Scottish Executive & Parliament bow to threats from legal profession and water down LPLA Bill on complaints against lawyers
Well, it seems, as we all know anyway, an elected Parliament & Government, is no match for the legal profession.
We found this out yesterday when the Scottish Executive announced concessions & watered down plans for the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, this coming after weeks of intense pressure from the legal profession in the form of lobbying, meetings, warnings, an assault of paid experts diatribes against the public, even briefings directly against campaigners, individual clients & cases of complaints, and even a few words of warning in the ears of several msps on their future .... a wee bit of arm twisting then, wouldn't you say ?
Independent handling of complaints ? well ... that has now become "consumers' allegations that the level of service they received fell short, but not to look at allegations of wrongdoing in lawyers' work, which will remain for the Law Society and the courts to handle." - reports the Herald, today.
How can the Law Society of Scotland & the courts be expected to look at allegations of wrongdoing in lawyers work when they have failed to do that since it came into being with the Legal Aid & Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1949 ?
If 57 years isn't enough time to demonstrate they can't maintain standards of professional discipline & regulate complaints against members with any degree of transparency, honesty, or independence, then what chance is there the legal profession will change it's ways now ?
When the Justice 2 Committee finished their stage 1 consideration, they were recommending the SLCC handle service complaints, but the Law Society handle 'conduct' complaints in what was obviously a fierce fight from the Law Society, even including somewhat 'contradictory testimony' to retain jurisdiction over conduct matters.
However, one J2 Committee member abstained from the recommendations, apparently, as he believed (rightly) that conduct issues should also go to the SLCC, after hearing & reading the submissions of complainants no doubt.
The main danger of allowing the Law Society of Scotland to handle any complaints at all, in the wake of it's 57 year reign of terror against clients, is that inevitably, complaints which the legal profession want 'put to bed', will be classed as 'conduct' issues, just to get them into the jurisdiction of the Law Society of Scotland - so that nothing would happen of course.
I have said this many times before publicly, and in my submission to the Justice 2 Committee which you can read at : http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/justice2/inquiries/lpla/549_LB549_PeterCherbi.pdf
And what's all this about the courts being able to look at allegations of wrongdoing in lawyers work ?
One of the main reasons we are here today, after years of campaigning and media coverate, talking about how crooked lawyers are, and how the Law Society of Scotland fiddle complaints .. is that no one ever gets to court to have their claims against crooked & negligent lawyers put to the test ... so there won't be much in the way of court scrutiny of clients complaints, Mr Deputy Justice Minister .. that is simply, rubbish - and you know it - just as anyone else who has had their lives & finances ruined by crooked lawyers knows.
It's been interesting to see who has come out in public support of the Law Society of Scotland in the past few weeks ... and reminds me of something a retired Chief Superintendent of Lothian & Borders Police once told me about 'testimony'.
Whenever a witness comes forward in a case to give evidence, or even, volunteer such testimony, the Police, while taking the statement of course, have to look into the motives of the person for giving that information - whether that information be in support of, or against, the suspect. That's obviously because a person could either be a friend, supporter, accessory to, or grudge bearer against a person who either charged with an offence, or is the subject of an investigation.
Similarly, we have to examine the motives of those who have come forward in the past few weeks & months to support the legal profession, even launching vitriolic attacks against a piece of legislation which aims to give the public more rights in their dealings with the legal profession, and a bit more transparency, honesty, and independence, when it comes to regulating complaints against lawyers.
Well, obviously, the first motive of those supporters of the legal profession, would be - because they are members of the legal profession. That's obvious.
There isn't an army of plumbers or builders or newsagents, or teachers, or priests coming out to speak in favour of the Law Society of Scotland retaining jurisdiction over complaints against lawyers.
You could say - oh yes, well, he's a lawyer, so he would support retaining self regulation - so he and his colleagues will get off the hook when they loot their clients funds, overcharge them for poor services .. etc ... and, you would be, correct.
Of course, not all lawyers are crooked, and some lawyers, would welcome an independent regulator, as we have heard over the past few days. Good luck to them. They should raise their voices a bit more then .. why don't they ?
If lawyers who would welcome independent regulation say it in one forum, why not have a press conference and say - oh well, I'm a lawyer, and I'm jolly well am proud of it, and I just want to say I support independent regulation of our profession, in a proper & correct way, and let's get these poor clients of the past's cases resolved and admit wer were wrong to do what we did to them.
Why don't we hear any of that ? Why the silence ?
Someone afraid of sticking their neck out perhaps? afraid of what the Law Society of Scotland will do to them if they speak ? someone maybe .. nothing but a lot of talk and a wig ? ...
It's the time to speak now, so speak out. Go on, I challenge you to stand by your words ... speak out publicly. If you do, you have my support.
Well, it transpires, I found out another, more sinister motive than that ...this being .. the best person to speak out in defence of an obviously corrupt system, is a person with information you have on them, which they are terrified of being made public .. but I have advice for those so affected, who know who they are ... don't think it won't be used anyway .... because it's already been leaked.
You could call that blackmail I suppose, just for the sake of being clear .. and as we all know, those who appear in the highest positions, have the most to loose ... so there must have been some smug grins over at the Law Society when certain people were reminded of matters which would not arise, if they were to speak in favour of the legal profession ... remember now, I haven't named anyone, YET ..
The debate itself in the Parliament yesterday, seemed a bit stiff, don't you think ?
Given the fact every single msp has had volumous amounts of correspondence from constituents on problems with lawyers, problems with the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Legal Aid Board ..etc .. and many of them have written representations for their constituents, which they have went on to repeat for other constituents .. I would have expected more ... but the whole thing felt very meek, very similar to the J2 stage 1 Committee hearings 2 hearings, where some 'seemed' unusually ignorant on matters they knew full well be when it came to asking questions of witnesses, or even understanding what was put to them.
Members of the Scottish Parliament -
Putting on a blank face, when one has witnessed or been told of an injustice, or a crime, isn't a very honest thing to do I think.. but it seems some of you in Holyrood think that wearing the blinkers on such issues suits your conscience & pockets good enough .. that isn't what you were elected to do.
To sit by and watch someone being abused, while doing nothing about it, makes you just as guilty as the abuser - and make no mistake about it - the Law Society of Scotland have been abusing the public for decades - while politicians up and down the length of the UK have stood by and done .. not very much .. in fact .. nothing really.
There is much work to do and much campaigning ahead of us, if the LPLA Bill is to remain a safeguard to consumers as it was designed to be in the first place.
I call on everyone to do there best on this matter to make our politicians understand there needs to be fully independent regulation of lawyers in Scotland - and that the sins of the legal profession from past cases, must be put right.
Read on for the links to today's articles, from The Herald and The Scotsman, links to follow :
Ministers give way to warnings over legal complaints watchdog
DOUGLAS FRASER, Scottish Political Editor September 08 2006
The Scottish Executive yesterday gave way to warnings its new legal complaints system would undermine the independence of the profession, after facing vociferous attacks from leading lawyers.
Plans for ministers to have wide powers over the proposed independent commission for legal complaints are to be watered down, as the bill makes its way through the committee stage at Holyrood.
Ministers also announced there will be more publicly employed solicitors to provide support to people in rural areas who find it hard to find legal advice and representation in the civil courts.
Hugh Henry, Deputy Justice Minister, hinted strongly yesterday that the growing crisis in access to criminal law advice may require an expansion of the Public Defenders Office, in which salaried government lawyers act on behalf of individuals being charged with criminal offences, instead of private solicitors.
SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said by not addressing the problem there was a risk of "sleepwalking to disaster" and waking up to find many Scots had lost access to justice.
Leading lawyers have attacked the proposed complaints commission for the planned ministerial powers to appoint and dismiss its members and to direct it, saying it represented a major threat to the independence of the profession and the rule of law.
Lord McCluskey, a former Labour solicitor-general, this week described the proposals as "ill-considered, badly evidenced, misconceived, cavalier and arrogant".
Yesterday saw the first stage debate at Holyrood for the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, at which Mr Henry told MSPs of the new concessions on the complaints machinery.
This is only to affect consumers' allegations that the level of service they received fell short, but not to look at allegations of wrongdoing in lawyers' work, which will remain for the Law Society and the courts to handle.
Mr Henry said that 300 amendments are to be brought forward, and they will include changes to remove ministers' power to instruct the new commission on what it does.
The law is also to create a role for the Lord President, Scotland's top judge, in the removal of members of the commission.
However, it is not yet clear what the role will be. It was stressed that the public appointments commissioner will be involved in the appointing process as a protection against political interference.
Ministers are also to provide security of tenure for members of the commission,with fixed terms of at least four years. A provision is to be withdrawn which would have let let the commission delegate its decision-making to others.
Another change affects the planned levy on lawyers, charged for each complaint that is made. It was planned that the charge would be forfeited, whatever the result. It will now be repaid if the complaint is not upheld.
There is cross-party backing for the principles of the bill, with MSPs saying the legal profession's control of their own complaints system was not appropriate to modern consumer expectations and public perception.
The Law Society of Scotland welcomed the amendments. Ruthven Gemmell, its president, said there was support for an independent complaints body, though it has concerns about the workability of the bill.
"The number of amendments means that the executive has realised there is work to be done on the bill to get it right," he said.
and the Scotsman version - where you can leave comments, of course ...
Ministers act to preserve legal complaints system from interference
MINISTERS have announced a series of concessions over a shake-up of the way complaints against lawyers are handled.
It comes amid fears that the independence of the legal system could be under threat.
The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates had both voiced concerns that the proposed Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will, in effect, be controlled by ministers.
But the deputy justice minister, Hugh Henry, announced in parliament yesterday that the Executive will bring forward a series of amendments to underline the new body's independence from ministers.
These will see the removal of ministers' power of general direction in relation to the commission, as well creating a role for the Lord President in removal of members of the commission.
Formal determinations of complaints will only be made by commission board members and members will serve a fixed term of four to six years, giving them security of tenure.
Mr Henry said: "With a non-lawyer majority on its board, consumer interests will be well represented.
"The appointments will be made by Scottish ministers and the appointments process will be subject to oversight by the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments. This will ensure appointment on merit."
The new commission will take over the role of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman in overseeing the way professional bodies conduct complaints and will have enforcement powers.
Professional bodies will retain responsibility for discipline and will handle complaints.