Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fake Legal Aid scam reveals solicitor claims client is being investigated for fraud, faces arrest, demands 'cash bung' for 'no action settlement'

SLAB_logoNot content with £160million, fake legal aid investigation scam by rogue lawyers now demands cash from frightened clients. THESE less than profitable times of law firms during the recession are leading to increased levels of fraud by solicitors against their clients in everything from imaginary fee demands to imaginary court cases, as the latest take on LEGAL AID FRAUD reveals some Scottish solicitors are so desperate for money to fund their lifestyles, they are targeting their legal aid clients by claiming they are being investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) for fraud and may face arrest & a jail term, but that a cash payment made privately to the solicitor will settle any case against the clients.

In several cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice where it appears cases are funded by legal aid, including at least one criminal case, the solicitors told their frightened clients their legal aid claims were being investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board for irregularities in their declarations of assets & finances and that they may go to prison if caught. Clients were then told a cash payment covering up to in some cases, half of their legal aid claims to-date, would prevent any criminal charges being made by SLAB.

Clients are apparently told SLAB would “rather settle the case than take it to court”, but that any settlement “will be taken as an admission of guilt” and the solicitor will have to withdraw from acting on the client’s behalf.

One client allegedly on legal aid was told if she repaid £10,000 in cash to her solicitor, “the money would be forwarded to the Scottish Legal Aid Board who indicated they will agree to a no action settlement”. The client did not have the amount demanded by her solicitor who then reduced his demand to £2,000, again insisting on cash payments, which are currently being paid in instalments from the client’s state benefits although those payments will now cease as of publication of this article today.

An investigation into the cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice has revealed there were never any investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in these cases as it transpires most of the cases (except the criminal case) were never funded by legal aid in the first place and therefore could not be investigated by SLAB for legal aid fraud.

Earlier this year in February, the Scottish Legal Aid Board announced increasing numbers of law firms were registering to provide legal aid (pdf), where an increase of 5% in the number of firms registered for civil legal aid (620 to 654), an increase of 3% in the number of solicitors registered for criminal legal aid (1353 to 1392) and an increase of 2% in the number of firms registered for criminal legal aid (562 to 573) took place, noticeably due to the financial downturn. In civil legal aid, the number of applications increased by almost 40% over the past 3 years (22,028 in 2009-2010 and 15,861 in 2007-2008). The current year has seen no diminution of the higher levels of applications.

lindsaymontgomeryLindsay Montgomery CBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board commented at the rise of law firms running back to claim legal aid : “This appears to be a continuing effect of the recession with legal firms seeking new or additional income streams, whilst the increase in civil legal aid applications is likely to be a mixture of increased need for legal help as a result of the recession and solicitors willing to take on cases which they may not have previously. This may tie in with recent data** released by the Law Society which suggests that smaller firms in some sectors were finding business more difficult.”

However, as the recession continues, a pattern of rising levels of client fraud by solicitors & law firms across Scotland who are desperate to bring in cash in tough financial times seems to indicate in this latest ploy against clients, the solicitors had set out from the very start to scam their unwitting clients into unrecorded repayments of huge cash sums for non existent civil claims cases which the solicitors claimed had been progressing to or already in a court, and were funded by legal aid.

One client of an Edinburgh law firm who was told she stood accused of committing legal aid fraud said she was too scared to contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board to verify if the claims of an investigation into her finances & life were true. She also told Diary of Injustice her solicitor had shown her “photocopied letters” allegedly from the Scottish Legal Aid Board claiming SLAB were investigating her legal aid application and claims made by her solicitor.

The client’s solicitor refused to give her copies of the alleged letters from SLAB alleging legal aid fraud, and insisted she deal only through him and not contact the legal aid board directly, claiming she may be arrested if she did. The solicitor told his client if she made a repayment of three thousand pounds in cash to the solicitor, the SLAB investigation and any resulting case against her would be dropped.

However, it has been established through sources at the Scottish Court Service, the client’s case, a civil damages claim against her local authority which has allegedly been in the courts for two years, does not exist. The client has now refused to pay any money to her solicitor.

One campaigner pointed out the fact clients caught in this latest scam have been told that after they make a cash payment to settle the supposed investigation & accusations of legal aid fraud, that their solicitor will have to withdraw from their case, makes it very convenient for the solicitor who is likely to face no complaint from gullible clients who feel they are lucky to have escaped arrest for a crime which did not occur. Additionally as the payments are requested in cash, there is no record.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today commented on the situation.

She said : “Consumers who are in receipt of legal aid should receive some form of contact from the Scottish Legal Aid Board to their home address registered on their initial application. If not they should check with their solicitor and the Scottish Legal Aid Board to ensure they are not being led up the garden path.”

She continued : “Anyone who feels their legal aid case is dragging on unnecessarily should contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board to find out what funding the board has provided to their case.”

A former employee of an Edinburgh law firm who first blew the whistle on this new type of solicitor-client fraud claimed one solicitor from a firm which recently registered to provide legal aid is accused in a complaint of conning four thousand pounds from a client he told was being investigated by SLAB for a fraudulent legal aid claim, when in reality, no investigation existed. The client foolishly handed over the cash to the solicitor, finding it by selling his car. According to the insider, the cash was not entered into the law firm’s accounts.

Victims of this very creative fraud are in an uncertain position, because as no legal aid fraud technically took place since the cases were never funded by legal aid in the first place, the Scottish Legal Aid Board can do nothing about it.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYSLCC & Law Society are not eager to consider legal aid fraud complaints The only recourse for clients conned out of tens of thousands of pounds by solicitors who falsely claim their clients are being investigated for legal aid fraud would be for those affected clients to file a complaint with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) or the Law Society of Scotland, who are well known for dismissing complaints against the legal profession no matter how serious the offences committed or extent of funds lost.

Let’s be honest, neither the SLCC or the Law Society of Scotland are going to want to admit this is occurring within the legal profession, or take any action against it. However, as it appears there are solicitors out there demanding, and receiving large cash payments from their clients which are going undeclared, perhaps HMRC may wish to take a closer look at the Scottish legal profession and how it does business.

If readers feel their legal aid funded cases are suffering from unnecessary delays, I recommend you contact Citizens Advice Scotland, Consumer Focus Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board , and of course, please let us here at Diary of Injustice know what has been happening to your case. You can also let other consumers know about these kinds of solicitor scams, via the excellent Consumer Action Group.

Personally, I recommend large headlines in newspapers and in the online media regarding named solicitors & law firms who are conning their clients as the only way of getting any action these days on complaints against the unsavoury elements of Scotland's increasingly dishonest legal profession.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Personally, I recommend large headlines in newspapers and in the online media regarding named solicitors & law firms who are conning their clients as the only way of getting any action these days on complaints against the unsavoury elements of Scotland's increasingly dishonest legal profession.

YES YES YES !

Anonymous said...

A very clever fraud.String the client along for ages then say they face jail because they are being investigated and cash will smooth it over.Only a lawyer or possibly a cop might think of it.
I'm glad you are able to pick up on these things and tell us all about it.

Anonymous said...

So what really happened was a lot more fraudsters signed up at SLAB to fill their pockets with legal aid because their profits or rip off schemes were not bringing home the bucks!

Anonymous said...

Hmm

The clients were never on legal aid to begin with as you point out so people should check their case and papers a bit more than just trusting it to the scumbag solicitor to arrange.

Even if SLAB cant do anything about it I'm fairly certain this is fraud and all those cash payments to these bastards should be checked out.

Since you've written about it I'm assuming the clients have nothing to hide so here's hoping they come forward and expose these wretched crooks for all they are worth and also I hope you gave Mr Taxman a few ideas to raid a few of those law firms in Edinburgh rather than take the Law Society's word their accounts are ship shape!

Anonymous said...

The rise of the brown envelope once again!

There's a clear solution to all of this : Take away any solicitor or law firm's legal aid claims if they are defrauding their clients (legal aid or otherwise)

If they are crooks to their own clients they cannot and SHOULD NOT be trusted to claim or do legal aid work!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure SLAB can get away with doing nothing in cases like the ones you refer to.

How about misuse of Legal Aid claim forms for a start?

At any rate now you have published this fraud I'm sure people will become wise to it.

At the rate you are going you might end up cleaning up legal aid fraud all on your own!

Anonymous said...

Fraud, blackmail and theft - welcome to Scotland's Justice System.

Anonymous said...

These solicitors are unfit to do legal aid

Anonymous said...

I dont suppose it would do any good reporting this to the Police would it?

Anonymous said...

Clients are apparently told SLAB would “rather settle the case than take it to court”, but that any settlement “will be taken as an admission of guilt” and the solicitor will have to withdraw from acting on the client’s behalf.

Oh yes,very convenient and after the solicitor withdraws from acting no chance of making a complaint and the legal aid people will simply put up their hands and say nothing to do with us.

Good thing you cracked this one Peter!

Anonymous said...

So what do SLAB say about this?I cant believe they are so stupid they dont know about it!What is to be done for these poor people who are getting taken for mugs by these solicitors and robbed at the end of it?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Fraud, blackmail and theft - welcome to Scotland's Justice System.

30 August 2011 16:12

Yes,what a nasty crooked littlelegal system Mr MacAskill holds in such high esteem!

Anonymous said...

Even better just ban legal aid altogether.After all its just giving money to lawyers to trawl the prison system looking for captive clients hellbent on suing the taxpayer over alleged "human rights" abuses!

Anonymous said...

You might have done SLAB a favour coming out with this now the Glasgow legal mob are chapping at their doors again over who controls legal aid

Anonymous said...

Isnt it just a bit creepy all those law firms running back to legal aid just because there's a recession going on?
And why did the legal aid board allow them in because many of them probably told legal aid clients to get lost and now they are crawling back to taxpayers just because there's a recession.

Disgusting.It shouldn't be allowed.

Anonymous said...

THIS IS FRAUD ARREST THE LOT OF THEM NOW

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

I wondered if I could ask - this stringing along of the clients,is it limited to cases which clients are assuming are legal aid funded or do privately funded cases suffer same?

Anonymous said...

Rotten to the core no solicitor can ever be trusted in Scotland as long as there are plenty in the profession who go on like this.If they ever want to be trusted again all these crooks will have to be turned in to the law and named & shamed so we all know which ones to avoid!

Anonymous said...

I heard on the grapevine a client who made a complaint about this was assaulted by her lawyer and the Police were called.Is this the same person who features in your reporting?

Anonymous said...

If the Legal Aid board do nothing about this they are not fit to control legal aid

Anonymous said...

The cash payments are a sign to me these lawyers are avoiding the Inland Revenue probably stashing it somewhere so get them raided pronto and up in court like everyone else

Lawyers avoiding tax are just as bad as the big corporations having their office on some small island offshore so no special rules just because these thieving leeches are lawyers!

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason to avoid using a lawyer - no matter what the case or how you are funded you are going to be ripped off one way or another.

Best to avoid it all by staying away from any lawyer's office.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter
this is a very good posting and I hope it saves some clients a lot of wasted effort now we know solicitors are giving people the run around then effectively blackmailing them and kicking their case out the door

keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Peter, have you gone to the Police with this info rather than blog about it. I hope so. Because if you haven't and said firm/solicitors who read this are probably shredding the hell out of all of the evidence and you've shot yourself in the foot.

Plus for the people who say that SLAB should be involved, you're wrong. It has nothing to do with them and they can't do anything about it by law. They don't have the powers. It's the police's business even though people are 'lying' about legal aid cover.

Anonymous said...

One client allegedly on legal aid was told if she repaid £10,000 in cash to her solicitor, “the money would be forwarded to the Scottish Legal Aid Board who indicated they will agree to a no action settlement”. The client did not have the amount demanded by her solicitor who then reduced his demand to £2,000, again insisting on cash payments, which are currently being paid in instalments from the client’s state benefits although those payments will now cease as of publication of this article today.

What scum.Who would defend such scum as this preying on people on benefits and lying to them all along.
Scum.The SLCC will probably give this guy a medal if the poor woman tries to complain.Legal profession full of scum.

Anonymous said...

TRUST NO LAWYER THEY ALWAYS HAVE IT IN MIND TO ROB YOU

Anonymous said...

Its a good thing you are here to tell us about all this Peter I think you are the only reliable (cannot be bought) source of inside info from the legal world for consumers point of view.

I hope anyone caught in these new scams get some justice against these fraudsters.

Peter Cherbi said...

Thanks for your comments & contacts on this article.

# Anonymous @ 31 August 2011 18:09

The Police will do nothing, and neither will the Crown Office who are apparently operating a policy of not prosecuting solicitors in connection with legal aid related offences.

# Anonymous @ 30 August 2011 21:05

Who would be corrupt enough to put solicitors in charge of the legal aid budget given what we now know about legal aid fraud in Scotland.

Like Paul McBride said, "Its like putting Homer Simpson in charge of the doughnut factory", or words to that effect ...

# Anonymous @ 31 August 2011 19:59

Thanks ... the public deserve to hear the truth, not spin from the legal profession authored by someone who has had his arms twisted to write up their desired version ...

# Anonymous @ 31 August 2011 18:13

A lawyer ? certainly the Legal Defence Union if called upon to do so ...

# Anonymous @ 31 August 2011 13:32

I understand there is a lot of cash payments & tax fraud going on within the Scottish legal profession ... so much so there are certain solicitors walking out the country with cash stuffed suitcases or have others take it out for them ...

# Anonymous @ 31 August 2011 09:58

Not the same one, however I'd like to hear the details of that particular case .. email me via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

# Anonymous @ 30 August 2011 22:45

This also affects privately funded cases by clients, I am writing an additional report about it as the details I have been provided relate to much larger sums ...

Regarding those who say SLAB should become involved in the cases featured, I agree.

SLAB have a duty to ensure there is no legal aid fraud. Given all of the law firms connected with these cases are also registered to provide legal aid, they should be removed from the legal aid register immediately and investigated or audited.

Also, if a solicitor or law firm has taken client funds and they are also registered to provide legal aid, they should similarly be removed from the legal aid register as evidence strongly shows if they are stealing from clients, the chances are and the evidence seems to suggest they are also stealing from taxpayers via legal aid claims ...

Mons Meg said...

I agree with you Peter,SLAB should feel their collars and take away their legal aid work.Its a given a lot of these firms crawling back to legal aid are just doing it because of the recession as you say (even SLAB's Montgomery admits this) so there are bound to be a few crooks among these firms who have probably refused work in the past telling people they didnt do legal aid work then fleeced them for money and dropped their case later on.

Good work in uncovering it all.

Anonymous said...

"This also affects privately funded cases by clients, I am writing an additional report about it as the details I have been provided relate to much larger sums ..."


Thought as much.Look forward to reading your next.

Anonymous said...

With all the trouble you are causing it'd probably pay the profession to pay you not to write this kind of stuff

Anonymous said...

Somehow I discovered the same was happening to me because my lawyer kept telling me I was being refused legal aid for advice/assistance and always had to pay him.He dumped me 2 weeks before the case was going to court and never gave me any papers and when I complained to the Law Society it took 2 years for them to tell me they couldnt deal with the complaint because my ex solicitor had "lost" all my files.Destroyed more like.Legal aid never replied to my letters

Anonymous said...

I wonder what happened to all those clients of Lockhart and Robertson & Ross who were on legal aid after SLAB accused them of legal aid fraud.Any of them successful do you think or just the typical dropped on the scrapheap after legal aid disappeared?

Anonymous said...

Disgusting!
I too hope the Inland Revenue picks up on this and starts raiding a few law firms because I've heard before about lawyers demanding their clients pay them cash even sometimes up front before they do anything.I bet none of it is declared!