Scotland's lawyers face being held to account under Freedom of Information Act after decades of secrecy & corruption
One of the key weapons employed by the Law Society of Scotland - and crooked lawyers, for that .. against, clients who complain when they find out their lawyer has gone bad .. is the management of information relating to that complaint, and the offences committed by the accused lawyer.
That might just be coming to an end though, with the results of a review on FOI now made public .. which will see "a host of organisations, including independent schools, charities and even the Faculty of Advocates " brought under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act - reports the Scotsman.
I'm quite happy about this, of course .. and although the report in today's Scotsman only mentions the Faculty of Advocates, I had written to the Justice Minister in December 2006, asking for the FOI exemption of the Law Society of Scotland to be removed. I covered this here : Law Society of Scotland & Freedom Of Information - End the Exemption Now.
Here is the response I received from the Justice Department :
To quote the letter from the Justice Department on the issue of bringing the Law Society of Scotland under the compliance of Freedom of Information legislation :
"Under sections 4 and 5 of the Act, however, Ministers can bring other bodies within the scope of the legislation. Section 4 provides for a body which is part of the Scottish Administration, or a Scottish public authority, to be added to Schedule 1. Section 5 provides for bodies which are not part of the Scottish Administration or a Scottish public authority, to be designated as a Scottish public authority on the basis that they either exercise functions of a public nature or are providing a service under contract to a public authority. Any considerations about bringing the Law Society within the scope of the Act would require to fall within the terms of section 5, as described above. "
Quite clearly, in the public interest, and given the scope of the recently passed Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, it would be wise to bring the Law Society of Scotland within the scope of Freedom of Information - as a further precaution against the legal profession being able to conduct the extensive fiddles of client complaints which lawyers, notoriously, have done for decades, to save their corrupt colleagues from punishment, hinder investigations into complaints, or stall proper compensation to ruined clients.
You can help on this issue of course, by emailing the Scottish Executive Justice Department to ensure the legal profession are brought into line with Freedom of Information.
Forcing the legal profession to comply with FOI, would certainly assist clients of solicitors - whether they have occasion to complain against their lawyer or not .. as Freedom of Information would help clients keep a better track of what their lawyer is actually doing for them .. and how the lawyer's professional body is regulating them ... rather than the lawyer & the Law Society writing the rules or getting round them, when things go wrong ...
For an example of how the legal profession have used the weapon of information denial against the public, have a look at these two earlier articles I did on how the legal profession lobbied Government to withhold certain parts of legislation which would have opened up the rights of legal representation market to Court users, revealed in an FOI disclosure request from Bill Alexander :
Information .. and the withholding of it, has been one of the prime tactics, and advantages of the legal profession in maintaining the silence and lack of general understanding of just how corrupt the legal profession has been in Scotland .. and who could expect anything else, when there are rules in the Law Society handbook which allow them to vary the rules when they so choose ... what kind of regulation is that ? Prejudiced & corrupt regulation .. that's what that is ... as many of us have experienced.
You can see an example from the Scotsman newspaper, of how information was manipulated in my complaint against Scotland's most famous crooked lawyer - Andrew Penman here :
Mr Penman's representative at the Committee, Mr James Ness, really went to town on me - just as he and his colleagues do on all those clients who dare complain against their solicitor - telling as many lies as possible, faking up the evidence, and making sure, as Ness did - that Penman and all those other crooked lawyers who go before Complaints Committees get off the hook with their frauds & scams, embezzlements, theft of clients properties, and raiding of dead clients wills ... and James Ness is the Chairman of "Law Care" - the organisation which gives "stressed out" excuses to crooked lawyers so they can get off the hook from just about anything !
So .. making the legal profession comply with Freedom of Information would be a good thing - and since we are about to have independent regulation of lawyers courtesy of the LPLA Bill, why not also give the public the right to know what their lawyers are up to and how they are regulated .. just to make sure things are really transparent.
No hiding place as plans to extend Freedom of Information unveiled
HAMISH MACDONELL SCOTTISH POLITICAL EDITOR
A HOST of organisations, including independent schools, charities and even the Faculty of Advocates could be forced to conform to the rules of the Freedom of Information Act, it emerged yesterday.
The Scottish Executive intends to contact hundreds of organisations currently exempt from the FoI regime, and then decide whether to bring them under the provisions of the act.
Margaret Curran, the minister for parliament, announced the findings of a review into the Freedom of Information Act yesterday. She said she would look closely at the fee structure but stressed she saw no need to introduce the sort of restrictions being considered by the government at Westminster.
Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, wants a new charging regime for England, which would include the time spent by ministers and officials deciding whether to release the information requested as well as the cost of collating the information.
This could effectively give every official the go-ahead to delay and refuse any request that might prove embarrassing.
Lord Falconer also wants the cost cap of £600 - at which FoI requests can be rejected if they cost more than this to collate - to apply across all requests made by one individual or organisation in a particular period of time.
Ms Curran said she did not want to take this route, but would look at the detail of the fees regime before making a final decision.
Ms Curran did, however, announce that she would examine whether organisations currently exempt from the act might be forced to conform.
There has been controversy over the decision by Glasgow City Council to create a charitable trust, Culture and Sport Glasgow, to look after the council's leisure and sport facilities. As a charitable trust, it would not be covered by the FoI regime so nobody would have the right to demand information from it.
But sources close to Ms Curran indicated yesterday that she was prepared to change the law to include charitable trusts.
She will consult on a large list of organisations which were suggested by the public for inclusion in the FoI regime. Some - such as charities which receive public funds, private prisons, Network Rail, watchdogs and ombudsmen and Creative Scotland, the national arts body - are likely to be brought within the act.
But there are other organisations which have a strong case to remain outside the act, such as independent schools and even newspapers, both of which are on the list.
Independent schools are charities but do not receive much public money and most of that is in rates relief. Newspapers and broadcasters are private companies and it would set an extraordinary precedent if media companies were forced to conform to the act while other private companies were allowed to remain on the outside.
Ms Curran said: "FoI provides ministers with a power to bring other organisations which are not Scottish public authorities within the coverage of the act.
"It has always been our intention to use this power when appropriate and proportionate.
"The review did not provide conclusive evidence to underpin any decisions on changes to the fees system.
"It's important FoI strikes a balance between encouraging use of the act by the public while not imposing an unreasonable burden on authorities. We will be looking in more detail at how the fee regulations are working in practice across Scotland."
A spokesman for Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said he was pleased the Executive had not proposed any major changes to the fee regime, adding it "made sense" to keep the bodies covered by the act under review.