Saturday, January 17, 2009

Secret Scotland : Legal Complaints Commission censored Freedom of Information requests to law journalists

Such are the scale of problems at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Freedom of Information requests made by law journalists outside the legal establishment have been censored in an attempt to keep scandals under wraps which may discredit the quango created to replace the Law Society’s regulatory function.

In a recent article by Peter Cherbi on “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland”, the SLCC were caught censoring material to law journalists, material which had already been released to other FOI requests.

FOI disclosures censored to law journalists as MacAskill’s legal complaints commission prefers secrecy to public accountability

SLCC squareIn a picture of what is fast becoming a gauge of accountability for Scottish legal issues under the current SNP controlled Scottish Government, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's unaccountable Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has decided it is better to operate under complete secrecy rather than be the transparent independent organisation it claims to be.

Material taken from an FOI release from MacAskill's legal complaints quango, the SLCC, which is populated by ex Police Chiefs, lawyers, members of the Law Society of Scotland, & ex public service ministerial appointees, show the SLCC to be just as secretive as the Law Society of Scotland are when it comes to operational matters, even after receiving multi million pound gifts of taxpayers money from the Justice Secretary.

Financial accountability at the Legal Complaints Commission – Keep everything secret, just like the Law Society of Scotland.

Audit & Finance Committee montage

Worse is to come in that while MacAskill's ministerial creation, the SLCC, will release information to the legal profession itself, and selected individuals, it now appears the SLCC have been found out to be apparently operating secret rules of information discrimination which are applied to those deemed too dangerous to the issue of handling legal regulation & complaints against Scottish solicitors, ensuring certain individuals do not receive compromising material.

One of those individuals on the SLCC's exclusion list, appears to be me, where as you can see from the following FOI release, papers which were released to others, were completely censored in response to my own FOI request, which has now been passed to the FOI Commissioner, Kevin Dunion for investigation.

Legal complaints quango releases rules discussion to some friends in the legal world :

SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 1SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 2SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 3SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 4SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 5SLCC 7&8th April Meeting  Original Page 6

… and the censored versions released to enquiring law journalists:

SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 1SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 2SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 3SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 4SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 5SLCC 7&8th April Meeting Blanked out Page 6

So as you can see its full steam backwards for MacAskill’s Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, as censorship seems to be the preferred order of the day, supported by elements of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department who themselves see the information I requested, as far too damaging to release to the public.

A source at the Justice Department earlier this week condemned the SLCC’s attempts to maintain public secrecy over it’s less than perfect operations : “I don’t think anyone out there would believe the SLCC is an honest organisation when it stoops to this kind of level – especially when they have had so much of the taxpayer’s money to begin with”.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chairman. I asked Jane Irvine, the SLCC’s Chairman for an explanation as to why FOIs were censored when the information had already been released to others, but so far, no ‘official’ statement has been given on why the SLCC felt secrecy should be maintained, at a significant use of black ink to conceal the workings of the quango from the general public, who have paid some £2 million pounds plus into the commission on the Justice Secretary’s say so

It seems therefore, the SLCC has been forced to resort to secrecy, due to the many ongoing scandals surrounding the beleaguered lawyers complaints quango, scandals which have seen the likes of stories reporting that the quango’s members have concentrated more on pensions benefits & insurance protection than actual case handling.

You can read two of my recent ‘hot topic’ articles on the going’s on at the SLCC here :

Complaints Commission 'unfit for purpose' as secret meetings with insurers & pensions take focus over consumer protection against crooked lawyers

MacAskill silent on taxpayers £2million 'write off' to lawyers quango as Complaints boss reveals Law Society defaulted on levies

A legal insider reported to me that my recent reports on the faulty operation of the SLCC, “it was felt internally PC had caused considerable damage to the organisation's public credibility to the point where attempts must be made to prevent this kind of news from reaching the public in the future”.

Fine then, and as that appears to amount to an attempt of censorship, I decided to test it out and ask some difficult questions of the Scottish Government today on another article I am writing about, concerning Mr MacAskill’s recent announced ‘consultation” on legal services in Scotland.

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Minister concerned over quango revelations ? : I was given what appears to be a hostile rebuke by the Scottish Government’s Press Officials today, who now refuse to talk to me over apparent concerns I am revealing highly sensitive issues which appear to show a concerted attempt by the present Scottish Government to undermine independent regulation of the Scottish legal services market.

Also up for criticism seems to be my damaging portrayal of last week’s announcement by Mr MacAskill of the Legal Profession Bill consultation, which, rather than actually widening ordinary Scots access to justice, will leave the legal services market as restricted and monopolised by the Law Society of Scotland as before, rather than allowing Scots to chose their own legal representatives.

I shared the Scottish Government’s Press comments to me today with a friend who is an Editor of one of Scotland’s national newspapers, his comments were : “Well Peter what do you expect ? You are doing a lot of good reporting on complicated legal issues and they will have to try and shut you up. At least you can’t be bought off with threats of ‘pulling the ads’ or a threatening telephone call from the Law Society !”.

Thanks for the vote of confidence .. I hope some of the media will take up the issues and continue to expose the lack of justice when it comes to dealing with those who supposedly represent justice !

You can read through some of the censored FOI releases, and compare them with some of the uncensored material (in Acrobat .pdf format) from Mr MacAskill’s less than open Scottish Legal Complaints Commission here :

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