Friday, April 08, 2011

One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case

Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011Legal Aid Chiefs accused lawyer Niels Lockhart of excessive claims yet no prosecution or repayment took place. A SECRET REPORT by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) into “excessive” claims for legal aid made by Kilmarnock based solicitor Niels S Lockhart who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years can now be published, revealing the full extent of SLAB’s accusations against the sole practitioner, the FOUR YEAR WAIT for the Law Society of Scotland to rule on the case and the intervention of the Legal Defence Union who brokered a deal allowing Mr Lockhart to walk away from all accusations over his claims for legal aid.

On 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board sent a report to the Law Society of Scotland in terms of S32 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 against the sole practitioner firm of Niels S Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock. The secret report, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf)

The Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”

The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :

(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.

The report by the Scottish Legal Aid Board revealed that, of all firms in Scotland, the sole practitioner firm of NS Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock, granted the highest number of advice and assistance applications for "interdict" (392) for the period January-October 2004.The next ranked firm granted 146, while the next ranked Kilmarnock firm granted only 30.

The report stated : “While conducting a selective analysis of Niels S Lockhart's Advice and Assistance accounts, it was clear from the outset that much of his business comes from "repeat clients" and/or members of the same household/family, whom he has frequently admitted to Advice and Assistance. The analysis revealed persistent patterns of excessive client attendances, the vast majority of which are irrelevant, unnecessary and conducted without due regard to economy.”

“It was also clear that Niels S Lockhart makes grants for a number of interlinked matters, where there is clearly a "cross-over" of advice. Consecutive grants are also often made as a continuation of the same matter shortly after authorised expenditure has expired on the previous grant.”

“This appears to the Board to be a deliberate scheme by Niels S. Lockhart to make consecutive grants of Advice and Assistance on behalf of the same client for the same matter, for personal gain. By so doing, he has succeeded in obtaining additional funds by utilising new initial levels of authorised expenditure for matters where, had further requests for increases in authorised expenditure under the initial grant been made to the Board, they would with every likelihood have been refused by Board staff.”

“Closer scrutiny of Niels S Lockhart's accounts and some client files has given rise to a number of other serious concerns, e.g. numerous meetings, standard of file notes, encouraging clients to advance matters while demonstrating a lack of progress.”

“After a meeting between SLAB officials & Mr Lockhart on 14 April 2005, Mr Lockhart was advised that SLAB’s Executive Team had approved of his firm’s accounts being removed from the guarantee of 30-day turnaround for payment of accounts, and that henceforth, to allow the Board the opportunity to satisfy itself that all fees and outlays had been properly incurred and charged by the firm, he would be required to submit additional supporting documentation and information with his accounts (including client files).”

The report continued : “Over the next few months, Mr Lockhart telephoned Accounts staff many times, often on a daily basis, repeatedly asking questions about the type of charge they considered acceptable or unacceptable in a variety of situations. Staff reported that, despite their having given Mr Lockhart the same answers time and again (both via correspondence and over the telephone),he continued to submit accounts with unacceptable charges. In a final effort to counter these continuing problems and to emphasis the Board’s stance in relation to the various issues of concern, our Accounts Department sent him a letter on 23 December 2005.”

“Mr Lockhart did not provide a written response to this correspondence. He did however contact Mr McCann of the Legal Defence Union, who wrote to the Board seeking a meeting with Board officials to try to resolve the payments issue. Our view however was that this would not advance matters as Mr Lockhart had been given a clear steer both after the April 2005 meeting and in the December when Accounts wrote to him on a number of matters.”

However, a key error was made by the Legal Aid Board, who stunningly failed to interview any of Mr Lockhart’s clients despite SLAB’s claims of excessive legal aid claims.

The SLAB report revealed : “Board staff have not interviewed any of Mr Lockhart’s clients as we have no reason to believe that, for example, the multitude of meetings that he held with them—sometimes more than twice daily—did not take place; our concern is that they DID take place and he has sought to claim payment for these multitudinous meetings,very few of which could be described as necessary and reasonable. We believe that such work had no regard to the principle of economy: our contention is that it is highly unlikely that any private paying client would be willing to meet the cost of the service provided by Mr Lockhart. That aside, there are cases set out in the report where it is difficult to see what advice or assistance has actually been provided. Our Accounts staff are continuing to assess a number of his accounts and examining the corresponding client files which indicate repetition of the issues that gave rise to our initial concerns.”

A solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice yesterday branded SLAB’s decision not to interview Mr Lockhart’s clients as “incompetence in the extreme”.

He said : “Clearly had the Scottish Legal Aid Board interviewed Mr Lockhart’s clients, they could have established a clearer picture of exactly what was going on with regards to these excessive claims and the people who were making them.”

He continued : “If this had been a criminal investigation the clients would have been interviewed. Why was the Crown Office not brought in when clearly they should have been ?”

The report’s findings concluded : “From April 2002—March 2005, Niels S Lockhart was paid £672,585 from the Legal Aid Fund. Of this, £596,734 (89%) was in relation to Advice and Assistance cases, with £570,528 (85%) solely in relation to Civil Advice and Assistance.”

“In the Board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”

“Based on the supporting evidence 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 nature of subject matters is often repeated, resulting in numerous duplicate/multiple/consecutive grants submitted under various guises, thus avoiding the Board’s computerised checks on subject matter. This pattern of conduct is deliberate,recurring and persistent, serving—in the Board’s view—as a device to generate considerable additional income for the firm to the detriment of the Scottish Legal Aid Fund.”

Outline of Correspondence SLAB-LSS re NS LockhartSLAB’s report was heavy on accusations yet achieved little, as did their complaint to the Law Society. The Scottish Legal Aid Board presented its report & complaint to the Law Society of Scotland on the 5th June 2006 but had to wait until a stunning FOUR YEARS until August 2010 before the Law Society even got round to sending SLAB a copy of the Law Society investigator’s report, which recommended that 11 out of 12 of SLAB’s complaints were “made out” and also recommended that the Law Society exercise its powers to exclude Niels Lockhart from giving advice & assistance to or from acting for a person to whom legal aid is made available.

However, two months later in October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a prospective offer that Mr Lockhart would withdraw fully from providing legal aid if SLAB’s S31 complaint was withdrawn. A Minute of Agreement was drafter and agreed with Niels Lockhart & the Legal Defence Union outlining the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from the provision of all firms of legal assistance (funded by legal aid).

The Minute of Agreement also outlined the Board’s intention to make a press release detailing that following SLAB’s investigation into the firm and their subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, SLAB had accepted this permanent withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from providing all forms of legal assistance.

Letter to LSS, 11-10 redactedLegal Aid Board asked Law Society to withdraw complaint after secret deal was reached with Legal Defence Union. “In November 2010 SLAB advised the Law Society of Scotland that they had negotiated with Mr Lockhart his voluntary removal from the provision of legal assistance with effect from 1 November 2010 and acknowledged that the Society had separately received information from Mr Lockhart signalling his intention to withdraw from provision of all types of legal assistance. In the light of this, we sought to know from them whether they accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the S31 complaint against Mr Lockhart.”

“In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

The third & final part of this report revealing the reality of secret behind-the-scenes deals with the ‘pillars of regulation’ in Scotland’s legal system, along with comment from the Scottish Legal Aid Board & others, will feature in the next few days, as other cases & investigations have taken priority this week.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dont think I've ever seen one of those S31 complaints before.

Curious reasons why SLAB didnt bother to interview the clients.Perhaps it was more a case of hear no evil see no evil?

Anyway thanks for posting it.You managed to make SLAB,the LSoS & the LDU look a right bunch of crooks!

Anonymous said...

If the so called establishment will not prosecute this lawyer what does that say about their attitude to clients. If he took a clients £600k they would all have a laugh about it.

Steer well clear of all lawyers if you can. A member of the public should go to a lawyer only if they are desperate, better to share assets than trust these cohort of professional criminals who are a law unto themselves. If public money can be taken like this and the LDU, Law Society and LAB exonerate the lawyer they will have the most contempt flr private clients.

I spoke to a member of our flyfishing club about lawyers, yesterday, I wonder what he will think of this article?

Anonymous said...

This has truly made my weekend Peter.Great stuff - You are spot on about the Scottish Legal Aid Board being as bad as the Law Society (probably even worse!)

They should be prosecuted for not prosecuting Lockhart and probably many others they accuse of abusing legal aid yet they come down hard on members of the public who do the same.

One law for the lawyers as always.

Anonymous said...

I've read the report,very interesting to see how legal aid investigate these cases.

If there is any fraud or inflated claims he should be made to pay the money back.

SLAB should be investigated for not calling in the Police and the Law Society should be made liable for any questionable claims he made while they were taking 4 years to investigate.

How does all that sound ? Do you agree ?

SELF REGULATION CREATES CRIMINALITY said...

All of these lawyers helping themselves to taxpayers money. It is legal theft, a bit of a contradiction in terms. Those who police lawyers are more corrupt than the individual lawyers concerned.

Self regulation bypasses law enforcement, hence the real reason there are no prosecutions.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2010/07/18/shamed-lawyer-stays-out-of-court-despite-admitting-221k-of-bogus-claims-86908-22421816/

A SLAB spokesman said: "Iain Robertson and Alastair Gibb have been investigated. The sum of £221,847 has been paid back."

Robertson said: "It was accepted that payments had been wrongly claimed and as the supervising partner I had to accept responsibilty.

"We dealt with the matter and agreed the figures. I'm disappointed that SLAB have taken the decision they have."

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: "We received a report in relation to two men aged, 60 and 57, in relation to an alleged incident in Paisley in 2008. After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances, Crown Counsel instructed there should be no proceedings in relation to this matter."

Why bother having the Scottish Legal Aid Board at all if they dont prosecute these legal aid thieves ?

Anonymous said...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-12715992

I see the BBC were taken in by the Robertson & Ross scam.Maybe you should do some digging to see what went on in that case ?
More secret agreements & back door deals to prevent the prosecution ?

Anonymous said...

What a cosy little setup. Not only are SLAB and the Law Society as thick as thieves, the Crown Prosecution Service sits back and does nothing.

Seems Lord Gill and his Committee are content to do the same while their recommendations for urgently needed change continue to be treated with contempt.

Anonymous said...

Legal Aid Board asked Law Society to withdraw complaint after secret deal was reached with Legal Defence Union.

There is a surprise.

Anonymous said...

This is why the whole legal establishment is thoroughly corrupt, they do what they want with no consequences.

Anonymous said...

Suffice to say if SLAB spent all that time on their report and waited four years for the Law Society to investigate Lockhart and then do nothing about it we should not trust any of these organisations.The worst offender seems to be SLAB because they are forever harking on about saving legal aid yet as you point out I see no repayment offered in lieu of these inflated claims.

Anonymous said...

“In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

the Law Society probably ordered SLAB to withdraw it and anyway the whole explanation from the legal aid people sounds utter nonsense

Anonymous said...

Let's hope businesses at home and abroad are reading this - some advert for Scottish Justice.

A MESSAGE FOR SELF REGULATORS said...

http://www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=30/#never


One solicitor who exposed bad practice on his website called legaljackass.co.uk was prosecuted by the Law Society in 2006 for bringing the profession into disrepute. Talk about a cover up! The Law Society lost the case as an independent adjudicator ruled in the solicitor’s favour saying that the solicitor had every right to voice his concerns and did not thereby bring the profession into disrepute. Solicitors From HELL is glad to feature the legaljackass.co.uk website as a link.


IMAGINE THE LAW SOCIETY ANYWHERE IN THE UK ACCUSING LAWYERS OF BRINGING THE PROFESSION INTO DISREPUTE.

ARE YOU BLIND LAW SOCIETY? NO ONE CAN BRING THE LEGAL PROFESSION INTO DISREPUTE, IT IS IN THE GUTTER BECAUSE OF THE TOP ECHELONS OF THE LAW SOCIETY AND CROOKED LAWYERS BEING PROTECTED.

I WONDER IF YOU SELF REGULATORS ARE MENTALLY STABLE? ONLY A COHORT OF SCREWBALLS WOULD THINK THE LEGAL PROFESSION ARE RESPECTED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post and the Scottish Legal Aid Board report on Mr Lockhart I'd like to ask where are the Police in all of this ?

Did they become so thick or ignorant overnight they cant undertake a similar investigation into these legal aid thieves ?

PURGE THE LAW SOCIETY CRIMINALS said...

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.

LAWYERS HAVE ACCESS TO AVOIDING PROSECUTION.

CLIENTS HAVE ACCESS TO INJUSTICE.

SOME LEGAL SYSTEM.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like corruption so why are we allowing it to continue if its our money paying for legal aid ?

IMPINITY THROUGH SELF REGULATION said...

This is why they treat clients like dirt, lets face it,

Client has no redress.

If they can take public money (WITH LAW SOCIETY APPROVAL) and politician approval what chance do clients have.

Clients cannot find out if a lawyer is a crook.

Client has no alternative but dealing with a member of the LAw Society of Scotland, the most corrupt union in the world.

With protection like this lawyers can do anything they want.

All are not equal before the law.

Anonymous said...

No way should the Law Society have been allowed to drop the complaint and do nothing.Its disgusting.

Anonymous said...

I think its time for a Police investigation into Scottish Legal Aid!

Anonymous said...

Agreed.What is now needed is an investigation of the Legal Aid Board and its links with the Legal Defence Union.After all there are plenty lawyers working at SLAB and all of them will be covered by the LDU.For them to step in and essentially get Lockhart off the hook in some kind of secret deal is not on and neither should the Law Society be allowed to do nothing after a complaint is made to it.Self regulation at its worst and all brought to light thanks to the papers/Peter!

Anonymous said...

You’d think you might be happy that a dodgy solicitor has been is no longer on the legal aid roster. OK, he didn’t get prosecuted and it took its sweet time, but then it wasn’t fraud was it? It was abuse, that’s a whole different ball game. It’s also the Crown Office that would decide that not the law society or the SLAB. The concept of people crying out for a police investigation comes purely out of ignorance of how the system works and easily swayed by material such as this article. These people are tied to laws and legislation which makes their job harder to do, give them a break. It’s also hardly a “secret” document when the findings were released to the press, they’re hardly MI5 now are they? If this is such an injustice, you should go down the sheriff courts and see how many people get off with a slap on the wrist rather than what they deserve. You’d probably have an aneurism. It's easier to be sensationalist rather than truthful, just read any newspaper to find that out.

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 13 April 2011 12:28

It was abuse with public money ... legal aid is funded by taxpayers. Whether its fraud or abuse, when its with public money its not something that can go unpunished or unreported, just because the profession's cosy relationship with the Scottish Legal Aid Board strikes up a secret agreement where the terms of the allegations against the individual are from press releases.

If Mr Lockhart was exaggerating or inflating his claims for legal aid money and there was evidence to support it, money should have been repaid.

If a solicitor's client had conducted themselves in the way Mr Lockhart is alleged to, they would have been prosecuted according to a senior source at the Scottish Legal Aid Board so its clearly double standards and nothing to do with sensationalism.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

You’d think you might be happy that a dodgy solicitor has been is no longer on the legal aid roster. OK, he didn’t get prosecuted and it took its sweet time, but then it wasn’t fraud was it? It was abuse, that’s a whole different ball game. It’s also the Crown Office that would decide that not the law society or the SLAB. The concept of people crying out for a police investigation comes purely out of ignorance of how the system works and easily swayed by material such as this article. These people are tied to laws and legislation which makes their job harder to do, give them a break. It’s also hardly a “secret” document when the findings were released to the press, they’re hardly MI5 now are they? If this is such an injustice, you should go down the sheriff courts and see how many people get off with a slap on the wrist rather than what they deserve. You’d probably have an aneurism. It's easier to be sensationalist rather than truthful, just read any newspaper to find that out.
13 April 2011 12:28

Oh right.You are one of those who would argue rape is not the same as abuse so abuse either gets off the hook or carries a lighter sentence?

Peter is right.This Lockhart was playing with taxpayers money so he should be investigated and anyway if you read the bloody newspapers you will know by now the Crown Office was never called in on this case so get your facts right before attacking those who care enough about our bloody awful justice system to want to clean it up!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cherbi, I'm stunned that you don't think your blog is sensationalist at all. Even just placing copies of the daily record is evidence to the contrary and the ability to moderate any posts certainly would give you the option to edit people's comments which may again lead to this. Of course you'd want to cut out the downright insulting, but accusing the SLAB of being secretive would insist on you being diametrically opposed. Yes, I agree that if Mr. Lockhart had been arrested for shoplifting, he probably would have been prosecuted as any lay person would expect, but these cases are far more in the gray and not simply cut and dry. I still don't think either that a secret deal is struck when there is a press release. Surely they would not have been able to do it before the case was concluded? Would you expect a policeman say before going into court to the press that a person is guilty before a case had finished? No. It might not be a perfect result, but it is a result and I hardly think there is some great conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Peter you must have them bothered because every time the apologists for the legal profession turn out its a big story.
Maybe you are getting too close to the truth that plenty lawyers out there are screwing the Legal Aid Board and nothing is being done about it.
Abuse or Fraud its THEFT OF PUBLIC FUNDS

Anonymous said...

Oops Peter sounds like you've upset the natives again.
Like the lawyers who are in secret sex clubs who defend abusers & rapists in court I'm sure those with their fingers in the legal aid till will crawl out from under their stones to defend their fellow thieves.

Keep up the good work!

Peter Cherbi said...

# Anonymous @ 13 April 2011 21:28

Sensationalism comes in many forms, especially from the legal profession itself.

There are no grey areas in the Lockhart case. The only grey area is the willingness of the Scottish Legal Aid Board to respond to members of the legal profession misusing public funds, which is what we are talking about here, the misuse of public funds.

If you go back to SLAB's Press Release and compare that with their Section 31 complaint to the Law Society and the correspondence between the two you will find the public were very much misled by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the secret deal done with the Legal Defence Union, of which there now appear to be many, was not given a mention, nor was the Law Society of Scotland's participation in that deal, more on which will be reported in an upcoming article.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell is this one defending the lawyer's legal aid taking as a grey area?
Another one with their hand in the legal aid till maybe?

Its theft of public money just as Peter says and thats what is written all over that report yet nothing is done about it!