Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jane Irvine : Consumers & solicitors will gain advantages of Law Society FOI compliance

One of the big hitters in the world of regulating the Scots legal profession, Jane Irvine, Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has flown her colours in favour of consumer advantages being touted by a campaign to force the Law Society of Scotland to be compliant with Freedom of Information laws.

Peter Cherbi’s Diary of Injustice in Scotland law blog reports on the significant development : (yes, time for FOI at the Law Society – Ed)

Legal Complaints Chief supports ‘consumer advantages’ of removing Law Society’s Freedom of Info immunity

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chair supports Law Society's compliance with FOI. In a startling rebuke to the Law Society of Scotland's campaign to remain a super secret unaccountable regulator of Scottish solicitors, Jane Irvine, the Chairman of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has sided with law reformers and Freedom of Information campaigners who are seeking to bring the Law Society of Scotland under the scope of Freedom of Information legislation.

Jane Irvine, Chair of the SLCC said: “If the Law Society of Scotland were ever to become FOI compliant, there could be considerable advantages to consumers and practitioners.".

Jane Irvine, formerly Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, following on from Linda Costelloe Baker, and is now Chair of the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, is the first high profile personality in the Scottish legal world to support the notion that the Law Society's secrecy status, which has caused much injustice to clients of 'crooked lawyers' over the years, is a thing of the past.

Ms Irvine believes, like many outside the secret society style bubble of the legal establishment, that now in the new era of the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and greater demands for scrutiny, particularly in the wake of global banking failures, that consumers, and even the legal profession itself could benefit from the transparency, accountability & openness which compliance with Freedom of Information legislation brings to public bodies, services and industry.

Jane Irvine cautioned however, that some parts of the Law Society's work may yet be required to keep secret from the public : "However, under the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 there would inevitably be significant areas of information that would need to remain confidential in order to comply with the legislation. It therefore it would be important for expectations to be managed.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland proved many times it cannot be trusted as a secret regulator. As a law reform campaigner myself, I would have to slightly disagree with the SLCC Chair on some points, as evidence has shown from previous investigations carried out by the Law Society into crooked lawyers that it simply cannot be trusted as a secret self regulatory body, which has for the main, stood by many solicitors who ended up ruining their clients, and now it appears, has also allowed solicitors with criminal records to carry on practicing, with their clients totally unaware their legal representative is more of a criminal than some who arrive in their office requiring their services in court !

I would also point to some secrecy problems with the SLCC itself, where censorship of FOI requests has led to suspicion the Law Society, even after being forced to comply with freedom of information laws, would also use the black ink to hide behind confidentiality in order to continue protecting crooked lawyers …

MacAskill tight lippedJustice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s intentions to keep Law Society secret outflanked by reformers. Jane Irvine's stance on consumers gaining increased protection from crooked lawyers by removing the Law Society’s exemption from information laws, contrasts radically with the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s intentions, which were revealed last week after he issued a terse statement backing continued secrecy for the solicitors governing body.

MacAskill no intention to include Law Society in FOI reviewDiary of Injustice exposed MacAskill's gaffe on Law Society FOI secrecy. Last Monday I reported in an article the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill made a staggering policy U-turn in the space of a few hours, after initially letting slip he "had no intention of including the Law Society in any FOI review". However later in the day, as Government officials became aware of others giving more positive quotes to the story, a spokesman for the Justice Secretary reversed his initial statement seeking to maintain the Law Society's much coveted exemption from Freedom of Information laws, saying the matter was still open for discussion and organisations could still be suggested for inclusion in the 'open ended' review.

MacAskill challenged over Law Society FOI exemptionDiary of Injustice starts campaign to remove FOI exemption from Law Society of Scotland. Late last week, I began an open campaign which anyone can join to bring the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates into line with other parts of Scotland’s legal system, making them compliant with Freedom of Information legislation. You can join in the campaign to bring the legal profession into the scope of the anti secrecy FOI legislation too by emailing the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill here or write to him at : Kenny MacAskill MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice,The Scottish Government,St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh EH1 3DG.

There is no place in our society, currently being battered by banking failures produced by the same soft touch, closed ranks regulation which the Law Society has been forcing on clients of the legal profession for decades.

There can be no argument for maintaining any level of secrecy for the Law Society of Scotland. The Law Society is an organisation which has proved time and again it has no respect for the rights of clients of solicitors, and has no intention of compensating vast numbers of clients who have lost millions of pounds to the actions of ‘crooked lawyers’.

The Law Society must be stripped of its immunity from Freedom of Information laws, and its remaining powers of investigating complaints against its own members and discipline powers transferred to an entirely independent body not mired in the overriding policies of self protectionism and anti client prejudice.

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