish Police Federation spend their members money:

The Scottish Police Federation recently faced criticism for an office revamp that included the restoration of marble fireplaces and new French and Italian furnishings.

The headquarters upgrade was completed in 2015 and is said to have cost £1m, although that figure is disputed by the federation.

Concerns have been raised because the SPF receives taxpayers’ money in the form of a Scottish government grant worth £374,400.

The federation claimed “not a single penny” of taxpayer money was spent on the project at the HQ, which is in a listed building in Glasgow.

The head of Scotland’s police union was also embroiled in a spending row after splashing out £5,000 to attend a charity dinner headlined by former US president Barack Obama.

The Scottish Police Federation  paid the money to secure a table at the prestigious event hosted by Sir Tom Hunter in Edinburgh last month.

The disclosure has caused upset amid claims the dinner was a “jolly” for top brass based at the union’s Glasgow headquarters in Woodside Place.

Police Federation spending in England resulted in fraud investigation:

An alleged £1m fraud at the Police Federation in England has been referred to prosecutors.

Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service are currently considering if criminal charges should be brought against Will Riches, the former vice-chair of the federation and a serving Metropolitan police officer.

The investigation began in March 2016 and it is alleged £1m in Police Federation funds was transferred to an organisation called the Peelers Charitable Foundation.

The Police Federation has been riven by internal divisions and was under government pressure to reform, after a series of controversies about how it spends and manages the money it raises.

It represents 123,000 rank and file police officers in England and Wales, and in 2014 Riches ran to be its chair. He got the same number of votes as his rival, but lost the job on a coin toss to Steven White, the current chair.

The Police Federation in England & Wales has previously faced allegations of bullying and secret multimillion-pound bank accounts.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

LOOK AFTER THE LAWYERS: Law Society proposals to pro-lawyer legal review seek to reclaim control of regulation & complaints, appoint ‘window dressing’ ombudsman & criminalise ‘misuse’ of the term “lawyer”

Law Society proposal retakes control of regulating lawyers. AMID a series of failures by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to clean up poor standards of legal services and deal with complaints against solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland are proposing the return of control of regulation to the legal profession.

Earlier this week, and with sights set firmly on retaking control of the floundering SLCC,- the Law Society of Scotland submitted a series of proposals for ‘reforming regulation’ to the ‘independent’ review of legal services regulation - set up by the Scottish Government last year.

The move by the Law Society of Scotland comes amid a string of court setbacks for the SLCC involving Law Society backed challenges to the single regulator’s authority to hold solicitors to account for dishonesty, poor standards of legal service, overcharging & asset stripping of clients on an industrial scale.

However, the Scottish Government backed legal review group now hearing the Law Society’s proposals – was actually created in consultation with the Law Society itself, and is comprised of pro-lawyer decision makers from the world of ‘public appointments’ along with lawyers & advocates from the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates & Crown Office.

The ‘independent' review panel – complete with an ‘independent’ chair are:  Christine McLintock - immediate past president Law Society of Scotland, Alistair Morris - chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland), Laura Dunlop QC - Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates), Derek Ogg QC - MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates), Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Prof Lorne Crerar - chairman, Harper Macleod LLP, Prof Russel Griggs - chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group.

There is one sole ‘consumer representative’ on the review panel, listed as - Trisha McAuley OBE - independent consumer expert

Now, eager to wrestle power back from the SLCC on dealing with client complaints & consistent media coverage of woefully poor regulation of lawyers, the Law Society of Scotland has told the Scottish Government’s lawyer dominated review group that the current regulatory framework is "in drastic need of modernisation" and is "no longer fit for purpose".

One of the key proposals from the Law Society, calls for the creation of yet another ‘independent legal role’ which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was created by the Scotitsh Government in 2008, with this year marking it’s tenth year in the role of single regulator of the legal profession.

However, the single regulation model has cost the Scots public dear – with the legal regulator burning through £30 million in complaints levies from solicitors – which are recovered from huge hikes in legal fees to clients.

The newly proposed role of Ombudsman – harking back to the vile days of the “Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman” would in practice – have to be filled by a person who is approved by the Law Society of Scotland and other vested legal interests.

The comparison with the former SLSO – which lacked any real powers and frequently backed away from holding the Law Society to account for mistakes, would render the newly proposed Ombudsman position of little real use to consumers, and more of a rubber stamp to lawyers eager to look after their colleagues in the face of complaints investigations.

The Law Society is also calling for the term "lawyer" to be protected in law -  in the same way the title "solicitor" is – where currently, it is a criminal offence for anybody to pretend to be a solicitor.

The move comes in the face of increased competition in business from companies & individuals who can call themselves a “lawyer” but are not qualified to the point of being a solicitor.

However, there are a number of cases were suspended or struck off solicitors have, or currently are still using the term “solicitor” to con unsuspecting members of the public out of tens of thousands of pounds of legal fees – including legal aid – yet the Law Society and SLCC have taken no action against these “solicitors” who still claim to be on the solicitors roll.

A press release from the Law Society of Scotland claims the wide-ranging reforms it has submitted, on behalf of it’s own members, will allow it to keep pace with global developments within the sector and improve consumer protection.

However, over the ten years since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission came into being, at a cost of around £30 million pounds in complaints levies recouped from hikes in legal fees to clients, the SLCC, Law Society and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal have all miserably failed to protect consumers from rogues in the legal profession who are the cause of over 1000 complaints every year to legal regulators.

The latest proposals from the Law Society – which in actuality seek to retake control of regulation - set out a series of recommendations in its submission to an independent review of legal services regulation which lawyers claim include expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services, regulating firms operating beyond Scotland and overhauling the legal complaints system, which it says is overly complex, expensive and lacks proper oversight.

The recommendations by the Law Society to the legal review panel whose members were approved by the Law Society, include:

  • expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services
  • better regulation of legal firms as entities in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to better protect consumers
  • new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing
  • widening the Law Society’s membership to improve standards amongst other legal professionals
  • protection of the term ‘lawyer’ to mean those who are legally trained and are regulated

Graham Matthews, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The Scottish legal sector is highly successful. It provides for over 20,000 high quality jobs and generates over £1.2 billion for the Scottish economy annually. However we have long argued for the need for reform to the current patchwork of regulation that governs legal services in Scotland.

“There has been enormous change within the sector in recent years and the current system – some of which is almost 40 years old - is struggling to meet the demands of today’s fast-changing legal market. That’s why we have called for completely new, flexible legislation which will allow much needed reforms and ensure we have a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose, addresses the challenges of modern legal practice – from cross-border working to technological advances enabling AI legal advice - and which puts protecting consumers at its core over the long term.

“We believe the scale of the changes needed justifies a new, single piece of enabling and permissible legislation that can adapt to changes within the sector over the next four decades and beyond. Any new prescriptive legislation, or simply making further amendments to existing legislation will quickly be outdated.”

The Law Society is seeking the ability to regulate law firms operating beyond Scotland and to strengthen its regulation of firms as entities, as well as its individual solicitor members.

Mr Matthews said: “There is a strong economic case for the Law Society being able to seek to become a regulator of legal services beyond Scotland, as having a single regulatory model for cross-border firms could make Scotland a more attractive jurisdiction for a firm to base its operations. Additionally, as firms must meet robust financial compliance and new anti-money laundering requirements are due to come into effect in June, it makes sense to extend the regulatory regime on a firm-wide basis to help improve consumer protection.”

Mr Matthews added that new legislation should encompass the unregulated legal advice sector.

He said: “No one knows the full scale of the unregulated legal sector, but many consumers who believe that they have obtained advice from a qualified, regulated legal professional only find out they have no recourse to redress when things go wrong. As we look to the future, there is no doubt that technological advances will mean increasing use of artificial intelligence in delivering legal services around the globe and it’s our view that any new regulatory framework must be flexible enough to make provision for this."

In its submission, the Law Society has criticised the current legal complaints system as being complex and confusing and has called for the creation of an independent legal ombuds which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Unlike the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, the professional bodies for Scottish solicitors and advocates, which are overseen by the SLCC, there is nothing in law to stipulate oversight of the SLCC itself.

Mr Matthews said: “We want to streamline the complaints system, which for many is slow and overly bureaucratic, and have recommended that while the SLCC would continue to handle service complaints and the Law Society would continue to deal with all matters of professional discipline of Scottish solicitors, a key difference would be to allow either organisation to receive complaints and pass on those relevant to the other body to create a simpler, speedier and more cost effective process.

“Another critical improvement would be to introduce proper oversight of the SLCC. While the SLCC must submit its draft budget to the Scottish Parliament each year and ministers can make recommendations, they do not actually have the power to interfere with its budget or operation. This has led to significant, above-inflation hikes in the annual levy on Scottish solicitors for the past two years. Having an independent ombudsman would also simplify the appeals process and make it much less costly than the current process of taking appeals to the Court of Session.”

Summary of recommendations

  • The repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and those parts of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which relate to the regulation of legal services and for the introduction of new enabling and permissible legislation for the regulation of legal services in Scotland and the Scottish solicitor profession, with the flexibility to move with the times and which allows for proactive regulation to ensure consumer protections remain robust.
  • Amending those sections of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 which relate to the regulation of legal services and the Scottish solicitor profession to address the difficulties in interpretation and application.
  • A new regulatory framework allowing for the flexibility for the Society to seek approval from the Legal Services Board to be an authorised regulator for those multi-national practices operating in Scotland. 
  • That any new regulatory framework makes provision for the regulation of legal services provided remotely by artificial intelligence.
  • Retaining an independent professional body for the regulation and professional support of the Scottish solicitor profession.
  • Retaining a separate and independent discipline tribunal for decisions in serious cases of professional misconduct.
  • That all legal service providers providing services direct to the consumer be regulated, strengthening consumer protections and enhancing consumer confidence in the Scottish legal sector.
  • That the term ‘lawyer’ be a protected term, in the same way as solicitor, and only those able to demonstrate recognised legal qualifications, and who are regulated, are permitted to use the term.
  • That primary legislation provides the permissible powers for the Law Society of Scotland to extend entity regulation to those firms wholly owned by solicitors.
  • That a new system for dealing with complaints about legal services and solicitors is introduced, recognising the paramount aim to protect consumers whilst allowing the Society to continue to deal with the professional discipline of its members, and adopting relevant processes to make the system speedy, effective and efficient whilst recognising the differences between consumer redress and professional discipline.
  • That primary legislation provides for the permissible power for the Law Society of Scotland to open up membership to non-solicitors.

In the Law Society of Scotland’s Public Relations  strategy to retake control of complaints - Leading Legal Excellence, the legal profession sets out their ambition to secure what they call a modern, flexible and enabling legislative framework.

The Law Society Press Release also states: “Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It's increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“That is why we believe new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive.”

REGULATION REVIEW:

An independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017.

The purpose of the review will be to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.  The review is intended to ensure a proportionate approach to regulation that supports growth in the legal services sector.  It should also place consumer interests firmly at the heart of any system of regulation, including the competitive provision of legal services.  The review will focus on the current regulatory framework, the complaints and redress process for providers of legal services including solicitors and advocates, and ongoing market issues such as investigating the benefits of regulating firms as well as individual solicitors.

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services – unmasked as a lawyer dominated pro-self regulation panel - can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers - Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

The panel members who make up the so-called ‘independent’ review of legal services include:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

* The current Chief Executive of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission;

* An outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman widely criticised for ineptitude;

* The current chair of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) – who struck off only six solicitors last year;

* The chair of a law firm whose partners have regularly appeared before the SSDT;

* A QC from an advocates stable where colleagues have been linked to a cash payments scandal;

* A former Crown Office Prosecutor & QC linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

More recently, MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee were subject to calls to delay their investigation of petitions calling for fully independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland.

Proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an 'independent' review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) - call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers - before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

However, when the Scottish Government created the ‘independent’ review last April, 2017, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges - and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

And, in a case related to significant failures of legal regulation, Alex Neil  branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal - which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

Video footage of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations on proposals submitted by the public to reform regulation of legal services in Scotland, can be viewed here:

Regulation of legal profession reform - Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

A full report on recent submissions to the Public Petitions Committee can be found here: LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services