Restrictions required on the interests of lay members in the world of self regulation
From responses to my last article reporting on the appointment of a former Law Society President to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland Complaints Committee in a 'public interest' role it seems those people whom the professions and public services select in a "lay membership role" go on to make a living out of it, appearing on many other Committees of other professions in similar positions.
Generally this has been known about for some time .. the same faces appearing on different 'regulatory panels' or public bodies, or quangos .. but surely, now with a new Executive led by a party which has been shouting about this kind of cronyism for so long, these issues must be looked at ? I think so.
I was quite interested last week to learn of the various positions of Barbara Duffner, who is one of the "Public Interest Members" of ICAS, there to ensure, allegedly, that complaints are handled properly and without bias towards the public.
My own experiences with ICAS of course, differ greatly from the way the Scottish accountants regulatory claim they handle complaints ... and I have commented before on my experiences with ICAS regarding one of Scotland's most famous crooked accountants - Norman Howitt, CA of Welch & Co, Chartered Accountants Hawick & Galashiels.
My experiences with ICAS predate Mrs Duffner's appointment to their Committee framework, but if I were asked if her input into my complaint against Norman Howitt may make a difference, I would say no, because no matter what anyone may say about Norman Howitt, despite how he stole my mothers bank & pension books, tried to con her out of all her savings for himself, ICAS would overrule them and make sure Mr Howitt kept his job.
Not casting any aspersions of course, on how Mrs Duffner goes about her businesses, but was the position of a "Lay Member" ever intended to give rise to one person repeating their position in so many other instances ?
Here is a copy of a comment made in response to my article of Tuesday, listing Barbara Duffner's positions :
Barbara Duffner was elected as a Lay Member to Council in 2004 with the principal role of ensuring that the public interest is properly safeguarded.
Barbara qualified with an honours degree in Psychology from London University in 1967. She was awarded an OBE for services to young people in 2002
Barbara worked with Royal Mail from 1969 until her retirement in 2004, latterly as Head of Personnel.
She was involved with the Children’s Hospice Association of Scotland from the early 1990s until 2006. She is also currently a Board Member of the Judicial Appointments Board, Scottish Enterprise, the Student Loan Company and she is a Member of the Fitness to Practice Panel of the General Dental Council, the Welfare to Work Task Force and Employment Tribunals. Barbara was appointed as a Lay member to the Court of the University of Glasgow in 2006.
Previous appointments have included work with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Chairmanship of the review of the Careers Service in Scotland.
Barbara lives in Lanarkshire and her interests include developing 6 acres of land which she recently acquired and adjusting with enthusiasm to a portfolio career.
Barbara Duffner took early retirement from Royal Mail at the end of March 2004.
She had been with Royal Mail since leaving university in 1969. Although she worked primarily within Human Resources, she also had experience of line management, strategic planning and management of very large projects. In 2001 she chaired a review of the Careers Service in Scotland, this led to substantial changes and the creation of 'Careers Scotland'.
Barbara is Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; a Board Member of Scottish Enterprise; a member of the Judicial Appointments Board in Scotland; and a lay member of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. She is also a non-executive director of the Student Loans Company and an Employment tribunal member. In 2006 she was appointed to the Court of the University of Glasgow as a lay member.
Barbara Duffner OBE, FRSA
Barbara Duffner was Head of Personnel North for Royal Mail until she took early retirement at the end of March 2004. She is a Board Member of the Student Loan Company, a member of the Judicial Appointments Board Scotland and sits on the Fitness to Practice Panel of the General Dental Council. She is a public interest member of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland and has joined the Court of the University of Glasgow.
Barbara is also an Employment Tribunal member. She was a member of the Welfare to Work task Force and chaired the review of the Careers Service in Scotland which led to the creation of Careers Scotland and the transfer of responsibility for ensuring the provision of all age guidance to Scottish Enterprise and Highland and Island Enterprise.
Barbara was awarded the OBE in the 2002 New Years Honours list.
The above seems to be quite common for many of these lay members of regulatory committees, public body positions, and quangos ... but why on earth is it allowed in such a cramped world, when inevitably complaints, personalities and issues will cross over from profession to profession, invoking serious conflicts of interest, which I have observed definitely at ICAS and the Law Society of Scotland.
Regardless of the capabilities of a person, it is surely time to call for restrictions on the amount of Committee positions someone can carry as a "Lay Member" or "Public Interest Member", as it is simply not in the public interest to allow this to go on any longer.
So how do the lay members perform on Committees you may ask ?
Well, from my own experience - not very well.
The lay members of the Law Society of Scotland's Complaints Committees, are to put it mildly, very weak.
Taking my own direct experience of the lay members on the complaints I made to the Law Society of Scotland over the years, I would call them a bunch of quislings, who are too enamored with their lawyer friends who sit at the end of the table to be of any value to the public at all.
Indeed, the lay membership of the Law Society Complaints Committees have shown themselves to be so ineffective, so useless, so willing to go along with fiddling complaints against crooked lawyers, that the Scottish Parliament had to pass the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 to reform regulation of the legal profession in Scotland because it is so corrupt.
Some of my own experiences with the Law Society's Complaints Committees is contained in this article :
When it came to the lay members of ICAS looking into my complaint against crooked accountant Norman Howitt, I found the lay members generally had no grasp of the situation and how Mr Howitt had went about covering up his actions. Worse, was that both lay members, one a former Captain of HMS Ark Royal, had completely missed Norman Howitt's attempt to cover his tracks of embezzling money in his firm's account by filing false information with Lothian & Borders Police. I wonder why lay members would miss such a thing ? unless they were told to perhaps ?
Now of course, we have the addition of two lawyers to the ICAS Complaints Committee framework - and from the past performance of the Law Society of Scotland, I don't think we can expect any great change to how the accountants fiddle complaints against their members ... possibly with more lawyers on board, the situation will get worse ?
Some would argue, of course, that having the same people as lay members on different regulatory committees in different professions, brings an air of experience in dealing with complaints and would ensure a greater respect by those committees for fairness & transparency.
Is that actually the case ? Does anyone believe that at all, when we have people up and down the land making complaints against professionals to their self regulatory bodies and those complaints getting thrown out time and again, even on the most serious charges which could possibly be made ? I think the answer to that one is a big "NO" - as we have found with the way the lay member system works in the world of regulating complaints against lawyers, doctors, Police, Judiciary & Court staff, the Fiscals service, local authorities and many other public services ...
Time then for restrictions on how many Committees lay members can serve on .. because time and again, many of them prove they don't live up to public expectation or perception, and with quite a few of them on several committees of professions not performing their regulatory function as transparently as they should - it's time to spread the workload and bring in a much more transparent form of selection of lay members, more akin to how jury duty is handled, rather than seeking out those already on other professions committees ...