Tag Archives: Inksters

Law Awards of Scotland recognise Crofting Endeavours

Law Awards of Scotland - Finalist - Solicitor of the Year - Brian InksterBrian Inkster has been shortlisted for Solicitor of the Year at the Law Awards of Scotland.

This nomination recognises his endeavours in crofting law over the past year and in particular his quest to see justice done over the alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission over the sacking of three common grazings committees.

Brian Inkster has been very vocal in the press, radio and on TV over the issue. He has written 97 blog posts on this topic alone over the past six months.

The Crofting Commission recently accepted their decisions as being wrong and issued an apology to the crofters affected. However, conflict continues within the Crofting Commission with a clear divide between their convener and the other commissioners.

Brian Inkster said:-

I am honoured to be one of only three solicitors in Scotland shortlisted for this award.

Hopefully it will help to highlight further the plight of the ordinary crofter at the hands of a regulator that is out of control.

There is still much more that the Scottish Government needs to do to restore confidence in the Crofting Commission and I will be making my views known on that in the coming months.

Inksters Solicitors who have offices in Glasgow, Inverness, Forfar, Portree, Wick and a visiting base in Lerwick have also been shortlisted for Litigation Firm of the Year and their trainee solicitor, Alistair Sloan, for Trainee of the Year at this year’s Law Awards of Scotland.

The winners will be announced on 24 November at a gala dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Glasgow.

Crofters and Lawyers

Crofters and Lawyers - Yes they could instruct Rumpole!

It isn’t just the Crofting Commission who can instruct crofting law advice!

It was reported in The Scottish Farmer this week that, as part of the ‘findings’ of the illegally appointed grazings ‘constable’ to Upper Coll Common Grazings, Colin Souter had said in a letter to shareholders that:-

I have also written to the solicitor, Brian Inkster who was apparently engaged by the former Committee, to provide them with legal advice in their dispute with the Commission. Mr Inkster was paid £600 in fees from shareholders’ funds in April 2016. There is nothing in the 1993 Act which permits shareholders’ funds to be used in this way. In addition, there is no record in the Minutes of the decision to engage Mr Inkster, the brief involved or the paying of his invoice having been put to or approved by individual shareholders. Thus, the spending of shareholders’ money in this way, was outwith the power of the Committee at that time, meaning they acted outside of the law and the legal protection normally afforded. Such arbitrary decision-making is outside of the power of the Committee, where it commits spending and serves only to undermine the trust between Committee and shareholders.

In the first letter received by me from Mr Souter on this topic he boldly states:-

Nowhere in the Act, is it provided that shareholders’ money can legitimately be used to pay for legal services when a Grazings Committee is in dispute with any organisation, body or individual. For such to even be contemplated, I would consider it necessary for at least a unanimous vote by shareholders, to support the move. However, there is no indication in the Minute records of such a meeting, discussion or vote having taken place amongst shareholders. I consider it would be highly questionable, even under such circumstances, faced with the narrow terms of statutory responsibility held by Grazings Committees, that shareholders’ money, held for spending on maintenance or improvement of the common grazing, could legitimately be spent on legal advice from any solicitor.

With acceptance of this point, comes the ethical question of receiving the money, fully understanding the source and yet presenting the cheque for payment, (as an expert in Crofting legislation), with specific knowledge of the restrictions under the Act.

He then went on to ask me, in the circumstances, to send him a cheque for £600!

In the absence of receiving such a cheque from me he wrote again this time seeking the payment once more and also asking me for copies of certain documents that he would be willing to pay me a fee to receive. A bit ironic surely that he can pay solicitors fees all of a sudden when supposedly representing shareholders who he claims cannot!

He also, in this most recent letter, went on to threaten me:-

I offer this additional and final opportunity for you to respond on the matters raised in the initial correspondence and that above, before deciding upon the necessity for further action, which if taken, may well afford the benefit of free publicity but with the detail being made public, may nevertheless impact adversely upon your professional standing.

He concludes with the threat of raising a small-claims action against me presumably in the Sheriff Court.

View from Upper Coll

This is what certain shareholders at Upper Coll have to say about the matter in a letter issued to shareholders in response to the one issued by Mr Souter:-

He questions the legality of grazings committees seeking and paying for legal advice. In our case, Inksters Solicitors, who are well versed in Crofting Law were asked by the Grazing Committee to investigate the legality of the Upper Coll shareholders having to distribute the money received from feu dispositions with such haste by the Crofting Commission. He was given a limit of up to £600 to do so. This was actioned prior to the Grazings Committee being put out of office.

Inksters in their investigations were instrumental in the Crofting Commission performing a U-turn on their directive to Upper Coll (it was found that they were in fact acting outside the law!) and saving countless grazings a considerable amount of money!

It is ironic that Mr Souter finds fault with Upper Coll shareholders employing a legal expert to successfully show the injustices of the Crofting Commission whilst he himself while acting for the Upper Coll shareholders (in his opinion!) seeks the counsel of a QC to enquire as to the legitimacy of the Upper Coll Grazings being VAT registered!!

These shareholders at Upper Coll also make the following general point:-

The constable seems unable to understand that in the spirit of openness and transparency over the years in Upper Coll, all meetings were advertised and open to all shareholders, that all decisions were taken by the majority of those attending and that all these decisions were minuted.

He is also under the mistaken impression that the clerk took actions on his own initiative. That is untrue. The clerk’s actions were always as a result of decisions and actions approved by the majority of shareholders. If the clerk was at fault so were all those present at meetings who asked him to act on their behalf.

The constable seems to place blame on successive committees, when in fact all actions were approved at open shareholder meetings. The clerk, unlike the constable, only took action after being instructed to do so by shareholders.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

Mr Souter clearly has no idea about what his role is and what he should be doing even if he was appointed legally as a grazings constable which he has not been. On one hand (according to him) shareholders cannot seek legal advice, but on the other hand he can take unilateral action on their behalf (and presumably at their cost) with no discussion or agreement from them whatsoever.

He hasn’t a clue about the law and given that he thinks shareholders cannot seek legal advice under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 he will presumably not be able to seek such advice himself to assist in his deliberations.

Having said that Mr Souter is apparently in receipt “of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel” on whether Grazings Committees can register for VAT. It is not clear whether he, the Crofting Commission or some other party instructed this opinion. I will explore this specifically and in detail in future blog posts.

However, he seems able to instruct “agents“. It has been reported that:-

He said shareholders are “well aware” from his reports that all scheme applications due were completed by agents acting on behalf of the grazings and “processed accordingly and no financial loss has been suffered”.

A lawyer is simply an agent, no different surely from instructing any other agent to do work on your behalf that may be required?

In any event a right for crofters to instruct lawyers does not need to be contained in tablets of stone within the Crofting Acts. It is a fundamental human right. Try the Magna Carta for starters.

Shareholders in common grazings have been instructing lawyers to represent and provide them with advice in numerous matters over many years. Is Mr Souter really suggesting that all those lawyers need to repay fees received for work undertaken and advice given?

Is Mr Souter really saying that shareholders could not have a lawyer representing them in an action brought against them in the Scottish Land Court?

Does Mr Souter really think it is okay for the Crofting Commission to hire top QCs in their questionable battles against shareholders in common grazings but that those shareholders cannot be afforded access to lawyers themselves?

Has Mr Souter read the Guidance Notes issued by the Crofting Commission on the Management and Use of Common Grazings? These Guidance Notes contain an “Important note” that reads:-

The following guidance is intended to assist grazings committees with regard to the use of grazings regulations. The guidance does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such. Should a grazings committee and/or shareholder require legal advice on a matter concerning common grazings, independent legal advice should be sought from a suitably qualified solicitor.

So even Mr Souter’s masters, who are not often commended for a common sense approach to matters, acknowledge and accept that shareholders can and should seek their own independent legal advice.

Should Mr Souter carry out his threat and raise court action against my law firm I will have no difficulty in defending it and calling the Crofting Commission in as a party to it. There will be a counterclaim for the time, inconvenience and costs caused to me unnecessarily by Mr Souter.

I do not recognise Mr Souter as having any legal standing or authority. His appointment was illegal and even the Crofting Commission knew this to be the case when making it.

Accordingly, I will not be replying directly to his letters. Instead I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, who has responsibility for crofting. I will, out of courtesy, copy my letter to Mr Souter.

I will be expressing my concerns to Mr Ewing about this illegal ‘constable’ being allowed to wreak havoc by the Crofting Commission. Mr Ewing has already had to rein in Convener Colin Kennedy. Now it is time for him to rein in another Colin.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Rumpole of the Bailey © ITV

Crofting Convener must go

Crofting Convener must go - says Lewis and Harris Crofters MeetingThe overwhelming message that came out of the Lewis and Harris Crofters’ Meeting was that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, must go.

Over 80 people attended the meeting, organised by the Scottish Crofting Federation, in Stornoway Town Hall on 3 August.

I will reproduce some of the reports of the meeting that have appeared in the media.

“Lack of Trust” in the Crofting Commission – BBC Naidheachdan

On Wednesday night, more than 80 people gathered at a meeting in the Stornoway town hall to discuss the impact of unrest/conflict between the Crofting Commission and the Grazing Committees.

They put forward a vote of no confidence in the commission, and agreed that Colin Kennedy should resign from his position as the convener of the Crofting Commission.

The Commission had no official representation at the meeting.

Iain MacIver who is himself a Township Clerk said:-

The turnout tonight shows the interest in crofting, and how worried people are of the situation as it is now that they understand it.

It is easy to see that people are very angry about the way in which some of the villages were dealt.

They want to see how the Commission works, and how the law works, lessons to be learnt so that crofting stands in a better position.

The lack of trust vote shows the feelings that are there, but at the end of the day it is up to the government what they are going to do.

I think that the thing that worried people most, was if the people going forward were to be idle in their roles as Town Clerk , and also the Commission itself with the situation as it is now.

But we hope in the coming months that people will gain confidence and be given the right guidance so that crofting can be strengthened, instead of weakened, and that the Government endeavours to make this happen, and that they won’t ruin it as people suspected they would.  That was the consensus this evening.

Crofters make it clear: The Commission can stay but the Convener has to go – Scottish Crofting Federation

A meeting attended by eighty crofters in Stornoway concluded that a Crofting Commission is good for crofting, but it is currently not fit for purpose so the convener, Colin Kennedy, must go.

A crofting meeting organised by the Scottish Crofting Federation held in Stornoway last week, attended by eighty crofters from townships all over Lewis and Harris, gave a clear message to the Scottish Government: the convener of the Crofting Commission must step down; the Upper Coll grazings committee must be re-instated; the current Crofting Commission must be sorted out by Scottish Government but, nonetheless, a Commission is essential to crofting.

Vice-chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF), Russell Smith, said:-

It was a loud and clear message coming out of a very lively but thoughtful discussion. This is not knee-jerk reaction; the attack on common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission has been on-going now for several months so crofters have had plenty of time to think about this. It is not surprising that there is a call for the convener of the Commission to stand down and for deposed committees to be re-instated. It is perhaps more notable that, despite what is widely regarded as very poor behaviour, the Crofting Commission is still wanted, albeit following a thorough review and improvement of procedures. I think that this is a very sensible approach.

The meeting heard presentations from representatives of the removed Lewis grazings committees, SCF, Inksters Solicitors and Scottish Government, not only on the topic of the Crofting Commission but also on CAP, support to crofting and advocacy for crofting. The meeting, that sometimes became quite heated, was well-chaired by SCF member Donald MacSween.

Mr Smith continued:-

We can understand the Scottish Government’s reluctance to interfere with a majority-elected body, but the meeting was united in its view that the Scottish Government does have to intervene in this circumstance. The procedures of the Commission clearly need to be investigated and modified to stop this sort of thing happening again. The Crofting Commission may well be an ‘arms-length government body’, but the Scottish Government still has a responsibility to make sure that the Commission operates in a fair and reasonable manner – and does possess the powers to intervene, for example by removing a Commissioner, if it sees fit.

Following discussions a vote was called on the motion:-

this meeting has no confidence in the existing Crofting Commission and supports the SCF call for the resignation of the convener Colin Kennedy.

The motion was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Anger in Stornoway aimed at commission – West Highland Free Press

The sense of anger at the recent actions of the Crofting Commission was laid bare at a public meeting in Stornoway last week attended by over 80 people, which delivered an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the organisation and called for the resignation of its convener Colin Kennedy….

As the meeting was drawing to a close a vote of no confidence in the existing commission was passed as well as a call for the resignation of its convener. An overwhelming majority supported the moves with only five of those present against – three of whom are the crofters in Upper Coll who raised the original complaint against the committee, including a father and son.

The Crofting Commission’s Response – Island News and Advertiser

The Crofting Commission is committed to working positively with grazings committees and crofters. At present, the Commission is undertaking an examination of the circumstances of the recent cases, so that any lessons learnt can inform future procedures and decision-making.

A majority of the Crofting Commissioners are elected by crofters, with no involvement on the part of Commission staff in the process, so any consideration of their position is a matter for the individual Commissioner.

It should not be forgotten that consideration of the position of Crofting Commissioners is also a matter for Scottish Ministers and I will look at that further in my next post.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: © BBC Alba

Lewis and Harris Crofters’ Meeting

SCF Crofters Meeting Lewis and Harris - 3 August 2016The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has organised a meeting in Lewis this Wednesday, 3 August 2016.

It is at the Stornoway Town Hall at 7.00pm and will involve presentations and discussions on Common Grazings, the role of the Crofting Commission and current policy issues affecting crofting.

You don’t have to be a SCF member to attend and all are welcome.

The panellists are:-

  • Russell Smith – SCF Vice-Chair
  • Brendan O’Hanrahan – SCF director
  • Lucy Carmichael – Scottish Government Crofting Policy
  • Brian Inkster – Crofting Lawyer, Inksters Solicitors
  • Patrick Krause – SCF Chief Executive

The meeting will be chaired by Donald Macsween – Lewis crofter, SCF member and activist.

A lively discussion is expected given the recent controversy surrounding alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission arising from what this blog has dubbed ‘The Common Clearances‘. Recent revelations have shown that the Crofting Commission knowingly acted contrary to their own policies, procedures and legal advice. All this and more will be up for debate on Wednesday night in Stornoway.

100 Crofting Law blog posts

100 Crofting Law blog postsMy last post, ‘The Chief Grazings Constable‘, was the 100th post on the Crofting Law Blog.

Quite a milestone.

I started the blog on 18th March 2013 because I was finding so much to write about the decrofting debacle. I said then:-

Crofting law appears to be in turmoil in a way that has possibly not been seen since it was introduced in 1886. The time is surely ripe for a crofting law blog to air the issues arising in an open, clear and transparent way.

Three years later and that turmoil has, somewhat unbelievably, got worse with the current common grazings debacle (aka ‘The Common Clearances‘).

There have been 32 blog posts on the common grazings debacle alone and that in the space of less than 3 months since the first one was published on the alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission. Coincidentally there is the same number of blog posts on here about the decrofting debacle. Although I had also written seven articles about that issue on inksters.com before starting the Crofting Law Blog. I reckon there will be more (probably a good bit more) than seven further blog posts to write about the common grazings debacle.

So we have the Crofting Commission and Scottish Government to thank (although we probably shouldn’t really be thanking them!) for creating the hot topics that have kept this blog so active.

The other 36 blog posts have covered a good mixture of crofting law matters including the Crofting Register, Scottish Land Court Technology, Crofting Law Sump, Sporting Rights on RaasayCroft House GrantsCrofting Convenergate, flaws in the Crofting Election Consultation, new appointments at the Crofting Commission, Scottish Government, Scottish Land Court and the Crofting Law A-Team.

Our blogs posts have, on the whole, been well received. They have, we would like to think, kept the Crofting Commission on their toes and perhaps even assisted some changes of heart on their part. We keep on blogging to explain the law, highlight injustices, to press for those changes and also as a result of nice comments of support like this one:-

I can’t thank you enough for the help and advice you have given over the last few months and I think the Crofting Law Blog has been an invaluable source of information that was virtually impossible to find anywhere else.

We have found obtaining relevant information from the Crofting Commission about the many complex aspects of crofting law extremely difficult so finding the Crofting Law Blog was a huge help to us.

You all deserve an award.

It seems a shame that such a clear and understandable source of information could not have been provided by the Crofting Commission itself.

A big thanks to all readers of and contributors to the Crofting Law blog over our first 100 blog posts. We will keep on blogging open, clear and transparent information about crofting law. If there is anything in particular you would like us to blog about or if you would like to contribute a post to the blog yourself then do let us know.

Brian Inkster

Carry on Grazings Constable

Carry on Grazings Constable

You can carry on constable

I have blogged about the (illegal, in my opinion and the opinion of others) appointment of Grazings Constables by the Crofting Commission to replace the grazings committees that they have evicted from office.

In the case of Mangersta Common Grazings the original purported appointment of the Grazings Constable ran for six months from and after 6 December 2015. Thus it expired on 6 June 2016. However, just before the expiry thereof the Crofting Commission sought to extend the ‘appointment’ for a further six months from and after 6 June 2016.

When challenged about the legality of the original appointment, from 6 December 2015, the Crofting Commission responded:-

The Commission’s understanding is that this was a final decision and the Commission has no authority to revisit its own decisions in these circumstances.

Thus they appeared to be of the view that if they make any decision (including an illegal one) they cannot change that decision.

They also stated:-

once the appointment of the constable comes to an end, it will be for the shareholders to appoint a committee in the usual manner

However, they went onto compound that illegal decision by actually revisiting it (something they said they could not do) and purporting to extend the appointment of the Grazing Constable for a further period of six months allowing him to carry on in ‘office’!

Even if they did have the power to appoint a Grazing Constable in these circumstances (which is denied) then they certainly do not have the power to extend the appointment.

Section 47(7) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 which provides for the term of office of Grazings Constables, appointed in circumstances where it is legitimate for the Commission to do so, states that:-

the term of office of a grazing constable… shall be such as may be specified in the instrument by which he is appointed.

Thus it is a one time appointment and cannot be extended.

Yet again the Crofting Commission simply ignore the law and flout the will of Parliament.

The Crofting Commission were called upon by me on 13 June 2016 to set out a detailed legal explanation with statutory and/or case law references if they disagreed with my interpretation of the law. The letter from my law firm, Inksters, to the Commission stated:-

In your said letter you state that “once the appointment of the constable comes to an end, it will be for the shareholders to appoint a committee in the usual manner”. However, that illegal appointment having come to an end we understand that the Commission have purported to extend it for another six months. Please provide us with a copy of the Order purporting to do so. Please confirm where you believe the power to do so in law exists. We can see no such power in law and therefore the extension like the original appointment is illegal and thus null and void. The shareholders are therefore at liberty to appoint a committee in the usual manner. If you disagree with our interpretation of the situation please set out a detailed legal explanation with statutory and/or case law references to back up your stance for our consideration. Your failure to do so may be founded upon.

To date my request has been ignored by them.

However, the recent massive U-turn by the Crofting Commission on Mangersta and the stepping down from ‘office’ of the ‘Grazings Constable’ is as good an admission as any that they did indeed get the law wrong.

That ‘Grazings Constable’ should never have been there in the first place and should not have been allowed to carry on, in any circumstances, beyond the initial ‘appointment’.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Carry on Constable © Anglo-Amalgamated Productions / StudioCanal

‘A Menacing Presence’

'A Menacing Prescence'

It was not the first time that the Crofting Commission had been referred to as ‘The Dark Side’

As indicated previously I am still catching up with news of ‘The Common Clearances‘ since I returned from holiday.

One news item in the saga from last month involved a meeting called by the Crofting Commission with shareholders of the Mangersta Common Grazings (their committee having been removed from office by the Crofting Commission).

There were three press releases relating to the meeting (one with a slightly different slant on it) and that as follows:-

Statement by the Crofting Commission

The Crofting Commission met with shareholders of Mangersta common grazings today, Tuesday 17 May.  The meeting was productive and the Commission would like to thank shareholders for their positive contribution.

The Crofting Commission conducted a closed meeting to give shareholders information on the current state of their common grazings finances as determined by the Commission appointed Grazings Constable.  The meeting has also provided opportunity to seek an agreement on the best way forward to ensure that the committee’s significant level of funds is distributed to shareholders appropriately.   The Commission are committed to achieving a resolution in Mangersta and would like to encourage shareholders to continue to work with us, and hope that this leads to the appointment of a new grazings committee in the near future.

The Commission wants to encourage the good shared management of common grazings across the crofting counties and the most effective way to do this is through properly constituted grazings committees. Clear grazings regulations are the most effective way to safe guard the future common grazing land for the benefit of all crofters.

Statement by the Former Committee members and clerk to Mangersta Common Grazings

The Former Committee members and clerk to Mangersta Common Grazings have expressed “profound concern about the implications for the whole crofting system of the actions now being pursued by the Crofting Commission”.

The statement from the group – who were removed from office on the orders of the Commission – followed a meeting convened by the Commission to explain its position.

Following the meeting, attendees said:

This is no longer about Mangersta or any other specific village which the Commission has intervened in.  It is about the very existence of the crofting system on any kind of viable, community basis.

The position of the Commission is that all money coming into a village for agricultural and environmental schemes must be distributed to individual shareholders, no matter where they live or what their contribution to the crofting life of the village is.

They say that these payments should be declared for the purposes of taxation – the phrase used was that they needed to be ‘taxed and cleaned up’. Individual shareholders should then be asked to make payments back into the Grazings Committee for the purposes originally intended.

In terms of crofting, this is completely mad and unsustainable.  What Grazings Committee is going to apply for any scheme under these conditions?

When shareholders at the meeting questioned the legality of the Commissioners proposals they were told that if all shareholders did not accept them, the Commission would not allow Mangersta Grazings shareholders to reform a committee.

The statement repeated the call for an inquiry into the operations of the Crofting Commission and also asked for an urgent debate in the Scottish Parliament to seek clarification on the issues involved.

At the outset of the meeting, the chairman, William Swann, over-ruled objections to the unannounced presence of the Crofting Commission convener, Colin Kennedy, who did not participate in the discussion. Mr Swann said that Mr Kennedy has a ‘conflict of interest’ but would not ask him to leave the meeting.

Mr. Swann also refused to respond to questions about the legality of the Commission’s actions in removing the grazings clerk and committee members from office replacing them with a Grazings Constable. He said that only the Scottish Land Court could rule on that matter.  The legal advice received by the Mangersta shareholders is that there was no basis in law for the Commission’s actions.

Crofting law expert, Brian Inkster of Inksters Solicitors, who wrote to the Crofting Commission pointing out that, in his view, the appointment of a Grazings Constable in these circumstances was illegal, said:-

The Crofting Commission has not responded with any legal argument as to why they consider their actions to be legal. They have simply stated that they consider their decision to be a final one and they have no authority to revisit their own decisions in these circumstances. So they appear to consider that they can do as they please with no real regard to the law and if decisions are illegal they cannot reverse them!

This is also self evident from the appearance at the meeting unannounced, but with an acknowledged conflict of interest, of convener Colin Kennedy. It is stated in Paragraph 13(2) of Schedule 1 to the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 that ‘the convener must, if present, chair meetings of the Commission and any of their committees’. He didn’t chair this meeting, remained silent and allowed Mr. Swann to chair. Yet again the Crofting Commission simply rips up the rule book.

No public body should be allowed to behave like this and now that we have a new Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for crofting, namely Fergus Ewing, he will hopefully put a stop to it.

If Mr. Swann considers that only the Scottish Land Court can rule on the matter then the Crofting Commission should be making an application to the Land Court under Section 53 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 for confirmation as to the legality or otherwise of their actions. Until such time as they do so, and in the absence of any legal argument to the contrary, my advice to any Grazings Committee who has been dismissed and replaced by a Grazings Constable is to treat any actions by that Constable as being null and void and carrying no legal authority.

The former committee members and clerk reiterated at the meeting that they could see no way forward until the Crofting Commission publicly admit their error and issue an apology for their actions.  The statement said:

The Crofting Commission is a statutory body which must act within the law.

This affair has opened up issues which are fundamental to the whole crofting system and there is no confidence in the Crofting Commission, left to its own devices, to act in the best interests of crofting or in accordance with their statutory remit. Urgent intervention is now required.

Statement by the Scottish Crofting Federation

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has expressed astonishment that the convener of the Crofting Commission attended the Mangersta grazings ‘closed’ meeting unannounced.

Fiona Mandeville, chair of the SCF, said

This could be seen as blatant intimidation. It is an old trick to bring someone along to a sensitive meeting who sits in the background as a menacing presence. Perhaps this was not the intention, but it was very poor diplomacy.

Following the widely reported skirmishes between two Lewis grazings and the Crofting Commission, notice recently went out to shareholders of Mangersta grazings, from the Crofting Commission, inviting them to attend a meeting to try to move towards resolution in the conflict. The letter made clear that Commissioners William Swan, Marina Dennis and David Campbell would be present. There was no mention that Commissioner Colin Kennedy, who has been at the heart of the two conflicts and was the subject of complaints about his aggressive meeting style, would be there.

Ms Mandeville continued:-

Apparently shareholders attending asked that he be removed from the meeting but the chair, William Swan, said that, although Mr Kennedy had a conflict of interest, he would be allowed to stay.

We are simply astonished. At every turn the Commission seems bent on thwarting this process and opening itself to further criticism. We were encouraged to hear of the meeting and felt the Commission was trying for reconciliation, but this latest misjudgement will add to the grave concern felt by everyone who cares about crofting’s well-being.

Conclusion

Given how the Crofting Commission handled the meeting it is hard to see how they could put such a positive spin on it. The Convener, with an acknowledged conflict of interest, should quite simply not have been there. That in itself could have made all the difference and been the start of the Crofting Commission rebuilding their shattered credibility. The opposite has been the case as subsequent events have testified.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace © Lucasfilm Ltd

The Crofting Law A-Team

The Crofting Law A-Team

Martin Minton, Angus Mackay, Brian Inkster, Evonne Morrison and Derek Flyn

Inksters recently strengthened their crofting law team by the addition of three new team members.

Derek Flyn joins Inksters as a crofting law consultant. Derek is one of the best known and most highly respected crofting law experts in Scotland. He co-wrote the first book on crofting law in 1990 and is currently writing a new up-to-date book on crofting law with Keith Graham. He was in recent years the Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation and continues to be their Parliamentary Spokesman.

Derek, together with Keith Graham, produced the Crofting Law Sump Report which highlighted to the Scottish Government in 2014 all of the problem issues requiring to be addressed in crofting law. This is likely to lead to new crofting law legislation during the term of the new Scottish Government.

Derek lives in Beauly and has strong connections with the Isle of Skye where his wife comes from and where he once worked.

Derek will be assisting the crofting law practitioners at Inksters and providing them with specialist advice on complex crofting law matters.

Angus Mackay also joins Inksters. He is a legal consultant with a specialist interest in Community Empowerment, Land Reform and Renewable Energy.

Angus has worked for large commercial law firms and latterly for a renewable energy company. He will be dealing with general crofting and property transactions and giving specialist assistance in community acquisitions and renewable energy schemes.

Angus comes from the crofting township of Melness in Sutherland.

Evonne Morrison is joining Inksters as a Trainee Solicitor. Coming from Shetland she has an interest in crofting law and will be assisting the team in day to day crofting transactions/cases.

These three new team members join Brian Inkster and Martin Minton to provide Inksters’ clients with a formidable crofting law team of five.

Crofting Law A-Team

Derek Flyn, Angus Mackay, Evonne Morrison, Martin Minton and Brian Inkster

Brian Inkster has dealt with crofting law matters for over 25 years and appears in the Scottish Land Court regularly and is often called upon to provide opinions on complex crofting law matters.

Brian is the Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, a member of the Crofting Group of Scottish Land & Estates, the Cross-Party Group on Crofting at the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government Crofting Stakeholder Forum, the Crofting Register Stakeholder Forum and the Crofting Legislation Stakeholder Consultation Group.

Brian is a regular contributor at crofting law conferences and blogs about crofting law on this blog.

Martin Minton is a solicitor who has been with Inksters for five years concentrating on crofting law. Martin deals with crofting property transactions and disputes. He also deals with wills and executries involving crofting issues.

Martin comes from a crofting family in Dundonnell near Ullapool.

Martin has contributed articles and legal updates on crofting law for various publications and for this blog. He is the editor of the Crofting Law Group Newsletter.

Inksters’ crofting law team provide members of the Scottish Crofting Federation with a crofting law helpline.

Brian Inkster said:-

“With the current turmoil at the Crofting Commission over their handling of issues surrounding Common Grazings Committees it is essential for crofters to receive the best possible advice that they can get. I am delighted that Inksters have assembled a crofting law A-Team that will give our clients just that.”

If you need to call in the ‘Crofting Law A-Team’ then phone Rose Sullivan on 0345 450 0123 and she will direct you to a member of the team. Alternatively e-mail the crofting law A-Team or use the Contact Form on this blog to do so.

No let up on the Common Clearances crisis whilst on holiday!

No let up in the Common Clearances whilst in Morocco

Could I really escape the presence of the Crofting Commission in Morocco?

I have been in Morocco on holiday for the past couple of weeks. The run up to getting away and being away has meant a lull in reporting by me on The Common Clearances.

The last time I was in Morocco coincided exactly with the Scottish Government’s one week consultation period on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. A bill that arose from the Decrofting Debacle unnecessarily and unjustifiably created by the Crofting Commission. Notice a theme?

I spent that week writing detailed submissions and drafting a better (in my view) bill for the Scottish Government and submitting it to them from Marrakech. A civil servant was to later tell me that my intervention was unhelpful. No doubt the same view is taken in the corridors of Saughton House and Great Glen House over my comments on The Common Clearances.

But it has been said that we provide a clear and understandable source of information at the Crofting Law Blog, something that you cannot get from the Crofting Commission (see ‘A Happy Crofter‘).

I decided, this holiday in Morocco, to actually have a holiday. Now I am back a quick look at the internet tells me there has been no let up in the Common Clearances crisis. As far as I can glean, so far, since I last blogged:-

  • The Crofting Commission held a meeting in Lewis with shareholders of the Mangersta Common Grazings which was chaired by Commissioner William Swann but “marred by a menacing presence” in that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, turned up unexpectedly to observe proceedings despite having declared a conflict of interest.
  • Members of the ousted Upper Coll Grazings Committee applied for an interim interdict against the appointment of the Grazings Constable at Inverness Sheriff Court and that was refused.
  • John Finnie MSP has asked questions about the situation in the Scottish Parliament which have been answered in a fairly neutral manner by Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing MSP.
  • Further parliamentary questions have been asked by John Finnie MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP about the issue with answers anticipated to be given by Fergus Ewing MSP on 23 June 2016.
  • Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting federation, has written about ‘The Spirit of the Law – The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense’.
  • It was reported on Radio nan Gàidheal that another grazings committee has been put out of office by the Crofting Commission, this time on the Scottish mainland.
  • It was also reported by Radio nan Gàidheal that a grazings committee in South Uist has put themselves out of office to avoid any difficulties that may be encountered with being regulated by the Crofting Commission.
  • Commissioner William Swann has resigned from the Crofting Commission.
  • Propaganda about ‘the role of grazings committees in representing shareholders’ has been published by the Crofting Commission.
  • The former and ousted Convener of the Crofting Commission, Susan Walker, has written in the West Highland Free Press about the situation.
  • The Upper Coll Grazing Constable (illegally appointed in my view) has issued a letter to the press.

I will try to catch up on all of these developments on this blog in some detail, and share my thoughts on each, over the coming weeks. Do let me know if I have missed anything.

I also have to tell you on this blog about Inksters’ new and enhanced crofting law team (you may have read about that elsewhere before now).

So keep an eye on the Crofting Law Blog over the next few weeks for, as the ‘Happy Crofter‘ put it, an “invaluable source of information that [is] virtually impossible to find anywhere else”.

Brian Inkster

Update – 13 June 2016: The Crofting Law A-Team

Update – 14 June 2016: ‘A Menacing Presence’

Update – 15 June 2016: Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Update – 16 June 2016: Crofting Commissioner Resigns over situation the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission need to sort out

Crofting Law Hustings

Crofting Law Hustings at the Signet Library

The calm before the crofting law storm at the Signet Library!

Part of this year’s Crofting Law Conference (organised by the Crofting Law Group in association with the WS Society) will take the form of a hustings on crofting law. With the Scottish Parliamentary Elections looming there is great interest in crofting circles as to what the next Scottish Government might do to resolve the many problems in existing crofting legislation identified by The Crofting Law Sump Report.

The conference will take place at the Signet Library in Edinburgh on 17th March 2016 and is Chaired by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt., QC, Chairman of the Crofting Law Group.

Brian Inkster, Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, will provide an introduction as to where we are at with ‘The Crofting Law Sump’. Then Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will keynote on the current Scottish Government’s position on crofting law. She will be followed by the ‘Views on Crofting Law from the Opposition’ from MSPs and representatives from other political parties. The crofting law hustings will culminate with an opportunity for delegates to put their own questions to the panel in a ‘Crofting Question Time’ session. Participants are:-

  • Jean Urquhart MSP, Independent (moderating ‘Crofting Question Time’)
  • Rob Gibson MSP, Scottish National Party
  • Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour
  • Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats
  • Donald Cameron, election candidate for Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
  • Andy Wightman, election candidate for Scottish Green Party

Following on from the crofting law hustings several recognised specialist speakers will present on Crofting Succession and Crofting Mortgages and representatives from both the Crofting Commission and Registers of Scotland will be there to discuss current issues. There will also be a case law update. Speakers and panellists include:

  • David Findlay, Solicitor, Crofting Commission
  • Rod Maclean, Solicitor, Murchison Law
  • Jill Clark, Head of Civil Law Reform Unit, Justice Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Eilidh Ross MacLellan, Solicitor, Inksters
  • Catriona Maclean, Chief Executive, Crofting Commission
  • Martin Corbett, Head of Policy Development, Registers of Scotland
  • Rhona Elrick, Registers of Scotland
  • Donald Cameron, Westwater Advocates

WS/CLG member: £180 + VAT
Non-member: £205 + VAT
Trainee/student/retired: £115 + VAT

All rates include lunch at the Signet Library.

To book, please contact Nicole Hatch at the WS Society:-

0131 220 3249

E-mail: nhatch@wssociety.co.uk

Download: crofting law conference booking form

The event is supported by First Title and Wesleyan