Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scots judges emerge from ‘Victorian veil’ as judiciary’s expenses claims set to be published online from November 2010

Diary of Injustice covers Judges expenses claimsDiary of Injustice reveals Scotland’s Court of Session judges & Sheriffs claimed £535K expenses on top of huge salaries. MEDIA ENQUIRIES into the lavish expenses claims & perks of Scotland’s already highly paid judiciary, revealed in two investigations on the costs of Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system, appear to have brought a new level of public openness from the new Judicial Office for Scotland with the sudden announcement that all expenses claims made by Scotland’s top judges, Sheriffs, Sheriff Principals & part-time Sheriffs will now be published online, as has been the case for some time in England & Wales.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said : “I can confirm that the Scottish Court Service intends to make available to the public the information that you seek. Details of travel and subsistence expenses claimed by individual salaried judicial office holders since 1 April 2010 will be published on 1 November 2010 and thereafter on a quarterly basis. The information will be published in the Judiciary of Scotland website www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk

The spokesperson went onto comment that since expenses claims are now to be published online, all Freedom of Information requests regarding judicial expenses have now been invalidated under section 27 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 given that the information on expenses claims will be published within the next 12 weeks.

The decision by the Judicial Office to publish expenses claims of Scotland’s judicial office holders comes after my earlier investigations into the expenses claims of Scotland’s judiciary, reported in August : The costs of Scotland's 'Victorian' Justice System : Court of Session judges paid £6.1 million as litigants struggle to obtain hearing dates & here : Justice Delayed ? Not when it comes to expenses claims as high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims

As the decision was being taken to publish the expenses claims of judges & sheriffs, the Scottish Government released a final set of statistics in response to a Freedom of Information request, showing the total expenses claims made by all of Scotland’s judicial office holders over the past two years.

Expenses Claims of Scotland's JudiciaryScottish Government FOI release of Judicial Office holder’s expenses claims. The newly released figures reveal that while a Sheriff receives an annual salary of around £128,296 per annum, Scotland’s Sheriffs collectively claimed a further £176,431.37 in expenses in the last financial year 2009/2010, while part time sheriffs who are paid a daily fee of around £575 for each day of service claimed an additional much larger figure of £281,085.07 in expenses. The figures also reveal earlier & current expenses claims of £106,367.09 & £77,259.31 respectively for Scotland’s Court of Session judges (Senators) on salaries ranging from £172,753.00 to the Lord President’s staggering £214,165.00.

The figures make for grim reading in recession hit UK, where it seems expenses claims for high salaried public positions are far from “under control” while the delivery of access to justice in our courts is still at a snail’s pace, as are the now one year old moves to reform Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system, which I reported on recently, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests

The Scottish Government admitted in FOI responses there were no details held of the individual expenses claims for judges on a central database as the accounts system only recorded the totals charged against headings such as Travel and Subsistence. However the new policy of publication of all judicial office holder’s expenses claims in Scotland will bring transparency in expenses into line with England & Wales, details of which can be viewed on the English Judiciary’s website, here : Judicial Expenses for England & Wales

A legal insider today admitted some were uneasy over the publication of judicial expenses, although he indicated it was felt in view of media & public interest in expenses claims, there was little option left other than to publish the amounts on the new Judiciary for Scotland website, which I reported on earlier, here : Judiciary of Scotland website launched, expect more break-neck speed judicial reforms around the next 'Victorian' corner …

It was also indicated the expectation was that expenses claims ‘would be better managed and hopefully fall in the wake of publication’.

Again … another thumbs up for the new Judicial Office for Scotland. Little did this Law journalist expect the ‘next Victorian corner’ would be turned in a remarkable, break-neck speed of just seven days later !

This only leaves attending to all the recommendations of the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, ensuring an equally speedy implementation of all the reforms our “Victorian” Civil Justice system requires to ensure all Scots have access to justice, unobstructed by those elements of the legal profession who still consider the courts their own business domain, rather than a justice system which should always be open to all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Emails reveal Law Society Chief Executive ‘called the shots’ over Fergus Ewing’s Ministerial threat to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunities Minister Fergus Ewing was lobbied by Law Society Chief to deliver reduction in lawyers complaints levy. REASONS why the Scottish Government’s Communities Minister Fergus Ewing threatened the ‘independence’ of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission earlier this year over an apparent ‘bust up’ with the Law Society of Scotland regarding the annual complaints levy charged to all solicitors to fund the SLCC’s investigation of complaints have now been answered by a second disclosure of key parts of emails between the Law Society & the Scottish Government in response to a request for a review under Freedom of Information legislation.

Jane IrvineScottish Legal Complaints Commission Chair’s Jane Irvine was told to expect ‘a review’ by Minister if levies for solicitors were not reduced. As many observers to the bitter squabble between the two law complaints regulators & the Scottish Government suspected, simply, the Minister did exactly as the Law Society’s senior officials suggested, making it plain to the SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine there would be problems for the SLCC if there was no reduction in the annual complaints levy for Scottish solicitors, citing the SLCC’s huge £1.5m cash surplus as a reason to reduce complaints charges. The Minister’s letter was subsequently published by the SLCC on its own website and widely reported in the media.

Law Society to Scottish Govt - SLCC surplus & complaints levyLaw Society of Scotland’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack ‘suggested’ Minister write to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ‘by Friday’. Lorna Jack’s now published email to the Scottish Government stated : “It was good to have the brief conversation that we did today. As promised some more info re how the SLCC might resolve their reserves/bank deposits issue. First 9 months as you know saw them end with £1.6m of reserves and £3.8m of cash [REDACTED] They tell us that they will make a deficit in year 2 of some £400k and then plan another £100k in the budget under discussion but even then if they further reduced the levy for this year alone by £50 they should still have over £0.5m in reserve .and a very healthy bank balance of over a £1m. We have left them with a proposition to do this and await their response.” However, a previously redacted part of this email, today released by the Scottish Government reveals the Law Society Chief Executive states [REDACTED]. “If Government are also minded that they are sitting on unnecessary reserves then you will need to make your views known to them by Friday when I think they plan to make any additional changes.”.

Lorna JackLaw Society’s Chief Executive Lorna Jack wrote email to Scottish Government suggesting they pile on the pressure to the SLCC. This new information which partially lifts the veil on secret communications between the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Government, goes a significant way to explaining why the Communities Minister Fergus Ewing sent a letter to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 22 February 2010, five working days after Lorna Jack asked the Minister to make the Law Society’s ‘his’ views known over the Law Society’s demands the SLCC should use their huge £1.5m cash surplus to, in effect, give a cash back payment to solicitors by reducing the annual complaints levy.

My initial report on Fergus Ewing’s apparent Ministerial threat to the SLCC on behalf of the Law Society can be read here : ‘Ministerial Interference’ as Fergus Ewing demands SLCC’s £1.5m reserves be handed to lawyers after Law Society lobbied Scottish Government, also reported in the Scotsman newspaper HERE, with my later report on the continuing investigation into how the Minister’s actions actually came about, where papers released in July under Freedom of information legislation portrayed the Scottish Government as siding with the Law Society, can be read here : Undue Influence : Freedom of Information reveals how Law Society used Scottish Government Ministers to reduce complaints levy for crooked lawyers.

A senior official from one of Scotland’s Consumer organisations commenting on the Scottish Government’s latest release of information said : “The Law Society’s Chief Executive writes an email to the Scottish Government suggesting it contacts the SLCC to share its remarkably similar view to the Law Society regarding a reduction in the annual complaints levy. A Minister surprisingly other than the Justice Secretary then writes to the SLCC a few days later threatening a review of the SLCC's independence if the complaints levy is not reduced. What more evidence could anyone want the Law Society effectively controls the SLCC and is still in charge of regulation of complaints ?”

LSS to SG email 15 feb - attachmentLaw Society’s Director of Regulation Philip Yelland ‘calculated SLCC’s complaints levy’ over a weekend. A further document in the form of an attachment released by the Scottish Government under Freedom of Information legislation stunningly depicts Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘Director of Regulation’ making his own calculations as to how much the supposedly independent SLCC should reduce the complaints levy by. Director of Regulation Philip Yelland’s ‘suggestions’ to the Scottish Government of the complaints levy charges the Law Society would like to see :

1: Reduction in the top rate levy by £ 50 to £ 225 If you apply this across the Board and the appropriate waivers per their budget the sum to be taken from reserves to meet this would be £ 413,078 on top of the figure of £ 370,000 which they are already planning to use to keep the levy at the same level as this year. The net effect would appear to be to reduce their reserves by just over 2 months running costs (on the basis that it costs approximately £ 200,000 per month to run.

2: Reduction in top rate levy by £ 25 to £ 250 If you apply this across the Board to would cost the Commission £ 206,539 or just over one month’s running costs. It may also be worth making the point that to date evidence suggests that the number of solicitors in the pot to pay at 30th June will be higher than the number we give them in November/December. PY 14th February 2010”

A legal insider studying the full FOI releases from the Scottish Government commented : “If a member of the public writes to the Scottish Government regarding problems with the Law Society or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, I doubt they will receive such attentive service, accompanied by a Ministerial threat of review if difficulties were not addressed ….”

He continued : “Clearly the Law Society still pull the strings at the SLCC and it appears, the Scottish Government.”

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing’s letter in full to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission threatening the SLCC’s independence over reductions in the complaints levy, apparently on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland :

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 Feb 2010 Complaints levy  page 1Community Safety Fergus Ewing writes to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, demands reduction of complaints levy for lawyers. The letter from Mr Ewing to the SLCC, recently released, states : “I note that you have used some of your reserves to offset any increase in the general levy and that is commendable, but I am strongly of the view that this does not go far enough. I understand that this financial year you have generated income of around £2.3m and that your predicted costs of £2.9m are now forecast to be £2.6m. The shortfall between income and expenditure will be met by your contingency fund should that remain untouched and in effect your budget will balance this year. However the surplus finds generated during your first 9 months of operation recorded as £1.5m are likely to remain untouched.”

Mr Ewing continued : “Whilst I recognise that during your initial year of operation the workload and consequently expenditure was difficult to predict, having built up an significant reserve fund in this financial year, it is essential that the Commission takes full account of this reserve in determining the amount of annual general levy and the complaints levy that is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure for the next financial year. When the Commission has existing reserves, it must ensure that, taking one financial year with another, the amount of the proposed general levy and complaints levy is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure, in particular, any estimated shortfall including for contingencies.”

Communities Minister Fergus Ewing to Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 22 Feb 2010 Complaints levy  page 2Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing threatens a review of Ministerial powers over the SLCC if it refuses to lower the complaints levy. Fergus Ewing continued in his letter to the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine : “I do not think it is sufficient to use these reserves to merely off-set an assumed increase in the proposed amount of the annual general levy for next year. I therefore invite the Commission to give early and serious consideration to reducing the proposed amount of the annual general levy and the complaints levy to ensure that these do not, taking one financial year with another, exceed what is reasonably sufficient to meet its expenditure.“I appreciate that this is important for the SLCC to manage their financial risks and hold some contingency funding and I know that officials here would be happy to discuss how this could be achieved in ways which do no to rely on large reserves. I appreciate also that, as the legislation stands, the levy is a matter for the SLCC to determine, and that Ministers have no powers to order the SLCC to take any particular action in respect of the levy. It is for the SLCC itself to ensure that the level of charge is justifiable, in the light of the demands on it. I trust that you will exercise that discretion appropriately, having regard to the views expressed by consultees.”

Fergus Ewing ended his letter with an apparent threat : “I would wish to give fair notice that Ministers will review the situation following the setting of this year’s levies to see whether any change in the respective powers of Ministers and the Commission is desirable.”

The end result was .. the SLCC dropped the complaints levy charges as the Law Society wished, setting the figures at : Solicitors with 3 plus years experience £235, Conveyancing & Executry Practitioners with 3 plus years experience £235, Solicitors within first 3 years experience £118, Conveyancing & Executry Practitioner within first 3 years of practice £118, Practising outwith Scotland £78, In-house Conveyancing & Executry Practitioners £78, In-house Lawyers £78, Advocates £118, Association of Commercial Attorneys £78.

There is real difficulty in describing the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as an independent regulator of complaints against the legal profession after this, and many more incidents … however, given no prosecutions or even a striking off of a solicitor have yet taken place after two years of complaints handling by the SLCC .. one may very well legitimately question why the SLCC even exists ?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Judiciary of Scotland website launched, expect more break-neck speed judicial reforms around the next 'Victorian' corner …

Lord HamiltonScotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton launches Scottish judges website. THE JUDICIARY OF SCOTLAND now have their own dedicated website, launched today amid much fanfare to coincide with the Lord President’s address to the court at the start of the new legal year, followed by the ‘Kirking of the Judges’ ceremony at St Giles Cathedral, which was today boycotted by Sheriffs because they wanted to walk in front of Advocates instead of behind them, as is the traditional ‘pecking order’.

The Lord President, Lord Hamilton said : “I am very pleased to announce the launch today of our new judicial website - a first for judges in Scotland. I hope that you find it both helpful and informative. It is our intention to publish as much information as we can, as quickly as we can. I believe it is vital in a democracy that justice is not only seen to be done, but that it operates in an open and transparent way and contributes to public understanding and awareness of what takes place in courts each day across Scotland.”

Judiciary of Scotland website coverThe Judiciary of Scotland – Its your justice system, your courts, paid for by you, so familiarise yourself with the principles of your access to justice in Scotland. According to the Judicial Office, the new website aims to bring judges closer to the public and increase awareness and understanding of the work they do. Elizabeth Cutting Head of Judicial Communications said: “This is a very exciting development for judges in Scotland which will enable the public to gain a greater insight into the work they do. Visitors will be able to read what a judge says on passing sentence and have access to summaries of important legal decisions. The website will be continually developed and expanded so we need and welcome user feedback”.

The website will provide a wide range of information about the work of over 700 Senators, Sheriffs and Justices of the Peace in Scotland. It will also publish Sentencing Statements as soon as sentence has been passed and summaries of important court decisions, Summaries of Court Opinions & information on Fatal Accident Inquiries .

Visitors to the site will be able to follow updates on Twitter and sign up for RSS feeds on Sentencing Statements, Summaries of Opinions, Fatal Accident Inquiries, News, & Media Releases to ensure that new items are delivered straight to their desktop.

The website features a section providing advice on going to court (please everyone, if you are going to court or are already there, read this when you get time), the importance of judicial independence and a feature on how to address a judge. You can also read about ‘a day in the life of a judge’ which provides an insight into a typical working day, information on Principles of Judicial Ethics, Attending Court, Inside a Court Room, the all important Court Room Etiquette and of course not forgetting the Complaints section, which users should remember to fill in once they have notified members of the media, including myself, on what might need complaining about …

The website has been developed by the communications section of the Judicial Office for Scotland and there is a section for visitors to get in touch, ask questions or comment on the site.

Actually, all in all, its quite a good website so well done to the Judicial Office for coming up with what might be a good interface between the Courts system and the public. I’d give it several Michelins, but alas … I prefer Bridgestones … and in any case, I’ve been involved in justice websites for years, giving, I hope, a voice to those who have for far too long had none …

So, this only leaves attending to all the recommendations of the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, ensuring an equally speedy implementation of all the reforms our “Victorian” Civil Justice system requires to ensure all Scots have access to justice, unobstructed by those elements of the legal profession who still consider the courts their own business domain, rather than a justice system which should always be open to all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Christmas for Crooked Lawyers : Law Society say ‘make us approved regulator’ and we will continue to protect dishonest solicitors who rip-off clients

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991Expect more of these as Law Society of Scotland’s campaign to be sole regulator of legal services in Scotland begins. CHRISTMAS FOR CROOKED SCOTS LAWYERS is apparently just around the corner as the Law Society of Scotland today step up their ‘public offensive’ in the media to ensure the Scottish Government appoints the infamously anti-client lawyers-regulating-lawyers body as one of, or perhaps the sole ‘approved regulator’ of all legal related services in Scotland, after the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill clears the Scottish Parliament. The move, if allowed to happen could, according to consumer sources ensure dark decades ahead for ever growing numbers of Scots consumers who end up being ripped off by their poorly regulated solicitors.

The Legal Services Bill proposes a system of licensed legal service providers, overseen by regulators approved and licensed by the Scottish Government, an idea which came about from the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation euphemistically titled : Wider choice and better protection: A consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland. This consultation came in response to a ‘supercomplaint’ filed by consumer organisation Which? to the Office of Fair Trading in 2007, alleging lack of competition in Scotland’s solicitor only dominated legal services market.

Applications for the position of “approved regulator” do not appear at this late stage of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the bill to include any bodies other than the Law Society of Scotland, which would spell double disaster for consumer protection and the now forlorn hopes of the Office of Fair Trading to inject a degree of consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s monopolistic legal services market, currently under the control of Law Society member law firms.

The Scottish Government’s consultation did mention the OFT’s ‘concerns’ over the Law Society continuing to maintain its regulatory role, stating : “The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), amongst others, has expressed concerns about the regulatory and representative roles of the Society. Its view is that, in the interests of consumer protection, there should be a clear separation of the regulatory function from the responsibilities for representing and promoting the interests of the profession. It is argued that, for a profession that places emphasis on the avoidance of conflicts of interest (of even the appearance of such), undertaking both roles creates such a conflict.”

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government decided against independent regulation of legal services market, preferring to hand it over to Law Society. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have, however, brushed these concerns aside, and legal insiders close to the Justice Committee and the Scottish Government have indicated there is a will “to simply hand the matter over to the Law Society and let them get on with it”. Scots consumers should be in no doubt at all the Legal Services Bill in its current form, tweaked & twittered by the Law Society beyond all recognition from the aims of the OFT & the Which? “supercomplaint”, will definitely not bring wider choice or any “better protection” from Scotland’s traditionally poorly regulated, poor quality & extortionately expensive legal services market.

Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland are now promoting their regulation skills & Guarantee Fund to gain approved status for expanded legal services market. Undaunted by facts, history, and copious media coverage over the years of crooked lawyers ‘getting away with it’, the Law Society of Scotland are pressing ahead with their campaign to be confirmed by the Scottish Government as the approved regulator, touting their current regulatory regime as “rigorous”, and almost laughably describing the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund as “one of the jewels in the crown of their system to protect those who have lost money because of dishonest solicitors”.

In reality, the Law Society’s deceptively titled Guarantee Fund does not live up to its title, preferring to throw out, stall, or kill off most claims made against dishonest solicitors. I reported more on the actual workings of the Guarantee Fund in March 2009, here : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption. During my reporting on the Guarantee Fund last March, so many emails & cases came in regarding clients difficulties with the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society’s supposed ‘jewel in the crown’, I issued an ADVISORY for clients to protect their funds from the lack of protection offered by the Guarantee Fund itself.

While the Guarantee Fund does all it can to avoid paying out compensation for clients money taken by dishonest solicitors, the fund also operates a policy of shifting the goal posts on whether claims qualify for its own Guarantee Fund requirements, or should be sent to the equally disingenuous “Master Policy”, the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, linked by an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School to suicides of clients who had attempted to claim damages against ‘crooked lawyers’.

One client who attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund for an amount of over £118,000 which had been embezzled by his solicitor, found his claim shifted back & forth between the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy over six times, and has still not received any compensation for the money his solicitor stole from him, after over six years from making the original claim. Does that sound like “consumer protection” ? I think not …

It will also come as no surprise to readers virtually all claims against the Master Policy are also delayed, shifted between it & the Guarantee Fund, or more likely closed down by the Law Society and its insurers, Royal Sun Alliance & Marsh.

SLCC report headerReport into Master Policy revealed Law Society concealed information on client suicides. The University of Manchester’s REPORT into the Master Policy found that claimants "described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants."

The Manchester University report concluded, “Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms."

Asked why the Scottish Parliament’s current Justice Committee, chaired by the Conservative’s Bill Aitken MSP, had pointedly REFUSED to call members of the public who had actual experience of making claims to the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, a source close to the Committee said “What do you expect ? The Committee simply don't want to hear it, and the Law Society doesn't want such testimony from aggrieved consumers entering into the Legal Services Bill equation which might raise the same kinds of questions & problems that arose in the LPLA Bill.”

Clearly the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are not one bit interested in the actual experiences of those who have attempted to claim compensation against either the Guarantee Fund or the Master Policy, as a vote taken by the Justice Committee and the Scottish Parliament will, just as the Law Society hoped, force anyone in Scotland making a claim against a dishonest lawyer to go through the Guarantee Fund’s abhorrent procedures, as I reported earlier in June, here : Legal Services Bill vote by MSPs will force all victims of 'crooked lawyers' to use Law Society's corrupt ‘claims dodging’ Guarantee Fund

The Scottish Government have also chose the ‘appease the aggressor’ approach, caving into the Law Society on several key consumer protection planks of the Legal Services Bill, which now appears to be little more than a self congratulatory belated birthday present for the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland’s current President, Jamie Millar said in a Press Release : “The Society has sought to ensure that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill sets out robust regulatory objectives to make sure that those providing legal services are regulated according to a strict code of conduct and professional principles to ensure that the public interest remains at the heart of legal services provision in Scotland.”

Nonsense. The Law Society’s regulation of legal services in Scotland to this date has always proved the public interest and certainly the client’s best interests remain the last issue to be considered when dealing with regulation.

An official from one of Scotland’s law reform campaign groups said this morning : “Bringing in the Law Society of Scotland as an approved regulator or perhaps, if the Law Society has its way, the only approved regulator will do nothing to enhance consumer protection against rogue elements of the legal services market should the bill become law and we will be still taking about crooked lawyers and poor regulation by the Law Society ten years from now. It will be like Christmas for crooked lawyers.”

Christmas for Crooked Lawyers indeed .. if the Law Society of Scotland remain regulator of legal services ….

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland - The story so far

Friday, September 17, 2010

University of Glasgow threatens legal action over publication of former Law Society Chief Douglas Mill’s taxpayer funded ‘lunches for judges’

Douglas Mill 4Ex Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill, now Director of Legal Practice, University of Glasgow. DOUGLAS MILL, the controversial former Law Society of Scotland Chief Executive who once ‘swore on his granny’s grave' he had not intervened in damages claims made by ruined clients against crooked lawyers, to the Law Society’s Master Policy and who effectively resigned in disgrace after a bitter, much publicised confrontation with John Swinney MSP during a Justice 2 Committee meeting in 2006, has, in his position as Director of Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow, wined & dined a significant number of Sheriffs, judges, lawyers, tutors & even the media, all at the taxpayer’s expense.

Mr Mill’s expenses claims figures obtained through Freedom of Information legislation show the well known former Law Society Chief Executive who now has his own business “Douglas Mill Consulting” and has occupied a number of consulting posts in other roles, raked up thousands of pounds of expenses claims to taxpayers for at least sixteen lunches with judges, lawyers & ‘fellow’ tutors.

Readers, especially those who may already have been affected by the worst public service sector cuts in the entire history of the country, can view the details of Mr Mill expenses claims, published today by Scottish Law Reporter, here : Ex-Law Society Chief, now Glasgow University Legal Practice Director Douglas Mill soaks broke public coffers for ‘lunch with judges’ expense claims

Law Society of ScotlandGranny pays for the Law Society : Douglas Mill bills taxpayers for his annual Law Society membership fee. Staggeringly, Mr Mill also makes the public pick up the cost of his ‘annual retainer fee’ for the Law Society of Scotland, this despite the fact the entire country is facing the worst public service cuts in its entire history, with even the University of Glasgow recently announcing it is facing a £35m budget shortfall unless it takes action to cut costs.

While Mr Mill’s luxurious expenses claims figures make stark reading in recession hit Scotland, Glasgow University refused to disclose details of Mr Mill’s salary (thought to be £80,000 or more), and even threatened “Diary of Injustice” with legal action if any of the disclosures of Mr Mill’s expenses claims released by the University were published.

Censored FOIGlasgow University refuses to release details of ex Law Society Chief’s taxpayer funded ‘teaching’ salary. Glasgow University said : “The information on Douglas Mill’s annual salary has been withheld as: (a) the individual salary information is considered as personal data as defined in the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”); and (b) the release of such salary information would be in breach of the data protection principles as set-out in the Data Protection Act 1998. Therefore the exemption from release of such information applies as specified under section 38(1) (b) and 38(2) (a) (i) of FOISA.”

Glasgow University took the view that disclosure of such personal data would breach Data Protection Principles of the DPA where it claimed “The release of the salary information on an individual basis will undermine the expectation of the individual that his/her personal data would not be released.” – this despite Mr Mill’s salary being paid for by UK taxpayers. Glasgow University founded upon their refusal to disclose Mr Mill’s publicly funded salary by referring to an English FOI case involving the University of Cambridge (30 July 2007).

Cash strapped Glasgow University then went onto claim the details of Mr Mill’s salary & expenses “shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects. The release of personal data may result in a real risk of his/her personal data being displayed on the internet and thus viewable outside the European Economic Area.”

The University ended its terse response to the FOI request threatening legal action under copyright legislation if publication took place : “Breach of copyright law is an actionable offence and the University expressly reserves its rights and remedies available to it pursuant to the CDPA and common law.”

Fred GoodwinSir Fred Goodwin, brought the RBS & UK Treasury to near collapse, was defended by Douglas Mill. It is also worth noting while Douglas Mill’s expenses on dinners put First Minister’s Alex Salmond’s food allowance claims to shame, the cuts which are affecting every facet of public life in the UK, from health to employment, from life to death, are principally caused by the massive multi billion pound taxpayer bailouts of banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, whose former Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin was personally defended by Mr Mill several times despite Goodwin leading the RBS and the entire country to near financial collapse.

You can read more of my report on Douglas Mill’s defence of Sir Fred Goodwin, here : Royal Bank failure blamed on lack of regulation by ex Law Society Boss who campaigned against stronger regulation of solicitors

For those who may wish to refresh their memories over Douglas Mill’s confrontation with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney, read this : Law Society boss Mill lied to Swinney, Parliament as secret memos reveal policy of intervention & obstruction on claims, complaints.

Holyrood 2006 : John Swinney MSP exposed corruption at the very heart of the Law Society with a secret memo from Douglas Mill (click image below to watch video)

Douglas Mill Memo to Martin MacAllister 5 July 2001 - stop the MacKenzies from appearing at the Justice CommitteeDouglas Mill’s own memo depicted interference in claims against crooked lawyers. While Douglas Mill famously said “I will go on oath and on record, and I will swear on my granny's grave, that never once have I, any member of my staff or any office-bearer dabbled in a claim”, a claim Mr Mill came to regret after Mr Swinney presented the Justice 2 Committee with a copy of one of Mr Mill’s own memos showing Mill & the Law Society clearly did dabble in claims, it turns out that not only could granny not swear by the Law Society, everyone’s taxes and their grannies are now helping to pay for Mr Mill’s lunches with judges … tough times indeed, and little wonder that Glasgow University who themselves are having to make cuts, don't want the details of Mr Mill’s expenses claims leaking out to the public.

Glasgow University’s refusal to disclose Douglas Mill’s publicly funded salary, and the terms of their legal threat against publication of their disclosure of Mr Mill’s expenses claims has been passed to Kevin Dunion, Scotland’s Information Commissioner for further investigation.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Holyrood considers nine petitions against Scottish Public Services Ombudsman as Housing Minister dubbed ‘out of touch’ over accusations

alex_neilScottish Government Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP. A WAR OF WORDS has broken out between a Scottish Government Minister & the Public Services Ombudsman over the performance of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, the independent body which investigates complaints made about public services in Scotland after Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions lodged by constituents at Tuesday’s Petitions Committee hearing at the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO.

The petitions, Petition PE1342, Petition PE1343, Petition PE1344, Petition PE1345, Petition PE1346, Petition PE1347, Petition PE1348, & Petition PE1349 all “call on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the SPSO to make it more accountable for its performance, including the extent to which its investigations are fair and robust, and to widen its remit, so that it can enforce recommendations that it makes following investigations of the actions of public bodies.”

Meanwhile another petition heard before the above, Petition PE1341 filed by a Dr R A Rahman, also “calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an annual audit of the public expenditure on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and establish public complaint channels to examine the public dissatisfaction at the SPSO in managing complaints raised by members of the public.”

Petition PE1341 filed by Dr R A Rahman calls on the Scottish Parliament to conduct an audit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Speaking on Dr Rahman’s petition, Committee Convener Rhona Brankin said : “It is suggested that we contact the SPSO to find out what steps have been taken in relation to expenditure. It is suggested that we also contact the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the Scottish Government and the Auditor General for Scotland. Is that agreed?”

John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland) replied, stating : “I am not sure whether other members have had the same experience as I have had with the petitioner. I want to put on the record that I have received a number of e-mails from the individual about complaints that he has made against various public bodies and organisations. The petitioner has certainly communicated with me, if not with other members, on the issues.”

“We should at least give the SPSO and the SPCB an opportunity to respond, so that we can find out what is happening and whether we can address the issues. Given the e-mail correspondence, it is clear that the petitioner conducts himself and his campaign against a particular body quite tenaciously. I wanted to make the committee aware of that.”

After a discussion on Dr Rahman’s petition, a transcript of which can be viewed at the Scottish Parliament’s website HERE, and noting the comments expressed regarding Dr Rahman by Committee member John Wilson MSP, the Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in the petition and during the discussion.

Housing & Communities Minister Alex Neil MSP spoke in support of eight petitions against the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (click image below to watch video)

Invited to speak in support of the additional eight petitions regarding the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Alex Neil MSP (Central Scotland) (SNP) said to the Petitions Committee : A substantial number of other people could probably have submitted similar petitions. There is a letter of support for the petitions from Murdo Fraser MSP, which is based on his experience with constituents. I know that Michael Matheson MSP is also supportive. I have spoken informally to others who hold the same view.”

“In some cases, the ombudsman has found in favour of the petitioners. The petitions are not sour grapes—they reflect a more fundamental concern about the performance and powers of the ombudsman's office. I will give one or two examples of how lacking in robustness investigations have been. Unfortunately, they are not isolated examples.”

“It took three and half years for one petitioner's case to be resolved. Even at the end of that period, the final report was so full of factual inaccuracies that, in her view, it was not worth the paper it was written on. In another case, which was a planning matter, the ombudsman refused to investigate the matter because "it is not the job of a local government planning official to check that the papers going to the planning committee are accurate". That is a farcical statement by any standard.”

“When another serious case involving a health matter was investigated with one health board, a number of recommendations were made to prevent the same thing happening again. However, a year later, in the same ward of the same hospital in the same health board area, exactly the same thing happened. The ombudsman's recommendations were not implemented and nothing was done about the lack of implementation, in spite of the fact that that was brought to the ombudsman's attention.”

“I could go on all day with examples that show that, in my view and in the view of other MSPs and the petitioners, the ombudsman's office too often fails in its duty and fails to perform adequately. Given that the Parliament spends just under £3.5 million a year to fund the ombudsman's office, we need a far better return on our money, especially in these days of constraint. To quote one of the petitioners, it is not worth a farthing in terms of the quality of service that petitioners have received.”

“To be fair to the ombudsman, its powers are more limited here than is the case in other countries. That applies both to the circumstances in which it can investigate complaints—which are confined to administrative errors and failure to deliver a service, and do not include injustices that public bodies are alleged to have inflicted on people, as is the case in many other countries—and to the power to implement its recommendations, which is limited. However, the ombudsman is not using effectively the powers that it has. The other big issue is that the ombudsman cannot investigate an incident that did not happen in the previous 12 months, even if the incident happened only 15 or 18 months ago and there was a good reason why it did not to come to the ombudsman earlier.”

Mr Neil concluded his statement to the Petitions Committee saying : “We must bear in mind the fact that the ombudsman is the last resort for people. Most people do not have the money to take public bodies to court, especially if the public body concerned threatens to charge to them its legal expenses, as well as their own, if they lose. People of modest income really rely on the ombudsman to sort out problems that arise. To be frank, the ombudsman is not performing to anything like the required standard. The petitioners, Murdo Fraser, Michael Matheson, other MSPs, many other people who have used the ombudsman and I are strongly of the view that it is time to have a fairly fundamental look at the ombudsman's performance and powers, with a view to getting far greater return on the £3.5 million of taxpayers' money that it uses up every year.”

Several Committee members, all from the Scottish National Party made points on the petition, beginning with John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland), who, in a slightly contrasting comment to his reply on the earlier petition regarding the SPSO, apparently not supported by Housing Minister Alex Neil, said : “When the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman was established, the Parliament or Government did not put in place the powers to ensure that the ombudsman's recommendations were acted on.”

“Mr Neil is right that people genuinely think that the ombudsman can resolve their issues and get answers, if not solutions, to the problems that they have encountered in dealing with public bodies, but they find that, even when the ombudsman's recommendations are quite strong, the recommendations do not need to be implemented. Public bodies can note the recommendations without implementing them in full. Given that issue with the ombudsman's powers, I welcome today's debate as allowing us to take that issue forward to ensure that people can get some satisfaction from public bodies that are supposed to represent and protect them by taking decisive action against public bodies or individuals.”

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow) said : “The petitioners have done a great public service in lodging the petitions. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman should be a people's champion. Someone who came to my office told me that they would go to "The Judge" column in the Sunday Mail before they would go back to the ombudsman. It would be in everyone's interest, including that of the ombudsman's office, to review the work and remit of the ombudsman so that we can give people confidence in what the ombudsman does.”

Nigel Don MSP said : “The original idea was that the ombudsman would investigate something and, if he pointed out malpractice, people would say, "Yeah—sorry. Got it wrong. Let's put it right." At the end of that, enforcement powers would not be needed. If we ask for enforcement powers, we must recognise—if my memory is right—that we will change the nature of the beast. That worries me, because it will mean in effect building another layer of a kind of court of appeal. In any legal or semi-legal system, we should try to avoid that, because it just means that the persistent litigant has somewhere else to go and that it all gets lost in the churn. I am concerned that we should not lose sight of the concept and try to turn it into something else.”

“It is clear that there is much dissatisfaction with what has gone on—we are all aware of that. Something needs to change, but I am not sure whether that necessarily applies to the enforcement powers. Perhaps the width of the investigative powers or simply the way in which the job is done by people—although I do not want to be personal—needs to change.”

After hearing all the points, the Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Scottish Government, and the Auditor General for Scotland seeking responses to points raised in these petitions and during the discussion.

Well .. not a bad days work for all concerned.

However, if I could recommend another target for some Scottish Minister to attend the Petitions Committee and call for a review, that would be obviously the Law Society of Scotland, who the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission revealed last year in a report on the Master Insurance Policy, have caused clients to commit suicide. The Law Society of Scotland covered up the deaths, and the SLCC has done nothing about the deaths or the problems which led to the suicides one year after their report was produced. If the Scottish Parliament doesn't stand on its feet and do something about that, well then … your thoughts would be most appreciated ….

You can read more about the Law Society’s policy on client suicides and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s do nothing approach after discovering it, here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'.

Oddly enough, one year on from the SLCC’s report, not one single MSP out of the 129 serving Scotland has muttered one word on the subject. Life in Scotland is, therefore, very cheap when it comes to dealing with the Master Policy & the Law Society of Scotland …

Jim Martin SPSOJim Martin, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said Mr Neil was “out of touch”. In response to the events of Tuesday’s Holyrood hearing and the criticisms of Alex Neil, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Jim Martin issued the following statement : “Mr Neil is clearly out of touch. A full review and overhaul of all of our investigative procedures was carried out and implemented in 2010. There is no longer a backlog of cases; indeed other Ombudsman offices from devolved administrations have visited us to try to learn from our revised working practices.”

“The SPSO he is describing is the SPSO of 18 months ago. I am disappointed that he has not taken the time to bring himself up to date with our current performance. My annual report will be published later this month and should answer the concerns he has raised. “

“We have seen nothing to suggest that our investigations are anything less than robust. It is inevitable that some complainants will disagree with our findings. But that doesn’t make our conclusions or our investigative methods wrong. Inevitably, with each complaint I consider, either the complainant or the body are going to be disappointed.”

“I am not surprised that Mr Neil has taken it upon himself to criticise the SPSO in this manner. He is one of the MSPs that has sought to place undue pressure on this office and is the chief reason I established a protocol for our engagement with MSPs soon after I came to office. I recognise that it is the role of MSPs to champion their constituents’ grievances. However, the desire to sound tough in the eyes of the public must not tempt MSPs to stray into challenging the independence, and indeed, now, the purpose of, this office.”

“We were set up, by the Parliament, as the final stage for complainants. We operate within the laws that the Parliament laid down. There are complaints that, by law, we cannot consider and there are outcomes that, by law, we cannot enforce. Last year saw a Committee review the role and remit of our office, along with all of the offices created by the Parliament. In my view, that Committee review was an appropriate forum in which Mr Neil could voice his views.”

“For our part, we have sought and we continue to seek a closer relationship with the Parliament. We will continue to do that, despite this unwelcome distraction from our work.”

Now if only some other elements of Scottish legal society could gain such attention from the Petitions Committee, instead of having the situation where the Law Society of Scotland come in and order the Petitions Committee to close petitions which may affect its policy of protecting the truly guilty among us ….

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Holyrood Petitions Committee to keep McKenzie Friend campaign open until Sheriff Court plans are scrutinised by MSPs & formally introduced

Petitions CommitteeHolyrood’s Petitions Committee heard latest on McKenzie Friends Petition. THE PETITIONS COMMITTEE of the Scottish Parliament have said they will not close Petition 1247 – McKenzie Friends for Scotland until MSPs have seen and had a chance to comment on the proposals from the Sheriff Court Rules Council to implement McKenzie Friends (otherwise known as lay assistants) in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, following on from the Lord President's Act of Sederunt, passed earlier in the summer which introduced McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Court of Session in mid June, some 40 years after McKenzie Friends were first introduced to the English court system.

Nigel Don Petitions CommitteeNigel Don MSP (SNP) said Petition should not be closed until Parliament scrutinises Sheriff Court plans. During the Petitions Committee’s Tuesday session, Committee member Nigel Don said progress was being made ‘very fast’ and expressed his gratitude to the Lord President for introducing McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s Court of Session. Mr Don went onto say the ”Sheriff Court Rules are being dealt with but they seem to have gone a little bit slower” and said he believed Petition 1247 should not be closed until the rules for the use of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts are “in the public domain” and the Petitions Committee has a chance to see & comment on the Sheriff Court Rules Council proposals.

Mr Don’s comments came after the Petitioner, Perth based law reform campaigner Mr Stewart MacKenzie had written to the Petitions Committee urging members to contact the Sheriff Court Rules Council for a clearer timescale for the completion of the implementation of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, bearing in mind the Court of Session and the Lord President had managed to complete the process in around five weeks.

Petitions Committee Convener Rhona Brankin MSP concluded the discussion on Petition 1247, by continuing the petition until the Committee receive more information.

Petitions Committee 7th Sept. 2010 - Nigel Don : Parliament should have a chance to see & comment on the Sheriff Court rules for McKenzie Friends before petition is closed. (click image below to watch video)

I have reported previously on the Sheriff Court Rules Council’s discussions on the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland's Sheriff Courts, here : Sheriff Court Rules Council reveals McKenzie Friends on course to help party litigants in Scottish Sheriff Courts by end of summer 2010

While party litigants in Scotland’s Court of Session have been able to apply for a McKenzie Friend to assist their case since mid June of this year, party litigants in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts, where most hearings in which McKenzie Friends will have a ‘helping hand’ take place, will have to wait until the Sheriff Court Rules Council formalise their plans for rules governing the use of lay assistants in Sheriff Courts before being able to apply to a Sheriff for lay assistance.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff Court Rules Council stated : “I can advise that the Sheriff Court Rules Council is still considering the procedure for McKenzie friends within the Sheriff Court and, in particular, is considering whether the approach by the Court of Session is appropriate in the Sheriff Court. At this stage, I am not able to advise when the provisions will be commenced.”

McKenzie Friends for ScotlandMcKenzie Friends for Scotland. You can read my earlier coverage of the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, and how having a McKenzie Friend in court may assist party litigants here : McKenzie Friends for Scotland : The story so far. All written submissions for the McKenzie Friend petition (Petition 1247) at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Written submissions for Petition 1247, McKenzie Friends for Scotland

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission seeks new Chief Executive on £70K & pension to make Law Society’s "front company" ‘work’

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission seeks new Chief Executive. ALTHOUGH the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has offered little in the way of a believable explanation for the abrupt resignation earlier this year of its former Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman after less than twelve months in her post, the SLCC is again engaged in a recruitment process for a new Chief Executive Officer, offering anyone willing to try and bring the hapless scandal hit law complaints quango into shape a whopping salary of around £1,350 a week, equating to around £70,000 per annum with a pension thrown in.

Eileen MastermanDiary of Injustice reported SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman’s resignation after less than 12 months in the job : In an eerie reflection of events two years ago which forced the resignation of former Law Society Chief Douglas Mill, EILEEN MASTERMAN, who was appointed Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in 2008 on a salary of £1,350 a week, resigned after only one year of being in the controversial post at the scandal-hit regulator which deals with consumer complaints against Scottish solicitors. Ms Masterman had been absent from her post for six months, as I reported earlier, here : £70K Chief Executive ‘missing for 6 months’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Secretary dodges questions on scandal-hit law quango

Salaries may well be high in the world of regulators where a ‘feathered nest’ is allegedly ‘crucial to attracting the most talented people for the job at hand’, however it remains a fact the thousands of clients each year who are forced to complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, face little in the way of financial redress for the vast sums of clients funds embezzled by members of Scotland’s legal profession as it turns out the SLCC itself can only make awards of up to £20,000 “for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service”.

It will be hardly a surprise to most readers hardly any compensation has yet been paid out to victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ – this despite many Scots clients losing much more than £20,000 to some of the worst serial offenders of Scotland’s legal profession who continue to practice law.

The SLCC also state on their website : “We can also require the relevant legal practices and practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense. If we feel the practitioner shows a lack of competence relating to any area of the law or legal practice, we can report the matter to the relevant professional body.” However, and proving again its claim to be an effective regulator is well, rather ridiculous, the SLCC has admitted in an FOI request it does not have any power to recommend discipline or prosecution of a solicitor even after it has investigated a complaint.

If anyone feels they are up to the job of running what one Holyrood MSP privately dubbed “The Law Society’s front company”, here follows the job offer …

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission : Chief Executive

Location: Edinburgh. Salary: circa £70,000 per annum plus group personal pension scheme

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) was set up under the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 and opened on 1 October 2008. Providing a single point of contact for all complaints about legal practitioners operating in Scotland, the SLCC investigates and resolves complaints about inadequate professional service; refers conduct complaints to the relevant professional body and has oversight of complaint handling across the profession. The Commission is a neutral body operating independently of the legal profession and independently of Government and is considered a hybrid organisation with public and private attributes.

We are seeking to appoint the Chief Executive Officer to provide operational and strategic leadership to the SLCC whilst working closely with and supporting the Commission Members.

As CEO you will lead and motivate staff to provide consistently good service. Developing and maintaining relationships with relevant external bodies; particularly the Scottish legal profession and the Scottish Government.
As the organisation's Accountable officer, you will implement, monitor and sustain rigorous financial processes for the budget, ensuring that financial accountability and control is evident at all times. This is a key position for an experienced business leader with strong financial and operational capabilities. The role requires exceptional communication skills with the ability to influence at every level with the necessary energy to act as a true driving force within the organisation.

Dates for your diary: Closing date: 10/09/2010, First-stage interviews: 01/10/2010, Second interviews: 08/10/2010

For an informal conversation or more information, please contact Bonnie Clarke at Hays Executive on 0131 226 7972.

Applications must be received by: 17:00 on 10/09/2010.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Holyrood Petition launched to promote education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scots secondary school curriculum

Debating chamberScottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to consider education of legal & consumer rights in schools. A PUBLIC PETITION promoting education of justice, legal & consumer rights in Scotland’s secondary schools has been lodged at the Scottish Parliament by Perth based law reform campaigner Mr Stewart MacKenzie, whose successful McKenzie Friends Petition 1247 brought forward the system of lay assistance used in courts around the world since 1970 to our very own Scots legal system this year after a year long campaign at Holyrood, which I reported on in more detail HERE.

Petition PE 1354 introducing Justice Legal & Consumer Rights Education into Scottish secondary school curriculum Petition 1354 calls for the education of justice, legal & consumer rights to Scots children. With children in England & Wales already ahead of their Scots counterparts in receiving education of legal & consumer rights, Mr MacKenzie’s petition calls “on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce ‘citizenship’ as a compulsory element of the secondary school curriculum and which covers knowledge and an understanding of consumers' rights, the roles, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession and the different courts systems in relation to civil justice and also human rights legislation”.

Mr MacKenzie commented further in his petition on the apparent lack of will in the current Scottish Government’s education plans to follow the English education system in teaching legal & consumer rights to secondary school pupils, saying : “I have contacted the Learning Directorate, Curriculum Division, of the Scottish Government and received the details of what is currently provided in the Scottish education system. They have confirmed that although the matter of citizenship ‘may’ be touched upon in secondary schools, it is not a compulsory element of the Scottish curriculum and, if it is covered by individual schools, it is very basic and does not cover the topics recommended by the petitioner.”

Mr MacKenzie continued : “All Scottish school pupils, within their secondary education, would greatly benefit from, for example, knowledge and an understanding of consumers’ rights, the role, duties and responsibilities of the legal profession in Scotland, the purpose and role of the different courts systems in relation to civil justice in Scotland and also human rights legislation, all of which would install this much needed knowledge and give confidence to young people, so that they are ready to face issues which they will incur in everyday life after leaving school and avoid many of the pitfalls of modern, everyday life.”

“In the English education system a learning course covering these issues has been statutory since 2002. The ‘citizenship’ element of the National Curriculum in England gives teaching and learning of the key areas which the petitioner describes but which are lacking in the Scottish education system and whilst within the Scottish education system citizenship is covered to a very limited degree, it is not a compulsory element of the curriculum and does not cover the areas which are described in this petition and which Citizens Advice Scotland describes as being desperately needed by all Scottish secondary school leavers.”

In England & Wales, schoolchildren have for some time, received “Citizenship Education” as a compulsory course, which covers issues such as democracy & justice, & rights & responsibilities, described on the TeacherNet website as follows :

Democracy and justice — This focuses on the role that citizens can take within the political and justice systems in the UK. It includes: freedom as part of a democracy; fairness and the rule of law as part of justice; power and authority; and accountability. Pupils learn that accountability happens at many levels ranging from a responsible opposition in parliament challenging, testing and scrutinising what Government is doing, to citizens in local communities challenging decisions that affect them.

Rights and responsibilities — There are different kinds of rights, obligations and responsibilities — political, legal, human, social, civic and moral. Pupils explore contested areas surrounding rights and responsibilities, for the checks and balances needed in relation to freedom of speech in the context of threats from extremism and terrorism.

ScottishGovernmentThe Scottish Government introduced the recent Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, although omitted legal & consumer rights. The Scottish Government’s recent “Curriculum for Excellence”, more about which can be viewed at the Engage for Education website apparently does not include anywhere near the same level of education on justice, legal & consumer affairs for Scots schoolchildren, leaving the feeling Scots kids are being left in the dark while their English counterparts receive a much wider, more responsible view of the world around them.

The move by legal campaigner Mr MacKenzie to ensure Scots secondary school pupils receive equivalent or even better education on legal & consumer affairs, which already received by pupils in England & Wales, is backed by consumer organisations such as Which?, and Consumer Focus Scotland who have long held views on the subject of a public legal education strategy, featured in their recent report : Making Civil Justice Work for Consumers

Consumer Focus Scotland - A Public Legal Education StrategyConsumer Focus Scotland also advocate a public legal education strategy. Consumer Focus Scotland said in their report “If consumers are to be able to access legal services, and make informed choices about which services best meet their needs, they need to be able to a) recognise they have a problem, b) recognise the problem has a potential legal remedy, & c) identify a course of action to pursue that remedy, be it taking action themselves, or seeking help from an appropriate source” – issues which could be greatly helped by a compulsory course in Scottish schools for pupils on justice, legal & consumer rights subjects.

The Consumer Focus Scotland report went onto state : “In other jurisdictions, public legal education (PLE) is seen as an important tool to help consumers navigate these stages. It is a tool not only to improve consumers’ knowledge of their rights, remedies and means of redress, but also to build their skills and confidence so that they possess sufficient ‘legal capability’ to act upon this knowledge. This could be about giving them the knowledge and confidence to reach the appropriate adviser at the appropriate time to help them resolve their problem(s), or it could be equipping them with the necessary skills to take action themselves.”

The report goes onto state Consumer Focus Scotland “believe the development of a Scotland-wide public legal education strategy to be fundamental to efforts to improve access to justice for consumers.”

Sarah O’Neill, Head of Policy for Consumer Focus Scotland commented on the moves at Holyrood saying : “While we have not seen the detail of the petition, and cannot comment on this at this stage, we would be supportive in principle of any initiative to include coverage of some of these issues in the school curriculum.”

Ms Neil continued : “We have long been supportive of the concept of public legal education, and have a particular interest in looking at ways of developing people’s legal capability, by increasing their skills and confidence, allowing them to recognise when they have a legal problem, any legal rights they may have in relation to that problem, and identifying a course of action to resolve that problem. This is set out in more detail in our recent publication making Civil Justice Work for Consumers.”

Educating our children on issues of justice, legal & consumer rights is obviously an essential part of growing up, and since the rest of the UK has long recognised this, it is surely time for Scotland to follow suit. After all, we have regular announcements of Scottish Government Ministers attempting to cut crime & break the cycle of crime many people find themselves trapped in by providing offenders with more of the skills they need to live positive lives, so why not go a step further and teach Scots schoolchildren about justice, the legal system & consumer rights at school level .. it may do a lot more good for our nation’s future ….