While Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill is in Canada, wasting yet more taxpayers money on the failing "Homecoming" project, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been engaged in spinning out a story to cover up the SNP controlled administration's little talked about multi million pound gift to the lawyers complaints quango, which has mostly went on personal benefits, huge salaries, pension schemes and personal insurance policies for a bunch of lawyers, retired Policemen, and other alleged experts in the field of regulating complaints against lawyers.
This week, desperate to avoid any further bad publicity or hard questions on its income, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a Press Release to newspapers calling their budget proposals a "budget reflects needs of both consumers and legal practitioners"
However, the quango has refused to pay back the millions of pounds it received from the Scottish taxpayer, at the behest of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who himself has acknowledged he will not seek the return of the much needed public money already wasted on the Commission, which has yet to generate the increased consumer confidence in the Scottish legal services market it was created to do.
I reported earlier on the Mr MacAskill’s multi million pound ‘gift’ to the SLCC here : MacAskill silent on taxpayers £2million 'write off' to lawyers quango as Complaints boss reveals Law Society defaulted on levies
The Commission's controversial decision to lower the annual complaints levy which solicitors must pay to fund the body which investigates complaints against Scottish lawyers, rather than repay the public purse, despite receiving over £2.4 millions pounds from the Law Society of Scotland by the end of last year, raises questions on just who the SLCC is serving, as clients of solicitors now find it is almost impossible to get the Commission to actually investigate complaints against solicitors, with many encountering a huge list of excuses given for the quango to take on cases against crooked lawyers.
Jane Irvine, SLCC Chairman. Jane Irvine, the SLCC's Chairman was asked for comment this week on why, despite having huge surpluses of cash, the Commission had failed to repay the millions of pounds of public money it had received, before lowering the amounts solicitors had to pay to keep it running.
Short of an explanation it seems, for the obvious, where one would think in these tough financial times, public money should be repaid rather than being handed over to lawyers, Ms Irvine denied any responsibility for the matter, and simply replied "The two sets of monies are not linked and it is not within my control."
Well, that's just great isn't it ... people all across Scotland are waiting to get into hospitals for life saving operations, people's homes are being repossessed, public services are in danger of being cut back, many of Scotland's financial institutions have had to be rescued by the Bank of England, but the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and the Justice Secretary Mr MacAskill, himself a lawyer, are happy to shower a group of lawyers with millions of pounds of public money.
Does anyone think that is justified ? particularly in these troubled financial times ?
An insider at the Justice Department commented to me "there have been moves by the Scottish Government to hamper public discussion of the sensitive subject of public funding of the SLCC" .. and little wonder, given that the SLCC has spent most of the money on itself and personal benefits so far, rather than doing the actual work the Scots public were promised it would actually carry out.
You can read more about how the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been spending millions of pounds of public money on itself and its high salaried officials here : Complaints Commission 'unfit for purpose' as secret meetings with insurers & pensions take focus over consumer protection against crooked lawyers
However, not so long ago, the Commission was embroiled in bitter internal squabbles and fights over personal benefits and a shortage of funds, which I reported on here : Legal Complaints Commission in crisis amid funds shortage & resignation threats over lack of insurance protection
From the actual SLCC Press Release on their budget proposals earlier this week, it does appear that sources within the Justice Department are correct on their claims of "a culture of spin" at the lawyers complaints quango, so lets have a look at what Jane Irvine said to the newspapers to try and get the Commission's own message out :
Jane Irvine : “As an independent, impartial and accessible organisation, the budget has been developed after listening to the views of both consumer organisations and legal practitioners."
Independent, impartial & accessible ? How can that be, when one of the first decisions the SLCC took was to refuse to investigate any complaint against a solicitor involving work which took place before 1st October 2008. The SLCC is of course, staffed by members of the Law Society of Scotland, and its Board is made up mostly of lawyers, ex Police officers & others who have been involved in self regulation for years .. hardly impartial or independent or accessible.
If you want to read how independent, impartial & accessible the SLCC actually is, have a read of the following article : Legal Complaints Commission to delay monitoring of discredited lawyers insurance as worries increase over poor regulation of crooked lawyers
Jane Irvine : “The economic downturn has already impacted upon the legal profession and a *recent survey of 196 firms indicated that 304 people, mostly support staff, had already been made redundant.”
Yes, so it seems .. but it seems the economic downturn has caused many solicitors to start faking up their bills to clients, adding fictitious work and inflating accounts, along with threats & menaces if bills aren't paid within a few days ... and strangely enough, or perhaps conveniently for Ms Irvine and her associates, the 'independent impartial & accessible SLCC is telling people it wont investigate such cases if the work happened before 1st October 2008.
I reported on solicitors inflating their bills and double charging their clients here : Lawyers stealing from clients to earn 'double fees' while Law Society looks the other way in vast network of legal aid fraud & embezzlement
Jane Irvine : “Legal practitioners already working to high standards will benefit from the levy being reduced from **£409 to £275 and the £200 charge for mediation will be removed.”
What high standards are we talking about here ? Scotland has the poorest quality legal services market in the developed world, with clients paying up to 10 times more for legal services than anywhere else, and still not getting success or satisfaction in their legal affairs.
Jane Irvine again : “However, consumer organisations want to see higher standards of service and early resolution of complaints. With this in mind, the SLCC will double charges where a complaint is upheld. The minimum charge will rise from ***£250 to £500. The financial implications of an increased complaints levy should encourage practitioners to resolve complaints at an early stage."
Really ? I don't think anyone with a shred of experience in dealing with solicitors will believe that for a second ... rather it will simply increase the amounts that lawyers are prepared to steal from their clients, all because they know they can get away with it due to the very poor and very biased way in which regulation of complaints against solicitors are still being handled in Scotland, by a Commission which claims itself to be "independent, impartial & accessible"
As a final kicker to the story, revelations surfaced this morning it was the legal profession itself in the form of the Law Society of Scotland who had been campaigning for a reduction in the levies, and it seems judging by the SLCC’s Press Release, that campaign was successful so its lawyers before clients once again in Scotland. What that how it was meant to be with the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007 ?
So, we must ask ourselves, who is it the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is actually here to serve ? the public ? or solicitors and the Law Society of Scotland ? and why is the Justice Secretary simply dismissing consumer interests at every turn and siding each time with the legal profession over regulation issues ?
Here follows the SLCC’s budget statement, and HERE is a link to the story in the Scotsman newspaper, who sadly fell for the badly spun argument of paying public money to lawyers instead of returning it to the taxpayer.
SLCC budget reflects needs of both consumers and legal practitioners
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has announced budget proposals for 2009/2010 which should benefit both consumers and legal practitioners.
Set up under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, the SLCC investigates complaints made by members of the public about services provided by legal practitioners in Scotland. The Commission opened for business on 1 October 2008 and although operating wholly independently of the legal profession, it is funded by legal practitioners in Scotland through the payment of an annual levy and charges imposed when a complaint is upheld.
Commenting on the proposed budget, SLCC Chair Jane Irvine said: “As an independent, impartial and accessible organisation, the budget has been developed after listening to the views of both consumer organisations and legal practitioners.
“The economic downturn has already impacted upon the legal profession and a *recent survey of 196 firms indicated that 304 people, mostly support staff, had already been made redundant.
“Legal practitioners already working to high standards will benefit from the levy being reduced from **£409 to £275 and the £200 charge for mediation will be removed.
“However, consumer organisations want to see higher standards of service and early resolution of complaints. With this in mind, the SLCC will double charges where a complaint is upheld. The minimum charge will rise from ***£250 to £500. The financial implications of an increased complaints levy should encourage practitioners to resolve complaints at an early stage.”
The original budget for the Commission’s first year of operation was £3,493,823. Operating costs for the next twelve months are significantly reduced with a proposed budget of £2,985,102.
For further information contact:
Doreen Graham, SLCC Head of Communications
*Source: Economic Impact Survey, December 2008 published by the Law Society of Scotland.
**A 12-month annual levy charge for 2008/09 should have been £409 but the actual charge for the 9-months of operation was £307.
Proposed levy charges for 2009/10 are:
Solicitors with 3 plus years experience £275
Solicitors within first 3 years of practice £138
In-house solicitors £91
***Complaints levies are charges made against legal practitioners when a complaint is upheld. The proposed complaints levies for 2009/10 are:
Mediation levy £0
No complaint upheld £0
Complaint accepted – First Settlement £500
Complaint accepted – Second and Further Settlements £700
Formal Determination – First £800
Formal Determination – Second £1,200
Formal Determination – Third and Further Determinations £2,000