Non appearance of top Law Society regulation boss in BBC investigation questioned QUESTIONS have been raised as to why Philip Yelland, the little known figure in charge of regulation of Scotland’s solicitors for the past two decades was not allowed to appear on Lawyers Behaving Badly, the recent BBC Scotland investigation on systemic failings in how the Scottish legal profession regulates itself and how lawyers have regularly escaped justice and continue to benefit from publicly funded legal aid.
In response to media enquiries, sources at the Edinburgh HQ of the Law Society of Scotland have confirmed that repeated requests from BBC Scotland for access to the society’s Director of Regulation were refused by Law Society chiefs who were determined there should be no access to, or any appearance by the twenty plus year serving head of regulation in the BBC programme.
Substituting for the Director of Regulation, the Convener of the Law Society’s Regulation Committee, Carole Ford was instead, interviewed on the powerful BBC programme broadcast last week.
However, while Ford’s performance was expectedly praised in some legal quarters, some legal experts, clients, and those who have experienced the ‘alice in wonderland’ world of how the legal profession regulates itself felt the Committee Convener was a poor substitute, and appeared to have little grasp as to the realities of how the system works, and how paying clients are treated by lawyers who regularly cover up for their own colleagues.
While many expected Mr Yelland to be part of the BBC investigation, there are numerous reasons as to why the one person in legal regulation circles who has been involved in many of the controversial and highly public cases involving solicitors escaping penalty for their actions over the past twenty years did not appear on the highly acclaimed undercover investigation by BBC journalist Sam Poling.
The Law Society’s reluctance to allow Mr Yelland’s appearance in the BBC programme may well stem from the unfortunate demise of the Society’s former Chief Executive Douglas Mill, who resigned a few weeks after the Law Society’s Council viewed and debated video footage posted to video sharing website You Tube of Mill’s angry confrontation at a Holyrood Justice Committee hearing with John Swinney, Scotland’s Finance Chief.
During the Justice Committee hearing in 2006 which formed part of the Scottish Parliament’s second, ill-fated attempt to clean up regulation of the legal profession, the former Chief Executive was caught out by the Scottish Parliament’s video coverage of the hearing when he argued with the SNP Finance Chief that the Law Society’s Master Policy, the insurance scheme which protects corrupt lawyers from clients, was fair, and that there was no collusion between figures at the Law Society and the insurers to throw out financial damages claims made by clients.
However, Mr Swinney, a skilled debater himself, trounced the then pugnacious Law Society Chief on all points, leaving the public with little doubt the Master Policy Insurance client compensation scheme run by the Law Society of Scotland is unfair and claims made by clients for damages are clearly subject to concerted and determined manipulation at the highest levels of the Law Society and the legal profession.
The footage featuring Mill's Holyrood confrontation with John Swinney was first posted to the You Tube video sharing website in late December 2007. Mill, who superseded the equally controversial Kenneth Pritchard as Secretary of the Law Society of Scotland in the early 1990’s, then going on to become the Society’s Chief Executive and expected by many to remain in the position for a lengthy period of time, resigned a few weeks later in January 2008.
The confrontation between the former Law Society Boss and Scotland’s now Finance Chief, has since become a warning to how Law Society figures used to a closed world lacking any accountability can quickly stumble in public appearances such as the Holyrood Master Policy clash which made it obvious to all that the Law Society was, and remains determined to hang onto self regulation and the power that comes with it, at any cost.
Fears of BBC questions over claims made by clients against solicitors may also have played a part in the Society’s refusal to allow access to its regulation chief.
Academics heard involvement of Regulation Boss was linked to controversial complaints. A case referred to in a Research Report from the University of Manchester School of Law documented allegations in papers which have never been made public that the Society’s long time Regulation Chief was also allegedly linked to a case of a claim involving the Master Policy, where a respected businessman & family man from Oban committed suicide after he was sent to a law firm who have since been identified in a number of cases where dodgy solicitors have escaped justice and even possible criminal charges for legal aid fraud.
The revelations, appearing in papers studied by Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville of the Manchester University of Law School in 2009 who were compiling a report on the Master Policy for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), alleged the businessman from Oban had been sent to a Glasgow law firm to represent him in a court case against his former solicitors.
However the Glasgow based law firm, who have since represented the First Minister himself and a number of controversial figures in the legal world, did nothing for a period of three years and when it was revealed the same law firm who the Law Society’s Regulation Chief had allegedly recommended to the Oban businessman were also representing the Legal Defence Union, the organisation which represents crooked lawyers against complaints, the unnamed client committed suicide.
Against a background of too-numerous-to-mention cases where involvement of the twenty year plus serving Law Society’s Regulation Boss appears to have played a key part in allowing corrupt solicitors to remain in work, Yelland may well have faced difficult questions over his involvement in one of the key parts of the BBC Scotland report aired last week, that of former solicitor Tom Murray, currently living in Lucca, Italy.
Featured in the Lawyers Behaving Badly documentary, Murray, has appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) on no less than three occasions, (i) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 01/03/2005 (ii) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 25/11/2005 and (iii) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 10/12/2009.
Former solicitor Murray, who said on the BBC programme during secret filming that if he returned to Scotland he could reapply to be a solicitor again, was found guilty of professional misconduct in respect of misrepresentation, deception and misleading clients including his failure to tell his clients he had been barred from practising as a lawyer. The solicitor who was sequestrated in Scotland in 2001 and continues to avoid any moves by the Law Society to take action against him and recover compensation awarded to his clients.
The case of Murray, and the Law Society’s apparently haphazard pursuit of complaints against him clearly provided fertile ground for difficult questions of Yelland, who has personally signed off on many of the communications to clients who were involved with the former solicitor. Diary of Injustice featured an in depth report on the Law Society’s involvement in the Murray case in an earlier article HERE
In a long, rambling statement attacking the BBC Scotland programme, the Law Society of Scotland made no mention as to why Mr Yelland refused to appear, nor did the Society explain why the one man who can be linked to many of the complaints made against Scottish solicitors which have done significant damage to the image of the profession, did not appear or give an account of his charge over regulation of, and standards in Scotland’s legal profession in the past two decades.
Diary of Injustice has reported on the BBC’s investigation into self regulation of the Scottish legal profession in previous articles here: Lawyers Behaving Badly - a window into the world of lawyers regulating themselves