Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Arguments over funding for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission leave public in the dark

More From A Diary of Injustice in Scotland which reports on the arguments on funding the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission .. not a good start to what was supposed to be an independence complaints body, which is being staffed by the same people from the Law Society of Scotland who have been responsible for some of the worst investigations into lawyers complaints for decades.

Funding argument over Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conceals lawyers interference in 'independent' complaints body

While in-house lawyers such as those working for the notorious Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) and other public bodies hope to escape paying the bulk of the new levy of "around £400 a year" to fund the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the remainder of the Scots legal profession will have to pay the full amount plus the practicing certificate which is currently £735 a year, if of course, lawyers want to remain lawyers.

However, while the Law Society of Scotland are grumbling over the amounts to be paid by various factions of the legal profession, attempting bargains based on the rate of complaints that the likes of in-house lawyers or members of the Faculty of Advocates receive, the true picture of how the formation of the new SLCC is taking place is being slightly skewed, it seems in the benefit for the legal profession itself.

For a start, most of the staff of the new SLCC are migrating over from the Law Society of Scotland itself, many of those staff being qualified lawyers or those studying to qualify for the LLB and thus gain a practicing certificate, which the Law Society itself controls via admissions exams and awards at it's whim.

I reported on that matter in an earlier article here : Law Society staff secretly migrating into 'independent' complaints commission will ensure continuing problems of regulating Scottish lawyers

One wonders the, why there is such a fuss over who pays for what when all that is really happening is a piece of 'musical chairs', where the legal profession is, yet again, getting its way with its members migrating into the new 'independent' body to carry on investigating complaints against fellow lawyers, in the very same manner they have been doing for years at the Law Society of Scotland.

The definition of independence of this new 'independent' complaints bodyu slightly wears thin when taking that prospect into account ...

Further, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's 'appointees' to the new Commission are on around £300 plus a day for attendance which was envisaged as 2 or 3 days a month, but which it is now acknowledged by staff at the Justice Directorate that it will could be much more than a couple of days a month ...

Those highly paid £300 plus a day 'appointees' from Mr MacAskill. are ex-Police, lawyers and ex members of Law Society Complaints Committees who have tactically come out of the Law Society of Scotland to 'join' the new 'independent' SLCC.

Still think the new SLCC will be independent ?

Would anyone out there like £300 a day plus expenses to sit & look at complaints against fellow lawyers and friends in the legal profession ? Nice little earner isn't it .. getting £300 a day plus expenses to do a few inevitable whitewashes on crooked lawyers while leaving the poor client ruined as is usual at the Law Society of Scotland.

Even the new Chairman of the SLCC, Jane Irvine, the current Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman acknowledges she wasn't consulted on the backgrounds of some of those appointees, one of them being a lawyer whose legal firm has worked in key cases involving the notoriously corrupt Master Insurance Policy of the Law Society of Scotland, which saw revelations by Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney of massive corruption by Law Society officials right up to the Chief Executive Douglas Mill.

You can read more about John Swinney's revelations on corruption in the Master Insurance Policy and at the very heart of the Law Society of Scotland here : Law Society boss Mill lied to Swinney, Parliament as secret memos reveal policy of intervention & obstruction on claims, complaints.

Another of the appointees, a former Policeman was in the Scotsman newspaper as being involved in serious internal investigations by his own Police Force against him, which are now being kept secret by Kenny MacAskill for fear of tainting the SLCC further, amid revelations this same ex Policeman sat on Law Society of Scotland Complaints Committees as a 'lay member' ...

I have reported on the sleaze in the SLCC's appointments process in previous articles here :

Call for MacAskill appointments 'sleaze investigation' as revelations show Legal Complaints Commission member was subject of Police inquiry

Calls for full disclosure on legal complaints commission members as Justice Department 'covers up' conflicts of interest in appointments scandal

It does seem that what was planned to be an 'independent' commission to consider complaints against crooked lawyers has actually been co-opted by the legal profession even before it has come into existence, such seems to be the power and influence of Scotland's legal establishment and its members, who are bent on keeping control of regulation, complaints, and the public's access to justice for themselves.

The current Justice Secretary, Mr MacAskill, as duly obliged his colleagues at the Law Society by following orders, despite the revelations from Mr Swinney in key areas which should have affected to a much greater extent the appointments and formation process of the SLCC which now looks little more than a "new" Law Society of Scotland, staffed by the same people, with many of it's allies and former members at the most senior levels of the Commission itself.

This is not what was envisaged as an 'independent' organisation to deal with complaints against the legal profession. This is just another corruption of the regulatory issue, and an insult to all Scots who are users of the poor legal services we are currently forced to take from closed shop Scots legal services market.

Lets hope someone has the guts to create a proper fully independent organisation to look into complaints against the legal profession and maintain regulation in an opened legal services market, not this half way house already infiltrated by the legal profession itself. That person who could create such an organisation, is not Mr MacAskill.

Here follows the Scotsman's take via an LLB hopeful, which also gives a take on Richard Keen, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates who criticises the fact the Faculty has no representation on the new SLCC.

Well Mr Keen QC, you should have spoke up then for a place, shouldn't you ? I mean, why should Advocates let the Law Society of Scotland control the SLCC's staffing, appointments and budget plans while the Faculty is left out of everything .. tut tut ...

Just not Keen on 'taxation without representation'


SOLICITORS can expect to pay a levy of around £400 a year to fund the new independent body being set up to handle legal service complaints, it has emerged. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is consulting the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates on its budget proposals – including the levy that the professional bodies will have to collect from their members.

The figures, which have still to be finalised, would see most solicitors pay an annual levy, estimated at £420. Combined with the practising certificate fee – which is currently set at £735 a year – the cost of continuing to wear the badge of solicitor is likely to rise to more than £1,000 a year.

But it is likely that in-house solicitors, who make up around a quarter of the profession, will be offered a significant discount to reflect the fact that they rarely receive complaints. The In-House Lawyers Group has won support from the council of the Law Society of Scotland in recommending its members to pay a third of the levy, or around £140.

Newly qualified solicitors are also set to receive a 50 per cent discount, in line with the fact they pay only half the practising certificate fee during their first three years. As the commission is due to open in October, half-way through the financial year, all lawyers will be asked to pay a half-year levy to cover costs for its first six months.

Advocates will also have to pay the levy, at a rate being estimated at around £332 a year. But Richard Keen, QC, the dean of the Faculty, revealed he has written to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, to express his "fundamental concern" about the prospect of "taxation without representation".

Keen points out that advocates have no member sitting on the commission, and have generated far fewer service complaints (just 26 a year) than solicitors (around 3,500).

"We are not represented on the commission, but we are being asked to pay its budget," he says. "We are being asked to pay an annual levy on a per capita basis. The illustrative figure is £166 per person (for six months]. That means the Faculty is going to have to pay around £160,000 a year to the commission. That is not so they can deal with 26 complaints, because they are only dealing with service complaints. We are talking about something of the order of ten complaints that are going to be dealt with."

He adds: "What concerns me is we may have created an enormous mallet to crack a very small nut as far as the Faculty is concerned. We are paying far, far more than solicitors in order to have this commission deal with service complaints and yet we are the ones with absolutely no representation on the commission. That appears to me to be inequitable."

Keen added the levy would end up being reflected in the fees charged to clients.

"We have to remember that every layer of bureaucracy has a cost, and someone has to meet that cost, and generally it ends up being the consumer," he says.

Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland's director of client relations, says the rate of the levy would reflect the fact the commission was going to cost double what was originally forecast.

"The budget is still at a draft stage," he says. "One of the things we have been very conscious of is that the cost of the commission is significantly in excess of the original (estimate]. When this went through the finance committee of the Scottish Parliament, the figure was £1.5 million. It is now around double that.

"I think the commission will cost what the commission costs, and they have to set a budget that is fair and reasonable."

But he acknowledged its initial budget could not include what revenue might be generated by case fees – as it is not possible to forecast how many complaints it will deal with – and the commission will have an ongoing responsibility to consult the profession annually.

"They will have an additional source of income which will be case fees," he says. "That is something that clearly, in year one, they can't include in their budget." While the Law Society of Scotland will no longer handle service complaints, solicitors should not expect to see a reduction in the cost of their practising certificate, he adds.

"To say a levy at £400 per annum would mean £400 could come off the practising certificate would be an unrealistic expectation," he says. "If they start on 1 October, our role won't stop. We have still got conduct complaints to deal with (and] we are being given additional powers to deal with unsatisfactory professional conduct."

The society will also need resources to address the impact of the commission's decisions on standards, he says.

But Yelland adds the society is already working closely with the commission to ensure a "smooth transition" from the new complaints handling system.

"We have had a very good positive constructive discussion with them," he says. "They are setting up a new body and judging how many complaints they will get.

"They have clearly recognised that we have been dealing with service complaints since 1989 and they have been very keen to learn from us.

"They have been very keen to talk to us, and we have been very keen to pass on our experience and the information that we have."

Jane Irvine, chairwoman of the commission and the current Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, says work is ongoing to set the levy and rates. But she adds that the commissioners recognise the need to "budget wisely".

"Members of the SLCC are currently working on setting a budget for the first year of our operation, and considering how case fees should be charged," she says.

"In doing this, we are extremely conscious that we owe duties to everyone who will use our service to create an efficient and effective body, so we must be adequately funded and operate a practical case fee system.

"We want to create systems that work effectively and lead to early resolution of complaints. We also recognise we owe duties to the legal profession and to their clients to use the independence we have to plan commercially and budget wisely, as ultimately our costs will be levied on the legal profession."

Janet Hood, chairwoman of the In-House Lawyers Group, says she is pleased the Law Society of Scotland is supportive of a substantial discount. She concedes the cost is "hardly a bank-breaker" for most employers, but argues that in-house lawyers rarely generate complaints.

"We are hoping to pay about a third of what the commission fees will be," she says. "I do hope the commission will listen to not only the In-house Lawyers Group but to the Law Society of Scotland. And if there are lawyers with the commission, they will be in-house lawyers too."

No comments: