Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Justice Secretary, the too-sick-to-work Chief Executive, the SECRET PAY-OFF & the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

MacAskill meets Masterman, yet months later the SLCC complaints chief left on ‘ill health’ grounds. QUESTIONS are being raised over a Scottish Government backed SECRET PAY-OFF made to EILEEN MASTERMAN, the former Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who was appointed to her £1,350 a week position by Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in October 2008. While enquiries into the amount of money actually paid to Ms Masterman has so far drawn an official blank, SLCC insiders have now privately confirmed the settlement “is a substantial sum” and was apparently only paid over after bitter negotiations between legal teams representing those concerned in the deal which was to be kept secret even though it required the agreement of the Scottish Government & Scottish Ministers.

Eileen Masterman was appointed to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2008 by the SNP Scottish Government who one senior legal insider claimed “had made a complete mess of the SLCC”. It has also been claimed Ministers had ignored warnings from officials the SNP’s plans for the new law complaints quango would founder with public perception seeing the SLCC as little more than a window dressing exercise.

While criticism of the SLCC has been sharp in both the media and from elements of the legal profession, consumer organisations have been strangely less eager to publicly & officially challenge the lax regime at the SLCC’s Edinburgh Stamp Office HQ. The lack of official criticism of what is now widely seen as a disastrous attempt to independently regulate complaints against solicitors in Scotland comes amid rumours that officials from one particular consumer organisation were threatened, being told privately in no uncertain terms if they openly criticised the SLCC, their positions on justice related bodies & consultation groups would be terminated immediately.

Speaking at the time of Ms Masterman’s appointment during the opening of the SLCC, Justice Secretary Mr MacAskill said : “"I want to congratulate everyone who has worked hard to get this new organisation off the ground. The Commission was an initiative of the previous administration, but one we were happy to support. I am determined to ensure that the legal profession in Scotland continues to thrive, and receive the respect it deserves for the good work it does. A modern, transparent, independent complaints resolution system is a key part of that. I have no doubt that the Commission will play a valuable role in safeguarding the rights of both the legal profession and users of the services they provide throughout Scotland."

SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman  commented: "As an organisation that is structured to be completely independent, impartial and accessible, it will bring a different approach to addressing legal complaints in Scotland. The complaint handling procedure has been drawn up from a 'clean sheet' and anyone taking a complaint forward will benefit from a single gateway approach and the opportunity to use the services of trained mediators at every stage."

Yet, only a few months later in late summer 2009, Masterman’s costly well salaried appointment at the SLCC broke down in tears amid bitter internal feuding over an investigation into the Master Policy and arguments with Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney and a constituent over secret meetings which had been held between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society’s Master Policy insurers Marsh UK and Royal Sun Alliance PLC who underwrite the Master Policy itself.

Independent Law Journalist Peter Cherbi investigated the payoff and reported back on what he found via his Diary of Injustice web blog, here :

HUSH & MONEY : Former SLCC law complaints Chief Executive Eileen Masterman received secret Scottish Government approved payoff in deal with lawyers

SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman (foreground) received Scottish Government approved pay off after lawyers intervened says auditor report. RUMOURS that Eileen Masterman, the former Chief Executive of the much derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), received a SUBSTANTIAL PAY OFF after she resigned on grounds of “ill health”, after serving less than SEVEN MONTHS in the £80,000 a year, £1,350 plus, a week job have now been confirmed with the publication of a “Key Memorandum Issues” document prepared for the SLCC by the Edinburgh offices of auditors Grant Thornton. Grant Thornton were called in to replace the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) as the SLCC’s auditors, after SLAB were abruptly sacked from their auditing role by the SLCC’s board in 2009 after much bickering over the Legal Aid Board’s scrutiny of the failed law complaints quango.

However, the report now published by Grant Thornton FAILS to mention any references to official claims Ms Masterman resigned due to “ill health”. The report instead documents a battle negotiations between lawyers, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and even the Scottish Government over what is referred to as an unspecified “Ex-Gratia payment”, which one legal insider this morning said may have been made to head off any legal proceedings against the SLCC by Ms Masterman. The figure, which Grant Thornton, the SLCC and the Scottish Government have so far failed to disclose, is rumoured to be substantial.

Grant Thornton’s audit of the SLCC’s problems revealed Scottish Government approved payoff to former CEO. Referring to Ms Masterman’s payoff while managing to omit the figures, page eight of the report from Grant Thornton states : “Ex gratia payment to former CEO : Rosemary Agnew was appointed the role of Acting CEO in November 2009 and the former CEO, Eileen Masterman departed from the post in February 2010, with Rosemary Agnew continuing in her role. We understand that an ex-gratia payment was paid to the former CEO. The amount of this payment was determined through consultation between the former CEO, the Board and the respective lawyers. The payment was then authorised and approved by the Board and the payment approved by the Scottish Government.”

Scottish Legal Complaints Commission - Eileen Masterman steps down  as Chief  Executive 19 April 2010SLCC release on Masterman resignation claimed illness, omitting details of Scottish Government approved pay-off. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission issued a public press release regarding Ms Masterman’s resignation, stating : “The SLCC has now informed its staff and stakeholders that after a period of illness, Eileen Masterman, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has left the organisation. The Commission wishes her well for the future. Jane Irvine, SLCC Chair, confirmed that Rosemary Agnew, the SLCC Head of Investigations, will continue in her role as Accountable Officer and Acting Chief Executive until further notice. The position of Chief Executive is filled through the Public Appointments process run by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland (OCPAS). The recruitment process will commence in due course.”

Following the ‘recruitment process’, Ms Masterman was eventually replaced by Rosemary Agnew as Chief Executive in 2010. The SLCC have since removed any references to Ms Masterman’s resignation from their website.

Sources in late 2009 had informed Diary of Injustice that Ms Masterman had failed to respond to correspondence from consumers & msps, however it was not until early 2010, firm evidence was made available Ms Masterman had been missing from her role as the SLCC’s Chief Executive for some time, as I revealed in an article on April 13 2010, here : £70K Chief Executive ‘missing for 6 months’ at Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as Justice Secretary dodges questions on scandal-hit law quango

The day after my initial article on Ms Masterman’s disappearance from work, April 4, 2010, the SLCC were forced to announce the resignation of Ms Masterman from her post on grounds of “ill health”, which I reported on, here : SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh

John SwinneyCabinet Finance Chief John Swinney revealed he felt Ms Masterman had mislead him over accounts of meetings. However, Eileen Masterman’s resignation leaves questions over increasingly bitter exchanges between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief, John Swinney, on a matter which I have previously reported where further documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation revealed the SLCC had clearly mislead Mr Swinney over secret meetings between its officials including Ms Masterman and officials from Marsh, the Law Society’s Master Policy insurers.

John Swinney 09032009 to SLCC 1Cabinet Secretary Swinney demanded explanations of SLCC's minutes contradictions. Letters written by Cabinet Secretary John Swinney dated March 2009 to the SLCC's Chief Executive Eileen Masterman brand her explanation 'contradictory' to details in the Commission's own minutes : "In your response on the 12th of December to *** subsequent letter on the 2nd of December in which *** had stated 'clearly you are saying that no date has yet been arranged for the Marsh presentation'. You indicated that a meeting took place with RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) in July 2008 but that no meeting had occurred with Marsh."

Mr Swinney went on to state in his letter : "*** has drawn to my attention the fact that the minutes of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission dated 11th of March 2008 and 7th July 2007 indicated firstly in March 2008 that 'Jane Irvine confirmed she had arranged an introductory session from Marsh' and the minutes in July said that a meeting had taken place with RSA. I have to say that I feel there is a contradiction between the correspondence you have sent to *** dated 1st and 12th of December and the minutes of the SLCC meetings of March and July."

John Swinney 03062009 to SLCCSLCC's answers to Cabinet Secretary Swinney were far from clear. Ms Masterman’s responses to Mr Swinney's allegations of contradictions in correspondence between himself, a constituent and the SLCC, to keep secret any meetings with the insurers, fell through after details of the secret meetings emerged in board minutes of meetings of the Commission, leading to further correspondence between the SLCC & Mr Swinney, who went onto brand Ms Masterman’s explanations as "far from clear" after Ms Masterman informed Mr Swinney in letters dated 15 January 2009 "The SLCC has not consulted with Marsh or the Royal Sun Alliance about the operation of the Master Policy" which was contradicted by emails from November 2008 between Ms Masterman & the then Head of Investigations Rosemary Agnew, which read : "We received our tutorial yesterday on the Master Policy from Marsh".

Eileen Masterman then wrote to John Swinney in a letter dated March 2009 claiming "I have not met with Marsh", clearly contradicting the course of events revealed in documents released under FOI legislation where SLCC officials including Ms Masterman had in fact met Marsh.

Frequent Flyers SLCCFrequent Flyers : SLCC’s David Smith expressed anti-client jibes to Eileen Masterman in emails around the anti-consumer law complaints quango. Among the papers ordered to be disclosed in a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, emails containing anti-client jibes were revealed to have been sent by SLCC board member David Smith to Ms Masterman in July 2009. Mr Smith, husband of Court of Session judge Lady Smith, was personally appointed to the SLCC by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill. Mr Smith, a lawyer who served much of his career at law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, who themselves often act for the Master Policy in protection of questionable solicitors against negligence claims, referred to participants in the Master Policy survey & deceased clients who had committed suicide as a direct result of involvement with the Master Policy, as “Frequent flyers”.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailCalled to the Bars : Evidence from earlier FOI releases featured in newspapers point to SLCC’s anti client culture among board members & senior officials. The emails from David Smith to SLCC staff including the SLCC’s then Chief Executive Eileen Masterman, support evidence from earlier FOI releases which featured in the national media of a bitter, hate fuelled anti-client culture operating at the highest levels of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which has seen other board members such as Glasgow divorce lawyer Margaret Scanlan who rubbished victims of crooked lawyers as “complete chancers”. In additional emails, other board members chastised consumer organisations, and sought to exclude them from the inevitable results of the SLCC’s Master Policy investigation, which the deaths of clients to the Law Society of Scotland, its insurers and the Master Policy itself.

A client who has been waiting months for the SLCC to take action on his complaint about his solicitor, condemned the organisation for its inaction over complaints and internal secrecy. He said : “I’ve been waiting nine months for a result on my complaint which has been back and forth from the Law Society to the SLCC yet neither can work out who should investigate my case. They seem to be more able to pay off their staff in the snap of a finger and make sure the dirt is kept secret rather do their job which is supposed to be investigating complaints about solicitors.”

Scottish GovernmentSomething to hide : Scottish Government Ministers refuse to comment on audit report’s claims they approved a payoff to the former SLCC Chief Executive Eileen Masterman. The Scottish Government were asked for comment on their role in approving the pay off to Ms Masterman amid claims that a series of leters from Mr Swinney & a law reform campaigner over the Master Policy meetings led to her downfall. The Scottish Government refused any comment, their spokesperson briefly stating : "This is a private personnel matter for the SLCC and its former employee."

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also refused to comment on the matter or release any details of the payoff and how it was negotiated. It was also noted the SLCC’s media response was emailed at exactly the same time as the response received from the Scottish Government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where is she now?