Monday, April 04, 2011

Calls to investigate Scottish Legal Aid Board & Law Society over ‘dodgy dealings’ in ‘voluntary removal’ of £600k lawyer from legal aid register

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board under the spotlight as solicitor accused of excessive legal aid claims quietly removed from legal aid register. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD (SLAB) & the Law Society of Scotland are facing calls for an inquiry into the way they both deal with alleged cases of legal aid claims abuse after it was revealed in a national newspaper a solicitor who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years was allowed to quietly remove himself from the legal aid register after a deal had been struck between his lawyer and the legal aid board to avoid any further proceedings, even though SLAB had made a detailed complaint to the Law Society of Scotland in 2006, a complaint which took the law complaints self regulator a whopping FOUR YEARS to investigate !

Solicitor Niels S Lockhart was the subject of a Press Release by the Legal Aid Board in mid December 2010, in which SLAB reported Mr Lockhart withdrew voluntarily form the Legal Aid register.

The Legal Aid Board’s Press Release Solicitor withdraws from publicly funded legal assistance work (pdf) stated : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board announced today that it has accepted the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by the firm of N S Lockhart Solicitors, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock, KA1 1PT and its sole partner Niels S Lockhart from the provision of all forms of legal assistance; following an investigation into the firm’s practices by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.”

“Mr Lockhart will no longer provide publicly funded legal assistance or have any involvement in any capacity as an agent or working for any other firm or solicitor in any matter which involves publicly funded legal assistance. The withdrawal follows an investigation of the firm carried out by the Board and a subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland.”

“The Law Society Reporter sent its report to the Law Society in July 2010. This confirmed the concerns raised by the Board, about practices Mr Lockhart had adopted in the provision of legal assistance, which had resulted in the submission of many accounts which were not consistent with the principle of working with “due regard to economy” and were not acceptable practices for a solicitor undertaking civil legal assistance.The Law Society can determine whether the conduct of a solicitor provides good reason for them to be excluded from providing legal assistance, in accordance with section 31 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986.”

“Mr Lockhart acknowledges that the investigation carried out by the Board and subsequent report to the Society raised continued concerns about his practices. As a result of Mr Lockhart’s permanent and binding withdrawal from legal aid, the Scottish Legal Aid Board has withdrawn its complaint to the Law Society.”

However, significant omissions have been punched in the Press Release issued by the Legal Aid Board after a secret report (since quoted in the media) emerged on SLAB’s investigation & dealings with the Law Society of Scotland & the Legal Defence Union concerning Mr Lockhart, with strong indications emerging the public were misled by the terms of the Legal Aid Board’s Press Release over the extent of the SLAB investigation into Mr Lockhart and his subsequent resignation from the legal aid register.

A senior official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations spoke with concern on the issue, saying : “In the light of significant omissions in the Legal Aid Board’s public account of Mr Lockhart’s resignation from the register, I feel there must be a full investigation of the way in which SLAB investigates and deals with those accused of legal aid irregularities in the light of the board’s dealings with the Law Society & the LDU.”

He continued : “On the face of evidence now available in the public domain it appears that solicitors caught up in questionable claims have escaped any moves by regulators or even the authorities to punish them or force repayment of inflated or fraudulently claimed public funds while ordinary members of the public who are claimants have faced prosecution and at times unfair treatment over similar matters, including the denial of legal aid in cases particularly involving challenges against institutions, public services, and of course, the legal profession itself.”

The Sunday Mail newspaper has since reported on the case (article below), and a further report including a copy of the actual secret Scottish Legal Aid Board investigation and their statement on its contents along with questions put to the board over their conduct will be featured in an upcoming report on Diary of Injustice later this week.

The Sunday Mail’s report follows :

Solicitor made "unnecessary and excessive" claims for legal aid and raked in over £600,000 of public money

Mar 27 2011 Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail

LEGAL AID watchdogs have accused a solicitor who took £600,000 of taxpayers' money in two years of deliberately ramping up his claims.

Niels Lockhart, 60, who runs a one-man firm in Kilmarnock, raked in £280,200 in 2004 then £321,400 the following year. After he ignored a warning to curb his claims, the Scottish Legal Aid Board investigated before a probe team concluded that his applications were a systematic attempt to create extra fees. But despite deciding that he routinely made "unnecessary and excessive" claims, SLAB did not call in police. They referred Lockhart to the Law Society who also decided no fraud had taken place.

The secret SLAB dossier, obtained through freedom of information laws, said: "Lockhart routinely makes consecutive grants of advice and assistance to the same clients for what appear to be similar matters submitted under a different guise. In the board's view, the ranges of actions taken by Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.

"He arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings.

"In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings."

The audit discovered Lockhart's firm was granted 392 "advice and assistance" applications for clients considering civil legal actions over 10 months in 2004 - more than double the number granted to the firm making the second highest number of similar applications.

The report stated: "The analysis revealed persistent patterns of excessive client attendances, the vast majority of which are irrelevant, unnecessary and conducted without due regard to economy.

"This appears to the board to be a deliberate scheme by Lockhart to make consecutive grants of advice and assistance on behalf of the same client for the same matter for personal gain."

Slab officials warned Lockhart about his claims in April 2005 but he "continued to show contempt for the board's serious concerns regarding his practices that were discussed at that meeting".

That prompted SLAB to send their damning 13-page report to legal regulator the Law Society of Scotland in June 2006. Yet the Law Society did not report SLAB's concerns to police or refer him to the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal. It took them another four years to even agree Lockhart should be banned from legal aid.

Last October, Lockhart's lawyer James McCann struck a deal with SLAB which allowed Lockhart to agree to quit legal aid voluntarily. He continues to do other legal work.

A slab spokesman said: "The matter was not one of fraud and, therefore, not a criminal matter. A Law Society spokeswoman said: "Our powers in this situation relate to considering the solicitor's conduct. It is not for the society to determine whether there has been fraud."

Married dad-of-two Lockhart, from Ayr, said: "There was no suggestion of any dishonesty. I voluntarily removed myself. I was going to withdraw anyway. Where did you get this report?"

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

oops 4 years to investigate a complaint from SLAB - I bet they didn't expect this one to get out!

Anonymous said...

If they had all that evidence on him why didn't they prosecute ?
If it had been client fiddling their legal aid I bet the cops would have been round in a jiffy

Anonymous said...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12954116

Incapacity benefit crackdown begins after pilot scheme

What about a crackdown on legal aid claims ?

If this lawyer claimed £600,000 in 2 years how many others are doing the same and being chased by the legal aid board ?

Why did the Law Society take 4 YEARS ! to investigate a complaint from an organisation who claim to protect public funds from fraud or abuse ???

Anonymous said...

seems a lot for a sole practitioner and its been going on four years ?

what gives at SLAB ?

Anonymous said...

Comparing the Sunday Mail story to the Legal Aid Board's Press Release the Press Release in December stinks to high heaven.
Why no mention of the deal done by Lockhart's lawyer and the four year complaint to the Law Society ?

Where the hell are the Police ?
If its not a case of fraud then why bother with the complaint and four year investigation by the Law Society ?

Another COVER UP in the making

Anonymous said...

Someone claims a few thousand on the benefits and gets sent to jail for making a fake claim but this lawyer gets 600 grand and he's allowed to resign and not pay anything back ?

Everyone in the newspaper story including him is saying its not a fraud so why did they bother forcing him out in the first place ?

FIDDLE!

Anonymous said...

Unfair treatment and I will now tell you why.
One of my clients was accused of legal aid fraud by SLAB after the defenders solicitor sent a letter in alleging they had a second home which had not been declared.The information was false yet my client was hounded and my claims for a&i were rejected until the matter was resolved.No apology from SLAB and the case was settled with the defenders paying expenses.

Anonymous said...

From the Sunday Mail
"LEGAL AID watchdogs have accused a solicitor who took £600,000 of taxpayers' money in two years of deliberately ramping up his claims."

Okay so thats pretty clear - SLAB thought he was making false claims.

"After he ignored a warning to curb his claims, the Scottish Legal Aid Board investigated before a probe team concluded that his applications were a systematic attempt to create extra fees. But despite deciding that he routinely made "unnecessary and excessive" claims, SLAB did not call in police. They referred Lockhart to the Law Society who also decided no fraud had taken place."

So he made "unnecessary and excessive claims" yet SLAB didnt call the Police so this is a cover up.SLAB then go to the Law Society who are well known for covering up and the Law Society said no fraud took place yet SLAB say he was making "unnecessary and excessive claims" so here is the second cover up.

So is it a fraud or not ? If he's claimed excessively and unnecessary then why did the legal aid board go to the Law Society and why hide the fact they went to the Law Society FOUR YEARS AGO in the press release ?

If thats not dodgy dealings I dont know what is !

Did this lot get together to make sure Lockhart was able to resign instead of being prosecuted or where they more afraid their evidence was rubbish and the Crown Office would say no charges (which they probably would say anyway because its a lawyer and not some guy off the street)

Anonymous said...

and this guy is still a lawyer right ?

I wonder what his clients think of him now ?

Anyone like to vote on how many other lawyers are ramping up their legal aid bills ?

Anonymous said...

If this lawyer claimed £600,000 in 2 years how many others are doing the same and being chased by the legal aid board ?

Why did the Law Society take 4 YEARS ! to investigate a complaint from an organisation who claim to protect public funds from fraud or abuse ??? Because they must be profiting from legal aid fraud too.

£600,000.00 public money no lawyer prosecution.

Mr Divine's expenses fraud 16 months prison. Was it £8K he claimed? If so the lawyers fraud is 600,000/8000 = 75 times greater than Mr Divine's. I bet Mr Divine wishes he were a member of the Law Society of Scotland. The latter are plundering the public purse too. It is a money laundering union.

Looking at this fraud it is madness for any client to be forced to trust any lawyer when they can steal public money, of this magnitude and get away with it.

I am sure Mr Divine (who it was correct to jail) will agree with me when I say there is a corrupt legal establishment in the UK, when this is condoned.

Whether you face a trial or not depends on who you are.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 4 April 2011 15:38

Could you contact me via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com with further details of the case you mention ?

If your clients are willing to speak to me I'd be much obliged as I have similar cases of false or malicious information & objections against legal aid claims provided to SLAB which I am currently investigating.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 4 April 2011 16:01

If Mr Devine had been a member of the Law Society of Scotland I doubt he would be in jail over his expenses claims ...

More on why the Law Society took four years to investigate the case will come out later this week in a fuller report on the case, along with a copy of the actual reports, which it is most certainly in the public interest to publish.

Anonymous said...

No clients money is safe if lawyers can get away with legal aid fraud.

Anonymous said...

Very good Peter.I'm looking forward to your story with the report and all its dirty secrets!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting as always Peter.My perception from your headline is the Law Society & Scottish Legal Aid Board colluded to provoke Mr Lockhart to resign of his own accord thus avoiding a complaint before the SSDT.Is this a fair summary of events so far reported ?

Anonymous said...

# Anonymous @ 4 April 2011 16:01

If Mr Devine had been a member of the Law Society of Scotland I doubt he would be in jail over his expenses claims ...

Yes Peter the point I was making.

Anonymous said...

a further report including a copy of the actual secret Scottish Legal Aid Board investigation and their statement on its contents along with questions put to the board over their conduct will be featured in an upcoming report on Diary of Injustice later this week.

More to come then!

I wonder what the penalty would be for inflated claims for 600 grand in benefits ?

Hanging and a good plastering all over the tv by Cameron & friends yet we've heard ZIP about Lockhart and all the other legal aid fraudsters.Makes you wonder about the motives of those in charge of our license fee!

Anonymous said...

Oh well there can be no doubt.

THE SNP ALLOW LEGAL AID FRAUD BY LAWYERS

Anonymous said...

"The audit discovered Lockhart's firm was granted 392 "advice and assistance" applications for clients considering civil legal actions over 10 months in 2004 - more than double the number granted to the firm making the second highest number of similar applications. "

This is the part you should be focussing on,Peter.There is a lot to be revealed here.

Anonymous said...

Married dad-of-two Lockhart, from Ayr, said: "There was no suggestion of any dishonesty. I voluntarily removed myself. I was going to withdraw anyway. Where did you get this report?"

aye right !

£600,000 of taxpayers' money in two years and he was going to withdraw anyway ?

Pull the other one !

Who walks away from £600,000 in 2 years ?

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine ended up on dialysis because of the mess they made of him in hospital and he was refused legal aid to take the hospital to court yet this Lockhart gets 600K and then allowed to walk away even though legal aid think he was at it.
Is that justice?
I could tell you exactly what I think of legal aid and the people who dole it out only to faces that fit and not the people who really need it.

Anonymous said...

A 4 year investigation by the Law Society apparently coming to nothing after Mr Lockhart resigns himself.This smacks of a cover up along with all the legal aid going down the toilet.

LAWYERS ARE SELECTIVE IN WHO THEY REPRESENT said...

Last October, Lockhart's lawyer James McCann struck a deal with SLAB which allowed Lockhart to agree to quit legal aid voluntarily. He continues to do other legal work.

LAWYERS ALWAYS HAVE LAWYERS TO REPRESENT THEM. IF MR LOCKHART HAD RUINED A CLIENT AND TAKEN THE CLIENTS INHERITANCE THE CLIENT WOULD NEVER HAVE GOT A LAWYER TO REPRESENT HIM OR HER.

JUSTICE NO BIAS YES.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused about the legal aid board not reporting this to the Police yet they run to the Law Society who as you know are right across the street from them in Edinburgh.

Doesn't this just stink of lawyers trying to keep it all among themselves and in the end nothing is done about it ?

Anonymous said...

Is this the same guy and if so what is the real story of the "loan"

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2009/06/21/lawyer-sues-student-bride-over-loan-for-college-fees-78057-21459716/

TAKEN FOR A BRIDE; LAWYER SUES STUDENT OVER COLLEGE LOAN EXCLUSIVE.

Lawyer sues student bride over loan for college fees

Jun 21 2009 Exclusive by Derek Alexander, Sunday Mail

A LAWYER is suing a student bride after he gave her £12,000 to pay her way through college.

Solicitor Niels Lockhart, 58, is fighting to get the money back from 22-year-old Yasmin Erdil.

Lockhart claims he offered the loan to the Lithuanian, who got married last week, to help her out of financial trouble and to stay in Scotland.

He says he gave Erdil, a former client, cheques for £5785 and £6427 in April.

Married Lockhart, who runs a legal firm in Kilmarnock, has launched a civil action to claw back the cash amid fears she is about to leave the country.

Erdil, of Kilmarnock, married fiancé David Barcock last week and friends say she plans to move to England.

She was studying for an HNC certificate in social science at Kilmarnock College when she received the cash.

Lockhart lodged a writ at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court this month to try to have Erdil's RBS account arrested.

He claims he gave her the cash to settle college fees and "problems she had regarding heresidence in Scotland". His writ says the money was to be paid back on demand - but Erdil has not returned a penny.

A source said: "It's very unusual for a lawyer to lend a client that sort of cash, especially when there doesn't seem to be any guarantee she'll be able to pay it back.

"People are wondering why he would lend that sort of cash in the first place." Erdil said: "I don't want to talk about this - it's my wedding day." Lockhart, who has three daughters and lives in Ayr with his wife Kate, specialises in matrimonial and civil cases.

Anonymous said...

LEGAL AID watchdogs have accused a solicitor who took £600,000 of taxpayers' money in two years of deliberately ramping up his claims.


How can this not be criminal if he is racking up claims. What a bend unjust legal system we have where holders of an LLB are above the law.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Oh well there can be no doubt.

THE SNP ALLOW LEGAL AID FRAUD BY LAWYERS

4 April 2011 18:32

But of course they do.I've been writing to the Scottish Government about my legal aid being banned and they did nothing about it except pass my letter to legal aid who refused it again on appeal because my b*tch ex wife's lawyers keep writing in with lies about my finances they cant prove even in court.

Anonymous said...

Agreed the Sunday Mail story blows the SLAB press release out of the water!

Anonymous said...

I am sure there are many solicitors up to these tricks with their clients & legal aid I think I know one in Glasgow who is doing the same will find out for sure and post his name if you like

Anonymous said...

"That prompted SLAB to send their damning 13-page report to legal regulator the Law Society of Scotland in June 2006. Yet the Law Society did not report SLAB's concerns to police or refer him to the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal. It took them another four years to even agree Lockhart should be banned from legal aid. "

Yes notice how the paper mentions the 2006 complaint yet the press release from the legal aid board only mentions the Law Society sent its report in 2010.

What is a deliberate omission usually called these days ? A lie ?

Anonymous said...

I begin to wonder if there is any legal related institution in Scotland which isnt corrupt sneaky or duplicitous..

Anonymous said...

If there's no fraud why did SLAB make a complaint against him to the Law Society ?

If no fraud or nothing they could prove then its basically harassment whether anyone wants to admit it or not so its SLAB which needs to be investigated not just Mr Lockhart.

Anonymous said...

Clearly there is one law for some and another for the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

This is a very suspicious case if no attempt is made to make him pay back any of the money

Anonymous said...

There is always a Legal Aid Law Society pattern, legal aid money taken fraudulently, culprit never faces trial.

Anonymous said...

Quite a scandal going on here.I wonder how many other cases of excessive legal aid claims have ended up where the lawyer gets to walk away without any action yet no chance some client would get away with it even though its the lawyer who receives the legal aid anyway.Double standards!

Anonymous said...

I know one of Lockhart's clients and they might be willing to talk

Anonymous said...

"Slab officials warned Lockhart about his claims in April 2005 but he "continued to show contempt for the board's serious concerns regarding his practices that were discussed at that meeting".

That prompted SLAB to send their damning 13-page report to legal regulator the Law Society of Scotland in June 2006. Yet the Law Society did not report SLAB's concerns to police or refer him to the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal. It took them another four years to even agree Lockhart should be banned from legal aid.

Last October, Lockhart's lawyer James McCann struck a deal with SLAB which allowed Lockhart to agree to quit legal aid voluntarily. He continues to do other legal work.

A slab spokesman said: "The matter was not one of fraud and, therefore, not a criminal matter. A Law Society spokeswoman said: "Our powers in this situation relate to considering the solicitor's conduct. It is not for the society to determine whether there has been fraud."

Clearly the Police should have been called in by SLAB.Whoever decided not to do that should give their reasons IN PUBLIC why and then make sure any more such cases involve the Police straight away.This is a huge scandal to say the least and from all I've read about your earlier reports there will be a barrage of lawyers affected in this way yet either nothing happens or we never get to hear of it.Its high time this attitude of sweeping crooked lawyers under the carpet was STOPPED.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 5 April 2011 16:40

If they would like to contact me with more details via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com I can assure you their story will be told.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 4 April 2011 23:32

Yes please send in the details and any evidence via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com.

Any solicitor defrauding public funds via legal aid deserves to be exposed and held to account.

If SLAB and the Law Society are unwilling to do it, the media certainly are.

Anonymous said...

IF LAWYERS DO NOT WANT NAMING AND SHAMING THEY MUST HAVE RUINED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.

Anonymous said...

The legal aid board must hate your guts for this so you better watch in case some of them use their hoodlum contacts to have you wiped out

Anonymous said...

I wonder what sort of clients Mr Lockhart has to be registering all these civil cases?

I bet there is a story in that client list!

Anonymous said...

You cant beat self regulation - 3 kids killed by their own mother and Edinburgh Council clears its own Social Work Dept before any blame can be attached! http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/crime-courts/social-work-department-cleared-over-children-s-stabbings-1.1094570

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought the legal aid board were more about avoiding prosecuting a lawyer for unnecessary legal aid claims while denying legal aid to most people who actually deserve it.

Clearly SLAB cannot be trusted.

Anonymous said...

Oh well look at it this way Peter.The Police usually read the internet so they've probably read this by now and should be making proper inquiries into why SLAB didn't report a lawyer claiming legal aid to the extent he was doing.If the cops ignore it then we know there is something very very wrong!

Anonymous said...

Ex-Labour minister Elliot Morley has admitted dishonestly claiming more than £30,000 in parliamentary expenses, the largest sum of any former MP.

He pleaded guilty to making excessive claims for mortgage costs between 2004 and 2007 and pocketing cash for another loan that had been paid off.

Morley stepped down as an MP at the last election, having represented Scunthorpe since 1987.

He is the fourth MP to appear in court over expenses fraud.

His barrister, James Sturman QC, told Mr Justice Saunders that his client accepted a jail sentence was now likely.


THEY WILL NOT END SELF REGULATION AS THEY DID AT WESTMINSTER, SO NAMING AND SHAMING IS REQUIRED TO DRIVE LAW FIRMS OUT OF BUSINESS.