ONE LAW FOR THE CROOKED: Crown Office failed to prosecute any crooked lawyer for legal aid fraud in 5 years. THE CROWN OFFICE & PROCURATOR FISCAL SERVICE, Scotland’s ‘independent’ prosecution service headed by the Lord Advocate, currently Frank Mulholland QC, has admitted that during the term of the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, it somehow FAILED TO PROSECUTE any of FOURTEEN as yet unidentified lawyers accused of legal aid fraud and referred to it for prosecution by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). The frauds allegedly committed by the 14 accused lawyers all members of the Law Society of Scotland, collectively amounted to millions of pounds of taxpayers money, the bulk of which appears to be unrecoverable.
The information disclosed by Scott Pattison, the Director of Operations for the Crown Office to a Freedom of Information request which forms part of an ongoing investigation by Diary of Injustice into widespread systemic corruption & fraud in the Scottish legal profession which receives up to £160 MILLLION POUNDS of taxpayer funded legal aid from the Scottish Government each year, stated :
• The allegations relating to eleven of these solicitors were marked for no action on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence. This related to seven separate reports (for which Crown Counsel’s Instructions were obtained in three);
• A report relating to one of the eleven solicitors referred to above was referred to the Civil Recovery Unit for their consideration;
• One solicitor died before criminal proceedings were commenced;
• One solicitor was placed on indictment for Sheriff and Jury proceedings for fraud. That solicitor entered a preliminary plea in bar of trial on the grounds of insanity which was sustained by the Court. In light of that decision, the case was deserted pro loco et tempore; and
• In relation to the final solicitor, the matter remains under consideration.
Crown Office admitted even more lawyers escaped prosecutions over legal aid frauds. A further admission on lawyers referred by the Scottish Legal Aid Board over legal aid irregularities was made from the Crown Office relating to an additional case which had not been initially disclosed to Diary of Injustice. The admission contained details of yet another lawyer accused of allegations of a criminal nature, stating : SLAB made allegations of a criminal nature against a solicitor and sought preliminary advice from Crown Office. SLAB did not submit a crime report but were assisted by the police in carrying out further enquiries. A report was thereafter submitted by the police to the local Procurator Fiscal rather than Crown Office. The case was marked for no proceedings by the Procurator Fiscal.
Crooked solicitors & advocates are accused of negotiating undisclosed off-the-record cash payments from clients in legal aid cases. Amid further allegations made to Diary of Injustice that well known leading members of the Law Society of Scotland and some well known members of the Faculty of Advocates have negotiated cash payments, commonly known as ‘BUNGS’ to continue representing or ‘better defend’ cases involving accused individuals (and their relatives) receiving criminal legal aid, and civil cases involving recipients of civil legal aid, a legal insider close to the Scottish Legal Aid Board condemned both the Crown Office & SLAB for failing to uphold the law against corruption in the legal profession. He also went onto condemn the refusal by the Crown Office & SLAB to name any of the accused 14 lawyers and called for a full investigation into the lack of any prosecutions.
He said : “It is a disgrace meriting a full inquiry where the Crown Office have failed to prosecute any solicitors accused of legal aid fraud by the Scottish Legal Aid Board after complex investigations have taken place by the board. There must be a full independent investigation into these failures at the Crown Office, which could easily be perceived by the public as the law operating one way for members of the legal profession and another way for members of the public.”
He continued : “It is safe to say if any of these 14 solicitors have fraudulently claimed public funds, although it now appears we will never know for sure, the chances are they will also go on to commit similar frauds against their private clients. It is therefore imperative the Crown Office or the Scottish Legal Aid Board take steps to identify those concerned and detail exactly what the allegations where against them. This information must be published in the public interest.”
A client who is pursuing a complaint with the Law Society of Scotland against a solicitor for legal aid irregularities said he was shocked by the extent of the admission from the Crown Office.
He said : “I find it shocking it must have taken so long for SLAB & the Crown Office to investigate these lawyers, one of them died, and one other was able to claim insanity as they were about to face the court. I am left wondering if the latter recovered from his insanity condition and returned to work as a lawyer after the court case was dropped.”
He continued : “If the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Police, Law Society of Scotland and Crown Office cant protect legal aid money from crooked lawyers, the Scottish Government should stop all legal aid payments to any lawyers and their law firms if there is even a whiff of stealing going on. All these lawyers who are stealing legal aid money are members of the Law Society of Scotland. They are to blame directly because they must have no standards at all.”
An official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations joined in calling for the names of the accused solicitors to be released to ensure consumers are protected.
She said : “As consumers of legal services in Scotland, clearly the public have a right to know exactly who these 14 lawyers are and what they were accused of by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in connection with their misuse of public funds. The fact they may or probably are still practising law necessitates the disclosure of this information.”
She continued : “I think it is very likely any solicitor or advocate who has been accused of legal aid fraud by the Scottish Legal Aid Board has probably gone on to commit fraud involving the funds of their other clients. Consumers must be told who they are so they can protect themselves by staying away from these unscrupulous members of the legal profession.”
Reporting on the Scottish legal profession as I have since January 2006, and for many years since the early 1990’s as a campaigner for legal reform of regulation of the legal profession, I can say without a shadow of a doubt the lack of prosecution of any solicitor for legal aid fraud is down to one issue, that of self regulation of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates, along with both these organisation’s power & influence over public life, the media and, as this investigation today demonstrates, the application of justice and the law itself.
As long as the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, and ‘front companies’ such as the much protesting as ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission control the regulation of the Scottish legal profession, clients, whether they are private, corporate, criminal, or civil, are not safe in the hands of the law.
I therefore support calls for an independent investigation into the Crown Office for its failure to prosecute any of the 14 solicitors alleged to have fraudulently taken public funds and also a similar investigation into how solicitors who fraudulently claim legal aid are investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, given what we all learned from the Niels S Lockhart case, where the Law Society of Scotland and elements of the legal profession such as the Legal Defence Union intervened in the case to block a prosecution.
I am prepared to take this matter to the Scottish Parliament and seek the support of readers & the public at large in this endeavour to prevent legal aid public funds falling into the wrong hands, and prevent those members of the legal profession accused of legal aid fraud committing the same kinds of frauds or worse against their private clients.
Five years .. not one prosecution
Jul 17 2011 Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail
LEGAL aid bosses have reported 14 lawyers to prosecutors for allegedly fiddling a fortune in taxpayers' cash - but not a single one has been put in the dock.
Eleven suspected fraud cases were marked no proceedings, one lawyer was declared insane, one died and the other is still being considered.
Crown officials did not identify any of the lawyers involved or reveal the scale of their alleged fraud. The revelations were made by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service director of operations Scott Pattison in response to a freedom of information request.
His first reply identified 13 cases reported to the Crown Office since 2005. He later revealed there had been a 14th case. He said: "The Scottish Legal Aid Board did not submit a crime report but were assisted by the police in carrying out further inquiries."
Mr Pattison added that this case was also marked no proceedings by the procurator fiscal.
Last year, Scottish lawyers were given £155million of taxpayers' money for legal aid work. Despite public spending cuts biting elsewhere, they have opposed justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's attempt to reduce legal aid costs.
Legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi said: "It seems that the Crown Office - which is run by lawyers - has one rule for the legal profession and another for the rest of us. "If you receive taxpayers' money, you should be open to full public scrutiny."
And MP Brian Donohoe added: "This is outrageous but hardly surprising given that it's lawyers regulating lawyers. "We need an independent system of regulation. Until that happens, people will have no confidence."
The Sunday Mail have led the way in exposing lawyers accused of legal aid rackets.
Four months ago we revealed that Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, 60, raked in more than £600,000 in two years. Legal aid watchdogs ruled that Lockhart made dodgy claims but did not call in police. He is still practising but no longer claiming legal aid.
We also exposed three lawyers who worked for Paisley firm Robertson & Ross. Ian Robertson was forced to hand back £221,847 in claims and banned from further claims. Colleagues Fraser Currie and Alastair Gibb were also banned.
And last year we told how a lawyer banned from claiming huge sums of legal aid was back in business.
Steven Anderson, 52, who worked in Springburn, Glasgow, pocketed £560,330 in one year. Slab blocked £500,000 of pending payments and banned all future claims by Anderson, but he was not struck off.
Slab said: "We provide all relevant and available information to the police and Crown Office. It is for the procurator fiscal to decide if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution."