Monday, April 17, 2006

Freedom Of Information in Scotland - In Reality, Access Denied.

While many organisations throught Scotland who ARE covered by the Freedom of Information Act are blatantly stalling or even denying requests by individuals for information .... organisations such as local councils, bodies of the Scottish Executive, etc .... there are still some key organisations which aren't even covered by the FOI act at all .. such as, the Law Society of Scotland.

With the supposedly impending removal of self-regulation of the legal profession in Scotland by the new Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill which is now before the Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament (for fiddling and bartering with the legal profession) ... is it not time now to revoke the exemption of the Law Society of Scotland from the FOI act ? ... surely clients have the right to know just what is going on at the Law Society when it comes to what information is gathered on them ... but of course, the Law Society of Scotland can't really afford for that kind of information to get out ..

Just imagine the following scenario which comes from an actual case of complaint against a well known crooked lawyer

1. Client of a lawyer discovers his lawyer is ripping his family off.

2. Lawyer becomes aware of client discovery so sets about faking up file notes and destroying evidence.

3. Client makes a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland and makes the story public.

4. Lawyer uses his regional contacts to make the client's life hell and gets associates to intimidate the client's family.

5. Campaign against the client started by Law Society officials with briefings & memos / inquiries in the form of accusatory letters / phone calls / meetings against the client to local authorities such as Police, Benefits Agency, Social Services, Local Health Trust, Inland Revenue, etc ...who all willingly play along - some officials seemingly even being paid off by the lawyer & their associates to do their bidding against the client ....

6. Client pursues complaint with Law Society for several years.

7. Lawyers & Law Society of Scotland staff conspire to fiddle the complaint and do nothing to the crooked lawyer.

8. Client writes to Scottish Executive & politicians for help against crooked legal profession.

9. Scottish Executive turn Police and judicial system on the client at the behest of Law Society contacts, in the hope of finding something on the client to get rid of them and any information then relayed back to Law Society contacts for further use.

10. Client is denied the right to air his dealing with the legal profession at the Scottish Parliament - due to lobbying from the legal profession, the Parliament's own legal team, and 'friends & associates' of Committee members & staff ....

11. Client fails to find lawyers to sue the crooked lawyer for negligence because lawyers don't sue lawyers - and even if they do, they only take the case on to ruin it or diminish any final settlement, by secret arrangement with the Law Society of Scotland and the Professional Insurers of the lawyers.

12. Client is added to "Client Blacklist" which warns ALL Scottish lawyers & legal firms not to represent the client unless first contacting the Law Society of Scotland for "reference" - usually this results in Clients who complain against lawyers never beng able to get proper representation again.

13. Client's life is totally destroyed in some cases of serious complaint - loses home, business, family, health, future, and the crooked lawyer & legal firm who caused it all in the first place gets a big fat bonus and continues to prosper.

You see now exactly why the Law Society of Scotland doesn't want to be part of the Freedom of Information Act .... imagine the likes of this kind of information getting out into the public domain ... memos from senior Law Society officials ordering secret investigations into complaining clients, memos of telephone calls to Scottish Executive Ministers asking for information on clients in return for other favours or even political donations, memos of telephone calls to the Police & other organisations from Society officials & lawyers giving mis information about a complaining client in order to use the authorities against them ... quite strong stuff isn't it ... and something certainly anyone would want kept secret from a Freedom of Information Act request or investigation ...

So, why does all this happen then, you ask yourselves ? How come the legal profession in Scotland have SO MUCH influence with public authorities and more ? ... well .. the answer lies in the size of the business we are talking about here ... Billions of pounds each year in Scotland flow to the legal profession .. for instance, just look at how much the Royal Bank of Scotland spends of legal business - some £150million pounds ...

The size of the legal industry in Scotland in financial terms, buys a LOT of influence - political, personal, and otherwise .. and particulaly when it comes to the deep dark local regions of Scotland - such as the likes of the Scottish Borders, stuck in the 19th century by the looks of it .. going up against a lawyer there can be fatal - with almost the entire services of the region, local government, police, medical, everything .. turned on any individual who dares to question why a lawyer has got off from serious charges of corruption.

So, it's certainly time to revoke the exemption of the likes of the Law Society of Scotland from acts such as the Freedom of Informatio Act ... because when such sinister things happen to so many people in Scotland - go unnoticed, unreported, or unpunished - the only people who gain from this kind of twisted culture of secrecy & corruption - are the crooked among us .. and for the purposes of this article, that finger is squarely pointed at the legal profession ....

Link to the following article from "The Scotsman" who report this issue, at :
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=578992006

Complaints soar as public's right to know is denied
MICHAEL HOWIE

* Rising complaints about failure of public bodies to disclose information
* Inquiry to be launched into poor performance
* Those who show 'wilful disregard for the legislation' may even face jail

Key quote "It's completely unacceptable that public bodies are flouting the FoI Act which they are duty-bound to honour under law. They are public bodies, paid for by the public purse and must be transparent as well as accountable." - The SNP's John Swinney

PUBLIC bodies that consistently fail to comply with Freedom of Information legislation are to be named and shamed as part of a crackdown on the way they operate, The Scotsman can reveal.

Amid a rising level of complaints about councils, police forces and other authorities not responding to demands for data, Kevin Dunion, Scotland's Information Commissioner, is to launch an inquiry into their performance. Those public bodies which do not meet strict targets will be identified and, in cases where they are guilty of extreme negligence, enforcement powers will be used to implement change.

Under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, chief executives who show a wilful disregard for the legislation can be held in contempt of court and even jailed, although Mr Dunion said he was far more likely to apply political pressure on such organisations by, for example, making them the subject of damning parliamentary reports.

The Scotsman has learned that appeals to the commissioner about organisations not responding to legitimate demands for information under the act are rising steadily, more than a year after the law came into force. Nearly a quarter of the 158 complaints this year were about a complete failure by public authorities to answer requests - up from 18 per cent of all appeals last year.

With complaints running at twice the highest predicted level, the commissioner's own team is struggling to fulfil its role as enforcers. After the body failed to meet its target of settling appeals within four months in one fifth of all cases, the commissioner, who has a budget of £1.2 million, is to hire an extra three investigators and will call on the Scottish Parliament for more funding.

The act imposes a duty on public authorities to respond to requests for information within 20 working days. If the person seeking the information is unhappy with the response, he or she can demand a review by the authority which must be completed within another 20 working days.

But an increasing number of organisations are failing to comply with the law. Among those held by Mr Dunion to be culpable on at least one occasion since the act was introduced are the Scottish Executive, the Strathclyde, Tayside and Grampian police forces, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the Crown Office, Audit Scotland, Scottish Water, the Scottish Prison Service and 14 councils, including Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Part of the reason for the growth in complaints is the increasing number of requests for information. But Mr Dunion has also found some organisations do not have proper procedures in place.

One public official said he was not even able to look at requests within 20 working days. "It is impossible. I've got a massive pile to go through and the boss refuses to pay for anyone else to help out," he said.

Mr Dunion told The Scotsman: "This is just not acceptable. I was already concerned about the 18 per cent of complaints I received last year that were about mute responses. That figure has now risen to 23 per cent.

And these are only the cases that reach me. It requires a fair degree of persistence by the individual who wants the information before it gets as far as myself."

He is so concerned about the number of cases where authorities are failing to comply that he will later this year undertake a "systematic review" of complaints to identify the worst-performing bodies. He will seek to offer guidance to authorities and, in cases where they are guilty of extreme negligence, use powers to implement change.

The tough line was welcomed by the SNP's John Swinney, who said: "It's completely unacceptable that public bodies are flouting the FoI Act which they are duty-bound to honour under law. They are public bodies, paid for by the public purse and must be transparent as well as accountable."

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We make every effort to be as open and transparent as possible through FoI legislation and other means. But we are occasionally unable to provide as much information as respondents would like.
This could be because the request exceeds the cost limit, because information is confidential or because it is commercially sensitive."'Human error - not intentional obstructiveness'

E-MAIL accounts that staff have forgotten to check and over-zealous computer firewalls are among the reasons given for public authorities breaking the Freedom of Information laws.


The Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, said the failure to reply to FoI requests was usually down to "human error" rather than officials being intentionally obstructive.

He said: "In some cases, I've found that IT systems have over-vigorous firewalls which filter out e-mail requests. One authority said they had set up a special e-mail, but staff simply forgot it existed. When I approach them to find out why they haven't responded, they usually put their hands up and say they didn't recognise that it was a request under the act."

In other cases, however, managers have been unwilling to provide enough staff to deal with FoI requests, something he said was "totally unacceptable".

2 comments:

Jamsey said...

didn't realise the law society was exempt from FOI. you should challenge that on a public platform more than just the internet.

Anonymous said...

"In some cases, I've found that IT systems have over-vigorous firewalls which filter out e-mail requests. One authority said they had set up a special e-mail, but staff simply forgot it existed. "

what bullsh*t is this ? sounds more like their IT systems are working fine and it's just the staff who are filtering out the freedom of info requests