Legal body criticised over Alex Salmond QC probe wants more control over lawyer complaints system

By Paul Hutcheon

A body which has failed to conclude an investigation into Alex Salmond’s QC wants more control of the complaints system for top lawyers.

The Faculty of Advocates has backed the removal of an independent body from the process of sifting complaints against its members.

Under the current system, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) acts as gatekeeper and refers conduct complaints to the relevant legal body.

In the case of advocates, a referral is then handled through the Faculty’s in-house disciplinary procedures.

Rape Crisis Scotland made a complaint in 2020 about alleged comments made by QC Gordon Jackson, who represented Salmond during his sexual offences trial.

After Salmond was acquitted, footage emerged of Jackson allegedly discussing aspects of the sensitive case on a train, including apparently naming two female complainers.

Jackson quit as Dean of the Faculty after the story broke.

Although the Faculty “aims” to deal with cases in nine months, the complaint against Jackson has dragged on for much longer.

Russell Findlay (Russell Findlay)

The lawyers’ body now wants the role of the SLCC in the complaints process to be axed.

In a consultation response to the Scottish Government on legal services regulation, the Faculty argued:

“Faculty observes that to remove the SLCC as the “gatekeeper” of that process would have no negative impact on the handling of those complaints: they would continue to be investigated and dealt with as they are at present.”

They also claimed the Commission had been subject of “trenchant” criticism by a court over a specific decision:

“This history is such as to call into question the utility of the SLCC’s involvement so far as complaints against Advocates are concerned.”

The Faculty argued there is “no justification whatsoever” for new layers of “regulatory complexity”, adding:

“The better course, in Faculty’s view, would be simply to return jurisdiction to Faculty over all complaints against Advocates, under an efficient and proportionate self-funded and self-regulatory system.”

Scottish Tory MSP Russell Findlay said: “The review of Scotland’s complex and confusing legal regulation confirmed the need for a single independent regulator for all providers of legal services in Scotland.

“It also found that professional bodies such as the Faculty of Advocates which provide both regulatory and representative functions can lead to a public perception of a conflict of interests.

“Even without the Faculty’s track record of delays in relation to the Alex Salmond case complaint, for them to take further control of the complaints system does not seem like a step in the right direction.”

Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur MSP said: “Reform of the complaints process should be considered on its own merits but it would be better for everyone if the probe into the Gordon Jackson case could be resolved swiftly.

“If there is a good reason for this probe to have been strung out it would be better if the Faculty of Advocates would tell everyone.

“At this point in time, however, the case for allowing the Faculty more control over the complaints process does not appear overly compelling.”

Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said of the Jackson probe:

“The delays here have been caused primarily by complexities arising in the investigation, not by the sifting process carried out by SLCC. On the complaint being remitted to Faculty in August 2020, it was appointed to a Complaints Committee, consisting of two QCs and two lay persons. In light of submissions made, the Complaints Committee decided that certain factual matters required to be considered by an Investigating Committee.

“The latter has asked for further material, which is in the process of being ingathered and which requires third party input that is not within the Committee’s control. Faculty is well aware of the need for expedition, as well as the need for fairness to all parties involved in this process. All reasonable steps are being taken to advance this to a conclusion. In the meantime, no further comment can be made.”

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