The process of bringing the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission into existence has taken another step in the right direction with the announcement by Justice Secretary Kenny MacKaskill that it is to be situated in Edinburgh.
No big surprises there for anyone, as Edinburgh is probably the best home for it, given the propensity of legal firms in the capital to be among the worst violators of clients rights over the years, all neatly kept under wraps by the present regulator of the legal profession - the Law Society of Scotland.
I'm pleased, of course, to see the SNP are going ahead with the formation of the SLCC despite all the threats, jibes, obstruction & interference coming from the legal profession & judiciary on this one ...
For a minute I thought the Law Society of Scotland had twisted the arm of the Scottish Executive into axing the new complaints body along with many other provisions of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, although I'm sure there's still time for a few more dirty tricks & fiddles along the way ...
Taken together, all those open letters from ex judges hopping back & forth between London & Edinburgh, threats of Court Action from bitter leaders of the Law Society, and strike threats from the solicitor membership carefully engineered by the Law Society itself, must be a powerful set of persuasive tactics to do otherwise .. but for now it does seem the SNP are pressing ahead with something no doubt a few of it's members don't particularly like.
Of course, there are a few pointers to watch out for as the new Complaints body takes shape ..such unspeakable ideas as :
(i)The legal profession don't slip a few spies& allies into the new SLCC (already it has been rumored a few staffers from the Law Society are quietly preparing to be wormed into the SLCC as 'ears for the Law Society' ... a terrible thing indeed if true ...
(ii)The lawyer appointees to the SLCC Panel via the Lord President are required to declare their regulatory history & that of their firm - something which anyone would rightly expect after reading the appalling history of complaints regulation by the Law Society of Scotland over the years, and not withstanding the fact there doesn't seem to be a lawyer or legal firm in Scotland without an atrocious clients complaint record
(iii) We don't get the same old lay members who sit on each others Committees same old 'lay members' who sit on each others committees & fiddle away client complaints as has been general practice in the past by the Law Society and many other self regulatory bodies who conveniently place each other's members on each other's Complaints Committees to ensure client complaints get buried and there is no chance of litigation to recover compensation for the culture of negligence which has infected the Scottish legal profession like a virus over the past 17 years (oddly coinciding with the same people being at the helm of the Law Society of Scotland for the same past 17 years)
The new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission might have half a chance at being independent, accountable & transparent (three things the present self regulators of the Scottish legal profession could never claim to be) it these values were adhered to .. but with the legal profession and their allies going out of their way to make life difficult for the public & politicians alike on this issue, when will the core problems of the legal profession actually be tackled to stamp out the causes of these high levels of complaints ?
Surely, with the Law Society having been in denial for the past two decades on the quality of legal services in Scotland, consistently putting forward an argument it was effectively regulating the profession & maintaining standards to the highest degree- when it was not, there must be wholesale change within the Law Society of Scotland and the membership to bring new policies of marinating standards and treating clients with respect.
Only a change of leadership at the Law Society of Scotland will bring improvements to the legal profession and it's dealings with the public - after all, how can a profession be able to reform itself when it is led by the likes of individuals who have threatened our democratically elected legislatures with Court Action & bullying tactics simply because the right to keep control of complaints against colleagues (and fiddle them to the nth degree as always) was to be lost to a new independent regulator ...
Over to you, Mr Justice Secretary for an end to injustice in Scotland
Over to you, solicitors of Scotland to take your own colleagues aside and improve your public standing & standards of practice. Stop being led by the nose of people who have led you into one disaster after another and stop blaming clients & campaigners for the woes you yourselves have created.
If, as solicitors, you want a greater standing & respect resolve the well known problems which have existed for too long in your own ranks rather than hounding to death members of the public who point out and rightly challenge the wrongs of the legal profession.
Article follows from the Herald newspaper.
Executive set to end public sector jobs exodus from Edinburgh
DOUGLAS FRASER, Scottish Political Editor July 28 2007
The move of civil service jobs out of Edinburgh is being challenged under the new Nationalist administration, with 60 new posts being located in the capital by the Justice Minister.
Kenny MacAskill yesterday said the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) will be in Edinburgh, where he is an MSP, and that the Scottish Executive is keen to see such scrutiny bodies get together in one centre so that they can cut duplication and costs.
Officials are looking for office space, or a campus, where other watchdog bodies could join it, such as the public services ombudsman.
The relocation of civil service jobs out of Edinburgh has been highly controversial, particularly with the shift to Inverness for the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage.
The previous administration wanted to continue the move, so that other parts of the country benefited from government spending on jobs, with a presumption that new agencies would not be in Edinburgh.
Former First Minister Jack McConnell even said it was good for Edinburgh that it should lose these jobs.
But he faced growing criticism from Edinburgh MSPs, including his own party's, that jobs were not being widely dispersed and that most were going to Glasgow.
The largest planned relocation, of more than 1000 civil servants in the Registers of Scotland, was put on hold.
An executive spokeswoman said yesterday: "We are currently considering the future direction of the policy on public sector jobs location."
The SLCC office, intended to operate independently of the legal profession on some categories of complaints, will be operating by late next year.
With up to 60 staff, it is aimed at ensuring complaints against the profession are resolved quickly and effectively.
Mr MacAskill, the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh MSP, was one of those who was critical of the policy while in opposition, and yesterday placed the SLCC in the capital city, arguing that is the centre of Scotland's legal community. The decision was "finely balanced", according to Mr MacAskill.
"After detailed consideration, a number of factors tipped the balance in favour of siting the commission in Edinburgh. Scotland's capital city is widely recognised as Scotland's legal centre.
"This decision therefore places independent complaints handling at the heart of the civil and criminal justice system and close to the hub of the legal profession.
"Taken together with the government's desire that the SLCC should share accommodation with other scrutiny bodies in the future, it is clear that Edinburgh is the preferred and right location for this body."
The SLCC is to be funded by a levy on lawyers, and a further charge to those who are complained against.
and the Press Release from the Scottish Executive on the SLCC ... does anyone get the feeling this new independent complaints body might not be all that we hoped for ?
Edinburgh has been chosen as the base for the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) which is due to be up and running in late 2008.
The SLCC, which will be independent of the legal profession, will have up to 60 staff and a remit to ensure that any complaints against the profession are resolved quickly and effectively.
Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill said:
"The decision of where to site the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was finely balanced. However, after detailed consideration, a number of factors tipped the balance in favour of siting the Commission in Edinburgh.
"Scotland's capital city is widely recognised as Scotland's legal centre. This decision therefore places independent complaints handling at the heart of the civil and criminal justice system and close to the hub of the legal profession.
"Taken together with the Government's desire that the SLCC should share accommodation with other scrutiny bodies in the future, it is clear that Edinburgh is the preferred and right location for this body."
The SLCC was established by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. The Act gained Royal Assent on 19 January 2007 and it is anticipated that the SLCC will become operational in late 2008. Having selected Edinburgh as the location for the SLCC, the next step will be to identify suitable premises that meet the SLCC's needs in terms of space requirements and organisational efficiency. In conducting this search, other factors will also be considered such as shared services potential with other organisations and future co-location opportunities on a campus basis.
Key points of the new complaints handling system:
* New independent complaints handling body to be set up - the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
* The Commission will be headed up by a board composed of a non-lawyer chair plus four non-lawyer members and four lawyer members who are appointed by Scottish Ministers after consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session
* Scottish Ministers will have no locus in relation to the Commission's decisions on complaints
* Funding will be from the legal profession through two levies: a general levy and a levy on practitioners generating complaints. The Commission will discuss its draft budget with the professional bodies each January. Vexatious or frivolous complaints will be sifted out and will not be the subject of a levy
* Making a complaint will carry no cost to the complainer
* The Commission will act as a gateway to receive and sift complaints which could not be resolved at source
* The Commission will deal with inadequate professional service complaints and low value negligence cases (awards below 20,000 pounds) but the professional bodies and their discipline tribunals will continue to deal with professional discipline and complaints about the conduct of practitioners
* The Commission will be able to review the way in which the professional bodies handle conduct complaints and will be able to enforce its recommendations
* There will be a limited right to appeal the decisions of the Commission - by application to the Court of Session
* The Commission will publish an annual report which Scottish Ministers will lay before the Scottish Parliament
* The office of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman will be abolished and the Commission will take over the review functions