Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuse to publish details of ‘loose change’ client compensation as board & staff live it up on YOUR millions

Friday, October 14, 2011

The SLCC’s staff & Board members have done well out of expenses & salaries while some ruined clients received £10 for their losses caused by rogue lawyers. AS the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) prepares carefully arranged coverage to promote its ‘impending’ Annual Report and announce its new intake of Board members to replace its original mix of lawyers, ex lawyers, ex Police Officers & quangocrats, many of whom have multiple jobs and who managed to claim between them more than HALF A MILLION POUNDS IN EXPENSES alone since being appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in 2008, it can be reported today the amounts of compensation awarded to clients who have lost money or had their financial & legal affairs ruined by their solicitors IS SO LOW, in some cases only amounting to A MEAGRE TEN POUNDS (£10), the SLCC is afraid to release the information via Freedom of Information legislation.

Insiders close to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission who approached Diary of Injustice with details of the paltry amounts awarded in compensation to clients whose legal affairs have been totally ruined by Scottish law firms claim the money handed out to victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ amounts to “loose change” compared to the massive sums of money paid out annually to its Board members in expenses & salaries, lavish staff wages where some are paid up to £1300 per week, and over TEN MILLION POUNDS including TWO MILLION POUNDS OF TAXPAYERS MONEY which has flowed into the SLCC since 2008.

The SLCC can ‘direct’ a solicitor to to pay compensation, having the power to award up to £20,000 to clients who have been affected by their solicitors failures. The SLCC can also recommend compensation be paid to clients by the Law Society of Scotland if Society fails to correctly investigate complaints.

However, insiders have disclosed to Diary of Injustice that some of these awards made by the SLCC total no more than a measly £10 for significant Law Society failures, and to make matters worse, Law Society Committees have gone on to further reduce even their own reporter’s recommendations of compensation of a few hundred pounds to clients whose complaints against their solicitors have involved in some cases, life threatening legal issues and medical negligence cases, and in others the failure of complex legal dealings which have left some clients on benefits and others in jail.

The SLCC, responding to a Freedom of Information request made in early July for information on the total amounts of money awarded to clients and total numbers of awards, confirmed they held the information but refused to release it. The SLCC said it would not release the information to journalists as it was planning to release the figures as part of its latest annual report, which it claimed in August would be published within twelve weeks of the initial request although that date has now come & gone yet no annual report has been published.

Compensation so low it cannot be reported ? The SLCC refused to release the data, some claim because it needs to bury it among other statistics. The SLCC said in its response : “The SLCC has considered whether to withhold the information is reasonable and decided that it is because it will enable us to publish the information in context and in conjunction with other information about complaints. Also as the information relates to year-end data, it is in the process of being checked for accuracy and completeness as part of the preparation of annual report information.”

The SLCC went onto state : “The information requested is pertinent to the public in that it gives an indication of the effectiveness of the SLCC and information to both complainers and practitioners about outcomes of complaints. It could be argued that publishing this information as soon as possible is in the public interest fo this reason. However as a public authority, the SLCC has a responsibility to ensure that the information it makes public is accurate and complete. As with other data and information being collated for the SLCC’s annual report, the information you have requested is currently being checked. To release it now potentially could result in the release of incomplete information.”

“The SLCC has a wider duty to report on complaints about the legal profession. Putting information in an appropriate context and publishing it in conjunction with other information to add meaning and value to it is an essential part of that reporting. Releasing the information as requested would not enable that to happen. The SLCC has a statutory duty to lay its annual report before Parliament. It is in the public interest that this is complete and appropriately quality controlled. Release of discrete sets of data in advance of publication would not support that.”

An official from one of Scotland’s Consumer organisations commenting on the SLCC’s refusal to release the figures on compensation awarded to victims of crooked lawyers said : “In other words they are going to try and bury the information within their annual report so the effect of it will be watered down.”

She continued : “The reluctance to publish the data prior to the annual report appears to back up speculation the figures are on the low side and therefore cannot be released without significant explanation by the SLCC to justify their position. This state of affairs appears to back up claims in letters we have received from consumers they are losing out on the amount of money involved in their complaint compared with how much they get back in compensation and that is if the compensation is even paid. The SLCC are failing to offer a satisfactory level of protection for consumers of legal services in Scotland.”

A client who has been treated very roughly by the SLCC and its staff said : “The SLCC are a bunch of liars.They promise to investigate your complaint and then it ends up coming back with most of the issues dismissed, and if you are lucky, a sentence telling you they are giving you 10 for being ruined by your lawyer. What a waste of space they are. I knew it from the start when I began speaking to them by phone.You could tell they hated clients.”

He continued : “I’d like to ask Jane Irvine and her board members who getting £300 a day just what can a client do with £10 compensation after their solicitor as robbed them of everything? This SLCC is a scam by the legal profession to wipe their corrupt colleagues slates clean after they have committed fraud against clients.”

While the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are sticking to their claim their annual report is to be published “imminently” readers will by now be well aware the SLCC’s previous annual reports have been published in January, the last one which I reported on here : ‘One complaint upheld’, 928 more sent back to Law Society & £1.8million spare cash : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s 2010 annual report

A senior Scottish Government insider who is known to have little confidence in the SLCC spoke to Diary of Injustice last night on the matter of compensation awards.

He said : “Clients who complain about their solicitors to the SLCC might have a better idea of what to expect out of their complaint if the SLCC were to list the value of the client’s case, in terms of how much the solicitor charged for their services, the value of the client’s transaction, money which had been taken from clients by other means, including alleged theft and the client’s view of how much they had lost, and then put those figures next to the actual amount awarded by the SLCC.”

Clearly if the client’s view of how much they have lost through the actions of their solicitor were made known, the awards of compensation made by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission would look nothing short of “a joke” as some clients who have approached Diary of Injustice on this issue have indicated.

For example, in cases such as where solicitors have dipped their hands into a deceased client’s estate to help themselves, there is little benefit of awarding a client £50 compensation while the solicitor gets to keep the half million pounds he’s stolen for himself and is allowed to continue working as a solicitor. In another case where a solicitor has embezzled tens of thousands of pounds from a client’s bank account, £100 compensation is of little recompense for the loss while again, the solicitor carries on working, able to rip off as many clients as possible.

Clearly therefore, the losses quantified by clients who are forced to complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission about their solicitor should be agreed and published against the level of compensation awarded by the SLCC if there is to be any credible statistics on how well the SLCC is protecting consumers funds against crooked lawyers and a corrupt legal profession in Scotland.

However, while the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission refuses to talk about compensation paid out to clients, there is no reluctance on the part of the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) for England & Wales to comment on compensation figures.

Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, Adam Sampson. Adam Sampson, Chief Legal Ombudsman, says: “The amount of compensation we order for a case depends on what went wrong and what kind of additional expense or inconvenience a person has had to put up with as a result. The top amount we can order is £30,000. There is no hard and fast rule but we think decisions at the top of the scale will be quite unusual, there’ve only been a handful of cases over £20,000 since we started operating just under a year ago. Sometimes compensation isn’t the best solution– we also have powers to require lawyers to do more work to put things right, return papers or documents and to offer an apology or explanation. Most compensation amounts are likely to be a lot lower than the maximum. But we can’t say in advance what this figure will be. It will all depend on the circumstances of each complaint.”

Examples of how the Legal Ombudsman has tackled compensation awards to consumers is reported in an earlier article here : 3 Years & £10 Million later, ‘too close to lawyers’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission left standing by ‘more determined’ Legal Ombudsman, where a law firm was forced to pay out £2,650 compensation to a client as the Ombudsman had ordered, plus interest after the LeO took the case to Birmingham County Court under the Legal Services Act 2007. The judge also ordered the firm to pay the Ombudsman’s costs of bringing the case of £1,215.

A second case at the same court was adjourned to allow a different firm to comply with an Ombudsman’s decision.In that case the firm had mismanaged work for a property owner and the Ombudsman had ordered them to pay their client £5,704 compensation. When the firm failed to comply, the Ombudsman issued proceedings for the court’s permission to enforce the decision as if it were a court judgement. The firm initially tried to argue that the decision was defective but, when the Ombudsman produced the relevant legal materials, at the eleventh hour agreed to settle the matter and pay the Ombudsman’s costs of £1,000. The hearing was adjourned for 28 days for this to be done.

A much larger ‘award’ of £180,000 was ordered by the Legal Ombudsman when a law firm was ordered to repay money it owed a club, as reported in an earlier article here : Annual report of Legal Ombudsman of England & Wales is ‘streets ahead’ of anti-consumer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The case involved a social club where a law firm had used various excuses to delay a repayment after the club was sold and a substantial surplus totalling the £180,000 was be distributed towards the club’s members. The case is reprinted below from the LeO’s 2010 annual report to illustrate to readers the level of detail available to consumers of legal services in England & Wales on regulation issues.

Mr P is a trustee of a social club. He and his fellow trustees employed a firm of lawyers to sell the club’s premises and to distribute the payment of the proceeds of sale to all the members of the club – about 180 people. The club found buyers, the sale went through and the proceeds were paid to the law firm, as is normal practice. Part of the money was used to pay off the club’s final bills and some loans, which the firm handled, leaving a substantial amount of around £180,000 to go to members. The firm also advised that there would be a delay in distributing the money to members for various administrative reasons. Not being an expert in conveyancing, Mr P was satisfied with this. After six months the firm got in contact to begin to sort out the payment to members… and then went silent.

Mr P tried to raise his concerns with the firm. He then came to the Ombudsman, as the firm had not explained what had happened to the money from the sale and the members had not yet received any cash. He also asked that the firm refund the fees the trustees had already paid them, as the work had not been carried out properly.

We found that the firm had been a sole practice – but that the lawyer was no longer practising. This seemed to be why Mr P hadn’t heard about the money from the sale of the club, though it was confusing as the solicitor occasionally got in touch. Mr P didn’t know what to do, so had sought advice from a second firm of solicitors. They also tried to contact the first firm but had no reply. Mr P heard again briefly from his first lawyer to say that members would get their money soon… and then heard nothing again.

When we looked into this case, there was very little written down about what had happened. There was no client care letter, no written details about how the cash from the sale had been handled, or even about what money had been paid to clear debts and loans. What was clear was that there was some sort of problem in the law firm, and that the lawyer had tried to delay this matter. It was also clear that most of the money from the club was still in the solicitor’s client account, even though the firm’s records were very poor.

There had been no attempt to pay this money to the club members – but the money was the club’s and should not have been kept for so long by the solicitor. It had been three years since Mr P and the other trustees put the club up for sale.

Our Ombudsman decided that there was around £180,000 outstanding and required the firm to re-pay this, with interest, to the club and its members. A formal Ombudsman’s decision was required as the solicitor did not cooperate throughout our investigation. We also referred this and the outcome of this case to the regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, for their help in getting the club’s cash out of the solicitor’s client account and returned to Mr P and the other members.

An insider close to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission indicated : “There is little chance of this level of detail in connection with compensation awards being made public by the SLCC unless there is significant external pressure on them to do so”.

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