Monday, April 06, 2009

Justice Secretary failed to approve code of conduct as SLCC went 'on the razzle' with £4.5million

In an interesting turn of events, it has been reported the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill failed to approve a code of conduct for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, before it began receiving public money in January 2008.

The SLCC was set up by an Act of the Scottish Parliament (the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007) to act as a single gateway for complaints against solicitors. Revelations from leaks & FOI enquiries show the law complaints body, tasked with taking on many duties formerly undertaken by the Law Society of Scotland's "Client Relations Department", has been operating for well over a year without an approved code of conduct, which only came to light after media coverage of the antics of several board members & officials.

Some inside the profession speculate the lack of implementation of a code to regulate the SLCC's members decisions & actions may render most of their work to-date, invalid. (What work ? they’ve been too busy demanding pensions & insurance perks ! – Ed)

Peter Cherbi’s Diary of Injustice in Scotland law blog reports exclusively :

MacAskill 'negligent' as revelations show £4.5m Legal Complaints Commission operating with no standards oversight one year on

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission avoided standards code for over one year. It has emerged that while the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission rushed through key policies enabling it to refuse to investigate the most serious & severe complaints against crooked lawyers which occurred before 1st October 2008, the commission delayed implementing an official code of conduct which would have made their actions & decisions accountable to the Standards Commission for Scotland and Scottish Ministers.

MacAskill tight lipped Justice Secretary MacAskill still to sign off on scrutiny of law complaints quango over one year later. The 'draft' code of conduct, which has apparently been one of the last things on the law complaints body’s mind, is only now being rushed through due to coverage in the media of the disorderly conduct of board members & officials, where some appear out of touch and confused as to what their actual job entails, while others indulged in protracted hate fuelled exchanges over consumer organisations and campaign groups who have pressed for reform of the SLCC's poor, and ever so slightly anti-consumer attitude, to-date.

The Justice Secretary was asked why it has taken him over a year to sign off on rules of accountability for the highly paid members of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who receive up to £350 a day plus expenses for their work, and which Mr MacAskill has already thrown nearly £2.5 million of taxpayers money into.

A spokesman for the Justice Secretary would only say : "The SLCC has submitted its draft Code of Conduct for Ministerial approval. This will be available to the media once it has been approved.”

"There has been a draft document in place since before the Commission opened. This has been under development and has just recently been submitted for Ministerial approval. It will now be considered and the agreed code will be made publicly available."

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailSLCC officials may challenge Justice Secretary ‘on discipline’ after he ‘forgot’ to implement conduct role. However it has emerged that SLCC officials & board members feel their actions, reported in the media, cannot be disciplined under the so far unapproved 'draft' code of conduct and the Justice Secretary today refused to be drawn on the prospect he may be powerless to discipline his own appointments to the commission due to a lack of an official code of conduct he is yet to approve, one year on. Sources within the Scottish Government’s Justice Department however, have privately expressed fury with the revelations of the conduct of the SLCC officials named in the media, which I reported here : MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members 'booze culture conduct' reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers

In a further development, a senior solicitor this morning alleged the Justice Secretary may have been negligent in not ensuring the SLCC, set up with millions of pounds of taxpayers money had a code of conduct in place to scrutinise its workings.

He said "It is almost unthinkable that millions of pounds of public money was handed over to a few people who then took decisions they would not do the job the commission was intended to do".

He went on "It is possible that since no code of conduct was in place, and there was effectively no oversight of the work of the commission members, their decisions on everything so far, could well be invalid. There is little chance officials or board members could be held accountable for their actions, including the recent reports in the media relating to email exchanges between commission officials since there is currently no enforceable code of conduct."

standards commissionStandards Commission for Scotland investigate integrity in public life. The Standards Commission for Scotland, which would be responsible for investigating the SLCC’s officials, sensationally admitted today there was still no external oversight in place for the joint taxpayer-legal profession funded legal complaints commission, even after millions of pounds of taxpayers money had been spent and over one year of work had take place at the SLCC by Ministerial appointees at £350 a day each.

A spokesman for the Standards Commission said : "The Commission has internally approved a draft Code of Conduct, which is in the process of being agreed by Ministers and available from the SLCC or via their website."

The Standards Commission was then asked for their position on rumours that SLCC board members & officials may challenge any disciplinary inquiry, due to the huge gaffe by the Justice Secretary in not ensuring a code of oversight existed before commission members began work last January.

A spokesman for the Standards Commission admitted : "The Office of the CIO is unable to investigate conduct which occurred prior to the relevant code of conduct being approved."

"Any complaint regarding the conduct of an SLCC Commissioner prior to this date should be made in writing to the Chief Executive Officer, Eileen Masterman, at The Stamp Office, 10 – 14 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3EG."

Eileen MastermanSLCC CEO Masterman “agreed” with offensive opinions on consumer organisations. It turns out however, that SLCC Chief Executive, Eileen Masterman, who is on £1350 per week, and is currently on holiday, is herself implicated in the widely reported email-gate scandal where bitter hate fuelled exchanges took place regarding personal opinions of several board members against consumer organisations & campaign groups, as it turns out just because many outsiders to the SLCC don't agree with the Law Society's line on regulating Scotland's legal profession.

A member of staff at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission condemned the actions of some of her colleagues, claiming "They have brought the commission into widespread disrepute and damaged its credibility with the public"

She went on "It appears there are some within the commission who see their job as a mission to undermine what was a genuine attempt to clean up regulation of the legal profession started by the previous administration.

“I don't think consumers will get any satisfaction with the way the commission is being bullied around by interests from the legal profession who should never have been part of it in the first place as we are now seeing demonstrated in their attitudes.".

It was confirmed today that complaints have been lodged with the Chief Executive against SLCC board members and officials, however who will actually investigate the issues is still to be decided given the CEO’s actions are also of a questionable nature, and that so far, no action has been taken against board members for their less than ethical standards of work.

You may wish to read more articles on problems at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission here : Some previous articles on the SLCC

If it is true as some think, the decisions taken by commission members are now invalid due to there not being a code of conduct or method of oversight & accountability of their decisions to this date, I would put it to the SLCC that one of their top priorities should now be to clear the air and take a decision to investigate all complaints against solicitors, including issues arising prior to 1st October 2008, including the many cases where the Law Society of Scotland whitewashed complaints against thoroughly crooked solicitors.

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