Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lawyers look after their own - Legal Aid fraud lawyer faces no charges as Crown Office avoids explanation

Scotland's unaccountable prosecution service continues to avoid prosecuting it's own, as Paul Kirk, no longer a solicitor because he took his name off the practicing roll, escapes charges of legal aid fraud, where if it had been a member of the public claiming legal aid, the book would certainly have been thrown at them ...

Allegations abound the Law Society of Scotland intervened in the case, of the order "We wish to point out there was no loss to the taxpayer as the sums wrongly claimed have been repaid, therefore it might not be in the public interest to pursue a prosecution".

Might not be in the public interest to prosecute a legal aid fraudster ... but it's usually deemed necessary to prosecute ordinary members of the public who are legal aid fraudsters (depending on who they are of course) .. so why not prosecute Paul Kirk .. after all, he committed fraud, and fraud is certainly a criminal offence ... as the Legal Aid Board reminds everyone who claims legal aid ...

Mr Kirk is of course, not the only lawyer who is defrauding the legal aid board just now ... as a list of some 30 plus solicitors under suspicion seems to indicate .... and this could be put down to the lack of an accountable & transparent professional regulator, where the Law Society of Scotland, the current governing body for solicitors, has caused the very low professional standards & corruption which are causing these kinds of headlines - and they are no good for the honest lawyers out there, or clients confidence in the legal profession to represent their affairs.

The Law Society of Scotland, in it's stewardship of the Scottish legal profession bear sole responsibility - too concerned with protecting their own backs & colleagues from client complaints or prosecution over a wide range of matters, among them some criminal, they gave up protecting the public interest a long time ago in favour of their own, and that is why lawyers will defraud the legal aid board, because they know they can mostly get away with it.

Quoting the Scotsman article who report a statement from the Scottish Legal Aid Board :

A spokesman for the SLAB said it did not have a total figure for Mr Kirk's case, but it had received a repayment from him and was confident there had been no loss to the public purse. The matter had been reported to the police, he said, but it was understood there was to be no criminal prosecution.

That would fit in nicely with current practice in the legal profession or anything to do with it - in other words, don't be too specific or condemn members of the Law Society of Scotland ...

The statement from the Crown Office, of course, was true to form, again from the Scotsman :

The Crown Office confirmed it had received a report in relation to Mr Kirk, and said: "After careful consideration of all the available facts and circumstances, it was concluded that there should be no proceedings in this case."

That would seem to fit in with standard procedure - try not to prosecute members of the legal profession because it will upset the Law Society of Scotland .. and might just give rise to others coming forward with similar tales of lawyers engaged in fraud ...

In fact, the Crown Office seems to shield members of the legal profession so much, recently when it was asked for the statistics on criminal charges against members of the legal profession & prosecutions, the journalist concerned had his career threatened ... so what do they have to hide ?

It was fine for the public to learn the numbers of Police Officers who had criminal records, or had been prosecuted for offences .. so why don't we get to know about lawyers who have criminal records or who have been prosecuted too ? What's the big secret Madam Lord Advocate ? and why nothing from the Justice Department of the Scottish Government on this either ?

Following article from the Scotsman :

Lawyer fined £10,000 for legal aid con - but will face no criminal charges

JOHN ROBERTSON LAW CORRESPONDENT

A LAWYER who escaped prosecution after he was twice caught cheating the legal aid fund has been fined £10,000 for professional misconduct.

Paul Kirk, 48, fiddled his records to double-charge for work and to apply for excessive fees from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB).

He had been given a second chance after claiming initial discrepancies were due to an administrative mix-up.

It is estimated the scheme netted him about £35,000, and, although Mr Kirk, of Uddingston, Lanarkshire, was reported to police, he is not to face criminal charges.

Suspicion had been raised because of Mr Kirk's high earnings, of more than £300,000 a year, and investigators uncovered overcharging by someone who "seemed to be busy doing nothing".

In one instance, Mr Kirk charged for a meeting with clients when he was, in fact, in talks with SLAB auditors.

The Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal would have been expected to hand down its severest penalty, by striking him off, but it was unable to do so because he had already resigned.

The tribunal said in a judgment issued yesterday that it could do no more than impose a censure and a financial penalty, £10,000 being the maximum fine within its powers. It repeated a call made in another recent case for a change in the law so rogue lawyers could not jump before they were pushed.

Mr Kirk had been a solicitor for 20 years when, in 2002, he started his own firm, operating a criminal practice mainly in Hamilton and Glasgow sheriff courts. He became one of the top five legal aid earners among sole practitioners, receiving £322,080 in 2002-3 and £311,037 in 2003-4; SLAB became "concerned" at the level of his earnings, the tribunal said.

An analysis of Mr Kirk's timesheets disclosed "serious discrepancies pointing towards excessive charges being intimated". Asked if Mr Kirk could have been making mistakes with his accounts, a SLAB witness said he did not think so, as the mistakes were always in Mr Kirk's favour and appeared to be a consistent practice.

Mr Kirk was threatened with being removed from the legal aid register, but through his solicitor he maintained it had been a "mix-up" and he was given another chance. He was said to be a good lawyer, but not good with administration.

"Regrettably, he failed to take this opportunity and as a result of further analysis carried out by SLAB ... it was revealed that he was once again engaged in the duplication of charging and the submission of accounts seeking excessive payments," the tribunal said.

The analysis had been based on a 15 per cent sample of the accounts submitted by Mr Kirk for cases between 2002 and 2004. From these, SLAB had identified 30 occasions when he had double-charged, and the amount overpaid to him was £3,843.

The matter had been reported to the Law Society of Scotland, which lodged a complaint against Mr Kirk with the tribunal. He was informed, but he did not appear at the hearing before the tribunal, and he was not represented.

The tribunal held that Mr Kirk had been guilty of professional misconduct. It said: "The tribunal was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that [Mr Kirk] had acted in a dishonest fashion in submitting inaccurate accounts to SLAB which resulted in him receiving extremely large sums of money to which he was not entitled."

The judgment went on: "The tribunal considers that his behaviour in relation to his fraudulent claims to SLAB strikes at the very heart of the obligations of honesty and integrity which are incumbent upon every solicitor.

"The tribunal would again urge the Law Society to make representations to the Scottish Executive to amend the relevant legislation to ensure the Law Society can refuse to permit the name of a solicitor to be removed from the Roll [of Solicitors] when disciplinary action is pending."

A spokesman for the SLAB said it did not have a total figure for Mr Kirk's case, but it had received a repayment from him and was confident there had been no loss to the public purse. The matter had been reported to the police, he said, but it was understood there was to be no criminal prosecution.

Sources suggested the sum involved had been estimated at around £35,000.

The Crown Office confirmed it had received a report in relation to Mr Kirk, and said: "After careful consideration of all the available facts and circumstances, it was concluded that there should be no proceedings in this case."

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cant make sense of the Crown Office.They should be forced to come clean over why no prosecution probably just because he is a lawyer

Anonymous said...

lawyers sure do look after their own then !
bunch of leeches we could all do without

visit
http://sacl.info

Anonymous said...

lawyer steals legal aid gets off.Client steals legal aid gets sent to jail.Jail this thief and all like him.There are plenty lawyers stealing legal aid.

JK said...

Thank god you finally found tags.Makes the reading easier.

I must say that little creep Penman and his pal Howitt should be sitting in jail.Christ knows why protecting them was worth all this trouble to the Law Society.Do they have secret files on people ?

Anonymous said...

Nigel Hall - the lawyer involved in your mothers case has been badly ripping off a client in Hawick.They tried to complain to the Law Society but got nowhere as usual.Investigate it and do a posting please.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for all your comments on this story, particularly the email suggestions of solicitors who are defrauding the Legal Aid Board.

Remember when you report a solicitor for fraud, make sure you air the story in the media or get it published somewhere, because as the story of Paul Kirk shows, the Crown Office are rather reluctant to prosecute crooked lawyers.

Anonymous said...

If you are checking up on lawyers on the fiddle, don't forget those who work for SLAB.A few colourful histories among that bunch, and a few rats on the ship too..