Archive for September 22nd, 2009

Bitcher and Prickman on lawyer’s fees

I was tweeting with @richardprickman t’other night about many things, including General Counsel’s power over law firms.  He tells me that this cartoon followed our discussion.  Bitcher and Prickman cartoons are well worth looking at – surprising how close american issues are to our own in law!  Have a look?

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It is, inevitably, going to be seen as ironic that Baroness Scotland, the Attorney-General, took an oath to uphold the rule of law, is part of a government that passed the law on employing illegals and has now ended up being investigated for allegedly breaking those very laws. (Picture from Guido Fawkes blog post on the expenses issue below)

The Independent reports this morning: ” Lady Scotland is fighting to save her job after the revelation that she employed a Tongan cleaner who had overstayed her student visa by five years. She sacked Loloahi Tapui last week, before her status became public, and asked the agency to look into the matter. If the Attorney General did not carry out sufficient checks, she could face a £10,000 fine under the 2006 Asylum Immigration and Nationality Act, which she helped to push through parliament. She will say today that in January she was shown documents which stated that Ms Tapui was entitled to remain and work in Britain. The agency, whose officials raided Ms Tapui’s west London flat on Saturday, is believed to have found discrepancies over at least one of these documents. Lady Scotland’s office declined to comment last night.”

Unfortunately, Guido Fawkes and others also have Baroness Scotland in their gunsights over the issue of £170,000 claimed for a housing allowance. Guido Fawkes notes: “Patricia Scotland, who was at the Home Office before becoming Attorney-General, has wrongly claimed some £170,000 since 2004.  The £38,280 a year over-claim is only for ministers who have a primary residence outside the capital.  Patricia has a £2 million home in Chiswick, West London.

Labour MP Graham Stringer told The Mail on Sunday that if Lady Scotland did not make a ‘principled resignation’, she should be fired by Gordon Brown.

The Telegraph notes: ” A parliamentary guide to ministerial salaries makes clear that the payments are intended for “ministers in the House of Lords who maintain a second home in London”. Although she owns a cottage in Oxfordshire, Lady Scotland lists her family home in West London as her main residence. A spokeswoman for the Attorney insisted that she is entitled to the allowance, which is paid automatically to her by the department rather than being claimed as an expense, as legislation does not specify where the peer should live to qualify.”

Interestingly, despite the apparent lack of clarity in the application of the law here, “…other Government ministers who are also members of the House of Lords, including the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, do not take the allowance.”

It is, at the very least, one could argue – inelegant, with just a hint of political hypocrisy, for a well paid member of the government, the senior law officer, a Labour Attorney-General to live in an expensive Chiswick property (but a half hour ministerial car ride to her office or less on the Tube)  and yet claim this allowance? Some from the less well paid sectors of society may well take this view, especially if they are Labour voters.

On the issue of the cleaner, I am not at all certain the mob should be standing outside Lady Scotland’s house with flaming torches.  Many people employ cleaners in this country.  Few, I suspect, check their documents – and even fewer would have the ability to determine if those documents have been ‘doctored’.  We don’t live in a country where identity papers or other documentation are routinely scrutinised by the police on our streets, let alone by employers employing cleaners.  I wonder how many of those who employ cleaners and who are enjoying Lady Scotland’s discomfort declare payments to their cleaners for Tax and National Insurance.  One assumes that Lady Scotland has declared the relevant payment to her cleaner to HMRC and has deducted tax and NI?  For my part, based on the very limited information available in the press on this matter, I do not think that Lady Scotland should be held up to public ridicule and censure.  I suspect this is more a cock up than an intentional act to break the law covertly.  It could be a case of ‘premature ejaculation’ for the horde who wish to see Lady Scotland and, indeed, other Labour government apparatchicks, hounded from office.

On the issue of expenses – we shall have to see.  It would appear that the law is not at all clear on this matter and if that is shown to be the case then perhaps a bit more clarity would be helpful.

A very rough straw poll of lawyers I know yesterday revealed that Lady Scotland is highly regarded by lawyers and seems more than competent in her job. Given the fantastic levels of incompetence shown during the credit-crunch by government members, bankers and the like, we should be thankful that a  government law officer is able to do her  job to ‘fit for purpose’ standards?

Unless you know otherwise?

Update  22 September 9.00 am : The Independent reports this morning that Baroness Scotland did pay tax and NI which rather strengthens, than weakens, the point that Baroness Scotland inadvertantly employed an ‘illegal’  because the housekeeper was registered for tax and NI – a not unreasonable conlusion to put forward?

Political blogger Iain Dale has a different view and states that Baroness Scotland should do the honourable thing and resign.  She has been fined £5000 according to the blog post.

“How on earth can Baroness Scotland stay in office when, according to reports, she is being fined £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant. It can’t be put down to a simple technical error when it was she who took the original legislation through parliament.”

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