Friday, September 21, 2007

Criticism of Scottish Government legal service as Chief moves to Law Society President role

Richard Henderson's appointment as President of the Law Society of Scotland is tackled by Peter Cherbi, who is quite critical of the transfer from Chief of the Government Legal Service for Scotland to a role which lobbies for the profession's interests against those of the public ..

Government Legal Service for Scotland - 'no help to victims of injustice'

If anyone wondered why the Scottish Executive, formerly the Scottish Office, and now renamed in it's latest incarnation, the Scottish Government, was always so shy to deal with people who, in desperation wrote to our 'governing administration' in Scotland because self regulatory bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland were and still are letting crooked lawyers off the hook on even the most serious of charges, they need to look at just how entrenched lawyers have become over the years in government & public services in Scotland.

The Government Legal Service for Scotland, which of course is supposed to serve government and the people in terms of keeping the actions of Government, and the implementation of legislation within legal compliance, seems to have been serving the legal profession itself too, advising continually over the years, that any effort on the part of politicians to assist complainers against solicitors, should be resisted.

The GLSS has also intervened in Parliamentary submissions by members of the public, censoring their content to withhold the names of solicitors identified in scandals & corruption, and notably, lawyers from the GLSS have also been involved in scandals from everything from the Dunblane Inquiry, to the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal, to the Hep C contaminated blood products cover up, to just about every single scandal and inquiry you could think of which has happened in Scotland .... no surprise, that in most of these cases, even it seems, when some Ministers have been caught with dodgy mortgage expenses and other fiddles, legal advice from solicitors in the GLSS has been to delay, lose documents, filibuster, prevaricate, intimidate, seek records on people taking issue with government policy, and finding out information on critics with public standing, in efforts to weaken their case.

Slimy stuff .. perhaps, a well organised dirty tricks operation one could say ... and one would be correct in saying that .. but aren't these solicitors who work in public service supposed to be doing something else ? or are targeting the critics of public policy, and holding people in continual injustice just for political means, the stuff of public service these days ?

A few years ago I began to wonder what solicitors for the Scottish Executive Government, did, after constantly seeing some of their 'advice' on issues, ranging from my own correspondence with the Government over the Law Society's failure to investigate crooked lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso and the crooked Borders accountant Norman Howitt

Advice from those giving it to Scottish Ministers & Departments, apparently ranged from "don't respond to this man" to comments such as "we have to get something on him to shut him up" .

It made me wonder ...if these solicitors & their colleagues were saying that about me, they were saying the same about the other 1000 plus people a year who were also writing to the Scottish Executive over just how corrupt the Law Society of Scotland was, and just how corrupt the Scottish legal system was in general .. and it turned out, they were doing just that ...

One particular piece of correspondence from a Solicitor at the Executive, a memo, went on at some length seeking answers as to why or how I was able to secure the attention of the Scotsman newspaper, which ran many stories on the crooked lawyer Andrew Penman scandal, and which also helped to publicise other people's cases of complaints against crooked lawyers, and the failings of self regulation by the Law Society of Scotland.

Attempts to put a stop to the Scotsman running stories on my case ranged from quiet words in the ear of some at the newspaper (and at other newspapers), to an organised attempt to eradicate my credibility with the media, which, thankfully, did not work. It seems no expense or effort was spared in this operation ... and given there are many people in the same boat as myself, I should imagine the GLSS have been running around for years, at taxpayers expense, making sure that victims of injustice, stay victims of injustice. Great work for the wicked ... and well paid too.

Solicitors who work for the GLSS, are of course, also, first & foremost, members of the Law Society of Scotland. Their duty to the Executive and public service, is only surpassed by their duty to their professional body, which if not carried out, will see the revocation of their practicing certificate.

Solicitors for the GLSS also pay into the Master Insurance Policy - the infamous Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme ran by Marsh UK, subsidiary to scandal laden Marsh & Mclennan of the US - which incidentally, is affiliated to virtually every single political party in the UK, even having had a former Scottish Secretary of State, and now Peer - Lord Lang of Monkton on it's Board of Directors You will all of course, remember what happened to the very same Ian Lang when he was an MP ... and errm .... an occasional scandal ...

However, the solicitors for the GLSS don't need to pay their subscriptions to the Master Insurance Policy themselves - they get it via an expenses claim submitted to the Executive, who cover the cost at your expense.

What a great perk - and thus, GLSS solicitors can be as dilatory and negligent as they want after that - because as we all know, no one can make successful claims against the crooked Master Insurance Policy of the Law Society of Scotland ... which has seen everything from the Police being used by lawyers to defeat public complaints & intimidate clients, to meddling from the likes of Law Society Chief Executive Douglas Mill in order to destroy negligence cases against his colleagues.

The new Justice Secretary will know about all this of course... so my concern is .. when are we to be told just how deeply the legal arm of Government in Scotland has held victims of injustice in perpetual injustice for so long, just so a few careers can be saved, a few people can make a lot of money, and of course, a few people can waste away in ruin, to ensure all this goes off smoothly.

Isn't that a bit like someone giving advise that an abuser should go on abusing their victims to keep them from getting help to stop the abuse ?

Well, just to show you how well traveled these GLSS solicitors are, conveniently, their boss, Richard Henderson, who was the GLSS Chief while also being Vice President of the Law Society of Scotland, has now become full President, after the carefully arranged resignation of John MacKinnon from the post a few weeks ago, on grounds of 'pressure of work'.

Needless to say the Law Society of Scotland, in it's darkest hour of need, required a government insider to take the albeit symbolic position of President, and give pointers on how to prevent too much reform in the public interest ... and I'd say they have the very man for that - since Mr Henderson has been in Government service for the past 23 years or so.

If that were for instance, a Government minister of a Department, say, the Secretary of Defence, resigning and going to Chair a Weapons company which had significant government contracts, ministerial rules would kick in and prevent it ... but because it's the legal profession, a well known law unto itself .. no one bats an eyelid .. and some are even engaged to re-write the history of the whole episode.

Don't worry too much about Mr Henderson's salary cut though .. he gets £80,000 a year just being in the 'figurehead' position of President of the Law Society ... well worth it to those who wish to stall any pro public interest reforms perhaps .. with all those connections still in government ...

For a look into the murky, unaccountable world of Government Legal Services for Scotland, and Mr Henderson's appointment as President of the Law Society, here is a story from the Scotsman earlier this week, followed by a brief on GLSS services and capabilities, which don't always act or operated in the public interest when it comes to the interests of the legal profession and other professional colleagues, being at odds with that same public interest, or indeed, with justice itself ...

You may of course, conclude that someone within the GLSS has 'spilled the beans' on some of the things I have written about here ... if you did, you would be correct of course, but it would of course not be proper for me to divulge anyone's name in that respect now, would it ....

New kid on the Law Soc's block


IF TIME does indeed fly, then Richard Henderson might feel that it is travelling at something approaching a supersonic speed. His first interview as president of the Law Society of Scotland was pencilled in for next May but, following the sudden resignation of John MacKinnon last month, Henderson stepped up to the plate.

When his predecessor clearly felt overwhelmed by trying to balance the presidential role with his workload as a solicitor, Henderson might have been forgiven for feeling a degree of trepidation about taking over.

The decision was made easier by the fact he recently retired as solicitor to the former Scottish Executive, but Henderson acknowledges there is something of a leap between the responsibilities of vice president and president, and he hints this may be a issue for the society to consider in the future.

"The question is to what extent the office-bearers can be involved because of the changing world we are in, particularly in the profession," he says. "One of the challenges for the future is the level of involvement."

However, he stresses he believes practising solicitors do want to be involved in setting strategy, rather than leaving the bulk of such work to chief executive Douglas Mill and his team. "I detect there is a desire to be involved in change and a recognition change is something that is with us, and it is an opportunity and not a threat," he adds.

Change has been a hallmark of his time on the society's council. Henderson's decision to become a co-opted member in 1998 came at a time of seismic political change and he wanted to make a contribution during the early years of devolution.

"I thought then that government lawyers had a lot to offer," he says. "Historically, we have not really been involved in the business of the Law Society, but it was the point at which devolution became a reality and I thought that they should be involved with the professional body."

While Henderson is not the first lawyer with an in-house background to be president, he is the first government lawyer to fill the post. Given the somewhat fraught relationship between the society and the former Executive over issues such as complaints handling and legal aid, his understanding of the workings of the civil service may help.

However Henderson (who was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath in the new year's honours list), acknowledges that much is different even in the short period since he stepped down.

"Quite obviously it is true to say the dynamics of government are somewhat changed," he says. "I don't think that will preclude the continuing involvement of government lawyers. Given the way the agendas of government and the Law Society often interact, there may be some advantage in my being a government lawyer - I don't see it as a disadvantage."

Henderson will certainly have a different perspective from the majority of past presidents, most of whom have been solicitors in private practice. After qualifying as a solicitor in 1972, Henderson joined the Scottish Office, rising to solicitor to the secretary of state for Scotland in 1998 and becoming solicitor to the Scottish Executive in 1999.

Except for a three-year stint on secondment to the Scottish Law Commission, Henderson has worked in government for his entire career. While he comes from a different background to MacKinnon, the short-term agenda is already set. He identifies three key strands as priorities: governance; education and training; and standards.

Work to set standards is probably top of the list and is closely linked to the imminent opening of the new "gateway" for service complaints, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. But Henderson insists the profession would have addressed this issue with or without the advent of the commission and points to existing "quality marking" schemes such as the society's accreditation of specialists. He also sits on the board of the new signet accreditation scheme launched by the WS Society.

"It has been a vexed question over the years," he says. "I don't think the commission is the sole driver but it is indeed a catalyst."

A working group has been formed to draw up options for consultation next year. It is a time-consuming process, and one critics might argue is long overdue: an "arid debate" as far as Henderson is concerned.

The fact the society won't have developed a set of standards before the commission starts looking at service complaints does not worry him, he adds: "The intention is we should be in a position to offer statements on standards to the commission, when it goes live, can have some indication of what the profession thinks."

The implications of the OFT's response to the recent Which? super-complaint and the advent of alternative business structures, which will be debated at a major Law Society of Scotland conference later this month, will also require the society to grapple with some difficult issues. Henderson recognises the need to balance the economic arguments for firms to be able to compete on a level playing field with their English counterparts with concerns about the impact on smaller firms serving rural areas.

As Henderson will remain president until May 2009, he will be in the unusual position of having almost double the normal length of time to make an impact, and is keen to get other members of council to play a greater role: "The important thing is the profession is able to respond to the future and anything I can do to assist that is what I am here for."

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