Friday, October 05, 2007

In-fighting, legal aid fraud, theft, & dishonesty typifies poor standards of Scotland's legal profession.

Scotland certainly had an interesting week on the legal front ...

Developments in the World's End trial collapse saw the Lord Advocate & Lord Justice General kiss & make up after falling out over the Lord Advocate's shifting of blame from the usual Crown Office failures to judicial failures ...

The Lockerbie trial - that oh-so-honest international barometer of Scots justice which Westminster & Washington held up as a job well done against terrorism, saw allegations that witnesses were apparently offered millions of dollars for favorable testimony ... not a job well done then as it turns out

The Lord Advocate came in for more criticism she was trying to shield Colin Boyd from the promised inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal, where some in the political & legal system decided it was in their best interests to persecute & fit up Shirley McKie, a then serving Detective with Strathclyde Police, than admit the SCRO got it wrong ...

.. and while the Scottish Legal Aid Board reluctantly troubled themselves to investigate a staggering £1.8million pound legal aid fraud, where the wife of the solicitor who was definitely on the fiddle, and committed suicide when investigations began into his activities, allegedly agreed to pay back the £1.8million pounds her late husband falsely claimed in legal aid payments from the taxpayer.

and of course not forgetting the Paralegal who is up in court for allowing a property to be used to sell drugs, and finally, the lawyer arrested in connection with the theft of Davinci's 500-year-old Madonna with the Yarnwinder, owned by the late Duke of Buccleuch.

My my .. .don't we have a great legal profession in Scotland, never out of trouble .. even with each other sometimes.

If they aren't stealing from the clients these days, they are stealing from the taxpayer, or helping themselves to antiquities of significant value .... a common enough occurrence in the Scottish Borders, where I once remember a lawyer's safe stashed with valuables from deceased clients ... if only those families of the deceased clients had done something about it ... or even if only they knew ...

Despite all of this, not much news out of the Scottish Government on reforming the legal profession, and stripping them of their prized regulatory powers, which are to be shared with the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which I'm sad to say, seems to be turning into a fairly crooked affair on it's own after word reached me today that a few of the usual suspects are being appointed on orders of the Law Society of Scotland to make sure crooked lawyers still get off the hook ...

Well, with the polluted incestuous system of 'lay membership' we have in Scotland, which the shiny new SNP Scottish Government hasn't tackled yet, and needs to soon, can we expect anything else ? How can justice be seen to be done with everyone sitting on each others committees ?

I wonder what people will think of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission when to act against the client interest just like the Law Society of Scotland when investigating complaints ... perhaps in the way some of you suggest in comments & emails which, for your own protection, and mine, I simply can't publish !

Perhaps even, clients should form their own investigative commission to look into complaints against lawyers, and then challenge the likes of the SLCC when it might perhaps, carry on the same culture of injustice where the Law Society left off ?

Finally, since it's Friday, here's a 20 minute video challenging the notion of mob rule in Jedburgh, my former town of residence in the Scottish Borders, where the youth have, allegedly run riot, terrorising elderly residents & tourists. The film has apparently been made by some of the young people in the town who want to put their own side of the story - something ex-provost and now SBC Tory Councillor Len Wyse didn't allow much when he was on the Community Council.

A few articles from the Scotsman & Herald this week relating to the above ...

Widow agrees to return £1.8m legal aid cash falsely claimed by solicitor

MICHAEL HOWIE HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT

A SOLICITOR "embellished" claims for legal aid in child welfare cases with false details of sex abuse to fraudulently obtain nearly £2 million, The Scotsman can reveal.

In Scotland's biggest-ever legal aid fraud, James Muir made false claims for public money in hundreds of child protection cases over seven years.

Mr Muir, who kept a low profile in the profession but was regarded as one of the country's most dedicated and experienced specialist child welfare lawyers, committed suicide after the police began investigating.

Details of the case have been kept secret for two years while the Scottish Government's civil recovery unit sought to reclaim the money from his estate.

Yesterday the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) announced that an agreement had been reached with Mr Muir's family that will see £1.8 million paid back to the public fund.

Last night politicians demanded answers over how such abuse could go undetected for so long.

SLAB claimed the "tragic case" was a one-off and insisted it had improved procedures for checking legal aid claims.

Mr Muir's wife Susan, believed to be a serving police officer, has sold the family's luxury home in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, to help pay back the money.

Mr Muir, 45, who ran his practice from his home, worked mainly as a custodian, or "safeguarder", for children and minors too young to manage their own affairs or represent themselves in court.

The Scotsman can reveal that from 1999 until 2005, he made false claims for legal aid in several hundred child welfare cases. At the outset, he was claiming an average of around £1,000 per case, but by the time he was caught, this had risen to £10,000. To justify the soaring claims, he "embellished" detailed application forms to the legal aid board with fabricated details of sex abuse. He even invented statements between social workers and police officers.

The fraud came to light after legal aid staff noticed his payments were steadily increasing.

Strathclyde Police obtained a warrant to search Mr Muir's home and office on 20 April, 2005. Later the same day his body was discovered on a railway line.

A source last night said: "Mr Muir had a niche market, being the only dedicated children's lawyer in the area. All the children existed in his claims, but he made up the grounds of referral from the Children's Reporter and they all, in effect, became sex abuse cases. This allowed him to embellish claims and increase the amount paid."

Another lawyer, who did not want to be named, added: "If this had been going on in the criminal court, people would have quickly suspected something was going on. But he was basically doing this work on his own and no-one asked questions.

"Everyone thought he was simply working and doing well for himself. When it came to light, I think the legal aid board was embarrassed and furious in equal measure."

Mr Muir was known to have taken on a large workload and on occasions carried out work he did not claim for.

Now, following a long and detailed investigation by the legal aid board and months of negotiations, it is understood that his widow has agreed to give back all £1.8m that her husband received in legal aid over the seven years.

Bill Aitken, the Conservatives' justice spokesman, said: "Little can be done to protect the legal aid fund from deliberate theft but the obvious question is: how was this allowed to go on so long without someone noticing?"

A spokesman for SLAB said steps had been taken to prevent such fraud going undetected for so long. The body's investigation unit had been beefed up with new staff, with closer attention now paid to claims from lawyers working in specialised areas.

Pauline McNeill, Labour's justice spokeswoman, said: "It's important that lessons are learned from this case."

LEGAL AID BILL COSTS TAXPAYERS MORE THAN £150 MILLION

SCOTLAND'S legal aid bill cost the public purse more than £150 million last year.

Criminal cases accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total, but the civil legal aid bill also rose, for the first time in three years. Last year's total legal aid bill was 2 per cent up on 2005 and brought spending to the second-highest ever level.

The figures were disclosed yesterday in the annual report of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. It coincided with new proposals from the board and the Scottish Government to change the way solicitors are paid for legal aid in summary - or less serious - cases.

Under the proposals, there will be a "substantial" increase in payments to lawyers in the early stages of a case, with lesser rises for cases going to trial. This is intended to save money overall, as the system is said to favour "not guilty" pleas that are later changed.

The £150 million cost to the taxpayer was made up of £106.6 million on criminal cases, £39 million on civil cases and £4.5 million on children's legal assistance and contempt of court cases.

Over the past five years, total spending has gone up by 11 per cent, or £15 million, mostly because of a £13.6 million rise in the cost of criminal legal aid.

Announcing his intention to introduce the legal aid changes next spring, Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, said: "These proposals aim to save time and expense, to avoid wasted effort and to reduce the demands made on victims and witnesses."

Legal aid winners

DONALD Findlay, QC, has topped the list for legal aid payments to advocates, for the second year in a row, receiving £358,400 last year.

The Glasgow-based law firm Ross Harper topped the solicitors' list, also for the second year in a row, at £1.732 million - and 11 other firms of solicitors were paid more than £1 million each. Top-earning solicitor advocate was Iain Paterson of Paterson Bell Solicitors, with £219,300.

Ten advocates each earned more than £200,000 in 2006-7. They are Donald Findlay QC (£358,400), Ian Duguid QC (£321,600), Edgar Prais QC (£272,500), Mhairi Richards QC (£269,800), Paul McBride QC (£237,800), Gordon Jackson (£228,500), Derek Ogg QC (£213,300), Lorenzo Alonzi (£213,100), Ronaldo Renucci (£212,100) and Thomas Ross (£208,600).

Bill Aitken, the misplaced Tory Convener of Holyrood's only Justice Committee, for odd reasons, stating the obvious .. must have been through gritted teeth, criticising his friends in the legal profession .. now onto the crooked Paralegal .. yes there are plenty of those too ...

Law worker allowed flat to be used as 'drugs warehouse'

GORDON CURRIE

A FORMER employee of Renfrewshire Council's legal department turned a blind eye when she discovered that a flat she owned was being used as a distribution for cocaine.

Claire Feely, 32, a one-time paralegal with the local authority, used details of someone else's identity, taken from the local authority's database, to rent the property in Muirpark Street, Glasgow, then sub-let it to Derek Morrison for £150 a month.

During a huge police operation mounted last summer Morrison, a car dealer, was kept under surveillance, a court heard yesterday.

Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency officers recovered cocaine with a potential street value of over £800,000 during the raids that were mounted.

After gathering evidence, police arrested both Morrison and Feely and detained two others.

Police, acting on inside information, began watching Morrison, formerly of Elliott Street and now of Mossvale Street, Glasgow, over the summer last year.

The final pounce was mounted in August after Morrison had driven to properties associated with student Nikolas Guit, in Glassford Street and Sheila Street; and attended at the home of David Burke, a scene hand, in the city's Aray Street. Morrison, 30, admitted being concerned in the supply of the drug between 1 March and 24 August last year at the flat, described in court as a "drugs warehouse", and at his then home in Elliott Street, Glasgow.

The High Court in Paisley heard that police had found 15 one-kilogram packages of cocaine, concealed in a suitcase kept on top of a wardrobe.

A frying pan, hammer and scales, all stained with traces of cocaine, and various packages prepared for onward sale, were also retrieved.

Feely, who is now working as a hotel receptionist with the Holiday Inn group, was interviewed by police when they discovered her property had been let to Morrison.

She pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of cocaine between 1 March and 24 August at 6 Muirpark Street.

Burke, 35, now of Pitreavie Place, Glasgow, was found in possession of £800 worth of cocaine when officers raided his former address in Aray Street. He admitted he had been dealing and confessed he had a personal drugs habit that cost him £1,000 a day.

In court, he plead guilty to being concerned in the supply of the drug between 24 May and 24 August, 2006, at both Aray Street and Muirpark Street.

Guit, 32, was found with cocaine with a street value of £3,370 when police went to a second property he had in Glassford Street.

He admitted being concerned in the supply of the drug at both addresses on 24 August.

Yesterday judge Lord Kinclaven was told that a meticulous search of Morrison's home had also revealed correspondence relating to the purchase of another flat in Bulgaria.

Feely, he was told, had not been able to bring herself to tell any members of her family anything about the court case.

The judge remanded Morrison and Burke in custody after calling for background reports, and released Feely and Guit on bail.

All four will appear at the High Court in Edinburgh for sentencing on 31 October.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you say about the guy from HBJ Gateley Wareing 'stealing antiques', Mr Cherbi. I think you'll find, and rather soon, he was in fact involved in a legal attempt to repatriate the painting. The police just ended up arresting everyone in their typically blunt and unsubtle way. In many ways, I wish your blog turned its attention to their blunders once in a while, because the corruption in the legal profession is as nothing to what goes on with our boys in blue.

Iain McKie said...

As ever Peter your diary reminds us of the severe problems within our justice system.

In essence you highlight a system that is culturally bankrupt. It is not that all lawyers are crooks but more that the culture they operate within is incestuous and represents vested interests rather than acting with openness and accountability in all our interests.

What we are faced with at present is a new Scottish Government that shows signs of fixing some of the problems but unfortunately not the culture that perpetuates them.

I will continue to argue that their efforts represent first aid at best and that while the culture remains intact little will actually change.

One of the major issues to be faced is that as a small country our legal and justice systems are controlled by a relatively small number of individuals and organisations. It is in some ways a cosy club where everyone is co-opted onto everything with the result power lays in the hands of a powerful minority.

We have reached a situation where all our so-called independent organisations are subtly and sometimes not so subtly interrelated.

A major effect of culture is to ensure that those within it conform and that it is perpetuated. Potentially destructive elements within are rooted out. Whistleblowers are a good example of this and history is littered with those who have spoken out for the common good only to be sacrificed for the cultural good.

A broad ranging enquiry into our justice system is long overdue and should take the form of a Royal Commission or some other body with wide ranging powers. Even here the problem would be how to break away from the cultural constraints and ensure independence.

Until this is done your dairy will continue to prosper with more and more examples of a system that has totally lost its way.

Peter Cherbi said...

#anonymous @10.36am

Agreed. Simply reporting the media coverage, as it's an ongoing case. No more, no less than that.

I welcome any stories relating to corruption in any public service, and from my own experience, I am well aware our boys in blue can be just as bad or worse than the legal profession.

Anything newsworthy on that line, and you can be sure I will pass it along for wider coverage ...

Any more details on the repatriation attempt of the Davinci painting, I will be interested to report and if the solicitors involvement is only of a remedial nature to hand back the painting, you can be assured it will appear here.

"Iain McKie @ 2.22pm

I totally agree with you, Iain, particularly in your following comment :


One of the major issues to be faced is that as a small country our legal and justice systems are controlled by a relatively small number of individuals and organisations. It is in some ways a cosy club where everyone is co-opted onto everything with the result power lays in the hands of a powerful minority


In my own experience of dealing with the campaign for independent regulation of the legal profession, coming up against organisation after organisation, I found the same people, same faces, same habits of protecting the guilty .. a terrible self perpetuating culture of injustice which simply has to be closed down.

I feel the Scottish Government should now be addressing this issue, which as you point out, is only adding to the weight of injustice which now burdens Scotland.

Time enough has passed for action .. we need solutions sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Leaflets are a good idea.How did that one slip by you Peter ?

Anonymous said...

first anonymous comment - why do lawyers see themselves as able to broker a deal between criminals and the Police/insurers/family owner for a return of stolen property ?Is that what they are teaching lawyers these days - play detective to get a gold star in the margin ?

How long did this lawyer know about it and why wasnt it reported to the Police immediately ?I presume some kind of tip off was made since there were other arrests but if the charges are dropped against the lawyer and it turns out he informed on those who stole the painting what are his chances then ?This was supposed to be a gang of 'hardened' criminals so they wont take kindly to being grassed up.

Al said...

Following on from the comments by Peter and Iain McKie above, I am reminded about this quote from yet another case of Scottish injustice at the hands of Edinburgh’s / Scotland’s elite, and all too often corrupt, political rulers – the current incumbents being all too familiar with, and involved in, the tragic case concerned:

"Extract from another shocking case … of Scottish 'fairness, decency, humanity, integrity, accountability and justice':

The only conclusion one can draw from this most dreadful case is that Edinburgh’s (and Scotland’s) power base of elite establishment chattering classes (legal and political) is just too small and tight-knit (with too many contacts, alliances and cronies) to produce an honest, impartial, fair, unbiased and just outcome.

All the protagonists were dinner party pals with social connections protected in their drawing room cabals. Everyone knew each other so the usual closing ranks, cover-up, self-protection, self-interest, vested interests, conflicts of interest and travesty of justice (conspiring to pervert the course of justice) prevailed throughout the case time and time again.

The whole case / process should have been overseen and monitored properly, fairly, justly, humanely, objectively, impartially and independently, but alas there is no such thing when dealing with, questioning and challenging Edinburgh’s (and Scotland’s) elite establishment. It is (they are) corrupt, devious, incestuous and rotten to the core.

I now detest this supposed 'great city and nation' (don’t believe the hype) as a result, and have done so for several years. You simply can’t seem to obtain any form of proper redress and civil justice here whatsoever. It’s truly sickening (literally) and despicable…

That's why, regrettably, I must now leave my homeland at the earliest opportunity ... never to return (to live here) again… ".

What a damning indictment on our Scottish “justice” system and on Messrs Salmond and MacAskill … for allowing this incestuous, rotten and corrupt culture, and the many injustices they are all too familiar with, to continue.

Eternal shame on them.

Anonymous said...

royal commission would be good but who will sit on it.More of the same faces I hope not otherwise nothing will ever get done.
how about we import some judges from elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Big deal about the davinci.Who owns it now anyway - the family or the insurers ?

Should be in a museum for all to see,not stuck in the bogs of Southern Scotland.

Anonymous said...

#1 anonymous

crooked lawyers and crooked cops - which is the worse of the two and is there any difference ? if a crooked cop plants evidence and a fiscal knows its bollocks yet prosecutes someone and puts them away on it thats a crooked lawyer and a crooked cop woprking together I dont see any difference between the two - as bad as each other and it happens all the time trust me i know and bugger all gets done about it

Anonymous said...

That video of Jedburgh you posted the link to - its creepy.Are those people all related ?Pretty weird stuff mate you did the right thing bailing out.

Anonymous said...

You certainly have problems in Scotland Mr Cherbi.It sounds like some 3rd world banana republic legal system you are living under up there and your own people now in Government not doing anything about it.

Peter Cherbi said...

This comment came to be from Iain McKie, via email :

Iain McKie says :

As ever these discussions put me into reflective mode as they reveal the pain and frustration of many of those who have suffered injustice and see little changing.

Since Shirley was subject to an assault by our justice system over 10 years ago I have had my moments of hatred for a system cynically bringing someone I loved to the edge of suicide.

I soon realised however that my hatred had been spawned by an anger and helplessness that was changing me into someone I did not want to recognise – I was becoming the major victim of my own negative emotions. I was effectively playing their game and doing little to change what was happening.

I was on my way to becoming the hatred filled obsessive that those in the system wanted me to be. My at times unreasoning anger was becoming a self-destructive negative force.

I say this because I wonder if there are those, who have not been as lucky as I have in achieving their goals, who in hitting out in pain and frustration might blind others to the validity of their claims. The danger comes when we lose credibility with the objective observer who has difficulty in accepting that our justice system and everyone within it is totally crooked.

I continue to be amazed at the bravery, determination and logicality of many victims of injustice in the face of our at times incestuous and uncaring system. This helps further their aims and says more about them that any of the negative self-interested posturing of those within a system that has totally lost its way and whose aim is survival and self-perpetuation instead of justice for all.

If my aims should fail or fall short I do not see myself as a loser, weak or defeated. My self-belief comes from knowledge that I have supported a cause worth pursuing and I suggest that those who fight injustice share that strength.

http://shirleymckie.myfastforum.org/forum1.php

Shirley McKie: The Price of Innocence
by Iain McKie and Michael Russell
Out 18th April 2007
Priced £7.99
ISBN 9781841585758
For the first time, the full story of the worst miscarriage of justice in a generation.
Order direct at http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/displayProductDetails.do?sku=5604690
or from http://www.birlinn.co.uk or on 0845 370 0067, free p&p in the UK

Anonymous said...

re the last comment by "Iain McKie"

People who have suffered at the hands of the likes of whom Cherbi reports on should stand up for what they believe in and never give up.

The likes of lawyers and anyone in such a capacity will always be in an advantage to rubbish claims of injustice or delay a resolution because they build friends and relationships with the lawmakers themselves some coming from their own ranks.

Anyone who calls a lawyer or politician crooked is ridiculed or their life made a misery - that much is true and thats because the ones who are failing you are scared your comments become the opinion of the majority who at the end of the day pay these guys salaries houses and whatever.

Dont give up hope anyone here and keep up the fight.

Becky said...

So where are the good uns from the lawyers club ?
No one stepping forward to clean up their colleagues act ?
Must be because they are all making too much money and cant be bothered.
Keep it up Peter.You have changed my impression of lawyers forever.

dimitri said...

becky

there are no good uns in the lawyers profession otherwise !

Anonymous said...

In the herald today it says the lawyer involved in this resigned i wonder why ? maybe you can find out some more Mr Cherbi -
http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/other/display.var.1790835.0.0.php
Lawyer implicated in theft quits
MARTIN WILLIAMS October 27 2007
A lawyer who is one of four men charged in connection with the theft of a £30m da Vinci masterpiece from a Scottish stately home, resigned yesterday as a corporate partner with his legal firm.
Executives at HBJ Gateley Wareing's Glasgow office were said to be shocked when corporate partner Calum Jones was arrested and charged with conspiracy to rob and extort money.
Yesterday the lawyer tendered his resignation and it is understood that he has parted company with the legal firm with immediate effect.
He was arrested on October 4 and appeared in court the following day, after a raid on his Glasgow office led to the recovery of the Leonardo da Vinci painting, Madonna with the Yarnwinder, which was stolen from the late Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire in August 2003.
The 500-year-old painting was discovered in what detectives described as a "prolonged and thorough investigation". Mr Jones, of Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, along with Robert Graham, 55, John Doyle, 58, and Marshall Ronald, 51, all from Lancashire were arrested.
An HBJ Gateley Wareing source said that Mr Jones, 52, a company law specialist, had been "embarrassed" by the proceedings. "The whole story came as a shock to the guys at HBJ Gateley Wareing who are top of the tree in Scotland," said the source.