Tribunal & regulators fail to protect public from crooked lawyers. A PARADE of recent cases before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), involving solicitors who previously appeared before the tribunal on numerous similar complaints, only to be put back into profession with a light fine or slap on the wrist, confirm the current system of self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession is failing to protect the public, consumers of legal services and established clients of law firms.
Last month, the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal met to consider seven complaints lodged by the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against solicitor Alistair George Kay, who previously appeared before the SSDT in 2007 on a number of complaints and was found guilty of Professional Misconduct, fined £1000 and censured.
In the latest hearing, the Tribunal considered an “extensive catalogue of behaviour” including “two cases of a complete failure to respond to Law Society correspondence and statutory notices, a failure to respond to correspondence to Master Policy insurers, a failure to respond to correspondence from another firm of solicitors, a failure to pay the Respondent’s insurance excess, a failure to keep proper accounting records for a period of some three years, false declarations in five accounts certificates, and a failure by the Respondent to complete the appropriate paper work to allow a new executor to be appointed which led to the necessity of a court action being raised to allow the executry to be properly dealt with.”
The tribunals findings state the respondent (Alistair Kay) “had clearly been involved in dishonesty. The false declarations made in five accounts certificates were deliberate and considered acts of dishonesty carried out over a period of two years.”
A now familiar and recurring tale of how solicitors treat their clients, how law firms fraudulently manage clients finances and law firms accounts, emerges in further excerpts of the SSDT’s report which stated “The Respondent’s conduct was an ongoing course of conduct that covered a period in excess of four years.The Respondent’s conduct clearly presented a danger to the public, a clear example of that being the effect of his conduct on the executry of Ms A.The Respondent’s conduct was extremely likely to seriously damage the reputation of the legal profession. His complete failure to co-operate with his professional body could be seriously detrimental to the public trust in solicitors.
The way the Respondent had failed to respond to these matters as they each arose demonstrated both a lack of remorse and insight into the consequences of his conduct. The Respondent’s conduct clearly demonstrated that he was not a fit person to be a solicitor. His misconduct was directed towards his own professional body, his colleagues, the Master Policy insurers, and most seriously his own clients.
The Tribunal considered that there were two particular aggravating factors to the Respondent’s case which caused it a great deal of concern. The first was the Respondent’s willingness to resort to dishonesty to try to cover his misconduct, by making false declarations in five separate accounts certificates. The second was the apparent complete lack of care or concern on the part of the Respondent for his own clients as particularly demonstrated in his behaviour in relation to the executry of Ms A, resulting in particularly difficult consequences for that executry. The Respondent has also failed to take any part in the Tribunal proceedings.
As a result of the complaints, Kay was struck off the roll of solicitors, reflected in the decision which stated :
The Tribunal having considered the amended Complaints at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alistair George Kay, Solicitor, 73 Bruntland Court, Portlethen, Aberdeen; Direct that Orders be issued under Section 53C(2) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980;
Find the Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect of his repeated failure to respond timeously, openly and accurately to reasonable enquiries made of him, and statutory notices served upon him by the Law Society; his breach of Rule 6 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Professional Indemnity Insurance Rules 2005;
his failure to respond timeously, openly and accurately to reasonable enquiries made of him by the Master policy insurers;
his breach of Rules 4, 8, 9 & 10 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts Etc Rules 2001;
his false declarations made in five separate accounts certificates;
his failure to sign and return the application for confirmation and other papers sent to him by Messrs Andersonbain & Company and his failure to respond timeously to reasonable enquiries made of him by Messrs Andersonbain & Company; Order that the name of the Respondent be struck off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland
Commenting on the tribunal's findings, a legal insider said the SSDT and the Law Society could and should have stopped Kay much earlier.
A similar tale of missed opportunities and bungled regulation emerges from the discipline tribunal’s findings in the case of Steven Angus Anderson, formerly of Messrs Andersons, Solicitors & Notaries, 2 Hillkirk Street Lane, Springburn, Glasgow. Anderson, who appeared at the SSDT in September of this year in relation to a complaint filed in 2011 by the Law Society, was also struck off after a catalogue of failures emerged in the SSDT’s blistering 87 page report, available here :
After consideration of the evidence, the tribunal’s decision found Anderson guilty of multiple failures including breaches of legal aid regulation.
The decision stated : The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Steven Angus Anderson, Solicitor, formerly of Messrs Andersons, Solicitors & Notaries, 2 Hillkirk Street Lane, Springburn, Glasgow ;
Find the Respondent Guilty of professional misconduct in respect of his failure to respond to correspondence from another solicitor, his failure to implement a mandate, his failure to respond to correspondence from and statutory notices served upon him by the Complainers; his obtaining or attempting to obtain payment from the Scottish Legal Aid Board by persistent breaches of the Legal Aid Regulations, Code of Conduct and Relative Guidance and Otherwise and in particular:
(i) by making multiple and / or repetitive grants of legal advice and assistance;
(ii) by charging or attempting to charge the Scottish Legal Aid Board other than for work actually and necessarily done;
(iii) by holding unnecessary meetings with clients which inflated fees;
(iv) by acting or accepting instructions to act unprofessionally, giving inappropriate advice and doing work under the Legal Advice and Assistance Scheme where the value of the subject matter rendered it inappropriate to do so having regard to the terms of Regulation 17(1) of the Legal Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 1996, or where the client claimed to have means that placed him beyond the scope of the Advice and Assistance Scheme;
(v) by granting legal advice and assistance to persons already in receipt of Legal Aid for the relevant subject matter contrary to the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1996 Section 7(2); and
(vi) by submitting accounts twice in respect of single pieces of work; Order that the name of the Respondent be struck off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland;
Anderson, a Glasgow based solicitor had previously appeared before the tribunal on two separate occasions, once in 1999 where complaints were thrown out, and again in 2008 where the tribunal found Anderson guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect of his failure to respond to correspondence and statutory notices from the Law Society, but let him continue working as a solicitor.
Clearly, much of the detail contained in the tribunal’s reports in relation to the above solicitors, will be all too familiar to clients and regular readers who have been forced to file complaints regarding similar poor conduct by their solicitors.
Time and again, particularly throughout the last twenty years, the same serious issues of lawyers deceiving their clients, taking the legal aid board for a ride, solicitors fiddling their own accounts, embezzlement, negligence, dishonesty, fraud, etc … crop up in case after case of complaints made by clients against their solicitors.
As things currently stand, this trend will continue as there are increasing numbers of solicitors and others in the legal profession who appear to have little incentive to be honest, and certainly do not fear the current, discredited system of self regulation where the old boys club of the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal do their best to protect their colleagues in arms.
Add to that, a courts system headed by vested interests with an unhealthy opposition to transparency, those same vested interests who are too busy flying around the globe at taxpayers expense, increasing their undeclared earnings, connections & personal wealth by using connections with big name law firms who use the regulatory system to dodge complaints and ruin clients, you have the perfect recipe for the situation the Scottish legal profession now finds itself in – akin to groups of sharks on the hunt for a quick buck, some valuable trinkets left on a client’s mantelpiece, and a few nice properties once owned by deceased clients … and not one single criminal charge or investigation to worry about.