Law Society of Scotland investigation found McFarlane covered up £24,000 client theft by her own husband. In yet another case which demonstrates the lack of effective regulation of Scotland's legal services market and poor consumer protection, solicitor CATRIONA MACFARLANE, 49, of Hasties Solicitors, Glasgow, has been found guilty by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal of professional misconduct but allowed to continue working as a solicitor.
The findings reported by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), said that Catriona Macfarlane’s actions had left her client in a vulnerable position and left them exposed to an unacceptable risk after it had been revealed she covered up her own husband's theft of £24,150 from a client who had approached Mrs Macfarlane to act for him in a house purchase deal.
SSDT heard lawyer covered up husband’s massive theft from client after cash was handed over for mortgage. In August 2006, Mr. A approached a mortgage broker, identified as Ideal Mortgages, to arrange a mortgage, giving Mr Nigel Macfarlane £24,150 to be used as a deposit on a property, and approached Catriona Macfarlane of Glasgow Law Firm Messrs Hasties to act for him in the purchase. The client, Mr A, was not aware at this time, that Catriona Macfarlane was married to his mortgage broker, Mr Nigel Macfarlane, nor did Macfarlane disclose this relationship to her client. Problems with the mortgage caused the house purchase to be delayed, which prompted the client to call his solicitor, Mrs Macfarlane, informing her he had handed £24,150 to the mortgage broker, who Mrs Macfarlane had still not disclosed was her husband. The SSDT judgement reported that Mrs Macfarlane's only reply to her client's telephone call was "She said only that she would call him back".
The Tribunal decision further reported : "She (Mrs Macfarlane) called back a short time later. She said that, having spoken to the broker, she was able to confirm that Mr A's money was safe and could be returned to him at any time. By this stage, she was aware that her husband had misappropriated Mr A's money. On 19 February, Mr Macfarlane came to Mr A's house and confessed … that he had spent his money. He promised to 'sort things out'."
“Mr. A and his wife were by this time suspicious. Although Mr. MacFarlane and the Respondent referred to each other respectively as “the broker” and “the solicitor” they shared the same surname. Mr. A and his wife confronted the Respondent on 19 February 2007. She confirmed that she and Mr. Macfarlane were married. She said that she “would sort things out”.
“On 26th February 2007 the Respondent advised Mr. A that she could no longer act for him and that he should seek separate representation. Mr. A was thereafter represented by new Solicitors. The transaction was completed in April 2007. All additional costs including penalty interest due to the sellers of the property were recovered from Nigel Macfarlane. The sums misappropriated by him were repaid in full."
The SSDT’s verdict : availabe for download in pdf, here: Law Society v Catriona Margaret Macfarlane
Solicitor Catriona Macfarlane, of Loganswell, Newton Mearns, Glasgow, and employed by Glasgow Law Firm Messrs Hasties Solicitors of Lynedoch Crescent, Glasgow, who was enrolled as a solicitor on 4 October 1982 was found guilty by the SSDT of Professional Misconduct in respect of her failure to disclose to her client the extent of her knowledge of her husband’s actings and her failure to timeously advise her client to seek separate independent advice and her failure to withdraw from acting for her client, all in breach of the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors 2002.
The Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal issued punishment, censuring Mrs MacFarlane, and issued a fine of £2500 to be forfeit to Her Majesty and Direct in terms of Section 53 (5) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.
Further, Mrs Macfarlane was informed that for a period of 3 years, her practising certificate shall be subject to such restriction as will limit her to acting as a qualified assistant to and to being supervised by such employer as may be approved by the Council or the Practising Certificate Committee of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland. Mrs Macfarlane was also found liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal.
A representative of one of Scotland's consumer organisations condemned the decision to allow Mrs Macfarlane to continue as a solicitor, also branding the fine & practising certificate reduction as "weak".
She said : "This case shows us nothing has changed. Weak punishments like this are no deterrent for rogue solicitors who have the ability to rip off their clients without fear of losing their jobs & livelihood. Cases like this show that the Law Society of Scotland and SSDT are not serious about consumer protection from rogue solicitors.”
“How can the public have any confidence in the legal profession if all solicitors get is a slap on the wrist and fine when they are caught in major wrongdoing such as this case where, according to the SSDT findings, the solicitor covered up for her own husband's theft of clients money."
She continued : "I'm sure the public expected a lot more after the LPLA Act (2007) came into force but as we can see, the legal profession are still looking after their own, with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission making not one bit of difference to the rising levels of fraud against consumers by their legal representatives."
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill accused of being a soft touch on poor regulation of crooked lawyers. A member of the public who is experiencing huge problems with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Law Society of Scotland over his complaint branded the whole system of regulation of lawyers in Scotland as ‘a con against the public, and also condemned the Scottish Government for being soft on crooked lawyers.
He said : “Where is the long arm of the Justice Secretary when all these crooked lawyers are stealing to order from their clients ? I cant get a fair hearing with this useless SLCC or the Law Society, and writing to the Scottish Government has also done no good. Any lawyer who covers up a theft or steals from theri clients should be jailed because if I had done it, I would go to jail. Why the special dispensation for lawyers to steal as they like ?”
Crown Office silent on criminal charges against lawyers. The Crown Office were asked today if Catriona Macfarlane and her husband, Nigel Macfarlane, would face criminal charges for the cover up and theft of their client’s funds, which albeit were repaid, still rank as theft (which in most people’s book is still a criminal offence). So far, no response from the Crown Office, who are well known to have a soft touch against criminals in the legal profession itself, often apparently refusing to prosecute solicitors of even very serious crimes.
You can read an earlier article I wrote on how the Crown Office mishandle prosecutions against solicitors, here : Justice Secretary 'hush hush' on criminal records of lawyers as Crown Office claims its too costly to keep details on legal profession's crooks
A source at the Law Society of Scotland today alleged it had not passed on any details of any criminal activity detected during their investigation to the Crown Office, which is no big surprise, as the Law Society of Scotland usually cover up any details of criminal activity they discover during the course of their 'investigations' into crooked lawyers and I doubt the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, had they been involved, would have done any different (another non-surprise).
‘Anti-client’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission would have done no differently, issuing just another slap on the wrist. Trust in the Scottish legal profession will never be established until fully independent regulation (not the half-baked, half-house Scottish Legal Complaints Commission slap handed version) is enacted to protect consumers from thousands of cases of serious fraud, negligence and the poor handling of clients legal affairs which occur each year in Scotland.
Please support the implementation of fully independent regulation for legal services in Scotland.