Thursday, June 03, 2010

Recession brings 24% rise in Civil Legal Aid applications, clients struggle with debt, mortgages, as solicitors demand secret cash to continue cases

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board reports largest increase in Civil Legal Aid applications in 10 years. It should come as no surprise during a recession, when financial pressures hit home, the public are increasingly driven to apply for civil legal aid to deal with issues such as mortgage rights, financial debts, and family issues so reports the Scottish Legal Aid Board earlier this week, revealing Civil Legal Aid applications in Scotland have soared 24% in the last year.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYHarbouring fraudsters - The Law Society & SLCC have no policy for reporting lawyers who defraud legal aid. However, while Civil Legal Aid applications are up, complaints against solicitors who are in some cases, apparently demanding cash sums from clients to continue representing their legal interests, while their clients cases are legal aid funded are on the rise. Shockingly, the Law Society of Scotland are as reluctant as ever to report their own member solicitors who stand accused by clients of defrauding legal aid funds, with this appalling situation made even worse by the hapless Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which, even two years after it came into existence as the single gateway for complaints against members of the Scottish legal profession, has no policy in place to alert the Scottish Legal Aid Board of allegations of legal aid fraud made in complaints to the SLCC by members of the public.

If readers feel they have problems with their solicitor and their legal aid funded case, please don't hesitate to report the matter to this blog and the information will be passed to the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s enforcement & compliance unit either in confidence, or will be published if the individual indicates they wish publicity for their predicament.

Press Release from the Scottish Legal Aid Board : 24% increase in civil legal aid applications - highest number in a decade (pdf)

Civil legal aid applications have increased by 24% over the last year to 22,000, the highest number in a decade. This is on top of a 12% increase in the previous year.Civil Advice and Assistance cases increased by 5% on last year to 95,000, following a 4% increase in the previous year. There have been substantial increases across a range of case types. Family cases increased by almost 3,000 or 27% to over 13,600. Debt cases rose by 29% and mortgage rights cases by 33%.

Lindsay Montgomery CBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board said :“It is clear that solicitors have responded to the larger number of people needing help during the recession as financial and other pressures increase on families. This substantial increase in applications has been very challenging for the Board, however we have managed to achieve our performance targets without any increase to our administrative budget.”

During 2008‐2009 there was a 4% increase in the number of branches or outlets of firms providing civil legal assistance to #695 (Dec. 2009).

A recent independent survey of applicants carried out for the Board indicated very high levels of satisfaction with civil legal assistance; 84% of applicants were satisfied with the overall experience of the full legal aid system (only 3% were actually dissatisfied). A small proportion of applicants (5%) indicated that they had experienced some difficulty in finding a solicitor.

Douglas Mill letter to Scottish Legal Aid Board demanding legal aid be refusedA leaked letter from ex Law Society Chief Douglas Mill to SLAB showed suing a solicitor or another professional for negligence with legal aid funds is difficult, virtually impossible. The Board encourages potential applicants looking for a civil legal aid solicitor to use the “Find your nearest solicitor” facility on the Board’s website at http://www.slab.org.uk. If potential applicants encounter difficulties in finding a legal aid solicitor we would like to hear from them and they can contact the Board’s legal aid information line on 0845 122 8686 for help in finding their nearest legal aid solicitor. The Board monitors the supply of firms registered to provide civil legal assistance to minimise the risk of people encountering difficulties in finding a legal aid solicitor.

Lindsay Montgomery adds : “There is a large and committed network of solicitors working on civil legal aid cases. Most communities have access to quality assured local legal aid solicitors covering a wide range of areas of law. In most areas firms are doing more civil legal aid work than before which is very encouraging.”

Although the vast majority of civil legal aid solicitors are in private practice or in Law Centres, the Board also directly employs a number of solicitors in its small network of Civil Legal Assistance Offices (CLAOs) around Scotland.

Lindsay Montgomery adds, “The CLAOs bolster local legal assistance provision, complementing but not competing with private practice firms. There is joint working with referral of clients between the two so improving access to assistance.”

In addition, the Board also funds a range of projects around the country to enhance legal advice services for people affected by the economic downturn, targeting issues such as repossession and debt, via £2 m of Scottish Government funding. The Board has also taken over and increased funding of In‐Court Advice projects. These offer a mix of advice and representation to people who turn up at court and have not been able to access other assistance or have been referred by other agencies before their court date, and are particularly important in repossession and debt cases.

Legal aid is help towards the costs of legal advice and representation, for those who qualify, paid for out of public funds. It is designed to help individuals on low and modest incomes gain access to the legal system. There are two main types of legal assistance: advice and assistance and legal aid. Together these are called legal assistance. Legal aid may be free, or someone may have to pay towards the cost of their case, for example through paying a contribution or from the money or property that they win or keep as a result of their legal action. Legal aid is accessed [exclusively – so no access to justice for you if you cant obtain one] through a solicitor. Unlike most public expenditure, the legal aid fund is not cash limited. The Scottish Government will provide the Board with the funds required to meet the cost of cases which have been granted.

Last year (2008‐2009) total net expenditure on civil legal assistance was £42.6m.

Civil Legal Assistance Offices :

The Inverness office in February 2008, serving Highland, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland areas. It provides advice and representation in relation to a broad range of civil issues, including family matters. Over the past year the Board has also opened up offices to cover Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh and the Lothians. These mainly help with issues related to the economic downturn such as housing and debt (and are in addition to those private firms in the areas that carry out civil legal aid work).

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its called "extortion" and yes it happens quite a lot.

If you are going to report such cases to SLAB beware of vengeful lawyers seeking a deadly solution to your public spirited duty..

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 13:45

Wouldn't be the first time, but I'll be sure to watch out ...

Anonymous said...

I imagine SLAB is full of lawyers (and therefore members of the Law Society)

Cant see them doing much about their crooked colleagues looting public finances,can you ?

How about Douglas Haggarty and the rent boy in St Enoch's centre.Nothing done about him so cant see them going after legal aid fraudsters

Anonymous said...

A leaked letter from ex Law Society Chief Douglas Mill to SLAB showed suing a solicitor or another professional for negligence with legal aid funds is difficult, virtually impossible.

Yes Peter like a physicist attempting to reverse gravity. How can this be a justice system if the practitioners of law cannot be sued for corruption?
It is like the MP's expenses they all screw the public purse.

Perhaps we need a form of legal democracy where clients can vote on who can and cannot practice law, there is a radical idea.

Anonymous said...

Remember Peter clients can be asked to contribute financially to their case depending on their income levels if they are in receipt of civil legal aid.
However if certain solicitors are demanding under the table cash payments from clients to keep their cases going in court (I realise this happens) I am all for you doing your duty and exposing the bad apples among us.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 14:13

It all depends on who is telling the story.

If it comes from SLAB you can expect public shaming of the clients who lied on their legal aid applications, however no such shaming of the law firms who falsely claimed the legal aid ...

I think its called "spin" ...

# Anonymous @ 14:20

Quite an interesting idea .. although with the notoriously poor performance of many solicitors & law firms these days, plus the expensive bills handed out for doing nothing, I doubt we would end up with any lawyers in practice at all in Scotland .. and representation would end up becoming a do-it-yourself affair .. if it hasn't already ....

# Anonymous @ 14:35

Agreed ... and since you realise solicitors are defrauding clients and the legal aid board, if you become aware of any such cases, remember who to report them to ...

Anonymous said...

Anyone with a complaint about 'dual-track' solicitors whould write to their MSP - and keep a copy. Let them start to do what they are paid for, SLAB won't.

Anonymous said...

Good point Peter, even with a strong case and supportive expert opinion you won't get a penny from SLAB if a lawyer is not in tow.

Just another consequence of the Law Society's self regulating monopoly.

Anonymous said...

and I suppose if the secret cash isn't paid to the lawyer the case is dead and you end up getting a huge bill for them doing sod all while the lawyer makes a big claim to legal aid for the same

disgusting!

Anonymous said...

3rd comment

What is this about Douglas Haggarty? I have letters from him about my refused legal aid claim after I started writing to slab so please tell more

Anonymous said...

Harbouring fraudsters - The Law Society & SLCC have no policy for reporting lawyers who defraud legal aid

Thats all the Law Society and SLCC are good for - harbouring criminals and fraudsters lawyers they exist to protect

Anonymous said...

Very interesting as usual Peter.

How does Jane Irvine justify not reporting allegations of solicitors defrauding legal aid to the legal aid board ? I thought defrauding SLAB was a crime so why are the SLCC covering up these complaints ?

Just another day for the SLCC protecting crooked lawyers is it ?

Anonymous said...

You said "It all depends on who is telling the story.

If it comes from SLAB you can expect public shaming of the clients who lied on their legal aid applications, however no such shaming of the law firms who falsely claimed the legal aid ...

I think its called "spin" ..."

I think that is terrible.If solicitors are the ones who get paid they share a measure of the blame too and many of them probably know their clients are lying yet still take the legal aid for doing their case so the solicitors should be named and shamed too.

And if solicitors are asking for money without telling SLAB they should be charged with fraud and struck off as well as sent to jail.

Anonymous said...

Do the under the table payments only come into play in civil legal aid cases ?

Anonymous said...

The Law Society and the SLCC will just say its not their job to report legal aid fraud however I can imagine the clients get the short shrift when trying to report fraud to the Legal Aid Board.

Better you all publish first as I'm sure Peter would agree with so we all know which lawyers are robbing legal aid as well as their clients.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Stewart McKenzie, Which 'Consumer Champion of the Year', credited with helping to create the SLCC, has to say about its behaviour?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Its called "extortion" and yes it happens quite a lot.

If you are going to report such cases to SLAB beware of vengeful lawyers seeking a deadly solution to your public spirited duty..

3 June 2010 13:45

Extortion happens as soon as you enter a lawyers office ! Everyone knows that !

Anonymous said...

SLCC and Law Society refuses to report crime of legal aid fraud by lawyers so scrap them both and charge anyone in both who covered up crime as an accessory to whatever offence was committed.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Remember Peter clients can be asked to contribute financially to their case depending on their income levels if they are in receipt of civil legal aid.
However if certain solicitors are demanding under the table cash payments from clients to keep their cases going in court (I realise this happens) I am all for you doing your duty and exposing the bad apples among us. THIS IS THE PROBLEM, THE BAD APPLES ARE NOT NOT EASY TO PICK ARE THEY? THEY TARNISH THE WHOLE PROFESSION.

Anonymous said...

Clearly anyone fiddling legal aid is a criminal whether they are the client or the solicitor and by the same token anyone in a position of regulation who fails to report the crime are criminals themselves.

Anonymous said...

Scotland has a preverted justice system, these lawyers tell people "you are under oath" what kind of sick minds do these people have? They have been getting away with fraud for centuries.

Anonymous said...

I know someone who is a victim of exactly what you write about here with legal aid and then being threatened if he didn't pay over money to the lawyer the case would be dropped.He didn't have the money the case was dropped and then the shit of a lawyer claimed to the benefits agency his ex client was earning thousands.They investigated found the info false but never chased the lawyer for giving the false info.What do you think about that ??

Anonymous said...

SLCC and Law Society refuses to report crime of legal aid fraud by lawyers. These two organisations are condoning money laundering so why are the press silent on an issue of importance to taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

"Recession brings 24% rise in Civil Legal Aid applications, clients struggle with debt, mortgages, as solicitors demand secret cash to continue cases"

Yes Peter, lawyers will make people's lives worse, Mr Yelland's flock will drop the above cases if there are no brown envelopes from clients. Why not, the lawyers will say because these clients creditors will increase pressure on people just like the lawyers who know consumer protection for victims of crooked lawyers is non existant. This is why they are crooked, they know they can do what they want with full Law Society, SLCC support. God help those who have to go to a lawyer, because the Law Society SLCC will not.

Anonymous said...

Legal Aid amounts to lawyers getting a big subsidy from taxpayers rather than giving people access to justice.Its the lawyers profits which come before the access to justice part and I'm sure there must be thousands of cases a year on legal aid messed up or time wasted by lawyers just to get extra money for old rope.

Anonymous said...

The state supports lawyers ruining clients. That is why the Law Society power is not being curbed.

I would not like to owe thousands and have to go to a Law Society registered lawyer for legal help. Lawyers have a keep me out of jail card called a practicing certificate from the corrupt Law Society of Scotland who are supported by corrupt government. What chance does the man in the street have in these circumstances?

They can and do, do what they want to people.

Anonymous said...

I'd say about half the profession are fiddling legal aid so you are going to be very busy collating reports!