All of us have something in our past we would rather not talk about, the ‘skeleton in the closet’. We keep it in the recesses of our memory, or if larger than life, as well hidden as possible. It can be something we stole when young, cruelty to an animal, as an adult, damaging someone’s car and driving away before identified, or a long affair that had you lead a double life. For a politician, especially one that runs on conviction rather than rational decisions, a blot in character can be fatal to a promising career.
The information related below is old news. It has done the gossip rounds among the well-informed, and is very well known to solicitors who knew of Nicola Sturgeon’s short, undistinguished time working for the conveyancing firm of Bell & Craig Solicitors. In comparison to the scurrilous tales about her private life, it is redolent only of a person either untutored by, or unwilling to take advice from, senior colleagues.
Those who worked closely with Ms Sturgeon as a politician invariably keep their counsel, but the general view we can rely on is of a person of limited skill but determined character. How that combination is perceived usually cuts public opinion down the middle – those who feel she is doing a wonderful job for Scotland and declare her solicitor days of no importance, versus those who feel her solicitor days a portent of things to come, failing spectacularly to protect Scotland from the worst of England’s colonial invasions, and leading an SNP she has effectively neutered.
Whatever the view of the reader, the events related here ought to be open on record, and not hidden furtively or become Chinese whispers on social media.
The story surrounds Nicola Sturgeon’s short-stay time as a solicitor when she fell foul of due diligence. A Law Society judicial probe found she was guilty of committing three counts of professional misconduct – in short: failure to provide legal service protections for a domestic violence victim. In detail: failing to raise interdict, misleading client about legal aid application, and failing to consider her client’s financial circumstances properly.
Before discussing this at length, the reader should keep in mind both Ms Sturgeon’s experience as a solicitor and that of Ms Olga Pasportnikov, the case solicitor who conducted the probe. Neither could be described as experienced practioners at that stage of their career.
The issue in question relates to Ms Sturgeon’s failure to provide adequate legal services when she worked for Bell & Craig Solicitors – George Craig was a dedicated SNP member – but only came to light after Ms Sturgeon left the law firm suddenly. The client was forced to find another solicitor who discovered legal aid forms had not been sent to the Scottish Legal Aid Board – despite assurances from Ms Sturgeon application had been submitted.
In a five-page report, dated December 1998, Ms Pasportnikov said: “The complaint in this case has been identified as professional misconduct by breach of code of conduct and conduct unbecoming a solicitor.” It is alleged that over a 14 month period, despite the woman being followed, threatened and physically attacked, it was claimed Ms Sturgeon did not seek a court order against her violent partner.
The client wrote to the Law Society in November 1997, saying: “I sincerely hope that you look into this case as I certainly would not wish Ms Sturgeon to ill advise further matrimonial cases which she is clearly not capable of dealing with. I feel as if I have been trailed through over a year of ill advice and wasted time.” The following month, the client’s outstanding fees totalling £542 were waived by Bell & Craig as a “goodwill gesture”.
Ms Sturgeon was eventually cleared by the Law Society in April 1999, although the “client no longer has the decision letter”. [New York Times.] A Law Society spokeswoman said: “There was a complaint which was investigated but it was not upheld.”
On the defence side of Ms Sturgeon’s apparent inertia or oversight, the stumble could be construed as a lack of proper tuition; on the minus side, a solicitor covering her errors. At the very least, it is sloppy conduct and shabby treatment of a client. As already stated, the client was a victim of domestic violence, a heap of irony when associated with a politician who has made her reputation on the back of championing equality for women.
Readers have to be very careful here; at this chronilogical distance we cannot assume Ms Pasportnikov was a reliable and thorough investigator. Nevertheless, the situation gets murky when Ms Pasportnovik somehow forgot the matter when at a later date she was promoted to Sheriff by Ms Sturgeon by then First Minister.
The Law Society of Scotland concluded there should be no action taken against Ms Sturgeon. She left the legal profession – ‘stood down’ is the term – for a career in SNP politics.
The woman with the unlikely surname
Announcements in the legal profession’s press, and Scottish Government news postings, show “the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Olga Pasportnikov is appointed by the Queen following a report to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, 31 July 2015”. So who is Pasportnuvik?
Ms Pasportnikov is a University of Dundee graduate, admitted as a solicitor in 1991. She worked with Russell & Aitken Solicitors. She does not seem to have had any significant specialism, such as a divorce or children’s lawyer. She worked mainly in private practice with before joining the Law Society of Scotland in 1998. “She has been with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service since 2003, and is currently also current convener of the Fife Young Carers Management Committee.”
She is the resident Sheriff for Elgin, in Morayshire, following her appointment in August 2015.
No human was hurt in the events depicted
No one appears to know why Ms Sturgeon got off Scott free, or why, when Ms Pasportnikov was recommended for promotion to Sheriff, she failed to mention to the Law Society her previous case study involved a reprimand of Ms Sturgeon.
In a reply from the Law Society not headed ‘Selective Memory’: “The Sheriff was one of a number of case managers working on the Law Society for Scotland’s Client Relations Team from 1998 – 2003. Her role was limited to that of gathering and categorising information as a first step in a much longer process. She did not produce any reports or make any findings. Covering a volume of work, she would not remember specific names in routine cases, including where a solicitor was cleared entirely.” Quite a plausible reply, after all, there are so many ‘Nicola Sturgeons’ in Scotland, confusion is to be expected.
Judicial Appointments Board
The Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland is an ‘independent’ advisory public body with the role of recommending individuals for appointment to judicial offices within the Board’s remit including judge of the Court of Session, chair of the Scottish Land Court, sheriff principal, sheriff, and summary sheriff. The First Minister has statutory responsibility for making recommendations to Her Majesty the Queen and is required by statute to consult the Lord President of the Court of Session before making her recommendation.
And that is the story. Personally, I think there is a whole mortuary of decomposing cadavers that stink to high Heaven to list, beyond Nicola Sturgeon’s unremarkable days as a solicitor.
Off the top of my head I can think of, presiding over the smearing of colleagues and private citizens; the assassination of Joanna Cherry and Alex Salmond’s reputation; the demeaning of other notable colleages for policy differences; withholding documents from courts and Parliamentary Inquiries; the betrayal of women’s rights; canvassing on half-truths fleshing out policy in unacceptable ways behind closed doors; the hi-jacking of the SNP NEC; the triumph of misogyny over human rights; chasing Brexit and not independence; failing to educate the electorate about self-governance; the disappearance of £600,000 of referendum ‘ring-fenced’ donations; following Boris Johnson’s lethal pandemic rules only to see multiple deaths in Scottish care homes (number as yet unaccounted); claiming kudos for achievements created under Alex Salmond’s tenure; collecting mandates as if Asda stamps, and so on and so forth.
No matter, for with each folly commited a large section of the public feel ever-stronger, better a strident if inept SNP First Minister than an English nationalist Tory on his way to an earldom and a furry collar. They ignore the reality, under the SNP we are subjected to an iniquitous far-right perverted Westminster administration worse than anything known outside Butcher Cumberland’s reign. At least he put Scots out of their pain and misery.
Registering Judge’s Interests
There is no ‘Register of Judges Requirements’ to which one can search for such important clashes of intererst. It appears Ms Sturgeon made no mention of her past record recorded by Ms Pasportnikov. A First Minister has “statutory responsibility for making recommendations to Her Majesty and is required by statute to consult the Lord President of the Court of Session before making recommendation”, implying, she is expected to lay out all detail.
Somehow, a case investigator’s colleagues failed to recommend sanctions on an errant solicitor or her firm. Although the solicitor promoting the case study officer we can categorise as positive discrimination, the original lack of minutes is slapdash. This raises the question of keeping detailed records.
There has been attempts to establish a Register for Judges interests, each endeavour obstructed by none other than … Nicola Sturgeon. The Herald newspaper reported: “Nicola Sturgeon has rejected calls for judges to declare details of their finances in a register of interest. The First Minister said the proposal, lodged by justice campaigner Peter Cherbi, was “not necessary” and claimed existing rules were “sufficient””. [9 May, 2015.]
The proposal has resurfaced. Register of Judges Interests Petition PE 1458 Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 2 March 2021. It will be interesting to see which of Ms Sturgeon’s colleagues is sent to condemn more transparency in our judicial system and in our government promised by the SNP … once upon a time in a land, far, far away.
It has since come to light that this story was filed with a Scottish newspaper for publication in June 2018 – after several other newspapers refused to publish it. (Why, is a mystery.) It is alleged a ‘political editor’ at the same newspaper spiked the story. This could be down to the story being an old one, the facts blurred by time. Or it could be because the Scottish press are keen to sustain Ms Sturgeon as First Minister because they see her as least able to achieve Scotland’s liberty. They protect their life expectancy which is precarious in the extreme. Press owners are worried about the serious bleeding of profits they call ‘loss of jobs’.
The same union-friendly newspaper subsequently published a leaked document containing a litanty of falsehoods aimed at the former First Minister, the Right honorable Alex Salmond, MP, a man more than able to secure self-governance.
At this point an author of this piece might be expected to quote Hamlet, [Act I, scene iv (67)], Marcellus: ‘There is something rotten in the state of Denmark’, answered by Horatio speaking figurately “Heaven will direct it”, meaning, something as yet unknown is rotten. This author prefers to state the obvious, we know full well what is rotten in the state of Scotland, and Ms Sturgeon exhibits no extraordinary skill or imagination to stop things becoming worse.
Whatever the merits or faults of Nicola Sturgeon’s days as a solicitor and then First Minister, they amount to an obstinate personality suffering tunnel vision, who deals in platitudes, but by devious means succeeds in passing regressive, muddled laws ignored or condemned. However, to lose trust in Nicola Sturgeon is not to abandon Scotland’s ultimate ideal.