Disappearing Act : Not one crooked lawyer prosecuted in two years under Holyrood’s legal complaints reforms. THE latest Annual Report of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), the allegedly 'independent' law complaints tribunal which prosecutes ‘crooked lawyers’ after cases resulting from client complaints are sent to it by the Law Society of Scotland, has revealed NOT ONE SINGLE SOLICITOR has been prosecuted under laws brought in as a result of a hugely expensive year long investigation & debate at the Scottish Parliament during 2006 to introduce legislative reforms covering the regulation of complaints against the legal profession.
The reforms, which the Scottish Executive & Scottish Parliament claimed would end the bias against clients in a regulatory system operated solely by the Law Society of Scotland where lawyers investigate themselves, were passed by msps in December 2006 after a year of bitter debate at the Scottish Parliament’s former Justice 2 Committee.
The Chairman of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, Alistair Cockburn, writing in the SSDT’s 2010 annual report claimed there was no explanation for the lack of cases brought before the tribunal. He said : “The volume of business coming to the Tribunal has significantly reduced in the last 18 months. There seems to be no particular explanation for this. The Tribunal however has been surprised by the fact that it has so far not dealt with any cases governed by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the 2007 Act) which applies to all conduct which occurred after 1 October 2008. The Tribunal would have expected to have been dealing with these cases by now.”
Mr Cockburn did admit two cases had been brought to the SSDT’s attention, apparently from lay complainers directly, but the two appeals had been withdrawn over fears of being hit with expenses bills. He said : “The Tribunal did receive two Appeals under section 42ZA of the 2007 Act from lay complainers in respect of the compensation awarded, or lack of compensation awarded, by the Law Society in making findings of unsatisfactory professional conduct. However both these Appeals were withdrawn once the lay complainers realised their potential liability for expenses.”
The 2010 Annual Report of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be downloaded HERE (pdf)
The validity of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which is now being questioned even by the Chairman of the SSDT, led to the creation of the equally anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has since been widely discredited by the media. The 2007 Act now appears to have resulted in little or no clean up of rogue elements inside Scotland’s infamously corrupt, solicitor monopolised legal services market.
With the revelations of the SSDT’s 2010 annual report that no cases have been passed to it for prosecution under the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which many viewed as a solution to the Law Society of Scotland’s self regulation of complaints against Scottish solicitors, consumer organisations & campaigners have heavily criticised the incompetence of the Scottish Parliament to ensure the 2007 Act produced real consumer protection against poor quality legal service providers.
One campaigner branded the legislation which was created after a year of debate on the subject, the Legal Profession & Legal Aid Act (2007), as “a worthless attempt by msps to reform the legal profession’s complaints system.”
Speaking further on the issue, he said : “The Scottish Parliament have not improved the complaints system of the legal profession. Instead they have actually made it worse. Now consumers are forced to deal with an equally one sided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission where complaints against ‘crooked lawyers’ are still sent back to the Law Society instead of being dealt with by any supposedly independent SLCC officials.”
An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations who spoke to Diary of Injustice late last week said she was surprised there had been no prosecutions of solicitors under the 2007 Act.
She claimed the SLCC lacked any will to do its job, citing an array of failures over the nearly three years the SLCC has existed, failures which include a refusal by the SLCC to monitor claims to the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy & Guarantee Fund compensation schemes, both of which which appear to victimise clients more than compensate them for losses suffered as a result of poor, negligent or even crooked legal service.
Law Society of Scotland sponsored amendments at Holyrood ensured complaints reforming legislation was completely compromised. One msp, who figured in the Scottish Parliament’s discussions over the LPLA Act, admitted the reforms were now wifely viewed as “useless”. He also alleged the Law Society of Scotland were allowed ‘too much leeway’ at the time to suggest or introduce amendments to the legislation which resulted in the LPLA Act being completely compromised in terms of its original aims.
The msp confirmed he currently receives significant correspondence from multiple constituents who have problems dealing with both the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over complaints against rogue solicitors. He branded both organisations as anti-consumer and accused the SLCC of being as bad as the Law Society over complaints investigations.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has concentrated more on expenses claims, a huge bank balance & little action on complaints. Indeed, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has been so effective at regulating complaints, the SLCC’s latest annual report admitted it had only managed to uphold one complaint in a year, while enjoying a multi million pound cash rich bank balance many private companies would currently be envious of in today’s bleak financial outlook. I reported on the SLCC’s latest annual report and these revelations in an earlier article, here : ‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's 2010 annual report
The SLCC was asked for comment on the apparent lack of referrals for prosecution and asked for an explanation why no solicitors have been referred to or have been prosecuted before the SSDT.
A spokesperson for the SLCC replied : “The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission does not have the power to refer legal practitioners to the SSDT; referrals would be made by the Law Society of Scotland. You would therefore need to refer your question regarding the “…apparent lack of referrals for prosecution…” to the LSS.”
“Complaint numbers are certainly lower than originally predicted before the opening of the SLCC and this may be due to the economic downturn. You will have seen from the SLCC’s Annual Report that the largest business area for complaints was residential conveyancing and media reports currently indicate the market for the buying and selling of houses is depressed.”
Clearly a problem seems to exist where the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission appears to have no powers to refer cases directly to the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, a matter now causing great concern to many consumers who feel, with significant justification, they cannot trust the one sided biased Law Society of Scotland or the now equally anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Given the SLCC appears to lack powers to refer cases directly to the tribunal, the organisation was asked by Diary of Injustice whether it would be seek an extension to its powers to enable it to bypass the Law Society and deal with the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal directly.
Their spokesperson replied to this query saying : “With regard to your question regarding the extension of our powers, the SLCC has no comment to make.”
While it is now apparent the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission lacks powers to be a credible regulator what is also apparent is the SLCC has no wish to improve its powers or role as the single gateway for complaints against Scottish solicitors. Can such a regulator be trusted ? I think not.
Here now follows the Sunday Mail’s report on the lack of prosecutions of rogue solicitors in Scotland :
No new cases for two years
By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail March 06 2011
Legal watchdogs who strike off crooked lawyers have not received any new cases for the last two years.
The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal has not been sent a single professional misconduct case since a shake-up to legal complaints regulation in 2008.
Puzzled bosses at the Fie-based organisation don’t know why bent lawyers have stopped being reported.
Its 2009/2010 annual report, published this week, states “The tribunal is unaware of the reason why it has not received any professional misconduct cases under the 2007 Act as it would have expected that some conduct issues arising after October 1, 2008 would now have reached the tribunal”
The 2007 shake-up saw the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to oversee all complaints about lawyers but it has been branded an expensive white elephant.
The SLCC sends misconduct complaints to the Law Society of Scotland who decide whether to pass them to the SSDT.
Legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi called for a rethink of regulation. He added : “There should be a complete break from the Law Society rather than the SLCC halfway house whose board is comprised of ex-police officers, solicitors and quangocrats. I am shocked to learn the SSDT has not had a single case of prosecution referred under the 2007 legislation which created the hugely expensive SLCC, started up with 2 million of taxpayers money.”
SSDT clek Judith Lea said : "We don’t know what’s happened. Since the report we have received some cases but I don't know how many.”
The SLCC said : “We refer misconduct cases to the Law Society and it’s up to them to decide whether to refer them to the SSDT.”
Philip Yelland of the Law Society added : “Where the society considers there may be professional misconduct it does prosecute before the independent SSDT.”
Background to the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the LPLA (Scotland) Bill (2006):
The bitter battle over the Scottish Parliament’s debate of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill during 2006 saw officials from the Law Society of Scotland argue against the reforms and attempt to counter, even obstruct consumers testimony to msps. Clients who had been victimised by the legal profession were eventually allowed to speak before the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee, telling msps of their bitter, harrowing experiences with the Law Society of Scotland over complaints against solicitors & law firms.
The 2006 Justice 2 Committee of the Scottish Parliament's consideration of the LPLA Bill revealed many suspicious dealings over complaints against the legal profession, even implicating senior Law Society officials interference in complaints & financial claims made against ‘crooked lawyers.
The bitter, acrimonious debate at Holyrood reached such a point, the then Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland, Douglas Mill issued legal threats against the authority of msps & the Scottish Government to pass any legislation stripping the Law Society of its powers which allow lawyers to investigate themselves. The Law Society’s threat of a legal challenge was backed by a legal opinion from a Liberal Democrat English QC Lord Lester of Herne Hill. The opinion provided by Lord Lester claimed it was a lawyer’s human right to investigate their own colleagues.
While it had appeared at the time the Law Society’s threat of a legal challenge against the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament’s attempt to pass the reforms had failed, several quiet changes to the wording of the LPLA Bill took place behind the scenes and further amendments were drafted which eventually resulted in the Law Society supporting the changes, which clearly amounted to the vested interests of the legal profession getting their way with msps over the interests of consumers.
Reference : The Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal :
The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal claims to be an independent Tribunal constituted under the provisions of sections 50–54 of and Schedule 4 to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 (the 1980 Act) as amended in particular by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the 2007 Act). The Tribunal sits with two solicitor members and two lay members. The Tribunal claims independence of the Law Society of Scotland with none of the solicitor members being on the Council of the Law Society.
The lay members are drawn from a ‘wide variety’ of backgrounds, similar to the wide variety of backgrounds of those who sit on the board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. All of the allegedly ‘independent’ Tribunal members are appointed by the Lord President. The Tribunal presently has 11 solicitor members and 12 lay members. The Tribunal operates under the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal Procedure Rules 2005 and the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal Procedure Rules 2008. All very independent, if of course, you think this is ‘independent’. You can find out more about the members of the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal HERE