Friday, March 13, 2009

Legal Complaints Commission seeks to exclude consumer groups as members launch personal attacks against reformers

Life goes not so well for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, whose board members have decided on a hate fuelled war of words against law campaigners & regulation reformers … sounds like another day at the Law Society of Scotland, right ?

It seems from the emails revealed in recent FOIs to campaigners, the entire board membership of the SLCC dislike anyone who might not be a solicitor .. which begs the question .. why are they there and what are they doing at the SLCC ?

Peter Cherbi’s “A Diary of Injustice in Scotland” reports more on the news from the SLCC :

Insults fly at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Law chiefs launch bitter tirades against campaign groups & law reformers

SLCC squareScottish Legal Complaints Commission – a new ‘Law Society’ with the same mistakes. Spectacular revelations in emails obtained under Freedom of Information laws show that board members of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who were personally appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, have engaged in bitter tirades against consumer campaign organisations & law reformers, frustrated their inclusion in the debate on improving regulation of Scotland's beleaguered legal profession may eradicate the present system of lawyers closing ranks for their crooked colleagues over complaints of poor legal service to clients.

SLCC reference to SACL 5Margaret Scanlan called campaigners against crooked lawyers "offensive". Margaret Scanlan, a lawyer, who is listed in the SLCC's website as being “an accredited specialist in family law at Russells Gibson McCaffrey” laid into consumer groups such as "Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers" in emails to & from colleagues, branding the organisation's website "offensive" and going on to claim that "no reputable organisations has anything to do with them". Margaret Scanlan : "I would prefer that we not give any recognition to SACL. I do not see why we have to name them even if we are bound to engage with them. Their website is offensive and so far as I am aware no reputable organisations has anything to do with them"’

Scanlan's initial email then started a tirade of abuse & agreement against consumer groups from other members of the Legal Complaints Commission, surprisingly including agreement from Professor Alan Paterson, who is listed on the SLCC's website as being “Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Studies at Strathclyde University, an independent "Think Tank" on the Scottish Legal System.” Independent from what ?

SLCC reference to SACL 1Professor Patterson agreed campaigners against lawyers were "offensive". Professor Paterson : "Can see both sides of the argument on Society against Crooked lawyers. They are offensive, but I do not think that we can safely ignore them. Maybe best not to mention we will involve them since it may create hostages to fortune but I agree with you that they cannot wisely be ignored in this research."

Eileen Masterman SLCC Chief Exec Eileen Masterman agreed campaigners were "offensive". The bitter tirade against campaign groups did not stop with Board members, as emails show, even the SLCC's Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman sided with the Board members, condemning the campaign organisation as being "offensive" however Masterman conceded SACL would have to be included if only to give the impression the commission was not being "partial in some way".

SLCC reference to SACL - Eileen MastermanSLCC Chief Exec conceded campaigners must be allowed in. Eileen Masterman : "She (Margaret Scanlan) says their website is offensive (agreed) and that to her knowledge no reputable organisation has had anythign to do with them. I have no great difficulty with Margaret's first point but I think that if we name them straigt off we immediately dispose of any potential criticism saying that we are being partial in some way. Which ever way we deal wit this point though I believe they have to be included".

Scotsman 8 January 1999 Independent watchdog for lawyers proposedScottish Consumer Council "should not have interfered in regulation of lawyers” in 1999. An insider close to the commission today said : "Several consumer organisations including the former Scottish Consumer Council have been berated by people within the SLCC for their interference in the debate on reforming regulation of solicitors”. It was further alleged that the SCC, now renamed "Consumer Focus Scotland) was referred to by some as "a stooge of disgruntled clients during the 1990s" - this seems to relate to the SCC’s 1999 report “Complaints against Solicitors” which called for independent regulation to be brought in years before the Scottish Parliament passed the LPLA (Scotland) Act in early 2007.

SACL websiteLaw Society’s failings over complaints created SACL. An insider to the Scottish Government today condemned the email exchange from members of the SLCC. He said: "I understand why lawyers feel bad about Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers but the fact is if the Law Society had cleaned up its act and resolved the cases we keep getting letters about at the Justice Department, there would be no Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers and probably no need for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission so the lawyers are their own worst enemy - they created SACL so they will have to live with it from now on."

He went on : "I don't think personal tirades against campaigners no matter who they are serve any positive purpose and only seek to undermine the foundations of the commission, which is fast becoming a joke in any case. The Government has a lot to answer for by allowing things to get out of hand to the stage where insults are flying and it seems some members don't even know what they are supposed to be doing. This shows there are serious failings at the SLCC which need to be put right."

Jane IrvineSLCC Chairman Jane Irvine. Jane Irvine, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission Chairman would make no comment directly on the criticisms of board members, other than saying : "I can simply say that I encourage very open discussion at all meetings and am not aware of any “ferocity” of feeling against the SACL by the Board as a whole nor that this is reflected in decision making. The SACL have as you know been included as a consultee in research."

Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionMembers of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Ultimately, these bitter exchanges reflect the same policy of undermining or excluding anyone from the debate on regulation of the legal services market in Scotland which the Law Society of Scotland has operated for years. Now these bitter feelings towards anyone who would dare take issue with the legal profession, have simply transferred over to the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and that does not serve either the interests of the legal profession or the public interest if issues such as consumer protection from dishonest legal practice are to be tackled and put right.

No matter what anyone thinks of any particular campaign group or the consumer organisations, or law reformers, the fact is that Mrs Scanlan and her colleagues, all appointed by Mr MacAskill would not be in their highly paid (£300 plus per day as expenses) positions if it were not for the work of everyone who helped create the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. In that respect, the public do deserve to be heard, rather than excluded.

MacAskill tight lippedKenny MacAskill has allowed the SLCC to fail. This unfortunately illustrates to me, the SLCC is failing to do its job as was intended by the legislation, created from a lot of hard work from campaigners, consumer groups, and reformers, who have now been sidelined by a co-opted body now taking on the views of the very organisation (the Law Society) which prompted the SLCC’s creation in the first place. The responsibility for this failure, rests directly with the Scottish Government and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

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