Thursday, June 09, 2016

WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall & new Lord Advocate refused to give expectations on move to recover public ownership of Parliament House

New Lord Advocate’s role in Parliament House titles fiasco. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s new Lord Advocate - James Wolffe QC – refused to give expectations of any success on efforts by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

Emails from James Wolffe to the Scottish Government also claim the Faculty of Advocates spent £320K on legal costs and work refurbishing the Laigh Hall – which Edinburgh City Council contend was wrongly taken from public ownership.

The series of exchanges between the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Scottish Ministers in relation to the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings - came to light in papers released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to Alex Neil MSP  - the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates.

However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

The long time lawyer & QC – recently selected by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate -  also felt confident enough to pass along details of the financial costs of ‘refurbishing’ the Laigh Hall - which the City of Edinburgh Council maintained were part of the common good & therefore owned by the council.

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant - James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

Responding to Wolffe’s claim the Faculty of Advocates paid out over £320K on refurbishing parts of buildings formerly in public ownership - an individual at the Scottish Government whose identity has been censored in the released documents – made light of further coverage of the Parliament House fiasco in the Scottish media.

In a further email, Wolffe alerted the secretive Scottish Government contact to additional coverage, pointing to an article written by Martin Hannan in The National, titled “Edinburgh asks: Can we have Parliament House back, please?

Meanwhile, unredacted sections of legal advice given by the Scottish Government’s own lawyers to Scottish Ministers revealed in the documents state the following:

• The Scottish Court Service (SCS) is the current proprietor and occupier of Parliament House.

Consequently it is that independent body (and not the Scottish Ministers) that would have to agree to a voluntary transfer of its title to the local authority. We don't know what view the Lord President would be likely to take on that matter and whether he would agree to the transfer in circumstances where the public body has a valid title. He may, for example, be influenced by the fact that the SCS has recently undertake a major refurbishment of the building complex at a cost of around £58 million.

• The finance position is complex. SCS holds a valid title and will have accounted for bot the property and the recent refurbishment works in its accounts: Whilst a transfer to the council would retain the property in public ownership, there are tricky issues around accounting and public finance rules t at would require further investigation.

• Although neither a legal nor financial impediment, the title position is very complex. Parliament House is not one building but rather a number that are stitched together, built down the centuries. it is not clear whether the entire property was, and remained, part of the Common Good Fund when Scottish Ministers registered a title. This may be relevant when considering whether or not it would be appropriate to transfer the entire property. My understanding is that it would be an expensive exercise to undertake any further examination of the title and it is unlikely that it would in any event achieve any greater clarity.

• The Faculty of Advocates holds a registered title to the Laigh Hall. It mayor may not agree to a voluntary transfer, and if they were inclined to do so, we don't know upon' what basis.

As ministers sought to arrange meetings and seek views on the subject, Lord Brian Gill – then Lord President – wrote to Alex Neil MSP, asserting “this matter is best dealt with at official level”

Gill said he would ask Eric McQueen - Chief Executive of Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, to meet with officials of the Council.

However, after a year of fruitless negotiations between council officials, the Scottish Government, and other parties, the City of Edinburgh Council served writs on Scottish Ministers, the Keeper of the Registers and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service on 25 November 2015.

The action by the council - seeking declarator that the City of Edinburgh Council is the owner of Parliament House, High Street, home of the Court of Session – has since been abandoned.

In response to media enquiries, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed the council’s legal action had ceased, and said : “SCTS holds legal title to Parliament House.”

PARLIAMENT HOUSE TITLE SWINDLE

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP - revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation - revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen's Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”.

Sidney Brailsford is High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government's position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ's Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister - Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

Friday, June 03, 2016

WOLFFE LAW: Crown Office ‘line of succession’ falters - First Minister names James Wolffe QC as Lord Advocate & Alison Di Rollo as Solicitor General

Faculty of Advocates boss to be new Lord Advocate. THE DEAN of the Faculty of Advocates - James Wolffe QC – has been named Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate.

The appointment – recommended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and agreed by the Scottish Parliament on June 1st under Motion S5M-00255 – will see Mr Wolffe succeed Frank Mulholland QC as Scotland’s top prosecutor and head of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The number two spot at the Crown Office has been filled by Advocate Alison Di Rollo – who becomes the new Solicitor General - after Lesley Thomson quit the role.

A news release from the Scottish Government said Ms Thomson – who held the post as Solicitor General since 2011 “informed the First Minister she wishes to pursue new challenges.”

The appointments of both Mr Wolffe & Ms Di Rollo – come recently after it was revealed a number of Crown Office staff have been convicted of serious criminal offences - including misuse of drugs, violence & offences against the Police.

A further report in the media revealed Crown Office staff operating an air junkets racket - reported here: Crown Office jet set junket racket - Files reveal Prosecutors spent £57K on international & domestic air travel as crooks deal plea bargains to dodge law & courts.

Among long term investigations by the Crown Office awaiting decisions - the new Lord Advocate will face a decision on whether to prosecute anyone in connection with the £400 million collapsed Hedge Fund.

The Heather Capital collapse – probed by prosecutors and Police for three years – has seen links to judges, prosecutors, top politicians, Police and even the Vatican state - revealed in considerable detail in the Scottish and international media.

It will also fall to James Wolffe’s Crown Office to decide on whether to intervene in any private prosecution brought by relatives of victims those killed in the Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths case.

The First Minister said: “I am extremely pleased to recommend the appointments of James Wolffe and Alison Di Rollo as Scotland’s senior law officers.”

“James has an outstanding legal background and extensive experience at all levels, including the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

“Alison led the work of the ground-breaking National Sexual Crimes Unit (NSCU) for three years, having previously held the role of deputy. Her outstanding leadership in this most sensitive of areas has inspired confidence in all connected to it.”

James Wolffe said: “I thank the First Minister for nominating me to the office of Lord Advocate. If I am appointed, it will be a great privilege to serve Scotland in that role.”

Alison Di Rollo said: “I am both delighted and honoured to be nominated for this role by the First Minister and I am looking forward to working with James in his new role.”

The First Minister thanked both Frank Mulholland QC and Lesley Thomson QC for their service in the roles.

She said: “In his time as Lord Advocate, Frank has made a substantial contribution to both the law and to Scottish society. The creation of the National Sexual Crimes Unit was just one example of the increased specialisation of the Crown Office that Frank Mulholland presided over. In her role as Solicitor General, Lesley’s work, particularly around domestic abuse, was pivotal in moving towards a system that instils confidence in victims of abuse and ensures that their abusers are held to account. I thank both Frank and Lesley for their dedicated service to the Government, to justice and to Scotland as a whole.”

Frank Mulholland announced earlier in March he intended to step down as Lord Advocate after the Scottish Elections held in May.

It has since been announced Mulholland – who campaigned aggressively alongside current Lord President Lord Carloway for the removal of the key injustice safeguard of Corroboration from Scots Law - has been made a judge at the Court of Session.

Among five senators appointed to the College of Justice, Frank Mulholland QC, Sheriff John Beckett QC, Ailsa Carmichael QC, Alistair Clark QC, and Andrew Stewart QC will sit as judges in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.

The judicial appointment to be taken up by Frank Mulholland QC, will take effect following the retirement of a senator later in the year.

The appointment of Mulholland to a judicial position comes after the recent appointment of Lord Carloway to the top post of Lord President – head of the Scottish judiciary.

MOTIONED TO BE LAW CHIEF:

Motion S5M-00255: Nicola Sturgeon, Glasgow Southside, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/05/2016: First Minister's Appointment of Law Officers

That the Parliament agrees that it be recommended to Her Majesty that James Wolffe be appointed as the Lord Advocate and that Alison Di Rollo be appointed as Solicitor General for Scotland.

Supported by: John Swinney, Joe FitzPatrick Current Status: Taken in the Chamber on 01/06/2016

LAW CHIEFS ON THE UP:

James Wolffe QC is a leading Senior Counsel. He became an advocate in 1992 and took silk in 2007. In 2014 he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. He was First Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Ministers from 2002 to 2007, and served as an Advocate Depute from 2007 to 2010. He has extensive experience of both commercial and public law. He is a member of the Faculty Dispute Resolution Service and was also called to the bar of England & Wales in 2013.

Alison Di Rollo is a Senior Advocate Depute. She joined the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 1985 as a fiscal. Ms di Rollo then worked in the Policy Group at the Crown Office prior to being appointed Deputy Head of the High Court Unit and later Head of Operational Policy. In May 2008, Ms Di Rollo was seconded from COPFS to take up an appointment as a trial advocate depute. She was appointed as deputy head of the National Sexual Crimes Unit in 2011 and became head of the unit in January 2013.

The Lord Advocate is a Minister of the Scottish Government and acts as principal legal adviser, but decisions by him about criminal prosecutions and the investigation of deaths are taken independently of any other person. In that way, he is not subject to the ordinary rules about collective ministerial decisions.

The Solicitor General is the Lord Advocate’s deputy. She assists the Lord Advocate to carry out his functions. She is also a Minister of the Scottish Government.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland's Crown Office - in Crown detail

Monday, May 30, 2016

NEW CHEATS FOR THE DOCK: Six lawyers probed by Police for legal aid fraud - as investigation uncovers banned legal aid solicitors raking in profits via law firms referral fees scam

Police & Prosecutors investigate lawyers for legal aid fraud. THE Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has confirmed a number of solicitors are currently under investigation by Police Scotland for alleged legal aid fraud.

The admission by Legal Aid chiefs – via Freedom of Information legislation - comes after journalists received tip offs relating to “high value” long term investigations involving a number of law firms and solicitors chiefly in the west of Scotland.

And, all the solicitors who are under investigation by Police Scotland and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) - are still working for law firms who are able to claim more public cash – despite substantive allegations they cheated taxpayers.

Information provided by SLAB in response to a Freedom of Information request reveals:

The first was on an employee of a firm of solicitors and the estimated value of the alleged irregularities was £1,065.55 and as outlined above the matter is with Police Scotland.

The second was in respect of six solicitors. The estimated value of the alleged irregularities is yet to be determined as again, a Police investigation remains on-going.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board also confirmed fourteen applicants for legal aid had been referred to the Crown Office.

In respect of claimants (legal aid applicants) the information requested is as follows:

There were 14 legal aid applicants referred to COPFS to consider prosecution with the estimated value of the alleged irregularities being £78,854.52 with £5,994.92 having been recovered.

One case was referred as an attempted fraud with an estimated value of the irregularity being £2,800 which is not recoverable.

COPFS have closed two cases; one by way of a Fiscal warning with the other having no proceedings being taken against them. The remaining 12 cases continue to be considered or progressed.

However, since SLAB confirmed the Police probes - information has come to light a number of solicitors who are now banned from the Legal Aid register and some  who have ‘voluntarily’ withdrawn after headline SLAB investigations - are still profiteering from legal aid cash.

The claims come as Scotland’s legal profession – led by the Law Society of Scotland – plot a strategy to resist ex Finance Secretary John Swinney’s announced cuts to the Legal Aid budget - which has soared to over £150 million a year - resulting in Scottish lawyers handed over £1.2 billion of public cash since the financial crash of 2008.

Enquiries by the media have also uncovered a new type of legal aid scam - whereby lawyers who currently cannot claim legal aid due to previous instances of defrauding the public purse - are now receiving hefty payments in the form of large referral fees from other local law firms they pass on civil & criminal clients.

The law firms who gain extra legal aid business from former legal aid solicitors – are suspected of inflating their own legal aid claims to cover referral fees paid to the referring solicitor.

One client - who did not wish to be identified - told journalists how his solicitor - already named in the media in relation to legal aid irregularities – passed on a civil damages claim against a West of Scotland local authority to another firm of solicitors in the same area.

The client later became aware an arrangement had been made by the second law firm for referral fees to be provided to the original solicitor.

The claimant was told if any problem arose or he was asked questions, he was to reply by stating his original solicitor was kept on in the case as his office was closer in terms of accessibility.

The client – who’s claim is being funded by civil legal aid – told journalists he was asked to go to three consultations with his original solicitor - all of which were suddenly cancelled at the last minute.

However, the client was asked to go to his new legal representatives for a consultation where his second lawyer claimed ‘valuable information had been learned from the consultations’ – which never took place.

Material which has emerged in relation to this case suggests the non-existent consultations – have since been charged up to legal aid.

A number of similar cases have since been identified involving the same solicitor who is now ‘de-registered’ from the Legal Aid register – potentially costing taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds in inflated legal aid claims designed to channel payments back from law firms still on the legal aid register - to the referring solicitor.

Most of the cases so far uncovered appear to involve small to medium sized civil claims against housing agencies, public bodies including health, local authorities and some private businesses.

Speaking to journalists, an individual who formerly specialised in complex financial investigations of law firms said the scale of fraud involving inflated legal aid claims being used to provide referral fees to de-registered and ‘non legal aid solicitors’ “is substantial” and “difficult to get to grips with”.

The individual also gave an account of a case where he alleged financial documents had been removed - under audit powers - from a law firm currently implicated in a multi million pound mortgage fraud racket – to shield a well known solicitor who formerly held high office at the Law Society of Scotland.

It is unknown if the Crown Office or Police Scotland have requested sight of the material from the legal profession’s regulator.

LAWYERS AVOID LEGAL AID RAPS:

A previous investigation by DOI into the lack of prosecutions by the Crown Office revealed fourteen cases were sent to prosecutors, with not one case going to court.

One solicitor even registered a plea of “insanity” to avoid being prosecuted for legal aid fraud.

Since the start of 2005, SLAB has submitted nine reports to Crown Office alleging criminal offences by a total of thirteen solicitors. One report related to a firm of five solicitors;

The allegations relating to eleven of these solicitors were marked for no action on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence. This related to seven separate reports (for which Crown Counsel’s Instructions were obtained in three)

A report relating to one of the eleven solicitors referred to above was referred to the Civil Recovery Unit for their consideration;

One solicitor died before criminal proceedings were commenced;

One solicitor was placed on indictment for Sheriff and Jury proceedings for fraud. That solicitor entered a preliminary plea in bar of trial on the grounds of insanity which was sustained by the Court.  In light of that decision, the case was deserted pro loco et tempore; and

In relation to the final solicitor, the matter remains under consideration.

Further reporting on the lack of prosecutions was reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper and by DOI can be found here: FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

Thursday, May 26, 2016

SCRUTINY OF THE BOUNTY: Court staff accepted gifts from law firms probed by Police for alleged legal aid fraud - days after appointment of Scotland’s latest top judge Lord Carloway

Court staff accepted gifts from lawyers being investigated by Police. DOCUMENTS obtained by journalists reveal just a few days after Lord Carloway was named as Scotland's new top judge – Court staff employed by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) accepted gifts from law firms under criminal investigation for alleged legal aid fraud.

The information came to light in an unpublished register of gifts and hospitality to Scottish Court Service staff - released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The ‘Gifts and Hospitality’ register now identifies law firms & hospitality providers - after DOI journalists previously approached Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew for help in breaking court secrecy.

Entries in the latest gifts register reveal that on 22 December 2015, Central Court Lawyers gave hospitality in the form of ‘Cake, 6 wine and 12 beers’ to Livingston Sheriff Court staff - who then entered the items into a "staff raffle".

However, it was reported by the media during February 2015 that Central Court Lawyers were under investigation by Police Scotland for irregularities in legal aid claims.

Last year, when the story was reported, Police Scotland confirmed "Central Court Lawyers are assisting us with our inquiries."

Officers are thought to have interviewed serving and former employees of Central Court Lawyers as part of their inquiry, which began in 2014.

Central Court Lawyers – based in Livingston – was established by lawyer Neil Robertson and solicitor-advocate Ian Bryce in 1997.

Ian Bryce has held a number of positions at the Law Society of Scotland, including vice-convener of the legal aid negotiating team.

Central Court Lawyers has previously been included in the Legal 500 - a publication listing the top law firms in the UK.

The Hospitality & Gifts Register 2015-2016 reveals staff took hospitality from legal aid probe lawyers.

In response to media enquiries, a spokesperson for the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) claimed gifts had not been accepted.

The spokesperson said: “SCTS staff at Livingston Sheriff Court have not accepted hospitality from Central Court Lawyers. A small gift was accepted on behalf of staff in December 2015 and entered in the staff Christmas raffle.

The spokesperson continued: “This was fully declared in the Gifts and Hospitality Register.”

The SCTS were asked why staff accepted gifts from law firms under investigation by Police Scotland for legal aid irregularities.

A spokesperson said in response: “Gifts with a value over £15 require to be approved by a senior manager and the giver advised that details will be entered onto the register for transparency. If a manager has any concern regarding the offer of a gift HR will offer further advice.”

Previous versions of the hospitality register - Hospitality and Gifts to Court Staff 2010-2013 - have also included the names of solicitors such as Niels S Lockhart – who was investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board after he claimed over £600K in just two years.

Lockhart – who gave hospitality to staff at Ayr Sheriff Court in 2012 - subsequently withdrew from the legal aid register - with no action taken by the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Neils Lockhart continued to receive legal aid payments for unpaid accounts even after he quit the legal aid register, reported in further detail here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

In response to details published by DOI during March 2015 in last year’s hospitality register to court staff - lawyers accused each other of using hospitality to poach clients from rival law firms and increase firms volume of legal aid business – reported in further detail here: GIFT HORSE: Secret gifts register reveals rogue lawyers & law firms using hospitality relationships with Scottish Court Service staff to increase legal aid business, poach clients from rival solicitors

Asked for comment on the current status of the investigation into Central Court Lawyers, the Scottish Legal Aid Board refused to provide further details.

A spokesperson for SLAB said: “It is inappropriate for us to comment on whether we are conducting specific investigations or enquiries into a solicitors’ firm, or if we are, what they involve.”

“The intention is not to be unhelpful but, for example, where there is an investigation we don’t generally comment because this would be premature in terms of the stage any enquiry has reached in determining if the matters being examined are improper or unlawful.”

“To do so would be inappropriate if an investigation subsequently concluded that nothing improper or unlawful had occurred. It could also be potentially prejudicial if an investigation found improper or unlawful activity and the matter was subsequently referred to the Crown.”

Court staff at Hamilton Sheriff court were also rapped on the knuckles for failing to properly record gifts from a number of local law firms who operate in the area.

An entry in the register reveals "A number of local solicitors firms including but not restricted to:Kenneth Greener & Co; Linda George Family; Diarmid Bruce; Ness Gallagher; Lanarkshire Law Practice gave "25 boxes/tins of chocolates; 10 boxes of biscuits; 18 bottles of wine; 2 bottles of spirits;   21 miniatures of whisky/baileys; 3 large cakes; 1 recipe book." to local court staff.

The failure to adequately record the 'hospitality' drew ire from Court chiefs who said "The correct procedure for recording gifts was not followed in this instance. Management in this court has been reminded of the need to follow the procedure in future."

A number of law firms & solicitors who operate at Hamilton & Livingston Sheriff Court have previously been investigated for legal aid fraud.

Commenting on earlier versions of the register - an Edinburgh solicitor said: “The contents of the court hospitality register read as a who’s who of legal aid investigations just waiting to happen.”

Previously - Diary of Injustice reported on concerns regarding hospitality involving Scottish Court Service employees where Gillian Thompson – who now serves as Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - was asked by the Scottish Court Service to investigate reports of irregularities in hospitality given to court staff.

The request for the investigation came after the Scottish Court Service received Freedom of Information requests regarding hospitality in the courts, prompting concerns some staff may have accepted gifts or hospitality but failed to register.

Report said SCS Registers insufficient, Court staff involved in private gains failed to declare. Gillian Thompson’s Report on Hospitality & Gifts in the SCS stated:  “The information currently captured on the registers is insufficient to provide assurance that staff are using their common sense and considering issues such as conflict of interest.

Ms Thompson went on to recommend the “SCS should revise the Policy on Acceptance of Gifts, Rewards and Hospitality to ensure that it is fit for purpose for all staff, taking account of the various roles performed within SCS. It may also be time to revisit the levels of value for gifts and hospitality.”

The former AIB’s report also revealed court staff were using their positions to earn money privately from their links with lawyers and law firms operating in courts, stating “Several staff raised the issue of sheriff clerks who carry out extrajudicial taxations and private assessments and who personally benefit financially from these activities.”

Ms Thompson’s report roundly condemned this practice, stating: “Not only is it inappropriate in terms of the civil service code requirements for staff who are public servants to be able to receive private gain from their employment it is also highly divisive when other staff see such benefits being derived from simply being in the right post of Auditor of Court within the Sheriff Courts.”

Ms Thompson recommended in her report the “SCS should bring the practice of sheriff clerks profiting privately from their employment by SCS to an end as quickly as possible”.

HOW COURT CHIEFS LOST HOSPITALITY INFORMATION BATTLE

When DOI launched an initial investigation into hospitality and graft among court staff, the Scottish Court Service refused to release information relating to the gift register, claiming “the names of the gift or hospitality provider would be deemed as personal information” and “as the provider of the gift or hospitality was not made aware at the time that their name may be released, we consider disclosure of such is likely to bring the Scottish Court Service into conflict with the data protection principles.”

However, the Freedom of Information request – from DOI – triggered a review of hospitality policy at the Scottish Court Service, leading to names of ‘'hospitality’ providers being added to the register.

Richard Warner of the SCS said: “I can advise you that due to your request for this information, the Scottish Court Service has changed the policy covering hospitality and gifts to ensure that the provider of any hospitality or gift are made aware that their name shall be entered on to our register and may be disclosed if requested in any future information request. This policy change shall take effect as from 1 January 2014 so the release of names may be considered in any future request for gifts or hospitality offered from this date. The policy also states that if the provider does not consent to their name being considered for release then the gift or hospitality cannot be accepted by a member of staff.”

After a request for review of refusal to disclose the information, the SCS again refused - this time around, claiming it would cost them too much to contact each law firm to ask permission to disclose their ‘hospitality’ to court employees. The SCS claimed they would have to contact every lawyer who gave a gift and this would cost too much to provide the information.

DOI journalists took the matter up with Rosemary Agnew - the Scottish Information Commissioner – who requested Courts Chief Eric McQueen provide an explanation as to why the courts were blocking release of information on hospitality relationships between the legal profession and court staff.

John Kelly, Freedom of Information Officer at the SIC said: “Having written to and discussed the matter with the SCS, without being required to do so by way of a formal Decision Notice, the SCS has agreed to provide you with the information requested, subject to redactions in terms of section 38(1)(b) of FOISA on the basis that to disclose some of the names of individuals would breach the first data protection principle of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA). I understand that the names of Solicitor and Law Firms will be provided.”

After the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner, the SCS subsequently released the hospitality list to DOI.

Richard Warner for the SCS said: “Having reconsidered your request, and the SCS response, I now attach a list which indicates law firms where this information has been recorded.  For the reasons stated in our earlier response this does not include the names of any individuals concerned as there could have been no expectation on their part that this information would be circulated or published widely.  As indicated previously, steps are being taken to ensure that individual persons are made aware at the relevant time that their details made be released as a result of an information request.”

While the position of Scotland's latest top judge on court staff transparency is unknown - Lord Carloway has already attacked proposals to bring the judiciary into line with court employees and others in public life who are required to register their interests, gifts and hospitality.

Carloway recently attacked proposals before the Scottish Parliament - Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary – calling on judges to register their own interests and hospitality.

Reported in further detail here: LORD NO-WAY: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal – Lord Carloway claimed justice could grind to a halt in a constitutional calamity if judges were forced to declare their vast wealth, property owning interests, professional links and other financial affairs – just like politicians, members of public bodies, local councillors are required to reveal in publicly available registers.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary's otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The widely supported proposals - debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 - call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary.

Previous articles on hospitality and gifts to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, reports on gift giving to court employees and investigations by Diary of Injustice on the relationship between law firms and SCTS staff can be found here Hospitality and Gifts to the Scottish Courts.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Master Scam: Law Society switch brokers of Master Policy - insurance scheme dubbed ‘corrupt & manipulative’ provides little protection for consumers against negligent, rogue lawyers

Law Society switch brokers on dodgy insurance scheme. AN INSURANCE scheme operated by the Law Society of Scotland - which covers all Scottish solicitors - and is designed to ‘protect’ consumers when lawyers walk off with their cash and other assets - has announced a change of brokers from Marsh to Lockton.

The switch was announced last week by the Law Society – who said brokers Lockton will administer and broker the Master Policy of Professional Indemnity Insurance from 1 January 2017.

The move comes after Marsh – who managed the policy for nearly 40 years - lost the five yearly tender process in April 2016 to Lockton.

The Master Insurance Policy is a compulsory Professional Indemnity Insurance arrangement enforced by the Law Society upon all solicitors in Scotland.

The scheme includes all in-house solicitors who work for the Scottish Government and lawyers from the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS) seconded around public bodies and other branches of the Executive such as the Scottish Parliament and justice bodies.

The Master Policy claims to provide cover of up to £2 million for any one claim where the solicitor is ‘established’ to have been negligent.

However, the process of establishing whether a solicitor is negligent or not – is controlled by the legal profession and the courts.

In a statement issued by the Law Society, Chief Executive Lorna Jack claimed “The Master Policy provides an important protection for solicitors’ clients when things go wrong. The insurance means that any valid claim against a Scottish solicitor will be paid - even if the solicitor is no longer in practice, no longer solvent or cannot be traced.”

However, the claims – echoed from Jack’s predecessor – Douglas Mill – were previously & spectacularly taken apart by Deputy First Minister & Finance Secretary John Swinney, during a Scottish Parliament investigation into self regulation of the legal profession in 2006.

Mr Swinney branded the Law Society & Master Policy as manipulative after Mill claimed the Law Society kept a distance from the client compensation insurance arrangements.

Mr Swinney produced an internal memo from Mill himself – who had requested a “summit meeting how to dispose of several valid claims.”

Mill went onto “swear on his granny’s grave” he and the Law Society had never intervened in a compensation claim.

However, the memo - produced by Swinney during the Holyrood hearing - came to illustrate the significant level of dishonesty and  manipulation with regard to the ‘consumer protection policy’ – which despite Mill’s claims to the contrary – rarely pays full compensation after lawyers swipe clients assets.

The Master Policy was more recently linked in a Research Report to deaths and suicides of clients who attempted to claim back hundreds of thousands of pounds taken by legal agents engaged in corrupt practices not covered by an alternative Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund run by the legal profession.

The independent report, compiled by legal academics Professor Frank Stephen & Dr Angela Melville from the University of Manchester School of Law - concluded the Master Policy “is simply designed to allow lawyers to sleep at night.” rather than protect consumers from rogue elements within the legal profession.

According to the report "claimants described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants."

Cases referred to in the report describe scenarios where consumers are commonly forced to become party litigants after the Law Society intervene in the claims process, forcing claimants legal representatives to withdraw from acting in financial damages claims against  against other solicitors.

The Research Report sourced comments from claimants: "I keep fighting cases, and they keep coming at me, and now I have become ill. But they still keep coming at me. They threw me out onto the street, I couldn’t get my medication, I’ve got nothing, I was homeless, ill, sleeping in the car. Now I am appealing. But I can’t get a solicitor. They are just shutting me down…. My health has been damaged, they kill you off. It's a proven fact. All of us have stress related problems after years and years of stress."

The report also linked the Law Society’s insurance scheme to suicides of clients who attempted to claim back funds appropriated by corrupt solicitors.

The report stated:  "Several claimants said that they had been diagnosed with depression; that they had high blood pressure; and several had their marriages fail due to their claim. Some had lost a lot of money, their homes, and we were told that one party litigant had committed suicide."

The report concluded: “What has clearly come through these interviews has been the very divergent views of solicitors and claimants/consumer groups as to the primary function of the Master Policy. The former tend to see it as simply a professional negligence insurance designed to protect individual members of the profession. The latter see that its primary purpose should be to protect the public against incompetent members of the profession. Whilst these are not incompatible aims we have come to the view that the rhetoric of the Law Society of Scotland encourages the latter perception but practice is more inclined to the former. In other jurisdictions there is a more explicit statement that it is the former.”

“It is clear that establishing a valid claim under the Master Policy requires either an admission of liability on the part of the solicitor or an action to be taken by the claimant to establish liability. It is our view that the Law Society of Scotland raises the expectations of potential claimants by emphasising the Master Policy's public protection role. It is perhaps more accurate to say that policy ensures that those with a proven claim will be able to recover.”

“Those claimants to whom we spoke were very much of the opinion that it was difficult to establish liability of a solicitor for professional negligence. It would be desirable to test this claim by looking at the record of the Master Policy in terms of claims and compensation paid. Data which would have allowed us to do this was requested from the Law Society of Scotland but was only made available the day before this Report was due to be submitted. Furthermore the Law Society of Scotland and Marsh put conditions on the use of the data in this Report which were unacceptable to us and to the Chief Executive of SLCC.”

“The limited data which we have seen on the Guarantee Fund suggests that there is a considerable difference between the value of claims and the sums paid out by the Fund. We have not been able to establish whether this is a result of the discretionary nature of the fund or simply a large divergence between parties in assessing the sums lost.”

“We would recommend that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission undertake a longer term research project which will allow researchers to examine the experiences of a representative sample of claimants and solicitors as well as analyse data on claims provided by the Master Policy's broker under reasonable conditions of use.”

Dr Angela Melville - who interviewed many clients for her final report, confirmed the research team did not receive a copy of the Master Policy itself after Marsh director Alistair J Sim, demanded strict conditions for the disclosure of the insurance policy’s terms.

Sim wrote in a letter to the University research team - which appears in full on the last page of the report: “Please note that the consent of Marsh and Royal & Sun Alliance plc to the production of the enclosed documents is condition on the research team agreeing not to quote from the documents, or any part of them, whether text or figures, in the report to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

Sim’s letter continued: “The documents which are produced are confidential and are commercially sensitive. They are provided to the research team only and neither the documents nor copies should be provided to any other party nor should the content of the documents be disclosed to anyone outside the research team. At the conclusion of the research project, the documents should be returned with confirmation that foregoing conditions have been complied with and that no copies have been retained. If the research team is unable to agree to the foregoing conditions, the documents should be returned along with confirmation that no copies have been retained.”

No further research has been commissioned by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission since the report was published in 2009, and with the SLCC now under substantive control of the Law Society of Scotland, much of what it produces by way of research and statistics is widely recognised as having little honest value in terms of consumer protection.

The Master Policy started in November 1978 under brokers Sedgwick Forbes UK Limited, which later became part of the Marsh Group. Given the highly specialist nature of professional indemnity insurance, the brokers play a vital role in arranging and securing the insurance cover as well as providing administration, advice, as well as risk management training.

Along the years, law firms acting for the Master Policy included Simpson & Marwick – now merged with Clyde & Co, Balfour & Manson and other ‘big name’ law firms brought in to demolish consumers attempts to reclaim millions of pounds lost, misappropriated or embezzled by Scottish solicitors.

While the Master Policy is tasked with dealing with claims for negligence, the Law Society has been known to manipulate claims on a serial basis. Unsurprisingly, even claims which do succeed against the Master Policy bear little return to clients who are forced to go through lengthy court processes in front of a judiciary who have also previously paid into the same Master Policy arrangement while serving as solicitors in their earlier years prior to the bench.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

PASS THE CROWN : As one Lord Advocate exits, another is set to take charge of Scotland’s ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service

Crown Office set to have new Lord Advocate SCOTLAND'S Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) - based in Edinburgh - would not be out of place in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Seriously.

Remember the opening sketch from At World’s End – where the line of accused sing while walking to the gallows - as various repeals of statutes, rights & laws are ordered suspended.

If one were to loiter around gatherings of prosecution robes in Sheriff courts up and down the land, one would quickly discover this is how some view justice and how to score a conviction, guilty or not.

Headlines and PR please. Who cares about due process and the quality of evidence – that is the stuff of entertainment, drama and fiction.

Thank goodness then, for criminal defence solicitors … well, at least the dutiful, attentive & hard working ones.

Evasion, introducing dodgy evidence into a trial – lets just call it lying, telling plod to read from an empty note book, dead people on witness lists, private briefings against judges who signed a petition to retain key parts of Scots Law such as corroboration.

The Crown has done it all. Ask any solicitor – well, a decent one. Even the judiciary know it. Not too difficult to spot.

Incompetence, corruption, links to gangsters, stage managed media, interference in investigations and subtle threats to anyone who stands in their way of a quick verdict.

What £110 million a year – the cost of the Crown Office - buys you. Really.

The truth is, standards have slipped at Scotland’s Crown Office. And we all know it.

Some may say, were there ever any real standards at the Crown Office? Well - there is an unpalatable answer to that one.

But let us not forget, we are here today to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the end of one Lord Advocates career in office ... and the beginnings of another.

Among the massed ranks of gangsters, corrupt public officials, legal aid thieving lawyers, the occasional declare-dodging judge waddling along with gemstones, krugerrands, loads-a-property and offshore trusts jingling in their back pockets, there are a platoon of prosecutors who are tasked with keeping the lid on all of it.

That lid – needs a boss.

You know – someone to keep Edinburgh’s version of Al Capone’s Hotel Lexington in fancy red carpets and baseball bats.

And so we come to the role of Lord Advocate. The boss of it all.

The current Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, announced back in March he plans to step down in May.

Mr Mulholland previously served as Solicitor General and succeeded Dame Elish Angiolini QC as Lord Advocate in 2011.

Speaking of his intention to quit, the Lord Advocate said: “It has been a real privilege to serve as Lord Advocate, leading Scotland’s prosecution service and providing independent legal advice to the Scottish Government . However, after nine years as a Law Officer – the last five as Lord Advocate - I have decided it is the right time to step down and do other things.

“In recent years the Crown has embedded specialisms in the way it does its job. Our expertise in handling offences including rape, domestic abuse, Serious Organised Crime, Counter Terrorism and Cold Cases has helped us become one of the most effective prosecution services in the world and given victims greater confidence to report crimes.”

He added: “It’s been an honour to do this job working with so many dedicated and talented people to deliver justice in some of the most demanding and challenging of cases.

He was duly praised by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said: “Frank Mulholland has fulfilled the challenging roles as head of Scotland’s prosecution service and as the Scottish Government’s principal legal adviser, with dedication, energy, integrity and intellect.

“He has played a central role in many innovations to our justice system, including leading Scotland’s first successful ‘double jeopardy’ murder prosecution and agreeing a historic communiqué with the heads of prosecution services from across the UK and Ireland to work together to tackle the cross-border crime of human trafficking.

“It is clear that he has worked to bring about change to ensure that the system makes a real difference to people’s lives, and his dedication to the law and his compassion for others has been behind that drive.

“Frank has made a substantial contribution to the law and Scottish society. I’m confident that he will continue to do so and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service and wish him well for the future.”

Nothing about the decision to refuse to prosecute anyone over the deaths of six members of the public in Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths case – and countless other deaths in similar situations.

Nothing about inaction in a three year probe of a £400 million collapsed Hedge Fund with links to the judiciary who just happened to represent Scotland’s top politicians and former Lord Advocate.

Nothing about shredding statistics so the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee could not investigate claims in the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

Nothing about significant numbers of collapsed cases involving notorious Scottish crime clans – this after being fed yearly Crown Office press releases on crime gangs & professional advisers, none of whom are ever caught.

Nothing about slipping £500K of bonuses to Crown Office prosecutors for a job not well done.

Nothing about the real reasons for the introduction of Double Jeopardy – because Prosecutors were - and are - just not up to the job.

Nothing about the Crown Office role in the plot to remove Corroboration from Scots Law. And what a plot that was.

Nothing about Prosecutors very own crime gang – where Crown Office Prosecutors teamed up with criminals, leaked case files, used drugs & much more.

Oh, and nothing about Prosecutors escaping jail for some of the worst imaginable crimes on the go.

Of course - as we all know - fond farewells are often fond - and written by candle light with a teary eye.

Perhaps not always fair to blame the boss, right? It’s the institution.

Some would say that. Even a clear thinking Scottish Minister, at least privately.

Institutionally corrupt, institutionally racist .. the Crown Office has been branded many things over the years, and rightly so with the evidence before our very eyes.

So, if the institution is to function as it should, a change is needed, much more than a simple elevation of another part of the problem to higher office.

Step up - the next overseas jet set junket, expenses claiming, bonus paying, investigation meddling & truth bending Lord Advocate.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland's Crown Office - in Crown detail

In completely unrelated news:

Currently, there is a dirty cash probe into the financial affairs of the Lord Advocate’s brother.

Previously, it has also been reported a relative of the current Solicitor General was convicted of criminal offences involving violence against women.

The same Solicitor General represented the Crown during the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the Glasgow Bin Lorry deaths - where a decision was taken not to prosecute anyone over the “preventable deaths”.

The Crown team’s failure subsequently forced the families of victims to attempt a private prosecution after the justice system and Crown Office, let them down.

And mystery now surrounds how one former high ranking law officer was rejected for a judicial position after intense lobbying for the candidate by a dodgy member of the judiciary linked to top politicians - raised several judicial wigs & brows.

Mulholland joins judicial bench:

In an update to this published article, the Scottish Government announced on May 11 2016 that retiring Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland has been appointed as a judge.

Among five senators appointed to the College of Justice, Frank Mulholland QC, Sheriff John Beckett QC, Ailsa Carmichael QC, Alistair Clark QC, and Andrew Stewart QC will sit as judges in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.

Their appointments take effect on dates to be agreed by the Lord President. Four of the appointments are to fill existing vacancies.

The fifth judicial appointment, to be taken up by Frank Mulholland QC, will take effect following the retirement of a senator later in the year.

The appointment of Mulholland to a judicial position comes after the recent appointment of Lord Carloway to the top post of Lord President – head of the Scottish judiciary.

Friday, May 06, 2016

LEGAL RAIDERS: Law Society sent 19,000 emails to MSPs in lobbying effort to protect £150 million a year legal aid payments to lawyers & criminal fraternity - ‘regardless of cost to society’

Law Society launches campaign to protect £1m legal aid pay-outs to crooks. ON THE day Scotland elected a minority SNP Government, the Law Society of Scotland has revealed it organised a ‘19,000 plus’ email lobbying effort targeted at candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections – aimed at ‘protecting’ over £150m a year in legal aid public cash hand-outs to lawyers.

The campaign – organised under the guise of ‘access to justice for all’ – criticises recent cuts in the huge Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) budget – which has seen a staggering £1.2 billion of taxpayers cash paid out to lawyers and their criminal clients since the financial crash of 2008.

As part of the campaign, the Law Society said it had encouraged both solicitors and members of the public to contact their candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections to ask them to support access to justice, along with a twitter campaign with the hashtag #defendlegalaid”".

Material published by the Law Society states: “over 450 people have written to their candidates in the Scottish Parliament election asking them to #defendlegalaid.”

“Over 19,000 emails have been sent to candidates”

“Candidates in over 70 constituencies have been contacted as part of the campaign”

“Candidates from eight political parties, as well as independents, have pledged to #defendlegalaid on social media”

Alongside a document titled  Legal Assistance in Scotland fit for 21st Century, the Law Society launched a PR video in an attempt to persuade the public to support a drive to hand out millions more in public cash to lawyers.

The Law Society campaign strategy also includes ‘ research’ commissioned during 2013 from polling organisation Ipsos Mori  - which claims “there is strong public support for legal aid.”

The Law Society ‘research’ claims “81% of the public agreeing legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure a fair society, regardless of its cost.”

Further research was carried out with lawyers during 2015 – coming just after it was revealed the Law Society had rigged a client satisfaction survey, publishing spurious claims of high client satisfaction with Scottish solicitors across several media outlets - the articles authored by the Law Society’s own President.

The 2015 survey of the legal profession claims to indicate 78% of solicitors surveyed believed “Scottish Government policy on legal aid risked undermining access to justice for the poorest in society”, with 77% of lawyers in the survey allegedly demanding an increase in legal aid rates.

Commenting on the latest campaign against legal aid cuts, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “We recognise that like all public sector funding, the justice budget is under significant pressure. However legal aid funding is quite simply the cost of access to justice for those in need.

Ms McLintock continued: “Access to justice is an essential element of a fair and democratic society and we have highlighted it as one of one of our key priorities for this year’s Scottish election. Providing access to quality legal advice and representation for people, regardless of their financial means, helps tackle inequality, encourages early resolution of problems, and protects fundamental rights.

“While our legal aid system is designed to meet costs on a case-by-case basis, there are fees for particular types of work which were set in 1992 and have not been revised.

Christine McLintock attacked the cuts to the legal aid budget, saying : “The legal aid budget was reduced from £161.4m in 2010/2011 to £138m in 2014/15. The target budget for 2016/17 is £126.4m – more than a £10 million reduction – and is less in cash terms than 20 years ago which, accounting for inflation, represents around a 50% cut in real terms over those two decades.

“This is causing enormous challenges – already there are areas of the country where there are not enough solicitors providing civil legal aid to meet demand, because practitioners just can’t afford to take it on.”

However, it has previously emerged during media investigations solicitors have got off the hook from multiple cases involving legal aid fraud & millions of pounds of public cash,

in one media investigation, it was revealed Fourteen lawyers accused of defrauding millions of pounds of legal aid public cash escaped prosecution after Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) refused to prosecute any of the cases reported to prosecutors by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

In another case brought to light by the media – Niels S Lockhart - a Kilmarnock based solicitor took over £600,000 of legal aid cash in just two years – and even when allegations of dodgy claims were reported to the Law Society an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board – the Law Society of Scotland failed to act.

It emerged last summer the same solicitor – Niels S Lockhart – ended up demanding more legal aid cash even after being barred from the legal aid register – reported here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years - and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

LEGAL AID - How criminals & legal fraternity pocket £150 million a year of YOUR MONEY:

LEGAL RAID: FRAUDSTER'S TRIAL HANDOUT

Scandal of £11m crook who lived high life on stolen cash ...& WE pay his £769k law bills

EXCLUSIVE by Russell Findlay Scottish Sun 12 July 2015

A FRAUDSTER who flew in private jets and lit cigarettes with burning £50 notes was handed £769,000 in legal aid.

Michael Voudouri cheated taxpayers out of millions of pounds through a VAT scam.

But we can reveal the public picked up the massive legal bill for the criminal, who was jailed for 11 1/2 years.

Labour's legal affairs spokeswoman Elaine Murray said: "It's shocking that a crook who has defrauded the public purse should get hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid.

"Ordinary people on low incomes struggle to get legal aid while someone who has stolen millions in VAT fraud gets a six figure sum."

Voudouri, 47, was found guilty in 2012 of laundering £11.5million from a massive VAT fraud.

The wealthy crook, who lived in a £1.5million mansion in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire and hired Katie Price and Chris Eubank for personal appearances, is not the first to get legal aid.

We told how Barry Hughes and his wife Jackie jetted off on a £50,000 trip to Dubai weeks after taxpayers covered their £175,000 court battle bills.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said a "financial eligibility test" was carried out in each case.

SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 30 September 2012

THE European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 - more than in Italy, which has a population of 61million.

SCOTS lawyers collected more taxpayers’ cash for Legal Aid than their counterparts in Italy – a country 12 times the size.

A European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – around 39 euros, or £31, for every one of our 5.2million people.

Lawyers in Italy, which has a population of 61million, got just £100million of public cash – £1.50 per person.

The 450-page Brussels report also found that Denmark, with 5.6million people, paid its lawyers only 88million euros (£70million).

And in Belgium – population 10.9million – legal aid cost 75million euros (£59million).

The revelations, in a 450-page report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice – came as the Scottish Legal Aid Board banned three lawyers from claiming cash for criminal cases.

We can reveal that Gerard Tierney, Massimo D’Alvito and Andrew Brophy, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, breached the board’s code of practice. Tierney and D’Alvito have been reported to the Crown Office, who will decide whether to prosecute.

The ban also extends to Tierney’s firm G Tierney & Co, of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, who have raked in £610,500 in Legal Aid over three years, and Edinburgh firm Massimo D’Alvito Defence Lawyers.

The European report looked at 47 criminal justice systems across the continent.

It found the cost per person of Legal Aid in Scotland was third-highest – behind only Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The cost per person was 53.5 euros in Northern Ireland and 45.7 euros in England and Wales.

The findings led to calls for a radical overhaul of Legal Aid.

Central Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe said: “It seems major organised criminals and terror suspects qualify for unlimited Legal Aid, yet I have constituents who don’t get a penny simply because they have a few thousand pounds of savings.

“The system in Scotland and the rest of the UK is out of control.”

Legal blogger Peter Cherbi added: “Legal Aid is no longer about access to justice for the poor, but a state subsidy for the legal profession – and one they don’t seem keen on talking about.”

The Sunday Mail has exposed a series of rogue lawyers banned from claiming Legal Aid. But none of the 14 reported to prosecutors was put in the dock, prompting claims that Scotland’s legal self-regulation system protects lawyers.

Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, who took £600,000 in Legal Aid in just two years, was found to have made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. The Legal Aid board withdrew their complaint to the Law Society after he agreed to stop claiming.

Reacting to the Brussels report, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Across Europe, there are substantial differences between judicial systems and very different approaches to the provision of legal aid and its cost.

“The Scottish system is highly regarded internationally for the efforts made to ensure access to justice.

“The Scottish Government’s budget allocation for the Legal Aid Fund has reduced significantly in 2011-12 and is planned to reduce further in future years.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hopes to cut the Legal Aid bill by making criminals pay some of their costs. The planned move, outlined in a Holyrood Bill, could save taxpayers around £3.9million.

• The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size.

Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010.

Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned.

Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

• A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock.

Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences.

Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

• The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Researchers compared the wages of lower court judges across Europe.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss.

Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000).

Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

EU Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.