Showing posts with label Linda Costelloe Baker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Linda Costelloe Baker. Show all posts

Monday, May 22, 2006

Last words from former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman condemn the Scottish legal profession

Famous last words ... from the Former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, Linda Costelloe Baker ... "This Bill is a mess" .... and she would be correct of course.

How unusual, for someone who has been concerned with the Scottish legal profession to come out and say this .... particularly when they have been appointed by the Scottish Executive (the Scottish Executive being well known for stifling change for so long in terms of complaints procedures operated by the Law Society of Scotland)... but how true Ms Costelloe Baker`s words are ....

Last week at the Justice 2 Committee, Ms Costelloe Baker answered questions on her duties and experiences in investigating complaints against how the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates had investigated lawyers and advocates. However, the questions she was asked did not apparently give her such leeway to critisise the legal profession as much as she has done in her interview with "The Herald" Newspaper, printed below for your reading.

In Ms Costelloe Baker`s interview, she calls for the complete removal of self regulation of the legal profession - something we, as clients and complainers against crooked lawyers and advocates, have been doing since 1990.

Linda Costelloe Baker - "That is why the first step in this process has to be to have a more independent regulator, like the Financial Services Authority, which does not deal with complaints at all. That first step has not been taken. This bill is a mess. It tinkers with an already unsatisfactory position and does not put right fundamental problems such as who makes the rules. The (executive's) attempt to keep the professional bodies very closely involved by splitting off conduct complaints will increase costs and increase confusion. It's also very doubtful whether the required degree of cooperation between the commission and the professional bodies will actually work in practice."

Her statement mirrors exactly what we have been saying for so long, and something this Justice 2 Committee should address fully ... the right of self regulation of the legal profession has to be ended, completely ... and their role should be restricted to that of a trade union ... something I personally have said in my submissions to the Justice 1 Committee, the Justice 2 Committee, and in the past in press articles on the subject ... and something every single client of a solicitor who has had cause to complain about their actions to the Law Society of Scotland, would also agree with.

I also liked the part of the interview where Ms Costelloe Baker goes on to mention the difficulties people have with obtaining a lawyer to sue a lawyer - something which is, in reality, almost impossible to do.

Linda Costelloe Baker - "The justice minister has still not addressed my question of why people can't get a solicitor to act for them in a negligence action" ....

yes, well, this is the exact same reaction I and many others have got from asking the exact same question since 1994 to Scottish Secretaries of State : Ian Lang, Michael Forsyth, and First Ministers : the late Donald Dewar, John Reid, Henry McLeish, Justice Ministers : Jim Wallace & Cathy Jamieson, Msps & Mps : Murray Tosh, Euan Robson, Annabel Goldie, David McLetchie, Roseanna Cunningham, Christine Grahame, David Mundell, Archy Kirkwood, and civil servants from the likes of ... Malcolm Pringle, Mike West, etc ..

In Scotland, trying to get a lawyer to sue a lawyer, is impossible, and even though the Law Society of Scotland in latter years brought in a "Pursuers Panel" .. it is simply a fake.

My own experience in the case of trying to sue crooked solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso .. is as good an example of this as any.. where the most senior officials of the Law Society of Scotland interfered in my case so much I could not even get my Legal Aid applications through to take legal action ... and I also found out that senior Law Society officials directly instruced my own solicitors not to proceed my case .... and then of course solicitor after solicitor refused to take on representing me in legal matters ... even in the death of my own mother at the hands of a negligent Borders General Hospital ... and events subsequent to that.

So, why can`t the Justice Minister answer the question why we can`t get a lawyer to sue a lawyer ? - well, maybe Cathy Jamieson continues to argue that this question is for the legal profession to deal with ... as they have always done .. `passing the buck` ... but with the former Scottish Office which went on to become the Scottish Executive giving the same hollow response for 16 years seems a bit tired ... it seems ... a bit of a fiddle, doesn`t it ? Maybe the legal profession don`t want the Justice Minister to answer the question .. and admit there is a problem in finding a lawyer to sue a lawyer ? - something which we, as clients of crooked lawyers, all know to be true.

The good news is, that, tomorrow, 23 May 2006, a good friend of mine, Stewart MacKenzie appears before the Justice 2 Committee to tell of his experiences at the hands of the crooked Law Society of Scotland, and I`m sure that Stewart will be able to tell the J2 Committee just how bad he, and all of us have suffered while the lawyers have literallly gotten away with murder.

As for me, well, according to a source at the Parliament itself, there was "considerable opposition to myself appearing before the Justice 2 Committee" .. something I always knew would be a problem ... so, I won`t be giving any testimony before the J2 Committee on this matter for now ... but of course, the Committee members can always read my blog .. if they are allowed to read it, of course ... and I have made my written submission, which I await to see on the Parliament`s website soon.

So, good luck to those who are allowed to speak as victims of the Scottish legal profession tomorrow, and here is the article from "The Herald", reporting their interview with Linda Costelloe Baker.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/62387.html

Former Ombudsman: ‘This bill is a mess’
PAUL ROGERSON May 22 2006

SCOTLAND'S legal services watchdog for the past six years delivered her last word on the governance of the profession in an interview with The Herald last week. Linda Costelloe Baker's valedictory observations are provocative and will make for uncomfortable reading - not only for the Law Society of Scotland, but also for a Justice Department whose reforms of complaints- handling are aimed at bolstering public confidence.

Costelloe Baker made her final appearance as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman at a Justice 2 committee hearing. Speaking afterwards, she was arrestingly blunt:

The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill is "a mess". Law firms who gripe that they will be deterred from offering certain services by a higher compensation threshold "shouldn't be in business". The role of the society and Faculty of Advocates, she insists, should be heavily circumscribed - with their right of self-regulation scrapped and responsibility transferred to an independent body.

The bill comes nowhere near to doing this, of course. The remit of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which would be created by the bill, will be limited to addressing complaints of poor service by lawyers. Complaints alleging misconduct and the professional rules by which Scotland's 10,000 lawyers operate will continue to be determined by the society and sister body, the Faculty of Advocates.

Costelloe Baker caused a stir by reminding MSPs and the public in her annual report of the hopeless predicament faced by hundreds of Scots mis-sold an endowment policy by a solicitor.

Tens of thousands who bought endowment policies in England and Wales have already received payouts. By contrast, Scots who bought policies from solicitors before December 1, 2001, when the Financial Services and Markets Act came into effect, do not qualify for a deal from the Financial Ombudsman Service. They can seek compensation from the society, but only to a maximum of £1000.

People trapped by this loophole can sue their solicitor, of course - in theory. But how easy is it to find a lawyer to sue another lawyer in Scotland ? This is a question Costelloe Baker put to ministers 12 months ago and she never got an answer. The Office of Fair Trading has also raised the issue with the Scottish Executive.

"The justice minister has still not addressed my question of why people can't get a solicitor to act for them in a negligence action," Costelloe Baker pointedly observed.

Won't the new bill stop a scandal like endowment mis-selling from recurring? "No," says Costelloe Baker. "The new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is not going to be a regulator and it is the regulator which sets down practice rules. People in Scotland who bought an endowment policy from a Scottish solicitor are far less protected. Yes, it could happen again.

"The commission can only assess a complaint against what is set down as adequate practice ? the Law Society decides that. And the Law Society decided (solicitors) didn't need to keep the relevant documents. So there was nothing to investigate.

"That is why the first step in this process has to be to have a more independent regulator, like the Financial Services Authority, which does not deal with complaints at all. That first step has not been taken. This bill is a mess. It tinkers with an already unsatisfactory position and does not put right fundamental problems such as who makes the rules. The (executive's) attempt to keep the professional bodies very closely involved by splitting off conduct complaints will increase costs and increase confusion. It's also very doubtful whether the required degree of cooperation between the commission and the professional bodies will actually work in practice."

Reform in England and Wales is more coherent, as regulatory oversight as a whole is being transferred to an independent board with the complaint-handling body accountable to the board. "Putting it bluntly, in Scotland the cart is being put before the horse," Costelloe Baker told Justice 2.

I suggest that Costelloe Baker's prescription would reduce the society's role to little more than that of a trade association. She does not demur, but observes:

"They can still do legal education and training, and advise the government on legislation."

The society has made political capital out of the ombudsman's findings that it has greatly improved its complaints-handling processes. Its "satisfaction rating" for complaints cases passed to her office reached a record 60% in 2005/06, an increase of more than 10% on the previous year.

These improvements are undeniable and might be construed as a compelling reason for leaving the society to get on with the job. Costelloe Bakerbridles at the suggestion. It is increased scrutiny by parliament, she believes, and the prospect of complaints-handling being removed which has concentrated the society's mind. Were the executive to backtrack on reform, she insists, the institution would simply revert to bad habits:

"There is little doubt that without the threat of legislative change the law society would, once again, be driven by its members' views and preoccupations."


Where is her evidence for such a statement ?

"You can find it in the annual report," she stresses. "It is now 12 years since my predecessor Garry Watson recommended that lawyers issue engagement letters (outlining, among other things, how fees will be charged). The society just kept saying no, no and again no until - whoops! - parliament is looking at us and then the answer is yes. The same applies to changes to complaints handling. For years they opposed an independent body and then - whoops again - parliament's looking at us so the answer is yes, we support that."

The society recently warned that small legal practices will have to cut back the services they offer if the executive presses ahead with plans to reform the profession. Parts of Scotland could become "legal advice deserts", it argued.

Under the new bill, Scots who receive poor service from their lawyers will be able to claim up to £20,000 in compensation, four times the present maximum. Law Society president Caroline Flanagan also told Justice 2 the cost of funding the watchdog, which will fall on solicitors, could prove a "crippling burden".

Costelloe Baker dismisses these points out of hand. Implicit within the society's argument is the suggestion that some small firms are presently so incompetent that they could be financially vulnerable to vigorous independent scrutiny. At the moment, firms are subtly protected because compensation claims must be pursued in the courts - if consumers can find a lawyer willing to take their case on. Court claims are "risky, potentially expensive and daunting" for the consumer, as Costelloe Baker points out in her annual report, while lawyers benefit from "playing on home ground".

"If the society is really saying that there are lots of rural solicitors who provide such poor service that there is a strong possibility that they will have caused £20,000 worth of loss to clients then why are they still in business ? If the alternative is that they have not had any claim against them because people are too frightened to make a complaint or can't get a solicitor to act for them...

"Similarly, if solicitors themselves are genuinely saying 'I will not take this or that form of business on because I might make a mess of it and have to pay £20,000' - then they should not be in business."

Costelloe Baker accuses the Law Society of pursuing a "double agenda", employing such arguments to bolster its parallel campaign for a rise in civil legal aid.

What of the mooted threat to small firms stemming from the cost of handling complaints?

Costelloe Baker stresses that large firms will continue to pay a disproportionate share of funding through the general levy.

She adds: "Any commercial organisation pays for the cost of handling complaints. Most of them absorb that cost and are happy to do so. Complaints should not be regarded as a separate industry - they are simply a user-friendly alternative to a court action."

Interestingly enough .. the former Legal Services Ombudsman - Garry Watson - supported self regulation as operated by the Law Society of Scotland.

Why would he support such a thing ? when clients were being ripped off wholesale by crooked lawyers and the Law Society were obviously letting their members off the hook.

Well ... I think Watson liked his position too much to take such action as Linda Costelloe Baker has ... and Watson for sure, would never have critisized the Law Society as Costelloe Baker did recently ...

Read on for an article from "The Scotsman" from 1999 on my case - showing Watson`s strange support for the devil (The Law Society) and note Watson`s opposing view to that of the Scottish Consumer Council - who carried out a survey and came to the conclusion that independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland was a MUST.

Independent watchdog for lawyers proposed

Law Society of Scotland's internal system flawed, says Scottish Consumer Council -
Camillo Fracassini - Consumer Affairs Correspondent
The Scotsman 8 January 1999

Complaints against solicitors in Scotland should be investigated by an independent watchdog because self regulation is not working, the Scottish Consumer Council will say today.

The recommendation is part of a highly critical SCC report into the way complaints about solicitors are handled by the lawyers professional body, the Law Society of Scotland.

According to a survey made as part of the study, 40% of those who had used the Law Society of Scotland's complaint's procedure thought their complaint had not been handled fairly.

The Law Society, the solicitors professional body, is also resposible for investigating complaints.

In the stufy, 415 people were interviewed by the SCC. Even looking at those whose complaints against their solicitors were upheld, shows that a third felt they had been unfairly dealt with.

The report is also highly critical of solicitors.

Of clients who complaint to their lawyers, 16% said they were completely ifnored and only 2% were told they could refer the matter to the Law Society.

More than a fifth of solicitors refused to investigate complaints and 40% of people were ignored, "fobbed off", told to change lawyers, or advisd not to complain to the Law Society.

According to the survey, two fifths of complaints took between six months and two years to resolve and 17% took more than two years.

One complainant said "The whol experience was very disappointing. The Law Society was totally in favour of the lawyer. Dealing with the society was like talking to a wall"

Derdrie Hutton, the SCC Chairman, suggested "If consumers are to be confident that the procedures are entirely fair, we believe the research suggests that the way forward should be to establish an independent body to deal with complaints about solicitors in Scotland.

The SCC wants the Scottish parliament to review the Law Society's complaints procedure, with a vew to establishing an independent complaints body.

Solicitors should be made to give clients a letter of engagement, setting out how long the work will take, how much it will cost, and afvising how to complain if they are not happy with the service, it said.

The SCC added that all solicitors practices should also set up complaints procedures and appoint a specific solicitor to deal with complaints.

Martin Evans, the SCC director, said many people felt the system was biased in favour of solicitors : "They do not appear to trust the self regulatory process and do not trust the Law Society to look after the interests of consumers rather than its members. The lack of credibility of the current system doesn't serve consumers or the legal profession well".

Mr Evans added solicitors were not handling critisism positively : "Solicitors, as a profession, seem to feel threatened by complaints, rather than see them as something which can help them improve the service they provide."

Last night, Philip Dry, the president of the Law Society of Scotland, questioned the validity of the limited SCC survey and insisted self-regulation was still the best policy.

He said; "I continue to believe thata the society is best able to deal with client complaints which it does without cost to the public - and that any systen used shoud be open to public scrutiny and constantly adapted and improved to meet the needs of clients of Scottish solicitors.

"The society does not afree with the recommendations made to the Scottish parliament to set up an independent complaints handling body. The recommendation is not supported by the survey results nor is the suggestion that the current system is fatally flawed".

Mr Dry said the Law Society had significantly improved its complaints procedure since the SCC first recommended the establishment of an independent complaints watchdog in 1986.

In November, it named 11 new lay members to its complaints committee in a bid to tackle the perceived bias.

Between 1994 and 1997 the number of complaints that ended successfully in mediation or conciliation increased by 79% while the number f complaints only rose by 4%.

Gary Watson, the Scottish legal services ombudsman said he remained opposed to an independent body "While I endorse a number of the recommendations made in the report but I would disagree with the prinsiple recommendation for the establishment of an independent complaints body.

"My firm view is that as long as the Law Society is committed to improving the way in which it handles complaints then that is the best way forward for members of the public"

However, Peter Cherbi is still seeking redress more than two years after the Law Society of Scotland overturned its original decision to prosecute a solicitor he claimed was guilty of professional misconduct.

Mr Cherbi, from Jedburgh believes his father's £300,000 estate was effectively made worthless by the lawyers handling of his affairs.

While a Law Society investigation found that the solicitor should be prosecuted before a tribunal because of the serious nature of the case, the decision was overturned in favour of a reprimand after representations on the lawyer's behalf.

Mr Cherbi, who plans to sue the Law Society said "The Law Society of Scotland's complaints procedure is completely biased. There is absolutely no right of appeal for complainants and the ombudsman has no statutory powers - he an only make recommendations which may be refused by the society.

"There must be an independent regulatory for the legal profession with absolutely no ties to solicitors"

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman appears before Justice 2 Committee, but who is listening ?

This week saw the appearance of Linda Costelloe Baker at the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament, to give evidence in the "Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill.

You can watch coverage of Linda Costelloe Baker`s appearance before the Justice 2 Committee by going to the main page of the Justice 2 Committee tv archive, which is at ; http://www.holyrood.tv/library.asp?iPid=3&section=22&title=Justice+2

On the same day, Linda Costelloe Baker presented her last annual report of her tenure as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, showing that complaints against Scottish solicitors had risen a whopping 30% last year, and attacking the legal profession in Scotland for failing to deliver adequate complaints handling procedures for clients of solicitors, who are often ripped off while the crooked lawyer gets away with it ... with the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates fixing complaints so that crooked legal agents get off the hook and clients are never really compensated for lost funds ... despite all the ludicrous claims of the legal profession that all is well ....

In a blow to the campaigns of those who are trying to seek redress for the crooked misselling of mortgages by Scottish lawyers - who knew well what they were doing ... Ms Costelloe Baker said that even the proposed legislation contained in the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill would not end the crooked practices of many lawyers selling policies to clients which they know full well to be against the interests of their clients - but of course, well inside the interests of the Banks and financial institutions by which the lawyers also have cosy secret financial dealings with (something the client never gets to know about ...)

Linda Costelloe Baker also supports the handling of conduct complaints by the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - something the legal profession is dead against, because of course, they will be trying to get as many complaints into the conduct category as possible - so such complaints can be dealt with in the same old cosy fashion by the Law Society of Scotland ... where the crooked always get off the hook and the client gets totally ripped off.

Some of the claims by the Executive, in response to the questioning of their position in relating to the funding and prioritising of Ms Costelloe Baker`s office are, quite laughable.

Three times as many staff ? ... many of them actually resigned ...and the department was left undermanned for long periods of time.

50% increase in funding ? ... still not enough to tackle the huge workload - caused of course by crooked officials at the Law Society of Scotland letting crooked lawyers off the hook in client complaints .... the very reason people actually complain to the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman.

I was quite pleased to see Ms Costelloe Baker come down against the Law Society of Scotland in terms of it`s position as regulator of the legal profession .. but I have always been of the opinion that much more could have been done by her office .. and many times the power to publicise the poor complaints handling by the Law Society of Scotland was never used ... only in cases where the actual complainants kept badgering the Ombudsman so much that she had to use her powers.

Of course, however, on the face of things, Ms Costelloe Baker was certainly a great improvement over the former Legal Services Ombudsman - Garry S Watson - which whom I had many run ins and queries over his taking orders from the Law Society to bury complaints and even some of his own recommendations.

Interestingly, Mr Garry S Watson was also on the Complaints Committees of the Institute of Chartered Accounants of Scotland (ICAS) - another crooked gang of self regulators - who regulate accountants in Scotland and I wonder how Mr Watson has faired in his position at ICAS ..... (the mind boggles)

You all know what I have written about the crooked accountants self regulatory society in Scotland - ICAS, and how they and their Director of Legal Services fitted up an investigation into a crooked Borders Accountant ; Norman James Howitt - who now even has a position on one of the ICAS Committees himself (keeping all the crooked together of course) - you can read about that article here : http://petercherbi.blogspot.com/2006/03/norman-howitt-crooked-borders.html

Here are the articles on this weeks appearnce by Linda Costelloe Baker at the J2 Committee, along with articles on her annual report, all from "The Herald"

http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/62165.html

Mortgage mis-selling: no hope of making lawyers pay
PAUL ROGERSON and DEBORAH SUMMERS May 17 2006

Scotland's legal services watchdog warned yesterday that legislation aimed at tightening the regulation of lawyers will not prevent the mis-selling of mortgage policies.

In her final annual report, Linda Costelloe Baker, Scottish legal services ombudsman, said that last year she handled a record 482 complaints about the way the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates handled complaints about their members ? nearly five times as many as 2001 and the vast majority involving the society.

Over a quarter of her workload related to alleged endowment mis-selling after the society was itself inundated with 1800 mis-selling complaints.

The Scottish Executive's new bill will create an independent commission to handle complaints about lawyers, but Ms Costelloe Baker warned that this is inadequate because it leaves the society in charge of practice rules.

"When I was looking at the bill I had endowment misselling complaints very much in mind," she said. "I kept on asking myself would this bill stop this happening again, and it wouldn't. Not while the actual regulation is done by the profession.

"For example, the society did not expect solicitors to keep business files relating to the sale of endowment policies, so there is little or no evidence on which to base an investigation."

Tens of thousands of people in England and Wales who bought endowment policies have already received pay-outs.

However, Scots who bought policies from solicitors before December 1, 2001, when the Financial Services and Markets Act came into effect, do not qualify for a deal from the Financial Ombudsman Service. They can seek compensation through the society but only to a maximum of £1000.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/62153.html

Endowment injustice
Editorial Comment May 17 2006

Leave-takings can be jolly affairs. They can also be maudlin. Linda Costelloe Baker, who has completed her term as legal services ombudsman, opted for neither approach when presenting her valedictory annual report to the Scottish Parliament yesterday. She went out with all guns blazing, as befits the champion of consumers on legal matters.

Mrs Costelloe Baker has been a thorn in the side of both the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates. In her eyes, they have failed to get the balance right between investigating complaints and defending a vested interest under the current system of self-regulation.

Yesterday, however, she was pleased to record the highest-ever level of satisfaction with the way both had handled complaints. She said they had learned these had to be taken seriously.

However, she also reported that complaints alleging mis-selling of endowment policies had continued to rise, and accounted for more than one-quarter of the ombudsman's workload.

These complaints relate to policies bought through solicitors before December 1, 2001, when a compensation scheme administered by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) was established.

This allows for more generous compensation than is available for complaints upheld by the Law Society for older policies. The Law Society sets tougher criteria to meet, and caps compensation at £1000 for these policies.

A sense of injustice has been heightened by the fact these limits do not apply to English policies taken out before 2002. This is because very few householders bought endowment policies through solicitors. Policies bought from life companies or through banks, building societies or financial advisers were aggressively sold, whether in the best interests of the customer or not (invariably not). Redress was easier to pursue, and compensation awarded at higher levels. The Legal Defence Union, solicitors advising the profession, says most solicitors kept their endowment policy files and these showed advice was given that investments could fall as well as rise. But it is easy to understand the grievance felt by Scottish policyholders who have received no compensation and face having to sell their homes to pay off their mortgages, compared with English policyholders who have the same or similar policies but have fared much better. Ivan Lewis, the Treasury economic secretary, has conceded that the treatment of Scots amounts to a scandal but has warned against holding out "false hope" of compensation. John McFall, the Treasury select committee chairman, has called on the government at Westminster to address the anomaly.

Mrs Costelloe Baker contributed to the debate yesterday when she warned there was nothing to prevent this situation arising again, despite a new, independent policing body coming into being to replace the ombudsman, and to handle complaints that cannot be resolved between client and lawyer (the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission). She believes the solution lies in handing all regulatory powers over to the commission, including conduct. This is not envisaged under the legislation to create the new body. Of course, all post-2002 complaints are handled under the FSA regime, which helps. But this does nothing for those Scots facing mortgage shortfalls before then, and who are left in an iniquitous situation compared with English policyholders. There is still no justice in that.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/62143.html

Former watchdog bites back over unaudited accounts
DOUGLAS FRASER May 17 2006

Scottish Executive officials were left red-faced yesterday after a former watchdog attacked their failure to audit accounts, while undermining the watchdog's attempts at an efficiency drive.

MSPs were told that justice department officials failed to audit the accounts for the legal services ombudsman over five years or to provide clear financial guidelines, despite being urged to do both.

They were told the watchdog office, on a budget of £400,000 this year, was forced to spend money on an unnecessary new phone network, and that attempts to find savings by sharing services with similar departments did not get support from central government.

The criticism of executive inefficiency and auditing came from Linda Costelloe Baker, who stood down as legal services ombudsman earlier this year. She told MSPs budgetary controls on her were "far from adequate", and that her accounts were never audited.

This is despite a drive by Tom McCabe, minister for finance and public service reform, to achieve savings by sharing services across the public sector, and an MSP review of the burgeoning cost of a growing number of inspectorates, commissioners and ombudsmen.

The public services ombudsman, Professor Alice Brown, has been pressing the executive to help her save money by sharing services with similar watchdogs, and has made a further plea in her submission to finance committee MSPs.

Ms Costelloe Baker said she recommended a central unit to avoid duplication and confusion, but the justice department did "the exact opposite".

She claimed officials saw her budget as too small to concern them: "I'm convinced it's such a small part of an unallocated budget it almost didn't matter ? but it mattered to me, and I think it matters to taxpayers. I would love to have been held more accountable."

Ms Costelloe Baker said she had been raising her concerns for most of her six years in post.

Derek Brownlee, the Scottish Tories' finance spokesman, said: "The evidence raises serious concerns at the budgetary controls across the whole of government in Scotland."

An executive spokeswoman said officials were content that financial measures were open and transparent and met public finance criteria and funding was discussed, not imposed.

She added: "During her period in office, the justice department provided her with a near 50% increase in budget and over three times as many staff as she started with."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Resignation of Linda Costelloe Baker - the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman

The resignation of Linda Costelloe Baker this week (well, she actually resigned in January), only leaving her position last Friday ... would certainly be one of the most damning indictments so far this year of the performance of the Law Society of Scotland AND the Scottish Executive when it comes to regulation of the legal profession ....

Personally of course, I have had a LOT of dealings with Linda Costelloe Baker in her post as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman and I'm sure she will remember the name Peter Cherbi along with plenty other clients of crooked lawyers for some years to come ...

Costelloe Baker has considered many complaints for me, and recently recommended that a complaint be reopened against an extremely crooked lawyer by the name of David Reid, formerly of Alex Morrison & Co, then of Morrison Bishop WS, then of Campbell Smith WS .. and now a Law Accountant who prepares clients accounts (better watch yourselves there when you get your solicitors bills for work done ! )

I would say on balance, Linda Costelloe Baker has probably been the more effective Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman we have had ... but of course, there's not been much to choose from, with her predecessor Garry S Watson being no more than a puppet of the Law Society of Scotland, always willing to do as he was told .. then moving on to the Scottish Parliament to fiddle complaints against MSPs prior to Jim Dyer getting the job (and following in the same vein ....)

Costelloe Baker has went from supporting self-regulation in the past - most notably when she appeared before the Justice 1 Committee "Regulation of the Legal Profession" inquiry to now condemning self-regulation with her recommendation for a fully independent system of regulating complaints against the legal profession in Scotland ....

Costelloe Baker has said in the Herald that she is quite upset over the way her office has been prioritised by the Scottish Executive (very low, of course) .. and why would the Scottish Executive give low priority to her office ? ... well maybe her change of heart over the complaint system as operated by the Law Society of Scotland had something to do with it ... and some of those secret briefings & steak dinners between the big guns of the Law Society and Scottish Ministers have had their effect .... because of course, she lost her backers at the Law Society of Scotland once she went against their corrupt practices in the way of complaints investigations & recommended independent regulation ....

Yes, I would say that what has happened to the Office of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman has probably proved without a doubt, the power of the legal profession in Scotland - where once they supported the existence of the Ombudsman over the years and even trumpeted the office as more often than not, siding with the Law Society against clients .. now the same Law Society has helped to undermine and sideline the office - even it looks like, interfering in the funding requests put forward by Costelloe Baker for additional staff .....

.... and there are good reasons for me saying this - there are currently several very important complaints being considered by the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman's office against the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, and it is in the Law Society of Scotland's interest to either delay or destroy these complaints before the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament consider & finalise their recommendations for the new Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill which is going to give us independent regulation of lawyers and legal agents .... it's that simple, folks !

The article following, from "The Herald", is quite damning of the Scottish Executive and Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson .... and it is of note that the Justice Minister didn't even bother to answer Costelloe Baker's letters on the lack of a new appointment ... is the Scottish Executive so shambolic ? or are they just too busy faking up more evidence in the McKie case and other cases to keep their criminal treatment of people a secret ..... this remains to be seen .. but there is one thing for sure - whether it's fiddling legal complaints or dragging dead birds around to grab headlines from other stories .. we certainly can't trust our Government in Scotland these days ....

You can visit the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman's website at http://www.slso.org.uk/ it hasn't been updated yet though with Ms Costelloe Baker's resignation ....

Link to the article on Linda Costelloe Baker's resignation from "The Herald", at :
http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/59230.html

Executive drags feet over appointing new watchdog
PAUL ROGERSON April 03 2006

Scotland's legal services watchdog bowed out on Friday after six years in the role with a parting shot at the Scottish Executive's Justice Department.

Linda Costelloe Baker is unhappy ministers have failed to ensure a smooth transition for her Edinburgh-based office by appointing a successor.

The position was not advertised until Friday, despite her repeated promptings. As a result, dozens of people face lengthy delays in the handling of their complaints about the law society or Faculty of Advocates because adjudications cannot be signed off until the job is filled.

"It's a disappointing way for me to go," Costelloe Baker told The Herald.

"I am very upset about the way the handover has been managed. Clearly this office is a very low priority."

Costelloe Baker tendered her resignation to Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson in January and wrote to the executive in both February and March to try and move things along.Her letters were not acknowledged.

"I am very concerned because even if I had completed my full-term of office, ending in June, my understanding was that the position would be advertised in January."

Costelloe Baker has personally signed about 200 letters to lawyers and complainers admitting she has no news of when her successor will be appointed or when outstanding complaints will be resolved.

She presently has about 130 complaints on her books and will return to the office for one day next month to sign off several more decisions. The remainder – and any recommendations made by the investigations team in the meantime – will effectively remain "in limbo" for weeks, if not months.

Another regret for Costelloe Baker is that her turnaround times have slipped because her resources have not been increased in line with the number of complaints to her office. In the financial year ended March 31, she received nearly 500 complaints, compared with just over 100 in 2000-01.

She asked the executive for an office manager but was told there was no cash to spare. She is presently reaching a decision on about 40% of complaints within her 13-week target maximum.

Some cases had dragged on for six months but the maximum has now been reduced to about 20 weeks – an achievement now jeopardised amid the uncertainty over her successor.

Costelloe Baker can certainly look back with satisfaction on her six-year tenure. In her first annual report, she complained of the inadequacy of Scotland's regime of legal self-regulation. Her last report will be published as the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill ushers in a new independent watchdog to handle complaints about Scotland's 10,000 lawyers.

One consolation for Costelloe Baker is that the new interim ombudsman will at least be a full-time position. Sheis technically employed four days a week but is known to have worked the fifth day as a matter of course.

Her successor will probably be in post for about two years, until the new commission is established in mid-2008. Where that commission will be based remains to be seen.