Thursday, September 07, 2006

Scottish legal profession targets open debate in Scottish Parliament with intimidatory rhetoric on new complaints legislation

This just in from A Diary of Injustice in Scotland

Just what is it, the Scottish legal profession fears so much about losing control of complaints against their members ?

Has the level of control freakery reached such a fever pitch over at the Law Society of Scotland, they must even talk of 'opening their wrists & lying in a warm bath' (as Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill laughably said in the Scotsman on 15 August) rather than letting control of complaints against colleagues go to a new independent body proposed in the forthcoming LPLA Bill ?

Is it such a bad thing to give the public such rights & expectations as transparency, honesty, and accountability in their dealings with lawyers ?

The latest twist in the legal profession's spin machine tactics against the prospect of independent regulation appears in today's Scotsman, with now, the appearance of Lord McCluskey, being reported by the Scotsman newspaper in the following terms: "Lord McCluskey said there had been a lack of serious consultation over the plans and politicians had yet to "grasp the essence of what it is all about".

Well, Lord McCluskey, it's nice to see your comments on this issue, but do you remember when I, Peter Cherbi, from Jedburgh, wrote to you at the Court of Session in October 1994, over what Borders Solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solciitors, Kelso, did to my family, plundering my dead father's assets for his own benefit.. and that the Law Society was sitting around doing nothing ?

I remember, because I have the letter - and I have your short, if to the point, response - which, was, admittedly, all you could have said at the time.

I would argue, your Lordship, with respect, that it is not the Executive or the Parliament who have yet to grasp the essence of what it is all about ... it is the legal profession - your colleagues, who have yet to grasp the basic concepts of honesty, transparency, and accountability to us, their clients.

What is it that your colleagues over at the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, or even, the serving members of the Judiciary, fear, about independent regulation ?

I don't think it is anything to do with so called fears of political interference ... it is all to do with losing control over one of the most important aspects of how one conducts business.

If that business has become reliant on ripping off clients for unjustified fees, keeping client complaints down, embezzling clients funds, taking posession of clients properties for personal gain, ruining lives, livelihoods, and businesses of clients, making sure that compensation payments are never made, or delayed for decades .. then, it is certainly time to lose control of it.

Lord McCluskey, could you condone a complaints system which sees thousands of complaints made a year against solicitors, with many not even being cagegorised as complaints, just to keep the statistics down ? or cases against crooked solicitors and financial claims for damages running for up to 22 years in one case quoted to the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee .., just because the Law Society of Scotland has a policy of undermining client complaints from the very start ? Is that good, or bad ? I think bad .. but you are welcome to differ ...

How do you feel, your Lordship, about a firm of lawyers filing false reports with the Benefits Agency, Inland Revenue, and Police, against a client & their family in order to intimidate them into withdrawing their complaints to the Law Society ? Maybe even that same firm intervening to find out a client's medical history & records, to use against them, again to intimidate them into withdrawing complaints against quite obviously crooked lawyers ?

If this happened to you, Lord McCluskey, I'm sure you would have something to say about it ... well, it happened to me, and it happened to many others .. so, if you want to gain more experience of the effects of your colleagues actions against their clients, clients whose lives, livelihoods, businesses, personal health & wealth, and even their families, have been totally ruined, then I would suggest, respectively, you make visits to these people. Want some names ?

Reading the Scotsman article further, I am honestly amazed at the former Zimbabwe Law Society President Mr Sternford Moyo's pro-Law Society of Scotland comments, given the experiences of people I know who have suffered at the hands of lawyers and the Law Society of Scotland.

Is the Law Society of Scotland so desperate to maintain control over it's crooked membership, it is willing to compare the loss of regulating the complaints process to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe ?

Surely, that is an affront to the suffering of a nation's peoples under it's present 'Government', an affront to the very fundamentals of Human Rights itself... or does such a comparison promoted by the Law Society of Scotland and it's allies really show the extent of the Scottish legal profession's attempt at dictatorship itself - in trying to thwart a debate in an elected Parliament on the subject of it's workings ?

Mr Mayo, with all respect to your position, I have news for you - the legal profession in Scotland is run just as badly by it's leaders, as Zimbabwe is run by Robert Mugabe - and there are plenty within the ranks of the Law Society of Scotland, who feel just as intimidated by Douglas Mill & his colleagues, as you were in your position as President of the Law Society of Zinbabwe by Robert Mugabe.

It's odd, but I've had this same conversation with some lawyers here in Scotland, at one of the regional Bar Associations, who have compared the Law Society's bosses with Mr Mugabe himself .. you know .. giving Ministers expensive cars to keep their support, intimidating the opposition (and clients) to maintain power ... printing money to dig their way out of hyperinflation (sort of like the Law Society dishing out accreditation awards to those who might threaten it).

A good comparison, don't you think ?

Getting back to the debate later today at the Scottish Parliament, I hope the party whips and Parliamentary staff haven't been doing too much in the way of interference with msps in what they are going to say in the debate.

After all - remember, people, I have seen the levels of correspondence which msps receive from their constituents each year on problems with lawyers, the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, the Crown Office, etc ... and even copies of all the representations msps have written on behalf of their constituents to, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Executivce, the Crown Office, etc ... so, not one msp can deny they haven't been involved in this matter previously.

I often wondered though, as I perused the correspondence between MSPs & MPs to the Scottish Executive (and it's various earlier forms) on the subject of constituent's difficulties with complaints against lawyers and how the Law Society of Scotland had treated them ... just why all those representations for all those different constituents, seemed to be .. well .. similar .. none of them really mentioning something like .. "What on earth is going on with the Law Society as I have 53 constituents now writing to me on the same thing and I hear my colleagues have similar or higher levels of cases" ..

A bit strange really ... but you know .. to me, well, I'm just a lay person you know, just an ordinary guy really .. if people wrote to me on an issue .. and well, there were many more letters from people on the same type of issue, I would put 2 & 2 together, to make 4, write a stinker of a letter and say - "I have 43 people writing to me on the same matter .. get something done about this, while I offer all of them the chance to contact ach other to compare their cases" .. but as we know .. no one wants that, do they ... people talking to each other comparing similar problems with lawyers.

Peter Cherbi's message to the Scottish Parliament :

Please do something today for the people of Scotland - your constituents, and don't be intimidated by the selfish Scottish legal profession, no matter what dirty tricks they pull out of their hats against the LPLA Bill.

Give the public the right to expect transparency, honesty, and accountability in their dealings with the legal profession, and vote for progress in the LPLA Bill - but be careful of attempts at crooked amendments such as those proposed by ICAS - which are definitely against the spirit of independent regulation in the LPLA Bill as it stands.

Read on for the article from today's Scotsman, link at :

Former judges join call to reject legal reforms

SENIOR figures from Scotland's legal profession yesterday mounted an unprecedented attack on ministerial plans to overhaul the way complaints against lawyers are handled, branding them a threat to the independence of the law and an attack on democracy itself.

Former judges joined the leaders of the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates in an effort to persuade MSPs to reject some of the proposals.

The Scottish Parliament will today debate the Legal Profession and Legal Aid Bill, which proposes to strip the Law Society of the authority to deal with "service" complaints against solicitors, creating a new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission whose members would be appointed by ministers.

The idea of ministerial appointment was savaged by a series of high-profile legal figures at the Balancing the Scales of Justice debate in Edinburgh yesterday.

Among those who spoke out were the former High Court judge Lord McCluskey; Sir David Edward, ex-European Court of Justice judge; advocate and former MSP Duncan Hamilton; and Roy Martin, QC, dean of the faculty of advocates.

They were joined by Sternford Moyo, a former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, who was arrested by Robert Mugabe's regime and accused of "subversive" activities. He said a new legal complaints quango controlled by ministers threatened to undermine the democratic principle of legal and judicial independence, providing legitimacy to dictators who sought to control the rule of law.

Mr Moyo said the legal profession ensured "good governance, accountability, observance of human rights and prevention of abuse of power", which demanded it "be free from any control by the Executive". He added that undemocratic regimes would look to learn lessons from legal reforms in Scotland and elsewhere.

Lord McCluskey said there had been a lack of serious consultation over the plans and politicians had yet to "grasp the essence of what it is all about". Duncan Hamilton added: "The legal profession is driven by the public interest but the Executive does not accept that."

But Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, insisted the body would safeguard the interests of clients. He added: "We are absolutely committed to the principle of a fully independent legal profession. We also want to see a legal profession which is properly regulated. Consumers need to be assured their complaints will be handled impartially and efficiently."

and the Herald version - probably better, since it exposes the fact that the event which Lord McCluskey was speaking at, was actually timed to put pressure on the msps in the debate today in the Parliament, link from the Herald at :

Lawyers condemn reform
DOUGLAS FRASER, Scottish Political Editor September 07 2006

The legal profession yesterday stepped up its onslaught against Scottish Executive plans to impose a complaints system on solicitors and reform the judiciary.

Some of the most respected figures in the legal establishment lined up to attack executive policy as a threat to the independence of Scots lawyers and judges.

A Law Society of Scotland event, timed yesterday to put pressure on MSPs ahead of a crucial vote on the issue today at Holyrood, featured a warning from one of Zimbabwe's top lawyers about the risks of letting the state interfere in the profession.

Sternford Moyo, former president of the country's law society who was arrested and intimidated by Robert Mugabe's regime and had his firm's offices raided, said the legislation would set an example on undermining lawyers' independence that would be welcomed by dictators in developing nations such as Mugabe's.

The theme was picked up by Lord McCluskey, a former Labour solicitor-general, who attacked the executive for "rushing into ill-considered, badly-evidenced, misconceived legislation…bringing the judiciary and the legal profession under an unprecedented degree of government control". He added: "The rule of law should not be treated in this cavalier and arrogant fashion."

Growing tensions between the profession and the executive were also stepped up with the release of figures yesterday that showed the large gap between legal aid payments for individuals and the amount the executive is willing to pay lawyers to do its own work.

The highest hourly rate for legal aid, paid to the best qualified solicitor, is £76, exactly the same as the lowest rate paid to a para-legal or trainee for carrying out work for ministers. The top rate for executive work is £180 per hour, and the bottom rate for legal aid goes as low as £21.

The profession complains that the legal aid system, also being reformed, has fallen so far behind that it is leaving "advice deserts" for individuals in need of legal help, where law firms refuse to take on work, particularly on civil cases.

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, secured the figures in a question to ministers, and said they showed there was "a two-tier justice system" for ministers and for poorer individuals.

The main thrust of the profession's complaints against current executive policy is that the new complaints commission will be controlled by ministers. They can appoint and dismiss members, while the bill would allow them to instruct the commission and set its funding.

A separate proposal is to unify the judicial system, putting the Lord President in charge of all High Court judges, sheriffs, and justices. A civil service department is to help him, but lawyers believe that will link the system too closely to government.

Yesterday's debate turned into more of a rally as lawyers expressed their exasperation that they had not been listened to. All MSPs and law officers were invited, but only two opposition MSPs turned up.

There were calls for an upper house at Holyrood to balance the parliament when committees fail to scrutinise issues adequately, and there was a clash with the head of the Scottish Consumer Council, who said claims of threatening legal in-dependence were exaggerated.

Professor Sir John Edward, a former judge in the European Court of Justice, said there was extreme concern and dismay about the judicial reform plans, and accused ministers of inappropriate and "slavish imitation" of English reform.

Lord McCluskey warned that the Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd, has lost his independence by sitting in the Scottish cabinet.

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