Jane Irvine, former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman issues final report. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL SERVICES OMBUDSMAN, a taxpayer funded office with an Ombudsman appointed by the Government, whose task was to investigate complaints against the notoriously corrupt LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND where investigations against crooked lawyers had effectively been whitewashed by the profession, has issued its final report after being in existence for nearly twenty years.
While the final report details the usual statistics and incomprehensible to most issues on how the Law Society handled or mishandled hundreds of complaints made by clients against its traditional closed shop complaints system, the reality is that in the near twenty years of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman’s existence, nothing much has been changed at the Law Society despite boasts to the contrary.
Ombudsman of the 90’s Garry S Watson’s recommendations on secret representation for ‘crooked lawyers’ were quickly ignored. The role of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman was to investigate complaints against the Law Society itself over their mishandling of complaints, however the SLSO’s office had no enforceable powers assigned to it, and could only make “recommendations” on a case by case basis, many of which were simply cast aside by the Law Society of Scotland, particularly the recommendations of the late 1990’s where the then Ombudsman, Mr Garry S Watson recommended that lawyers not be allowed legal representation before Complaints Committees while the Law Society denied the same right to clients. The recommendation made by Mr Watson over the Andrew Penman case, which revealed a secret policy of ‘crooked lawyers’ being represented at Complaints Committees by senior Law Society figures was quickly cast aside, and still goes on to this day in certain cases of complaints against the favoured elite of ‘crooked lawyers’.
The statistics in the final SLSO report are as follows :
Law Society of Scotland – still promoting & protecting crooked lawyers. 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008. the Law Society of Scotland had 12,259 Solicitors on the roll of which 10,152 were practicing solicitors. the number of regulated firms fell slightly from 1,250 in 2006/2007 to 1,247 in 2007/2008. In the year 2007/2008, the number of complaints received by the Law Society of Scotland fell by just under 27% on the previous year to 2,649. of these, 2,609 were closed within the Law Society of Scotland’s target to complete investigations within 43 weeks. – That’s a lot of complaints closed down by the Law Society .. no wonder there are armies of crooked lawyers still operating in Scotland against unsuspecting clients who know nothing of their past …
During the year 2007/2008, the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman received 359 complaints about the way the Law Society of Scotland handled complaints. Of the 359 new complaints received, 47 complaints were out of remit which included 11 complaints that were out of time and 19 premature complaints, i.e. no formal complaint had been made to the Law Society of Scotland. The Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman investigated and issued Opinions on 274 cases, 5 cases were sent to the English Legal Services Ombudsman (LSO).
Of the eligible complaints received by and accepted for investigation by the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, 25% of people said they were dissatisfied with handling, 22% said they were unhappy with the way evidence was used or interpreted, 27% said reasoning was inadequate, 15% complained of bias, 6% complained about delays and 5% complained about the limitations of the Law Society of Scotland’s powers.
Between 1 April 2008 and 30 September 2008, the number of complaints received by the Law Society was 1321. of these, 1176 (89%) were closed within the target of 43 weeks. During the six months between 1 April and 30 September 2008, the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman received 176 complaints about the way the Law Society of Scotland handled complaints. Of the 176 new complaints received, 30 complaints were out of remit which included 5 complaints that were out of time and 11 premature complaints, i.e. no formal complaint had been made to the Law Society of Scotland. The Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman investigated and issued. Opinions on 133 cases, 5 cases were sent to the LSO.
Of the eligible complaints received by and accepted for investigation by the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, 27.1% of people said they were dissatisfied with handling, 26.1% said they were unhappy with the way evidence was used or interpreted, 25.7% said reasoning was inadequate, 12.4% complained of bias, 5.4% complained about delays and 3.3% complained about the limitations of the Law Society of Scotland’s powers.
Faculty of Advocates - “We have crooks too !”. The Faculty of Advocates complaints statistics for SLSO investigation were : From 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008. the faculty of advocates had 770 members of whom 462 were practising. the faculty received 33 complaints, 21 of which were completed within the 43 week target period, 3 complaints were completed outwith the target. in the period 1 april 2008 to 30 September 2008, 12 complaints were received by the faculty of advocates. 7 complaints were completed within their timescale, 3 were not completed and 2 were completed outwith the timescale but still live and with the faculty’s disciplinary tribunal.
The full version of the final Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman’s report can be downloaded in pdf format, here : 2007–2008 Report and the archive reports for comparison (recommending much the same, year in, year out), are here : 2006–2007 Report 2006–2007 Report Discussion 2005–2006 Report 2004–2005 Report 2003–2004 Report 2002–2003 Report 2001–2002 Report 2000–2001 Report . Curiously none of Garry Watson’s reports as Ombudsman exist on the SLSO’s website. Obviously no longer worth the space in cyberspace ?
Jane Irvine, the former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, now the Chair of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission left us with her final comments as SLSO, saying : “Since the Office was established in 1993, four Ombudsmen have been appointed to the role. During this time, the Office has seen a range of changes to the way complaints against solicitors and advocates have been handled. However, some problems remain; for example the suspicion about how any membership body can deal with complaints made by the public against its own members. Nevertheless, many improvements have occurred. Most importantly, a recognition that clients and practitioners deserve and need a way to have service complaints resolved and a culture of continuous improvement, not just a punitive disciplinary system.”
Ms Irvine continued : “There are still some areas that I consider require attention and further review. I would like to see improved governance within the professional bodies in order to keep management of regulatory work entirely separate from member services. I would like to see closer consideration of whether a criminal standard of proof within a regulatory system is appropriate for either practitioners or the general public. I would also like to see simpler ways for fee disputes to be resolved.”
Consumer Bodies were also thanked by Jane Irvine for their input on the regulation debate : “I also recognise the willingness of both bodies and the many strong consumer bodies within Scotland, such as Consumer Focus Scotland, Citizen’s Advice Scotland and Which, to work with the Ombudsman’s offce offering ideas and thoughts on how systems and processes can be further improved. This dialogue has proved invaluable, as has discussion with individuals bringing complaints. In my view, if appointed as a single Ombudsman, it is essential to listen to other’s views in order to keep your own thinking fresh. I thank everyone who, over the last year, has assisted me to think outside the box!”
Dougie, the Ombudsdog (a 100% honest member of the SLSO team). Ms Irvine also claimed the Law Society and Faculty had made efforts on complaints : “However, as the final Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, I also have to recognise that both the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates have made great efforts to provide better complaints handling services to benefit both their members and the general public. The figures within this Report indeed demonstrate improvements in the approach taken by both the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.” – but really, Jane, that's not how clients of the Law Society’s complaints system really feel now, is it … – personally, I think many of us would have preferred to see Dougie give a few of the Law Society frequent crooked flyers a good shaking, or dare I say .. gnashing … grrrr !
Ms Irvine ended by thanking both the SLSO staff (generally, the good) and the Law Society Client Relations team (generally, the bad - the ones who usually ruin client complaints and make sure crooked lawyers get off the hook), however making no mention both teams have been & are at each other’s throats at the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with the gang from the Law Society seemingly intent on taking over the asylum and assimilating the SLCC back into the Law Society fold. I naughtily reported on that earlier, here : Law Society target ‘outsider staff’ for exit at Complaints Commission as lawyers undermine attempts at independent regulation provoking threats from Mr MacAskill’s Justice Department on the revelations, here 'Culture of fear' grips Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Department witch-hunt threatens whistleblower staff over leaks to media.
Well you all tried (except Mr Watson). Certainly if there was a star it has to be Linda Costelloe Baker, who resigned as Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman and branded the LPLA Bill (which set up the SLCC) as a mess, as I reported here : Last words from former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman condemn the Scottish legal profession
Jane Irvine has attempted to make efforts in the ‘consumer’ direction by supporting FOI implementation on the Law Society of Scotland (sadly will never happen, too much arm twisting and greasing of Scottish Government Minister’s palms by Law Society bullies/blackmailers), but Ms Irvine does have a long way to go, as the SLCC is basically a shambles as it currently stands, having no client success stories to show for itself after a year of operation and two million pounds of taxpayers money pumped into it, while its board members pump out their gigantic expenses claims.