Letter: Is the Law Society in uncharted waters?

Letter: Is the Law Society in uncharted waters?

In the first of two letters, retired solicitor Chris Forrest details his experiences with the Law Society of Scotland.

Dear Editor,

Just over one year ago Douglas Mill concluded a series of articles (the last entitled Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes) in which he related the travails that I, his therein unnamed client, had suffered at the hands of the Law Society who had decided to challenge the award of expenses in my favour made by SSDT, following their unanimous exoneration of a complaint against me.

This was the first time a respondent had been successful before the tribunal when represented by someone not on the roll and the Society attempted to do this (I am now told, having taken advice from a law accountant) by the incompetent use of the process of taxation. Their position, as was clearly stated in the points of objections to the account lodged with the auditor, was that because of Douglas’ status he was not entitled to any expenses:

“The complainers … consider Mr Douglas Mill to have represented the respondent in this matter as akin to a lay representative … and that where a lay representative … acts for a successful party, no expenses can be recovered”

The auditor dismissed all their arguments and found in my favour.

In his article, Douglas briefly described the sad story of my attempts, following this debacle, to get some answers to some reasonable questions from the Society and, having hit a brick wall, my comments about the cover-up being more serious than my original concerns, he postulated as to what my options might then be.

What I did do was to lodge formal complaints about the conduct of the Society’s director of regulation, Mrs Rachel Wood, with SLCC. Not only was she the person with whom I had mainly corresponded but, as far as I was able to ascertain, she was the only person involved who was an enrolled solicitor and therefore was the only person involved who was subject to the Conduct Rules.

Last November SLCC completed a very thorough investigation and advised that from the evidence that has been presented to them so far they have determined, inter alia, that Mrs Wood was not involved in the decision-making process regarding that incompetent challenge to the award of expenses because it seems that she was not in post at the relevant time (!) — among other obfuscations, this was not disclosed to me nor was it disclosed who was involved — and that the objections that were presented on behalf of the Society to the auditor of court by their solicitor who had acted throughout as the Society’s fiscal “did not accurately reflect the Society’s position or the Society’s instructions” (nor had that been disclosed to me).

As an aside, at this juncture please take a moment to consider:

  1. What would have happened in the set of circumstances described above if no one in the Society was on the roll of solicitors and the only organisation to whom I could have complained was the Society itself. If I had, do you think I would ever have got to anywhere near the truth of the matter? Not a cat’s chance in hell.
  2. If, notwithstanding that the objections lodged on behalf of the Society to Douglas’ account did not accurately reflect their position or their instructions, they had been successful, with the end result that Douglas did not receive a penny in expenses from the Society, leaving me to pick up the tab, do you honestly believe that they would have come back to me to say “Sorry it’s all been a big mistake, so here’s a cheque”? Aye, right.

Anyway, as a result of their investigations into my complaints and because of the interest generated by the said articles, SLCC are satisfied that the conduct alleged in my complaint could be capable of amounting to professional misconduct or unsatisfactory professional conduct if an investigation establishes that Mrs Wood failed to properly address my concerns, and such investigation may also consider whether any failure on her part was such as could be considered to bring the profession into disrepute given the relevant context.

In accordance with the statutory provisions those complaints have been remitted to the Society for investigation as they relate to the conduct of a solicitor.

One of the main points made by Douglas in his article was that it was going to be interesting to see how the Society investigate their own director of regulation, and the detail of their procrastination and ineptitude in dealing with that situation will follow.

Chris Forrest

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