Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Normally, we never hear anything at all about Judges getting involved in drug taking, bribes, fiddling cases - we don't even hear what they were up to in their past as a lawyer and how they treated their clients ... but surely they must be plenty Judges who are up to no good .... after all, there are many Judges ... and they can't all be clean ..
Here we have an interesting story, were a senior immigration judge was caught snorting cocaine in a sex video involving another Judge ... what else have this pair been up to then ?
We are all told that drugs involvement is usually linked to a whole list of other criminal behaviour .. so what other things are yet to be revealed ?
Link to the story , from This is London, at :
'Judge caught taking cocaine in sex video'
A senior immigration judge snorted cocaine in a video that showed her having sex with a male judge, a court heard yesterday.
It was filmed on a Thailand holiday that the two lovers enjoyed during their complex and long-running affair.
The tape was one of two discovered by a Brazilian cleaner at the centre of what became a tangled love triangle featuring lies, racist insults - and a furious confrontation that exploded when the female judge caught the male judge in his flat with the woman she described as 'a f***ing Brazilian bitch'.
Later, 37-year-old Roselane Driza - employed as a housekeeper by both judges while staying illegally in Britain - used the tapes to blackmail the male judge and demanded £20,000 from the female judge, it was claimed.
The conflict of loyalties among the trio led at one stage to the female judge threatening to kill herself; the male judge hiding 'pale and trembling' in his flat when she caught him with the cleaner; and to the cleaner being treated 'like an animal' when the female judge brought home yet another immigration judge who became her lover.
Quite how the judges found time to make important decisions about other people's lives in Britain's asylum and immigration courts was never explained at the Old Bailey yesterday.
Instead, the jury sat silently listening to six hours of detailed testimony on the sex-ridden saga of the cleaner, her lover and his 'volcanic' ex-bed partner.
The evidence was given entirely by Miss Driza during her first day in the witness box on the fourth day of the trial. The Brazilian-born former teacher, PA and bank worker - sporting her fourth dramatic outfit in as many days - kept her designer sunglasses on her head as she spoke. First it was in broken English, delivered in a calm voice with a heavy accent and deeply confusing tenses. Then, more confidently, through an interpreter in her native Portuguese.
In answer to a series of questions from her counsel Mrs Frances Oldham QC, she told the jury how she first came to Britain in February 1998 on a tourist visa - and never went home.
Miss Driza, who calls herself Rosa, arrived at Heathrow as a 28-year-old singleton seeking to improve her English, she said. She came on a tourist visa that expired six months later. Then she fixed herself up with a Spanish and English language course, which extended her stay to August 1999 on a student visa. Shortly afterwards she married a refugee - but the partnership lasted just three months before he disappeared to Italy.
In October 1999 she answered an advert in a local newsagents for a cleaner/housekeeper at £5 an hour. That ad had been placed by the female judge, identified yesterday only as Mrs J. She interviewed her, negotiated six hours work a week, and, according to Miss Driza, a month's notice and a month's paid holiday. By that time her student visa had expired - and she was in Britain illegally while she tried to apply for an extension. Asked if she told the female judge her immigration status she replied: 'Yes. I told her I was married to a refugee and he had to leave the country.'
Her testimony gave a fascinating glimpse into Britain's shambolic asylum and immigration system - she told how at one stage her passport went missing she sent it an immigration lawyer. It was supposed to be forwarded to the Home Office - but turned up months later in a solicitor's drawer. She was paid a total of £700 compensation - yet her immigration status remained unresolved. She told the court she had a brother, a sister, two nephews and some cousins in England.
Mrs J had been having an intimate and long term relationship with another asylum and immigration judge, referred to in court as Mr I. Legal restrictions forbid disclosing the identities of the pair, both middle-aged, and each an unlikely figure to feature in such a salacious chain of events.
They enjoyed foreign holidays and lived together in her flat before the relationship ended and he got his own flat. It was then that he took Rosa on as his own cleaner, and to do his ironing and housework. But his interest in her went far beyond clean shirts.
He would later reveal in an e-mail that he wanted to 'go with her' from the start. He also called her 'real hot chilli stuff', suggested in a text message she might like to 'clean shave her P hair' - and offered to teach her how to cook a curry.
Despite the intensity of their intimate relationship, Mr I remained close friends with Mrs J. They even continued to holiday together. But with three people in the relationship, it seemed, trouble was not far away.
Sex at Xmas
Around Christmas 2004, Miss Driza invited the male judge to a party to meet her family and friends. She had relatives here already, and her mother had travelled from Brazil to see her. 'He asked me to make an excuse - for me to tell my family that his auntie had died and he couldn't go. But to me he told the truth.
Asked where the male judge actually spent Christmas day, she replied: 'With Mrs J. In reality, I didn't know he had slept with her.
'He said he had spend Christmas day with Mrs J because she was very depressive and she said she was going to kill herself.' If she committed suicide, he said, 'I would have a heavy conscience.'
She added: 'I didn't know he was going to sleep with her. He asked me what I was doing on Boxing Day, and I said nothing. He invited me to go shopping with him outside London - he wanted to buy my Christmas present.'
Boxing Day showdown: The pair did meet on Boxing Day, and went to his flat. All the time she was with him that day, she said, Judge J had been calling him on the phone and sending text messages. Some time between 10pm and midnight, there was a noise at the door. It was Judge J. 'She put her finger on the bell and kept it there,' said Miss Driza. 'She made a lot of noise. I was worried about the neighbours. I was surprised, because a person just doesn't do that. I was frightened. She was knocking at the window. She called his name. She went around and started calling from the kitchen, and started knocking at the kitchen door, which was made of glass. She seemed like a volcano because she knocked so hard.
She went to the kitchen window to see who was in the flat with him - but I think she already knew.
I was sitting with him in the corridor, hiding from her so she couldn't see us. Mr I was pale and trembling. He didn't know what to do. She was still texting him, saying: ''Are you going to open the door? Are you going to answer me?''
'She tried to put the key in the lock but she couldn't open it because there was another key inside.' Miss Driza said Judge J was 'very furious'.
Eventually, Judge I decided to let Judge J in. 'I said that was OK - but I wasn't going to hide from her.' While they were discussing it, however, Judge J appeared to have used a piece of wood to lift a curtain on a small skylight above the kitchen door, giving her a view inside. The only thing she could see was a woman's T-shirt, said Miss Driza. 'So I think she knew I was with him. Then she said she was going away.'
Miss Driza claims she was subjected to a series of insults from the female judge after she dismissed her from her cleaning job.
In one phone call shortly afterwards, she told the court, Mrs J called her a 'f***ing Brazilian, f***ing cleaner, f***ing dirty woman'.
'I said to Mrs J, ''let's talk'' - and she said she didn't have anything to talk to me about. I said that I didn't understand what was happening. She started shouting. It seemed that she had lost control.'
Later, Miss Driza sat on the male judge's lap to listen in on phone calls when the female judge rang him to talk about what happened.
Asked what they spoke about, she told the court: 'Whether I was going to remain with him, if he was planning to have a serious relationship with me... that I was just a Brazilian cleaner... that I was interested in his position, in money.'
She said she reacted 'very bad' to the name-calling. It upset her 'even today'. Miss Driza added she would have spoken back to Mrs J if it had been a conversation between the two of them, but explained: 'But I didn't want to put myself on the same foot she was using,' she said.
'It was difficult for me, sitting on his lap or sitting at his side the whole time.' Asked if the female judge said anything else that upset her, she bowed her head slightly before responding. 'Yes,' she said. 'That I was a dirty woman from head to foot, and I didn't even wash my hair. That the way I was I seemed a bit crazy, that I might perhaps consume drugs. That I used to sleep with two men at the same time.
'So she said to Mr I that I was worthless, that I was always drunk. But I drink only Coca Cola juice.'
Talking about the occasion when the female judge returned to the flat with Judge N, her new lover, Miss Driza said: 'It was when I was working in the afternoon, when Judge J arrived earlier with him.
'He went straight to the bedroom and she was furious because I was there. I don't think she expected me to be there. I was ironing and the weather was bad, I think it was raining, it was cold and she was asked me to leave quickly. I felt strange. Her attitude - it was like I was an animal.
'I said I hadn't finished the ironing, I said that there was a pile of clothing on top of the couch which I had to put away and she told me to "Go, go, go!". She almost threw me out the window.
'I was disappointed with her behaviour, and I was also worried about my health, because I had a very hot body.'
Sex, drugs, videotapes and blackmail:
The court has heard that the male judge filmed himself having sex with two different women, one an unnamed, younger blonde lover. According to Miss Driza, he had an affair with her for ten to 15 years. The other featured the female judge - coyly described by Mrs Oldham QC as a recording of their 'intimate relationship'. The male judge said he had always intended to erase the tapes but never got round to it.
Yesterday Miss Driza said she took one video cassette from his luggage when he returned from a trip to Canada, thinking it might be a holiday film. But she said she was 'shocked and betrayed' to discover it was actually an old tape of him in bed with the blonde lover. 'I was furious and angry,' she said.
The second tape was one that she found on a shelf in his flat a couple of weeks later. When she played it in the video machine, however, it turned out to be a tape of the two judges on holiday in Thailand. 'What I saw in the video made me angry and frightened. It seemed to me that she was using cocaine and he was close to her. So I paused it, and put the cassette away, and I didn't watch any more.'
Soon afterwards, she said, 'I asked him if what I saw was what I thought I saw. He said that the cassette wasn't made here, it was made in Thailand, so there wasn't any problem with that.' She refused to give the video back, and he said she could keep it. He didn't want the children to come across it. 'But there was a condition,' she said.
'I could keep it provided that I didn't talk to anyone about it and also wouldn't let anyone else see it.' She said he asked 'more than a thousand times' not to show it to anyone else, and she promised not to.
The Crown claims that Miss Driza threatened to show the videos to his senior colleagues if the female judge refused to pay her £20,000. She allegedly demanded the money after threatening to expose the female judge to the Press and her boss, Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor.
Yesterday the jury was told it was the male judge who suggested £20,000 was 'more than fair'. Miss Driza told the court if it had been up to her, 'I don't think it would have been less than £100,000 - because there is no price for what she has done to me.'
Miss Driza denies two counts of blackmail and stealing two video tapes.
The trial continues.
So much then, for Edinburgh's fine establishment of Financial Services - who boast they bring Commerce to the City, increasing the property market, pricing all the locals out of their areas and making everyone a slave to mortgages & Bank debt..
Read on for the article, from the Scotsman at :
Personal pension pay-outs halved
ROSEMARY GALLAGHER PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR
* Cash received from plans dramatically cut in last ten years, says study
* Experts blame falling interest rates and government policy
* Experts warn the government will have to increase state pensions
Key quote "Until six or seven years ago, very generous bonuses were paid to with-profits policy holders. These bonuses have been cut to virtually nothing. This, combined with lower stock market levels in 2006 than 1996, are behind the decline." - Richard Eagling
THE depth of Britain's pension crisis has been exposed by new figures that show personal pension pay-outs have halved in the past decade, making it even harder for savers to achieve a comfortable retirement.
Experts said falling interest and inflation rates, cuts in bonus payments and government fiscal policy were responsible for the fall in pay-outs which has affected millions of pension savers.
The survey, by Moneyfacts, an independent provider of personal finance information, comes amid a burgeoning pensions crisis, with companies shutting their final salary schemes and experts warning that the government will have to substantially increase state pensions.
According to the Association of British Insurers, there were 22.7 million pension policies in place in 2004, up from 20.1 million eight years before.
Yesterday's research looked at both with-profits pensions, the value of which depends on stock market performance and profit pay-outs from the insurance companies, and unit-linked pensions, which are tied entirely to the value of equities. The findings were based on figures supplied by the main pension providers.
The figures showed that a man of 65 retiring in July 1996 having contributed a gross annual premium of £500 into a personal pension for 15 years would, on average, have built up a with-profits pension fund worth £25,840. A unit-linked fund would have provided him with £19,709.
Yet, the same individual retiring today, after paying identical annual premiums, would be left cursing their bad luck.
The average with-profits pension would offer only £12,306 and the average unit-linked pension just £11,696. This represents a 52 per cent drop in the average with-profits pension pay-out over the past decade, and a 40 per cent decrease in the average unit-linked pension.
Over the longer term, the situation is even worse. The average 20-year with-profits pension pay-out has fallen 57 per cent, from £61,592 in 1996 to £26,168 today; the average 25-year value is down 53 per cent, from £120,239 to £55,992.
Richard Eagling, the editor of Investment, Life and Pensions Moneyfacts, said: "Until six or seven years ago, very generous bonuses were paid to with-profits policy holders. These bonuses have been cut to virtually nothing. This, combined with lower stock market levels in 2006 than 1996, are behind the decline."
Moneyfacts found the challenge facing today's pension savers was even tougher, given the continuing fall in annuity rates - the annual income a pensioner can expect from their savings.
In July 1996, a pension fund of £100,000 would have bought a male aged 65 an annual annuity of £11,390 if he had opted for the best available standard annuity.
Today, the best standard annuity would produce an annual income of only £6,860 from the same pension pot - a fall of almost 40 per cent.
Moneyfacts' findings should be considered in the context of the changing UK economy. Inflation was rampant for most of the 1970s and 1980s, forcing up interest rates paid to investors. Even in the limited period of 1986 to 1996, inflation averaged 4.9 per cent a year. But in the ten years to August 2006, the average inflation figure has come down to 2.6 per cent.
In 1996, UK long-term interest rates averaged 7.82 per cent. The corresponding figure for August this year was 4.64 per cent.
Over-reliance on equities by many of the with-profits pension funds also brought big losses between 2001 and 2002-3, and this encouraged some funds to sell equities at the trough of the bear market in early 2003, thus missing out on the subsequent stock market recovery.
In hindsight, funds also under- invested in property, which has enjoyed high returns in recent years.
The figures highlight the variability of investment returns over different periods and cycles. The lower returns do not invalidate saving, as the pensioner is still showing a huge gain on the £500 a year gross invested for their retirement.
However, the findings do underline the danger of projecting high inflation-driven returns way into the future, and they highlight the need for investors to diversify their assets across a range of different classes.
The decision by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to dip into dividend income from pension funds has also hit returns.
And the situation facing many pension savers today would have been even more desperate, had it not been for the recent stock market revival.
Mr Eagling said: "Today's pensioners are facing a longer retirement, with pension pots half the size of those a decade ago. These figures should serve as a powerful reminder that securing a comfortable retirement will only be possible for those individuals who actively monitor and manage their own pension provision."
Steve Potter, director of the Pensions Partnership, an advisory service, said: "While the drop in returns is significant, in real terms, if they were adjusted in line with inflation, the fall would be much less drastic."
So you are facing a reduced cash pot - what do you do about it?
PEOPLE concerned about their pension funds should take steps to boost their retirement income by ensuring they have a diversified portfolio of investments and regularly reviewing it, experts said yesterday.
Tom Munro, director of IFA firm Tom Munro Financial Solutions, said: "Although the Moneyfacts survey highlights the poor returns seen in recent years, it has to be remembered, the average returns used are not truly representative of the well-diversified pension portfolio."
"I constantly come across individuals, who in the main have average performing with-profit and unit-linked funds and are unaware that the pensions industry has moved on a great deal in recent years.
"Advances in technology allow a number of providers and fund supermarkets to offer a comprehensive range of top-performing funds from most of the UK's leading investment houses. The IFA is able to risk profile their clients, then cherry-pick from the best funds, spread across all investment sectors and geographical areas to specifically meet the clients investment objectives.
"Clients left in average funds over many years will always encounter shortfalls as highlighted in the Moneyfacts survey," he said.
Jason Hemmings, director of Albannach Financial Management, said: "Because of affordability, the average age of people starting a pension is now over 30. The government is doing very little to help and the employer has shifted the responsibility for funding retirement on to the employee. It's up to the individual to take responsibility for saving. People have traditionally been complacent about pension investment but they should get advice to regularly review their strategy."
Peter Cherbi ireports on the matter, from his blog "A Diary of Injustice in Scotland" at http://petercherbi.blogspot.com
Scottish Parliament calls for freeze on Commissioners amid fears of excessive accountability
MSPs have lurched from scandal to scandal over at the Scottish Parliament since it was born in 1999. From fiddling expenses, to undeclared wee bits on the side, to lavish offices for their own personal benefit while doing .. not very much, to rampant rises in the building costs of the Parliament itself, there has scarcely been a week gone by, where another new scandal hasn't emerged from the Parliament which we voted for all those years ago.
It stands to reason, then, that those whose activities, corrupt, crooked, or shall we say, less than honest, absolutely hate it when legislation comes along to make them accountable for their failings ... and since the Parliament is full of fiddles & corruption itself, some examples such as .. Raffan's travelling expenses .. Mcletchie's undeclared taxi rides .... and a lot more .. the occasional MSP caught on the Parliament's security cameras indulging in sex acts with staff, all those undeclared meetings with interested parties, businesses & other special interests with regard to particular legislation to be passed ... with all that in mind, MSPs have now decided to attack plans for public sector commissioners to oversee public services, which badly need oversight of an independent nature - which those services & professions have failed to provide since their own existence.
The proposed commissioners are :
Road Works Commissioner
Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights
Scottish Legal Enforcement Commission
Legal Complaints Commissioner
Police Complaints Commissioner
Now, there are those who say, oh, the present gang of Commissioners are spending too much money and are almost unaccountable ... indeed, Linda Costelloe Baker, the former Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, has stated publicly her office was never audited during her 5 years as SLSO .. but whose fault is that ? not the Commissioners .. it's the fault of the Executive .. and with Scotland having a 1 in 4 public sector workforce, one would have thought the Scottish Executive could have found someone to audit Ms Costelloe Baker's office !
However, the reality of the situation, has at least, been picked up by one of the Finance Committee members - Green MSP Mark Ballard, who said :
"I am concerned that these proposals are part of a backlash from those unhappy with commissioners who have done their job and spoken out on issues and, in the process, made life a little uncomfortable for the powers that be ..."
"...To have robust and effective scrutiny by watchdogs, we must ensure they operate at arm's length from politicians - any moves to direct spending will undermine their ability to act in the public interest."
Mark Ballard is correct. Simply, there are many who are ticked off by what the present Commissioners have done so far in their areas - those being, the :
Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner
Commissioner for Children and Young People
Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland
Scottish Information Commissioner
Why are the MSPs at Holyrood so dead against these proposals ?
Well, just look at what has been revealed over the years regarding the Parliament and it's members .. by using, for instance, the Freedom of Information Act .. where several MSPs have been caught with their fingers in the till ... and a lot of what was eventually dragged out of the Parliament's Corporate body, after many refusals, came with the assistance of the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.
Another interesting point in this debate is the types of Commissioners proposed, which are generating so much fuss. Just look at the public sector services affected ... Law, Lawyers, Police, the Courts, Human Rights, even Road Works ... a list of public sector services which badly need oversight in the form of an independent Commissioner (known to some as Ombudsmen) free from political meddling.
Anyone tried to make a complaint that their Human Rights were breeched by a public sector service recently ? The answer from whoever they complained against would be something like .. drop dead .. after a long paper chase coming to nothing .. but a lot more persecution against the complainant simply because there was no one to oversee & safeguard the Human Rights issue in the first place.
Anyone tried to make complaints against the Police ? and then at the end of a long trek through even the HMIC, have to go through equally crooked Police Boards, whose members are just as good at fighting each other as covering up for the deeds of the Police Force they are there to keep an eye on in yet another self regulatory cartel which should have died long ago ?
With at least 5000 complaints a year against Scotlands internationally renowned crooked legal profession, we certainly need a Legal Complaints Commissioner to oversee that gang of criminals .. and even though there is supposed to be independence in complaints against lawyers when the LPLA Bill finally comes into law .. we all know lawyers will only become more inventive in their crooked schemes ... so oversight will certainly be needed of the new complaints procedures, which will doubtless, suffer from time to time of a lack of transparency or common sense, as everything does.
So, why the fuss ? Well, the MSPs claim it's all about money .. that the Commissioners aren't accountable to anyone .. but as we have seen in the past .. MSPs have spent over half a billion pounds on their own Parliament, then go on to claim as much as they can from the public purse, on top of earning £1000 (nearly $2000 a week) .. so it can't really be about money, can it.
No, it's not about money, it's about accountability, transparency, & honesty .. and when there's too much of it, that's a bad thing for the crooks and those who want to cook the books over at the Scottish Parliament and in those public sector services which badly need oversight - independent oversight which isn't subject to fiddling from Scottish Ministers & politicians.. and there's plenty of those yet to be revealed for their undeclared secret benefits on the side ..
Funny isn't it ... we just had a big arguement from the legal profession & judiciary, which demanded the Executive put in place amendments to the LPLA Bill to create independent posts of office so there wouldn't be fiddling of Judicial positions & interference in the complaints process by Ministers .. and, guess what ? Hugh Henry announced those amendments in last Thursday's Parliamentary debate on the LPLA Bill, giving a role for the Lord President, to keep out any possibility of Ministerial fiddling of appointments in the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Howevr, we now have the same politicians arguing they don't want independent Commissioners who can't be fiddled by Ministers ... doesn't that seem a bit backward ? .. or more simply .. a bit crooked ?
Just who are these politicians arguing the case against the planned Commissioners for ? the members of those same public sectors & professions which will be made more accountable by the existence of new oversight ? or, themselves, who fear too much openness is a bad thing for the public ...
I think the Scotsman report by Peter MacMahon, sums up the situation in a sentence at the end of their article :
"The Scotsman, along with other newspapers, was prevented by the parliamentary authorities from seeking a response from the commissioners who were criticised in the MSPs' report."
What does that say for those same parliamentary authorities & MSPs then ? in one breath, calling for Commissioners Offices to be put on hold due to excuses of funding unaccoutability .. and the same Parliamentarians then go and restrict the present Commissioners from making any comment to the media on the msps report & critisisms of expenditure ?
So much for transparency over at the Scottish Parliament then .. it looks more like a nest of vipers every passing day ...
Read on for the article, from the Scotsman newpaper, at : http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=1361832006
Cross-party call to put creation of public-sector commissioners on ice
PETER MACMAHON SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT EDITOR
MSPS today demanded a cull of the burgeoning number of public-sector "tsars" in Scotland. A hard-hitting report from Holyrood's finance committee recommends that no more parliamentary commissioners should be created.
It also calls for the downgrading of the post of the children and young people's commissioner, saying the role, which is held by Professor Kathleen Marshall, should be made accountable to ministers, not to Holyrood.
And the committee demands that the Executive puts the creation of five new "tsars" - a roadworks commissioner, a civil enforcement commissioner, a Scottish commissioner for human rights, a legal complaints commissioner and a police complaints commissioner - on hold.
The cross-party committee also calls for the proposed human rights commissioner, a post being created under legislation going through Holyrood, to be incorporated within the office of Professor Alice Brown, the Scottish public service ombudsman.
The MSPs want legislation to allow parliament to control the budgets of the four commissioners - for information, parliamentary standards, children and public appointments - as well as the ombudsman.
They also want Holyrood to have more say over where the "tsars" have their offices.
The report says the MSPs are "very concerned" at the decision of Kevin Dunion, the information commissioner, to set up in Kinburn Castle in St Andrews.
Des McNulty, the Labour convener of the committee, said: "If the Executive and the parliament follows the principles we have outlined, in future people who make proposals for new commissioners will have to justify why they want to go to the expense of doing that.
"Some people might say that this is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, but we are now actually calling for the stable door to be closed, as there is still pressure for new bodies to be created."
But Mark Ballard, a Green MSP and committee member, warned: "There have to be firm limits on their overall expenditure, but the public will not get value for money from commissioners that cannot speak out and act as they see fit because they fear the repercussions."
• The Scotsman, along with other newspapers, was prevented by the parliamentary authorities from seeking a response from the commissioners who were criticised in the MSPs' report.
article from the Sunday Times, at : http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,200-2358765,00.html
Doctors' insurers in turmoil at secrecy over £450,000 pay
By Dominic Kennedy
Independent doctors quit in protest at failure to disclose size of chief executive's salary in the annual accounts
THE doctors’ legal defence body is in turmoil after all its independent directors resigned in protest at a failure to disclose the union chief’s salary.
Michael Saunders is being paid £450,000 a year to run the Medical Defence Union (MDU) instead of the £229,000 suggested by the annual accounts, which will be presented to members next week.
The 170,000 doctors in Britain and the Irish Republic who pay up to £7,000 for their annual MDU cover provide the organisation with a rapidly growing income of £153 million a year. The board of the institution is trying to change its rules to dispense with the need for independent directors, such as the whistleblowers who have just resigned. The trouble has arisen as a result of the creation of a joint venture between the MDU and a Swiss group of insurers.
The exact size of Dr Saunders’s salary as chief executive was undisclosed because, like his fellow directors, he now receives two salaries. Part of his income is still paid by the MDU but the bulk comes from the new company, MDU Services Ltd (MDUSL).
The independent directors have no argument with the size of Dr Saunders’s salary. However, they believed that greater transparency was needed, and suggested adding a paragraph in the MDU’s annual accounts suggesting that doctors should refer to the other company for the full total of the executives’ salaries.
The board’s rejection of the audit committee’s advice led to the walkout by the independent directors. A report has been sent to the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which regulates insurers.
The four independent directors who have resigned are all eminent public figures: Lord Glenarthur, who served as Health, Home Office and Scotland Minister from 1983-89; Andrew Chambers, an authority on corporate governance, whose clients include the UN and Shell; Sir Robin Mountfield, former Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office; and Michael Arnold, a former chairman of the Association of Consulting Actuaries.
The union was created in 1885 as a mutual aid society by doctors shocked at the case of a physician who was wrongly convicted and jailed for assaulting a woman patient. The principle was that everyone pooled their money and helped one another if the need for legal advice arose. Payments were discretionary.
Dr Saunders steered the MDU through negotiations for an ambitious joint venture with a Zurich-based insurance group in 2000. Faced with increasingly compensation-hungry patients, doctors would benefit from a chance to be insured fully against future claims.
The independent directors are believed to have become concerned at what they felt was the misleading way in which the top executives’ salaries were presented in accounts supplied to members.
There are three executive directors: Dr Saunders; his deputy and the professional services director, Christine Tomkins; and the finance director Maurice Gallivan. They work for the MDU and MDUSL. Accountants work out the proportion of the executives’ time spent working for each branch and pay them accordingly.
The consequence is that the MDU’s accounts, to be considered next Tuesday at a meeting open to all members, show the highest paid director earning £229,000. Doctors and dentists might well assume that is the salary of Dr Saunders, but the calculations result in Dr Tomkins getting most from MDU.
The MDUSL pays the lion’s share of Dr Saunders’s salary. The Times has learnt that his full earnings this year will be £450,000. Of that, 80 per cent will be specified in MDUSL’s accounts; the balance, paid by MDU, is not in MDU’s accounts because it is assimilated into the total paid to all the mutual company’s directors.
The MDU’s motto is “Doctors for doctors”, but few doctors can hope to match these incomes. A GP earns about £83,000, a consultant £126,000 and a junior doctor just over £20,000.
The independent directors are members of the audit committee, whose duties include reviewing the annual financial statements before publication.
They proposed a modest change to the presentation of the accounts to improve transparency but not disclosing the exact payment to Dr Saunders. They suggested adding a note in the MDU accounts telling members that further remuneration for the executive directors was disclosed in the accounts of MDUSL. Any doctor could get these from Companies House.
The board rejected its audit committee’s advice, a rare and serious revolt in a boardroom. Dr Saunders said yesterday that the board had felt that the amendment would be misleading. Members might add up the two top salaries, assume that they went to one person and reach the wrong conclusion.
Mr Arnold had resigned in March expressing his concerns about the disclosure and levels of executive remuneration. The remaining three apparently felt that they had no choice but to follow. One is said to have described the matter as deplorable. The four issued a statement saying: “Our concerns are about transparency in relation to the disclosure of executive remuneration and about other aspects of good corporate governance practice.” They declined to comment further.
Dr Saunders said yesterday: “Of course we are disappointed that this has happened. Any suggestion that there is obfuscation is wrong. There are clear statements of accounts in the reports of these two companies.
“Of course we could do things differently but we are doing it appropriately, which accords with the advice of independent auditors. The suggestion that in some way the corporate governance of the company is faulty or not proper just doesn’t accord with the facts.”
Finbarr Fitzpatrick, secretary-general of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association, said: “The Medical Defence Union says it is run by doctors for doctors. When we see how they are not being transparent with their members it shows very scant regard for the founding philosophy.”
The four directors also felt it was wrong that the audit committee, which meets the MDU’s auditors privately, includes the chairman and deputy chairman of the organisation. Dr Saunders emphasised that the independents had held a majority on that committee.
They were also alarmed by a resolution proposed by the board for next Tuesday’s annual meeting. That motion suggests deleting Article 42 of the Articles of Association without stating what the passage contains. This is the guarantee that the board must include a minimum of three non-executive directors who are not members of the MDU, in other words independent watchdogs. Dr Saunders said that the reform also removed the obligation to have a minimum of seven MDU members on the board, a change designed to remove the distinction between different types of non-executive directors, he said.
The joint venture with the Swiss insurers has changed the MDU’s nature radically. The MDUSC now employs all 242 staff. The only employees of the MDU are the three executive directors. The MDUSC is regulated by the FSA but the MDU is not.
All the actions of the MDU and its auditors are within the law. A source said a problem with governing mutual organisations was that the members, who each have one vote, were too busy with their own jobs to provide much scrutiny. By contrast, companies’ actions are heavily policed by investors such as pension funds.
THE DIRECTORS WHO RESIGNED:
LORD GLENARTHUR, 61
The 4th Baron became a whip in Margaret Thatcher’s Government in 1982 and went on to serve in four ministries, becoming Minister of State in the Scottish and Foreign Offices. An Old Etonian, he served with the 10th Royal Hussars, was commissioned, became a civilian helicopter pilot and is a commissioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. He was a senior executive of Hanson and consultant for British Aerospace and Imperial Tobacco Group. His alarm, in a Lords debate, at a European directive which threatening lead-based church organs was heartfelt; his hobbies in Who’s Who are choral singing and organ-playing
PROFESSOR ANDREW CHAMBERS, 63
An internationally renowned corporate governance academic, he is former Dean of the City University Business School and founder Editor of Blackwell’s International Journal of Auditing. Now serves as Professor of Internal Auditing at London South Bank University and Visiting Professor in Internal Auditing at the University of Central England. He serves on the Corporate Governance Committee of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales
SIR ROBIN MOUNTFIELD, 66
An eminent life in the Civil Service took him to HM Treasury, the Ministry of Power and secondment to the Stock Exchange. He worked for 19 years at the Department of Trade and Industry and its predecessors which were responsible for corporate governance issues. His career culminated in his appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office from 1995-98. He is an independent national director of Times Newspapers Holdings and a member of the council of the University of Essex
MICHAEL ARNOLD, 58
One of Britain’s leading actuaries, his skills were particularly valuable on the board of a mutual organisation making provision for the risk of future claims against doctors and dentists. He acts as Appointed Actuary to several insurance companies and sits on the Board for Actuarial Standards. Known as Mike, he qualified as a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries in 1973. He is head of the Life Practice at Milliman in London. Past appointments include two terms as a member of council of the institute, as well as chairman of both the UK and International Associations of Consulting Actuaries
About time these experts were taken to task for their 'evidence giving' in cases. There has to be a lot more accountability in their claims - which are invariably used by professional bodies & their respective legal defence unions to kill off negligence claims & other damages actions.
Did you know that most or all of the 'Expert Witnesses' on the Law Society of Scotland's expert witness list, are insured by the same insurers as insure the legal profession ?
Expert Witnesses insured by the same firm which insure crooked lawyers ? .. that's a bit of a conflict of interest then, isn't it - especially considering what has been revealed about those same insurance firms .... indulging in all sorts of fraudulent practices, even intimitating witnesses into withdrawing cases & testimony ..
Read on for the article, from the Sunday Herald, at : http://www.sundayherald.com/58012
Top pathologist faces legal action
By Liam McDougall, Home Affairs Editor
A FORENSIC pathologist whose flawed evidence was criticised in an official inquiry is facing legal action over a case in which two Scots were wrongly jailed for murder.
Expert testimony given by Dr Michael Heath in a case against Victor Boreman and Malcolm Byrne, from Ayrshire, and their co-defendant Michael Byrne, has been described as “discredited” by an appeal judge.
The prosecution claimed the three had murdered Jonathan Reid, 51, in his London flat and had then set the room alight in a bid to hide evidence of their crime. They were said to have killed Reid during an argument in April 1996.
Heath, a Home Office pathologist for 14 years, said the victim had been unconscious after the assault and may have “drowned in his own blood” because of injuries to his face . But at an appeal earlier this year, it was ruled there was clear evidence that, while the three had assaulted Reid, he had died accidentally in a fire several hours later. The appeal led to the convictions being overturned.
Last night Boreman said: “My lawyers are putting together a civil case now, but this is not about money. We spent 10 years in jail for a crime we did not commit and there is evidence they knew the case was suspect from the beginning.
“I want Heath and others involved in this case to have a taste of what they put me through.”
In January, Heath withdrew from police work after concerns were raised about him. Last month, he was criticised in a Home Office disciplinary tribunal examining his conduct in two other cases, following complaints by his peers.
The first involved Steven Puaca, who was found guilty of smothering his partner. Two other pathologists concluded she had died from a drugs overdose.
In a second case, Heath concluded that Kenneth Fraser had killed his girlfriend by hitting her over the head. Four other pathologists decided she had died falling downstairs.
A decision is expected this month on whether Heath, 58, should be struck off .
On Tuesday, a number of families who claim their relatives have been wrongly jailed because of Heath’s evidence will gather for a conference in Kent. It is expected they will call for dozens of cases involving Heath to be re-opened.
Heath’s position as a Home Office pathologist has led to him being involved in hundreds of post-mortems and criminal cases, including that of mother and daughter Lin and Megan Russell, murdered by Michael Stone in Kent, and Stuart Lubbock, who was found drowned in Michael Barrymore’s swimming pool.
Boreman is to travel to the meeting on Tuesday to speak about his case.
Maslen Merchant, Boreman’s lawyer, said Boreman’s case was a “serious” miscarriage of justice. He confirmed he was preparing a civil case, but could only proceed when the formal appeal court judgment became available.
“You can have an isolated incident that is a mistake, but there are serious questions to be asked here. This is not someone who got it slightly wrong. How many more are out there?
“It is horrendous that the state prosecuting authorities can bring evidence into court without, apparently, any sense of quality control.”
He added that a senior pathologist who looked at the Boreman case had warned that if it had been set as a student exam question, Heath would not have passed.
John McManus, of the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation in Scotland, which is supporting Boreman and his two co-accused, described the case as “deeply worrying”.
He added: “We need a full and transparent review of every case in which Heath was involved. We need to ensure no innocent man or woman is in jail.”
The Home Office would not comment.
Read on for the article, from the Herald, at : http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/69944.html
Lord Cullen joins row over public criticism of judges’ sentences
ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent September 13 2006
JUDGES must be free from political influence and allowed to pass sentence without undue criticism or public vilification, according to Lord Cullen, until recently one of the country's most senior judges.
The judge, who presided over both the Piper Alpha and Dunblane inquiries, said last night that he and other senior lawyers welcomed scrutiny.
He insisted: "You should not understand what I have said as meaning that judges should be immune from criticism.
"Well-informed criticism is a healthy feature of a free society and if a judge has made a mistake in sentencing there is a recognised means of putting the matter right.
"Regrettably, however, there are occasions when a judge who has passed a sentence has to endure not simply criticism, but vilification.
"A judge is expected to discharge in modern times. He has to be alert not simply to the application of the law, but also to the interest of the public and the various persons involved in the trial."
The significance of the pre-trial stage has been transformed by the changes made by reforms which came into force in April 2005 after ministers accepted Lord Bonomy's reforms of High Court procedures which tackled the issue of late plea changes.
Lord Cullen said: "The main factor which gave rise to the recommendations was that, for reasons which I do not need to explore, trials in the High Court were too often being delayed or disrupted, causing a waste of public money and inconvenience to witnesses and jurors."
Lord Cullen, who was giving the annual lecture of Apex Scotland last night, said of new laws intended to streamline procedures: "The judge should be responsible for a form of case management in the interests of the due administration of justice.
"That is to say, seeing that, so far as practicable, time and public money are not wasted, and inconvenience and distress caused to persons involved, through trials being aborted, delayed or disrupted."
He added that in each of the jurisdictions in the United Kingdom judges were expected to give their reasons for their sentences at the time when imposing them, referring in particular to the approach in Northern Ireland.
"In an effort to avoid misunderstanding or misrepresentation, it has become the practice that, in cases where it is important that the public are given accurate information about those reasons and the circumstances which have been taken into account, judges arrange that the text of their sentencing remarks is issued to the media.
"For this purpose they are assisted by a public information officer who is in regular communication with the media."
He said that in order for justice to be done – for the accused and for society – judge and jury had to discharge distinct, but complementary, duties.
He said the judge had to deal with disputes on the admissability of evidence. The judge was expected to give the jury directions, so that they understand the issues in the case and the law which they have to apply to them and the judge had to see that advice to the jury was competent, clear and unambiguous.
Read on for the article, from the Herald, at : http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/70036.html
‘Nonsense’ of diverse accountancy bodies
PAUL ROGERSON September 14 2006
The head of Grant Thornton in the UK has called on Britain's accountancy institutes to cast aside their "jealousies" and unite under one cross-border body.
Michael Cleary said it is a "nonsense" for Britain to have more than six professional organisations, which he believes prevents the UK's 250,000 accountants from speaking with one voice.
In a speech to the Institute of Financial Accountants, Cleary predicted that within a decade all the institutes will combine to form a nationwide institute comprising "proud chapters representing the (profession's) founding bodies".
As head of Britain's fifth-largest professional services firm, Cleary will renew debate about the profession's future following another bout of turf wars between the institutes. Last year First Minister Jack McConnell famously intervened to help the 16,000-strong Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland fight off a raid on its brand by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
The 125,000-strong Icaew had wanted to adopt "The Institute of Chartered Accountants" as its "catch-all" brand, a plan which the Scottish body viewed as blatant usurping of a prestige unmatched in the global profession. The Edinburgh-based body, which has launched generations of Scottish business leaders, was granted its royal charter in 1854 and was the first to adopt the "chartered accountant" designation.
Icas members threw out a plan to merge with its southern counterpart at the turn of the 1990s, and the Scots body has prospered recently - most notably by attracting students based in England and Wales. Efforts to put some or all of the six principal organisations together have nevertheless continued.
Last year the latest consolidation effort saw public sector body the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy fail to seal a merger with the Icaew.
Cairn Energy chairman Norman Murray, who is president of the Scottish institute, rebutted Cleary's claims. "We have always said that consolidation is not inevitable," he said.
"To demonstrate to our members that merging would be in their interests and in the public interest, we need to show that we can work together closely with other institutes first and foremost. At the moment we see no need to merge."
Murray's appeal for close co-operation was last night echoed by Icaew president Ian Morris, who visited Edinburgh to address some of the 1300 members of the English institute who work in Scotland.
"Our relationship with Icas is one of partnership," he said. "I value the long-standing and constructive working relationship that exists between (us)."
Louise Hay - nicknamed Ally McSteal - pretended to be a single parent, despite being a mother of three childrem, and claimed cash she was not entitled to for more than two years.
Perhaps it would be a good idea for all clients to get their lawyers to declare in writing before taking on their services, they have no criminal convictions, and also disclose their regulatory history ... wouldn't want to deal with a solicitor who has a slew of client complaints for fraud, fiddling files, overcharging clients, etc .. would we now ?
link from the Sunday Mail at : http://www.sundaymail.co.uk/sport/unpdate/tm_objectid=17670488%26method=full%26siteid=64736-name_page.html
£5K FRAUD LAWYER KEEPS JOB
A LAWYER who admitted a £5000 childcare tax fraud is being allowed to continue practising.
Mum-of-three Louise Hay - nicknamed Ally McSteal - pretended to be a single parent and claimed cash she was not entitled to for more than two years.
She received £5187.78 Working Family Tax Credit by signing Inland Revenue forms with the name Hazel Mears. She was fined £750.
But the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal have ruled Hay, 38, can remain a lawyer because there is little chance of her re-offending.
Hay, of Broughty Ferry, is expected to try to get a new job with a firm in Dundee.
The Law Society of Scotland said: "She can only act as a qualified assistant under supervision and will not handle money."
and another one .. :
Another lawyer in the news again for stealing cash - this time it's Zosia Fraser, 29, of Inverness, who worked at solicitors Joe Myles & Co.
Client's should beware of solicitors who conduct themselves in tihs manner, and seek out declarations of criminal & regulatory records before dealing with them on a client-solicitor basis
Article from the Sunday Mail, at :http://www.sundaymail.co.uk/news/feed/tm_objectid=17716834%26method=full%26siteid=64736-name_page.html
10 September 2006
LAWYER IS CHARGED IN CASH THEFT PROBE
By Kurt Bayer
A LAWYER has been charged with stealing cash paid to her by clients.
Zosia Fraser, 29, of Inverness, quit her post with Dundee firm Joe Myles & Co last week after detectives quizzed her.
A previous employer claimed they caught her taking payments from clients and keeping them.
Fraser - who specialised in domestic law - now faces the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
She was previously found guilty by them of forging a note from her GP saying she had suffered a miscarriage to cover absence.
Fraser was ordered to spend an extra year in her traineeship as punishment.
Ex-boss Joe Myles said: "Miss Fraser finished her employment with me. She voluntarily gave up her position with my firm.
"Anything she has been questioned about relates to things that happened before she joined us."
Tayside Police said: "A 29-year-old female has been charged and reported to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with financial irregularities alleged to have taken place at a business premises in Dundee."
Last night, Fraser refused to comment.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
OFT demands for greater scrutiny of Scottish lawyers while Executive Ministers & MSPs meet legal profession
While Scottish Executive Ministers & MSPs try to water down the proposed reforms contained in the LPLA Bill on how complaints against lawyers are handled in Scotland, the Office of Fair Trading has demanded greater regulation & scrutiny of the legal profession, far beyond what is currently contained in the much fought over Legal Profession & Legal Aid Bill.
The Herald newspaper is reporting today that :
"The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) wants to see solicitors and advocates who provide bad service "named and shamed" by the new independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. This could be achieved by the commission publishing the outcome of its investigations, it suggests.
In England and Wales, moves are already afoot to force law firms to publish their complaints records and produce an annual return detailing how they have dealt with complaints.
The OFT also favours the introduction of a new "kitemark" scheme which would allow Scottish law firms and lawyers with a good ser-vice record to advertise their services on that basis. "
Read the OFT submission to the Scottish Parliament Justice 2 Committee here : OFT Submission to Justice 2
An excellent idea indeed - to name & shame crooked & negligent lawyers - one which we campaigners and anyone else who has been maligned by the legal profession, have been calling for years to be put into place.
The naming & shaming bit against crooked lawyers in Scotland, has so far been done by campaigners such as "Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers" at http://www.sacl.info .. but as lawyers provide a commercial service, they should be forced to display their own records - so we know what we are getting in the first place when we go to a lawyer.
We, the public, need to see the regulatory history of solicitors & their previous performance when dealing with clients & the law .. something which I have said for years, and which was covered recently in a case where a lawyer was found to be at the centre of 12 Negligence claims - and still conducting business on behalf of unsuspecting clients who had no idea of what he had been up to with others : see here : TOP LAWYER AT THE CENTRE OF 12 NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS
At the moment, it appears that none of the OFT's proposed revisions to the bill has so far been accepted by Scottish Executive Ministers, due to intense arm twisting & lobbying from the legal profession. Some of the OFT's recommendations include raising the maximum compensation for inadequate service above the proposed ceiling of £20,000 in which the OFT says "Provision should be included to allow for higher payments in exceptional cases," - something again, which many others who have been affected by the crooked conduct of lawyers & the Law Society of Scotland over the years, have been saying to the Scottish Parliament.
As I have said myself before, many times - why should there be any set limit at all to the level of compensation which should be paid out by a crooked legal profession to the client they have ruined ?
Why should there be a £20,000 limit ? Was that put in by the members of the Law Society of Scotland who were on the Scottish Executive's working group ? One of those members being the infamous client hating Douglas Mill, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland who will stop at NOTHING to ruin client complaints and interfere in cases of financial claims for damages against crooked lawyers ..
The OFT has also vented it's frustration and suspicions over the performance of the "Master Insurance Policy" - the professional indemnity insurance of lawyers in Scotland and how it operates.
Many clients of lawyers who have tried to claim against the Master Insurance Policy have found the hole thing to be a fraud - where lawyer is supposed to sue lawyer .. but both get bonuses when the client's claim is either reduced to a few pennies, or as is mostly the case, completely undermined to the point that any claim for damages against the legal profession fails.
I should know all about that - the Master Insurance Policy and the top officials at the Law Society of Scotland destroyed my own case against crooked Borders lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors Kelso.
Douglas Mill, the Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland and Philip Yelland, the Director of Client relations intervened personally in my case, writing letters demanding my legal aid be refused, and ordering my then lawyers, Morrisons WS, Edinburgh, to cease my case and refuse to take any instructions from me - in articles, along with the evidence, which I have already published on this site, here :
Almost all claims against lawyers which involve the Master Insurance Policy go this way .. and the Law Society of Scotland has kept this dirty devious scheme hidden from the public for years, so it could perpetuate itself into one of the biggest businesses in Scotland today.
The current progress of the LPLA Bill in the Scottish Parliament is being interfered with by a vicious campaign of lobbying from the legal profession & judiciary, who are going all out to kill any prospect of reforms to their crooked dictatorship.
Even newspapers & media groups have been cynically turned on members of the public, where the likes of the Scotsman, which once openly supported independent regulation of lawyers after it featured many news articles on my own case, has been twisted into a media outlet of the legal profession against the general public.
At the same time, secret meetings between groups of lawyers and msps have went unreported .. although one such meeting was quoted by the Parliament itself last week, were it transpired David Davidson, the Justice 2 Committee Convener & Mike Rumbles msp, both met a group of lawyers .. want to guess what was on the agenda of that meeting ?
David Davidson, J2 Convener, however refuses to meet with or have any further contact with campaigners & those members of the public who have made submission to the Justice 2 Committee on the LPLA Bill.
Why the imbalance ? Why is Davidson so ready to meet with lawyers but refuses to meet with concerned members of the public who have been ripped off by lawyers ?
Indeed - why has the Justice 2 Committee refused to recall Douglas Mill to account for his obvious lies to the Committee on how he became involved in cases of client claims for damages against crooked lawyers ?
Does the Justice 2 Committee fear the legal profession so much it is unwilling to question it's most senior ranks on why they lied in testimony to the Parliament and contradicted evidence provided by John Swinney msp, showing Mill's involvement in stalling compensation claims, and my own submission and those of many others, clearly showing the same level of involvement of Law Society officials who were out to ruin negligence claims against lawyers.
David Davidson claims the Justice 2 Committee received no "objective evidence" on the Master Insurance Policy .. but that is a lie.
The Justice 2 Committee obtained the best possible evidence - Material evidence from the actual victims of crooked lawyers who had tried to claim from the Master Insurance Policy and had their cases ruined in a policy of destruction of clients claims by the legal profession. Material evidence showing that the most senior officials of the Law Society of Scotland had intervened in clients cases against crooked negligent lawyers and destroyed any chance of progress and wiped out any chance of compensation - while the crooked lawyer went on to rip off more clients.
Has the legal profession scored an ally with Mr Davidson ?
Is there some secret arm twisting & back door deals being proposed behind the scenes of the Parliamentary debate to water down the LPLA Bill and keep the Law Society of Scotland's dictatorship over the elected political process intact ?
Read on for the Herald's report on the issue - link at : http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/69893.html
Watchdog targets bad lawyers
PAUL ROGERSON September 13 2006
BRITAIN'S foremost consumer watchdog has proposed a series of measures to protect the public from incompetent Scottish lawyers that go well beyond those contained in Holyrood legislation.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) wants to see solicitors and advocates who provide bad service "named and shamed" by the new independent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. This could be achieved by the commission publishing the outcome of its investigations, it suggests.
In England and Wales, moves are already afoot to force law firms to publish their complaints records and produce an annual return detailing how they have dealt with complaints.
The OFT also favours the introduction of a new "kitemark" scheme which would allow Scottish law firms and lawyers with a good ser-vice record to advertise their services on that basis.
The agency's proposals are contained in its written response to the bitterly controversial Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, which went through its first stage debate at the Scottish Parliament last week.
Rather than toughen up the bill, ministers appear to be watering it down following a ferocious lobbying campaign by senior lawyers and professional bodies.
Of particular importance among about 300 proposed executive amendments is provision for a role for Scotland's top judge, the Lord President, in the removal of commission members.
None of the OFT's proposed revisions to the bill has so far been accepted by ministers. The proposals include raising the maximum compensation for inadequate service above the proposed ceiling of £20,000. "Provision should be included to allow for higher payments in exceptional cases," the OFT argues.
The commission's remit will handle only service complaints, leaving cases of alleged misconduct in the hands of professional bodies the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates.
The OFT believes that giving the new commission limited powers of oversight over the handling of misconduct cases does not go far enough. "In our view the (commission) might also benefit from a capacity to prosecute conduct and discipline complaints before the professional bodies, where important public interest issues are at stake," it argues.
The OFT is also unimpressed with the limited role of the commission in monitoring the society's controversial master insurance policy, which covers compensation claims against Scottish solicitors arising from negligence, fraud or dishonesty.
For years critics such as the Scottish Consumer Council have complained that the policy lacks transparency and gives complainers the impression that the insurers are in league with solicitors and the law society.
The OFT alleged: "The current proposal, which proposes a power to monitor effectiveness (of master policy arrangements), rather than a duty to do so, appears unlikely to afford consumers sufficient guarantee of the effectiveness of these arrangements."
Asked if ministers would consider amending the bill further to address the OFT's concerns, a Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We announced a number of the key amendments during the Stage 1 debate last week. Details of further amendments will be published on the Scottish Parliament website in advance of the relevant Stage 2 committee meeting.
"The OFT submission was one of many received by the Justice 2 Committee and has been considered along with all the others as we work towards Stage 2 of the bill."
Commenting, the society emphasised that the master policy is a "commercial contract" between insurers and individual solicitors for negligence claims that has survived the scrutiny of various bodies, including the OFT itself and EU authorities in Brussels.
"The society has repeatedly stated that it is not clear why there is a proposal for the commission to have oversight," it added.
"A commercial insurance contract falls outwith the commission's jurisdiction. It is of course the insurers who negotiate and settle claims."
On the scale of available compensation, both the society and the Justice 2 Committee have asked the executive for the reasoning behind raising the compensation level from £5000 to £20,000.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Small claims limits in Scotland restricted to £750 for the last 18 years by the legal profession for their own interests.
The question of a raise in the limits in small claims actions from the £750 it has been for the past 18 years, to a proposed £1500 has long been on the cards .. but why the big delay ?
What could be holding up the issue of a rise in the limit of damanges you could claim in a small claims action against the likes of a crooked builder, or even a crooked lawyer ?
Just why, should the limit for small claims in Scottish Law, be restricted to £750, which it has been for 18 years, when in England & Wales, the limit is £5000 and has been since 1999 ?
It's all about the control freakery of the Scottish legal profession - wishing to protect it's business and restrict who gets into court on what types of cases.
It's not about honesty, it's about the corrupt power politics of the legal profession. and a few of it's allies in high places, which is holding up the progress of the rise in limits of small claims actions ... and those prominent in the obstruction of this issue progressing further, in the public interest, is Digby Brown Solicitors, and Thompsons.
Digby Brown are well known for their political affiliations, particularly to the Labour Party, where former partners such as Douglas Alexander sit in Government .. and many other former partners have attained promotion to Sheriff under in some instances, what could be called, questionable circumstances ...
A more little known issue relating to some of the partners of Digby Brown .. is the partners complaints records .. where it seems some of those at the firm, have had very serious client complaints made against them .. which of course, have been whitewashed by the Law Society of Scotland ... strange it may seem, that some partners who have been accused of various actions against clients, including things which would see ordinary people locked away for a spell in jail, would go on to be Sheriffs ... judging others who have been up to the same thing .. but who haven't had the advantage of their own regulatory body to wipe their records clean and bury evidence & client complaints against them ...
Some of the other opponents of higher limits to small claims, include trade unions, who have been invagled into the debate against giving the consumer more power in this area, alleging that more radical redress would deny legal redress to thousands of Scots by taking them out of the legal aid net.
What legal aid net is that ? Try and make any kind of a claim against the likes of a crooked accountant, a crooked lawyer or another crooked professional, and ask for legal aid, invariably, the claimaint will have their chances of legal aid ruined by that professional's governing body. The Law Society of Scotland are pretty famous in this regard .. and many other regulatory bodies ensure that most damages claims made against their members which require legal aid .. are killed off.
The lawyers may argue that it will take people out of the legal aid net - that's rubbish. Anyone who has a controversial claim and needs legal aid - gets their application for legal aid challenged by the lawyers & their allies - and the case never makes it to the court ... plenty examples of that - and remember, even the Scottish Legal Aid Board is staffed by solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland - and some of those lawyers over at SLAB are pretty crooked themselves ... having on-the-side meetings with crooked lawyers & legal firms whose names appear in negligence actions of clients making applications for legal aid funding.
I think we all need to campaign on this issue, and ensure the limit for small claims in Scotland matches the rest of the UK.
Don't listen to those parrots of the legal profession & their allies, telling us it's better for Scotland to have a small limit on the small claims process. That's nonsense. All this does is restrict who can get into court on such cases, and keep most of the business for the lawyers.
Scottish law is certainly not better than English law.
We have to get this idiocy out of our system here in Scotland.
Simply being told that Scots law is better than English law by a bunch of crooked lawyers and their allies, doesn't make it so, and time & again, we have seen that anyone who tries to take on big business or crooked professions who have their own powerful self regulatory bodies in Scotland, get nowhere. So, where is the great Scots law then ? - nowhere.
Read on for the bitter struggle ofconsumer organisations & campaigners seeking increases in the limits of small claims in line with the rest of the UK, while the selfish, corrupt, Scottish legal profession put the brakes on yet more reforms designed to help the consumer, keeping limits of small claims in line with it's own interests, protecting it's own business empire and ensuring only those get to court who don't pose a threat to it.
Link from The Herald, at : http://www.theherald.co.uk/business/69760.html
Higher threshold for small claims is still a long way off
PAUL ROGERSON September 11 2006
The prospect of a long-promised increase in Scotland's low threshold for small claims before next year's Holyrood elections appears remote. Deputy justice minister Hugh Henry last week declined the opportunity to pledge he will produce proposals to raise the current £750 limit before the polls in May.
By then it will be two years since Henry promised to act "sooner rather than later" and eight years since the justice minister recommended that the limit be lifted to £1500.
Scottish consumer groups continue to despair that for people wanting compensation from a supplier of shoddy goods or services without the expense of hiring a lawyer the effective maximum is £750 – less than the cost of a plasma TV. That limit has been frozen for 18 years, whereas in England and Wales the small claims ceiling is £5000 and has been since 1999.
Consumer body Which? describes the current system as a "charter for cowboys" and has come across examples of Scots pursuing their cases in the English courts. So why the inertia? Is this yet another example of the daunting power of the lawyers' lobby?
Perhaps not. Opponents of higher limits, which include trade unions, allege that more radical redress would deny legal redress to thousands of Scots by taking them out of the legal aid net.
"The issue is not about whether there should be an increase but what the levels should increase to," Henry told The Herald. "I accept that progress has not been speedy but we want to get this right. We also want to ensure that any changes have the clear support of Parliament. We have to look for a balance between the level of claim and the number of people able to access justice. Quite simply, the higher the small claims limit is set, fewer litigants will qualify for legal aid – because legal aid is not payable in small claims. This is not an easy balance to strike."
Among those in frequent contact with the Justice Department on the issue have been the personal injury firms Digby Brown and Thompsons, both of which have had close links with the Labour Party and trade unions and are or have been party donors.
Personal injury claims are to be excluded from increases in the small claims threshold if and when the executive acts. This is good news for firms specialising in this area, which will in consequence be able to continue reclaiming their expenses, a state of affairs which makes 'no-win, no fee' cases a paying proposition.
In the small claims court, expenses are capped at £75.
Henry said: "Exclusion of PI actions from small claims has been executive policy for some considerable time.
This was the stated policy when the subject was debated in the Parliament in 2001, when Jim Wallace MSP was Justice Minister."
He added: "PI actions are often complex to pursue and to prove, both legally and because there is often a need to obtain and rely on medical evidence to establish a case. Small claims procedure is designed to be quick and efficient, encouraging resolution of disputes without the involvement of lawyers and without legal aid being available. For that reason expenses are capped at £75.
"Small claims can often be a useful means of pursuing relatively straightforward disputes over, say, defective consumer goods. PI actions are very different and are not always appropriate for the more informal procedures which are suitable for small claims. For those reasons we accept that an exception should be made for PI actions."
Digby Brown and Thompsons have continued to lobby the executive on the issue of small claims, even though it is understood that the exclusion of PI cases has long been a done deal.
Thompsons' Patrick McGuire said: "We totally accept the logic of increasing small claims limits for consumer cases like a row over a plasma screen TV. But personal injury claims must be excluded from any increase or the right to justice of millions of trade union and other injury victims will be destroyed.
"Personal injury legislation is a hugely complex area of the law which must be heard in the Court of Session to ensure consistency and justice. Unless personal injury claims are excluded they would end up being heard in the lower courts and that would lead to inconsistency and massively undermine the protection health and safety legislation provides for trade union members and other workers.
"It is simply nonsense to suggest that there is any correlation between the level of damages and the complexity or importance of the legal issues involved in personal injury claims."
"If small claims limits are raised, Scotland must follow England's example where the limit is £5000 but personal injury cases are excluded."
Digby Brown could not be reached for comment.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Scottish media opinion being manipulated by legal profession against LPLA Bill reforms ?
I wondered if Scotland on Sunday might be doing a piece on this week's battle at the Scottish Parliament over the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill .. so I emailed Murdo McLeod of Scotland on Sunday on Friday afternoon posing the question. I got a response back from another reporter, on Saturday, telling me they were, but after a lot of arm twisting that week, their article would be in support of the legal profession (which made the reporter who contacted me, "sick").
Sad isn't it ... Scotland on Sunday was quick enough to seek me out for a comment on the Leslie Cumming attack story, after they had been briefed by Law Society officials that websites critisising the legal profession should be 'taken out' .. along with their authors .. goodness knows, there are a few in the legal profession who have even offered money to 'take me out' .. as one person who-should-know... put it recently but SOS was warned against printing anything else from me critisising the state of the legal profession with regard to regulatory matters ... so even though there are those who are consciencious enough to keep me informed of events on their staff .. the paper just can't let me have my say .. oh well .. bit sad for democracy there I suppose .. let the lawyers have their say but don't interview their victims...
Magnus Linklater as you can see from his "Wikipedia" entry (for all that's worth, as Wikipedia has been mostly in the news for fiddled entries by either special interests, politicians secretaries, companies, or lawyers with sex offence convictions) .. has had a long career in journalism, even being the editor of the Scotsman from 1988 - 1994.
So, it's a good thing, the frauds of the well known crooked Borders solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors Kelso came after 1994 ... otherwise, in the light of Linklater's opinion in today's Scotland on Sunday .. my problems with the legal profession would never have been so extensively reported as they were.
Maybe Linklater's opinion would be different if he had been ruined by some crooked lawyers .. after all, one writes best, from experience .. so maybe he should write about the turmoil of house fires, as I read from his wikipedia entry .. pity ... wonder if he has a lawyer helping him with the house fire & insurance claim he sufferend.
Linklater's wife is a libdem peer, according to the Wikipedia entry on Mr Linklater. We all know the LibDems support the legal profession & particularly, the Law Society of Scotland, as a party. They have stated so, as a party, many times in the past.
The Liberal Democrats have a collective party policy of denying assistance to constituents who report difficulties with the Law Society of Scotland & legal profession.. so judging by Linklater's article today, his isn't a friendly house to any proposed reforms intended to bring transparency, honesty and independence to complaints against crooked lawyers.
In fact, reading the article, and taking it's contents along with everything else we have read from the legal profession lately .. one could be forgiven for thinking Linklater is yet another one, dragged out on behalf of Scotland's desperate legal profession, who are out at any costs to thward the progress of the LPLA Bill.
After all, he does go on to mention the Law Society of Scotland dusting off Lord Lester of Herne Hill to give an opinion that "it infringed Article 6 of the convention because the complaints commission would not be "an independent and impartial tribunal".
Lord Lester of Herne Hill is a LibDem peer ... anyone made a connection yet ? .. What was that I was saying earlier about the LibDems supporting the legal profession AGAINST the public in these reforms ?
How many times have I read 'f*ck off' letters from LibDem politicians to constituents who have been ripped off and ruined by their lawyers, and the Law Society hasn't done anything about it ? .. some of those letters from very senior members of the LibDem party ..
To futher justify Linklater's article, he adds insult to injury of the people of Zimbabwe .. in referring to Sternford Moyo, former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe's words of support for the Law Society of Scotland earlier this week .. where he claimed Scotland could be heading for a Zimbabwe style dictatorship if complaints against lawyers were made independent.
My my .. that's more than a little bit over the top, Mr Linklater .. it's a BIG bit over the top ... comparing the Law Society of Scotland's loss of control of complaints to the suffering of Zimbabwe and it's people under Robert Mugabe.
Indicentally .. I see there are people being deported back to Zimbabwe from the UK ... even though Moyo claims it's a dangerous dictatorship .. what's up with these poor people's lawyers then ? aren't they doing their job well enough to prevent them being deported back to face possible torture & death, because they dissented from Mugabe's party line ? Why isn't the Law Society fighting for these people's rights to stay in the UK if it is conveniently using the suffering of one of it's colleagues in the same country, earmarked as a dangerous dictatorship ? ... bit one sided, yes ? or perhaps .. Human Rights don't matter to those in the legal profession, unless of course, the situation can be twisted to support the power players of the Law Society's own ends ...
Linklater goes on to bring out a host of others to defend the Law Society of Scotland quoting every major figure who has appeared in defence of the legal profession in the past few weeks .. even, ludicrously, dragging Sir Walter Scott into the debate .. but nowhere does there appear, the opinion of the public in his article .. and certainly nowhere, does there appear any opinions from the actual victims of the legal profession.
Linklater saves the last words of his opinion, to continue the attack of the legal profession on the alleged competency of the Scottish Parliament - for taking up the complaints of clients & the public against the Law Society .. with his reference to those in the legal profession who "... argued forcibly that the way the Scottish Parliament was handling the matter was inadequate, incompetent and possibly even unconstitutional. Those are harsh charges, but they deserve a serious response. At the heart of this debate lies not just the good name of the Scottish legal system, but the nature of Scottish democracy."
Indeed, Magnus, at the heart of this debate, lies not just the crooked name of the Scottish legal system - from McKie's faked fingerprint reports, to the 100 year secrets of a child murdering Politician friendly freemason, to a possibly faked up Lockerbie Trial verdict to suit political ends at the time, to many members of the legal fraternity whose names appeared in Operation Ore, but whose prosecutions were obstructed or dropped, to the conduct in both public & private life by members of the judificary & legal profession, who have used & abused their position for decades.
At the heart of this debate, Magnus, lies the effectiveness of the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament, our Scottish Democracy, to stand up to the dirty tricks and intimidation tactics of the legal profession & the judiciary, who are, a law unto themselves, and who use the law against anyone who would challenge their dictatorship.
That is why the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, must come into law, and there must be a completely independent system of regulating ALL complaints against Scotlands legal profession.
Whenever we see reforms of other laws called for by the media or politicians, or cases where a criminal doesn't get a deserving sentence, we see opinions from the family of a murdered victim, a grieving spouse over the death of a partner in medical care, or a victims support group or charity or even known victims of the same thing, give their thoughts & opinion printed ..
Not when it comes to the question of dealing with lawyers though .. oh no, ... only the opinion of the legal profession & those who have the most to lose from the new LPLA Bill, and reforms to the handling of complaints against lawyers, finds it's way into the press .
Magnus - Just ask any of those clients & members of the public whom the legal profession have tried to wipe out, just because they have filed complaints against a crooked lawyer - these victims, will tell you a very different opinion from that which you force upon others as 'fact'.
Link from Scotland on Sunday, at : http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=1336222006
Sun 10 Sep 2006
Law reforms threaten to shake foundations of our democracy
THERE seems no good reason for the Scottish Parliament to be at loggerheads with the legal profession in Scotland. The parliament is pledged to uphold the integrity, independence, customs and traditions of Scots law. The Scotland Act of 1998 enshrined the separate status of the legal system. Strengthening that independence is meant to be at the heart of legislation currently being considered by the parliament, which debated it last week. Yet it all seems to be going horribly wrong.
Far from shoring up the system, the new reforms will, in the view of a majority of lawyers, fatally undermine it. From the appointment of judges to the setting up of a complaints procedure which will ultimately be controlled by politicians, there is a mounting impression that English reforms are being incorporated into the Scottish system, eroding the very values on which it is founded.
The anger of the lawyers boiled over at a remarkable conference convened last week by the Law Society of Scotland. It heard from some of Scotland's top legal minds. They did not mince their words.
Sir David Edward, one of the country's most respected lawyers, and formerly the sole British judge at the European Court of Justice, spoke of his "profound depression" at the provisions of the new Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, which will set up a new complaints commission, giving power to Scottish ministers for the first time to pass judgment on the performance of the legal profession.
Far from strengthening independence, he said, "it has every intention of doing exactly the opposite". He said it represented "a slavish imitation of English innovations" and he quoted Sir Walter Scott, who had campaigned passionately against the Whig reforms of 1806, and had warned: "Little by little, whatever your wishes may be, you will destroy and undermine, until nothing of what makes Scotland Scotland shall remain."
Lord McCluskey, now retired as a judge, but as forthright as ever, said the appointment of a civil servant as solicitor-general, and the complicity of the Lord Advocate in allowing the steady erosion of judicial independence, was leading to "a lazy tendency to adopt English solutions", that the parliament's consultancy process was "a mockery", and that the reforms being introduced threatened "an unprecedented degree of government control".
To rub in the message, the society heard from Sternford Moyo, former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, who had served time in prison for attempting to defend judicial independence under Robert Mugabe, and who warned Scotland might be heading the same way.
Most outsiders might conclude that all this was a trifle over the top, and that lawyers are not necessarily the most objective critics when it comes to defending their own profession. But as the discussion became more detailed, some worrying aspects of the debate began to emerge. Perhaps the most disturbing concerns the competence of the Scottish Parliament's committee system to absorb, consider and refine complex legal reforms without a revising chamber. Both the Justice 1 Committee and the Justice 2 Committee have been involved, over the past few years, in considering reforms, and have heard evidence about serious concerns from lawyers. But thus far the central provisions of the Bill are unchanged.
The law society argues that the new commission, which will have the power to hear complaints against the legal profession, is not independent of government; that it will be a quango controlled by the Executive; that ministers will have the power to appoint and remove its members, and that it poses a direct threat to the rule of law. Those arguments have been ignored.
More damningly, when the society called in one of the UK's top experts on the European Convention of Human Rights to examine whether the Bill was fully compatible, he concluded it was not. Lord Lester of Herne Hill said it infringed Article 6 of the convention because the complaints commission would not be "an independent and impartial tribunal", and there was no external appeal process. This suggests that civil servants who drafted the Bill had simply not taken on board its wider implications.
Most of those speaking at the conference, representing both sides of the profession - solicitors and advocates - conceded that parliament had every right to consider legal reforms. They accepted, too, that there were legitimate concerns about the rights of the public when it came to challenging the competence or performance of lawyers.
But they argued forcibly that the way the Scottish Parliament was handling the matter was inadequate, incompetent and possibly even unconstitutional. Those are harsh charges, but they deserve a serious response. At the heart of this debate lies not just the good name of the Scottish legal system, but the nature of Scottish democracy.