Monday, December 15, 2008

Lawyers stealing from clients to earn 'double fees' while Law Society looks the other way in vast network of legal aid fraud & embezzlement

Law Society of ScotlandLast week the Law Society of Scotland went to great lengths to inform newspapers of the prosecution and jailing of ex-solicitor Valerie Macadam for embezzling at least £130,000 of client funds.

The Law Society press release can be read here : Former solicitor Valerie Macadam sentenced to three years for embezzlement

However, when asked if every penny of the embezzlement had been repaid to clients, the Law Society were a little more vague on their reply, preferring actually a "no comment" .. leading to the suspicion that, like in so many other cases, after a solicitor steals clients funds, the money is lost forever .. despite the legal profession's constant claim their "Guarantee Fund" pays out in full to anyone who suffers a loss at the hands of a crooked lawyer.

Laughably, it was left to a newspaper to report the Guarantee Fund had paid back Valerie Macadam's victims, but no figures were mentioned, nor, according to journalists contacting me, were accounts and payments disclosed by the Law Society, leading to suspicions the story was "entirely bogus" and "a pack of lies" - according to one senior law journalist.

However, while Valerie Macadam was sent to jail for three years, and will probably, according to one source, be out on release after just twelve months, little mention was made of another solicitor, Iain Robertson, of Paisley legal firm Robertson & Ross, being found guilty by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal of pocketing £21,308 from a client who was already on legal aid.

Iain Robertson is also being probed for possible legal aid fraud, although today when asked for comment on the case, the Scottish Legal Aid Board issued the following statement :

slab“The Board's policy in any situation where fraud or abuse of legal aid is identified, is to take action to stop it, recover monies and to take the appropriate action which may include; suspension, deregistration (if the solicitor is providing criminal legal assistance), reporting to the prosecuting authorities and to the Law Society of Scotland. We invest substantial resources into investigating fraud and abuse to protect both tax payers and the vast majority of honest legal aid practitioners. However, it is inappropriate for the Board to comment on any case until investigations or other actions are concluded.”

A source at the Law Society of Scotland today claimed "People here don't want to talk about the Paisley case because what Robertson did is rife among Scots solicitors and most clients don't realise if they are on legal aid and are probably so poor they don't need to pay their lawyers".

There was however, no Law Society Press Release available on Mr Robertson being allowed to continue practising after the notoriously sloppy Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal fined him £5000 after finding him guilty of professional misconduct, and ruled the incident "appeared to be a one-off", concluding: "What happened was due to incompetence rather than anything more sinister.”.

However, fortunately for the rest of us, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported the story, and highlighted the fact the solicitor in question “has been reported ot the Procurator Fiscal after a Police probe into an alleged legal aid fraud worth up to £350,000.”

The source at the Law Society went on to say : "The Law Society of Scotland is inundated with complaints about lawyers charging clients huge sums of money while they are on legal aid and we have some reports of lawyers demanding custody of client's state benefits books if they refuse to pay up".

Well, no wonder the Law Society doesn't want to discuss such cases of blatant fraud, and particularly in some cases where outwardly respectable solicitors are effectively stealing people's state benefits to pay for legal work when these same solicitors are claiming legal aid from the state for payment of the same legal work !

Surely, solicitors confiscating clients state benefits & pensions books is some kind of fraud which needs to be investigated by the Police at least, and hard questions asked of the Law Society as to why it has done nothing in such circumstances ?

It is of course personally shocking to me to learn of this as my own mother was a victim of such a fraud where a well known Scottish Borders accountant confiscated her pension book to keep control of the money for himself, which you can read more about here : Scottish Borders accountant confiscates pension book

A client of a well known Edinburgh legal firm which claims not to take on legal aid work, informed me today of their own similar case where they have been forced to hand over more than nine thousand pounds to their lawyer despite the fact the solicitor has been claiming legal aid for their client's case for around four years.

"Our solicitor keeps sending us bills for work yet we have signed eight legal aid claims forms which we are told he is receiving money for. He forced us to sell our car and several items of furniture to give him more cash and is now demanding we sell our house at anything we can get to keep paying him for a case he is basically doing nothing with that has lasted 4 years and got nowhere".

"We now suspect the legal aid board knew nothing of the fees our lawyer has been charging us as we are supposed to be well within the financial limits where a financial contribution from us is necessary".

I recommended today in the case I have quoted, the client should contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board privately and inform them of what has been going on, in terms of how much money their solicitor had demanded & received from them while being in receipt of legal aid. I am also keeping an eye on the case and will make sure it received the due media attention it deserves, in the public interest.

If a client who is on legal aid suspects the same is happening to them, they should contact the Legal Aid Board, report matters, and also let the media know of what their solicitor has been charging them while receiving legal aid at the same time.

Additionally I have heard this week of legal firms holding onto settlements made to clients involved in legal aid funded cases, where secret deductions were made by the legal firms before the remainder, if anything was passed onto the client or the legal aid board. These actions by solicitors may be considered fraudulent and SLAB should be notified immediately.

Contact details for the Scottish Legal Aid Board are as follows :

The Scottish Legal Aid Board
44 Drumsheugh Gardens
Edinburgh
EH3 7SW
telephone: 0131 226 7061. email : general@slab.org.uk

The odds are, if you don't qualify to give a financial contribution to legal aid (which has to be made clear to you from the very start of your legal aid application), but are still being charged for the legal work carried out by your solicitor, there is a problem, and it will probably be the case the solicitor will be doing the same to other clients.

We can't allow the Law Society to whitewash what certainly seems to be a significant area of fraud where the earning of ‘double fees’ by unscrupulous solicitors goes on while the Law Society and the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently look the other way.

To highlight the issue at hand, here follows last week’s Sunday Mail report on Iain Robertson :

Legal aid rip-off probe lawyer keeps job

Dec 7 2008 By Steve Dinneen

A LAWYER being probed over alleged legal aid fraud escaped being struck off despite ripping off a client.

Iain Robertson was able to continue practising because the incident was a "one-off".

He has now been accused of fraud in a separate investigation.

The Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal found Robertson pocketed £21,308 from a woman client while getting legal aid cash for the work.

They fined him £5000 after finding him guilty of professional misconduct.

But they decided not to strike him off, ruling it "appeared to be a one-off" and concluding: "What happened was due to incompetence rather than anything more sinister."

But Robertson has been reported to the procurator fiscal after a police probe into an alleged legal aid fraud worth up to £350,000.

The Sunday Mail revealed in April that the 55-year-old lawyer, a partner in Paisley firm Robertson and Ross, was being investigated.

Police reported him to the fiscal in April.

Robertson said: "We have co-operated fully and are confident the matter will be resolved in our favour.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

As long as the domestic political parties are allowed to support the monopoly exerted by the Law Socirty to continue - and the majority of the media and press tacitly approve of the abuses which arise as a consequence - we will continue to live in a 'Banana Republic'.

Next stop Europe.

Anonymous said...

neat trick and yes it is rife among solicitors to charge clients while receiving legal aid

i seem to remember the name of someone in government who did the same ?

Anonymous said...

This kind of fraud must amount to millions if that lawyer Robertson managed to get 21k out of a client while still claiming legal aid.

Just goes to prove again NEVER TRUST A SCOTTISH LAWYER EVER !

Anonymous said...

Well Peter, not all lawyers diddle their legal aid claims so its unfair to lump us in with Robertson but point well taken about how the LSS handle their media releases.I'm sure they would probably argue that since the SSDT had taken the prosecution it was out of their hands but as you point out the lack of publicity to one against the sacrificial lamb which macadam was turned into does put things into perspective.

Anonymous said...

aye Peter quite right
if the lawyers are not fleecing their clients for enough they turn to robbing the state and who bets Mr lawyer MacAskill sits quietly back and lets them do it because he will know the score on legal aid anyway since he probably claimed enough of it himself

Anonymous said...

If any lawyer is taking people's pension or benefits books they should be reported to the Police immediately.
If the Law Society knows about this and has done nothing they should also be reported to the Police for concealing criminal conduct

http://sacl.info said...

What do you expect ? Lawyers will always steal rob and ruin people to get as much money as they can for themselves.They are scum.End of story !

Anonymous said...

ouch ! I see the knives are out for lawyers again but well deserved by the sounds of it

carry on the good work Mr C

Anonymous said...

Jail the lot of them !

Anonymous said...

After reading your version of events I'd agree with you that anyone now on legal aid who is also having to pay their lawyer should check up directly with the legal aid board about their contributions and tell the board exactly the state of their case and what their lawyer has achieved if anything.

You are doing good public service work Peter so keep it up.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 2.43pm

I agree entirely with your view.A more active stance must be assumed by the media against the likes of the Law Society and the scale of corruption in the legal profession.The press don't appear to have too many difficulties highlighting the failings of the banking system as it crumbles under the weight of gigantic frauds ... and somewhere along that line, there have been many lawyers ensuring some or many of those frauds were kept in play for just a little longer before their eventual discovery.

# Anonymous # 3.00pm

A Minister in the current Government comes to mind perhaps ?

Thank you all for your additional comments and several emails this evening. I can see this issue affects many people and as some have suggested as well as myself, if you are in receipt of legal aid funding and are paying money to your solicitors you should immediately check with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to clarify the situation as per your case, without delay.

Contact information for the Legal Aid Board is as follows :

The Scottish Legal Aid Board
44 Drumsheugh Gardens
Edinburgh
EH3 7SW

telephone number is 0131 226 7061. Calls by BT Text Direct are welcome.

website address is: www.slab.org.uk
email address is: general@slab.org.uk

Anonymous said...

If Iain Robertson's client had cheated SLAB they would have been quick to prosecute so why is he still working as a lawyer ?

Too much power this bloody Law Society has and its time it was ended.

Anonymous said...

Good report as always Peter and I wonder what those lawyers who always claim they don't make enough money out of legal aid are saying about this.Maybe they will argue that because they aren't getting paid enough legal aid they have to defraud their clients and just hope no one notices they get away with it as they have been doing for years probably.

Anonymous said...

A senior partner at a firm I used to work for regularly charged his clients even though they were on legal aid so this kind of thing has been going on for years.
The part about taking benefits books I have also heard of before and I know for sure the Law Society have complaints about it but have done nothing.Maybe now you are writing about it something will be done or solicitors will have to find other ways to charge their clients double.

Anonymous said...

A frightening story Peter and if any lawyer dares to force their client to hand over their pension book they should be sent to jail and struck off

Anonymous said...

and what does the slcc say about all this or are they just sitting on the fence after getting their salaries & pensions ?

Anonymous said...

Yes Peter its daylight robbery and something a lot of lawyers get away with.Please put a stop to it if you can !

? said...

I like the way you pulled the Law Society apart over their Macadam spin because a thoroughly objectionable piece of vermin from the Law Society spent most of last week calling round the papers to promote their story as a success but as we all know nothing would have been done if someone had not raised a complaint.
I believe the thoroughly objectionable piece of vermin knows you as she spent about 10 minutes calling you all sorts to one of our staff.She must be one of those with a chip on her shoulder!

Anonymous said...

Yes to the first comment - we are living in an SNP banana republic where lawyers can get any bloody thing they want from kenny macaskill

Anonymous said...

pleased to read this stuff about bent lawyers although i've never trusted a lawyer for years anyway

good writing !

Anonymous said...

Yes Peter I'd be interested to know if SLAB are going to do anything about Robertson too.If this had been a client concealing their finances from SLAB,there probably would be a prosecution so the same rule should apply to the solicitor and anyone else from his office involved in this affair.

Anonymous said...

? - a regular occurrence but they wont talk about the senior Law Society member who is a rapist will they ?

How many clients would flock to Mr -- if they knew that ?

Anonymous said...

The SSDT are as useless as the Law Society but thats the way the system is designed to be and nothing will change until you get rid of crooked organisations which control complaints against lawyers

Anonymous said...

I know someone who had Robertson as their lawyer and I have told them to read your blog and get in touch with you because he has done the same to them too by the sounds of it

Anonymous said...

I think your "senior law journalist" got it about right - definitely a pack of lies from the Law Society and nothing on Robertson other than an off the record reminder the SSDT had dealt with the case !

Anonymous said...

and just how many prosecutions has SLAB made against legal aid fraudsters ? (lawyers & clients)

Anonymous said...

I suppose there is probably as much fraud going on with lawyers as there has been in the banks and financial sector due to poor regulation.
I think probably there are more crooked lawyers than honest lawyers and with whats happening now with people losing their jobs all over the place there will be a lot more crooked lawyers to deal with.Bad times ahead and lawyers will make it worse!

Anonymous said...

It may interest you to know Peter the Law Society are trying to sweep my complaint regarding my own solicitor under the carpet and what he did amounts to the same thing Robertson did to his client.

I will get in contact with slab next week and tell them all about what is happening and send you what I can in email.

Anonymous said...

My solicitor has a reputation for fiddling legal aid and I hear many of his clients reproted him to the legal aid board and law society and still nothing has been done
I suppose its because one of his partners became a sheriff so I wonder if he was at it too

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous.

People should get into the streets and protest against these bloody robbers and not forget its these thieves who helped their banker friends ruin us all.We will pay for their evil for decades to come so do something now while you have the chance

Anonymous said...

Absolutely disgusting !

Keep up the pressure Peter.Your investigations are excellent and where the hell are the OFT in this ? Why haven't the cops come in and charged the lot of them.It should be criminal !

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask if anyone has had any dealings with Ezzeddine Ben Amor of Sousse, Tunisia.
I am at present suing the said 'Lawyer' for return of fees paid for no work completed, yet in his counter argument, he is now suing me for defamation of character!!!