Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years - and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

Lawyer accused of dodgy legal aid claims demanded more cash from taxpayer for ‘old accounts’. A SOLICITOR based in Kilmarnock who claimed over £670K in taxpayer funded legal aid in three years, demanded more public cash for ‘old accounts’ after he had been removed from the legal aid register as a result of an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) after being accused of making dodgy legal aid claims.

Documents released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board - Extra Payments to Niels Lockhart - in response to a Freedom of Information request - reveal solicitor Niels S Lockhart, of NS Lockhart Solicitors, Kilmarnock – who has been paid over £1.2million of legal aid since 2003 -  was paid a further £34,711 (excl VAT) of taxpayer funded legal aid by the Legal Aid Board – even though he was already barred from doing any further legal aid work.

The information provided by SLAB shows Lockhart submitted a further 228 accounts to the Legal Aid Board - demanding more public cash for work allegedly completed before being removed from the legal aid register on 30 November 2010.

Figures provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board giving a breakdown of the extra accounts submitted by Lockhart by value (ex VAT) reveal:

Nil Payment; 38, up to £50; 43, £50 to £100; 37, £100 to £250; 65, £250 to £500; 35, above £500; 10 - giving a total of 228

A breakdown of accounts by type of litigation revealed the type of legal aid Lockhart claimed for : Advice & Assistance Civil; 208, Advice & Assistance Criminal; 3, Civil legal aid; 5, Solemn criminal; 1, Summary Criminal; 11 - giving a total of 228

Whether any of the accounts were subject of further investigation or were included in the original investigations by SLAB of Lockhart’s ‘dodgy legal aid claims’ was not revealed by the Legal Aid Board.

However, it has also transpired Niels Lockhart tried to sue a national newspaper over their coverage of his legal aid claims.

The case was withdrawn from court earlier this year.

Historical payment accounts published by the Scottish Legal Aid Board also reveal Lockhart received a whopping £1.2million (£1,213,700) of public cash since the Legal Aid Board began publishing the names of firms and the size of payments from 2003 onwards.

From 2003 to 2013, Neils Lockhart claimed the following amounts of publicly funded legal aid: £280,200 in 2003-2004, £321,400 in 2004-2005, £95,400 in 2005-2006, £160,800 in 2006-2007, £133,300 in 2007-2008, £82,000 in 2008-2009, £65,800 in 2009-2010, £67,400 in 2010-2011, £7,200 in 2011-2012, £200 in 2012-2013

Niels Lockhart was previously the subject of investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, who released their Report to the Law Society of Scotland Section 31, Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986: Niels S Lockhart  in response to a Freedom of Information request.

A media investigation into Lockhart’s claims and the Legal Aid Board’s role was published earlier, here : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case

The Scottish Legal Aid Board previously accused Lockhart – who took around £670,000 of taxpayers money in two years – of deliberately ramping up his legal aid 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.

BACKGROUND : LOCKHART, LEGAL AID & LEGAL DEFENCE UNION

It took the Scottish Legal Aid Board years to catch up with dodgy claims filed by solicitor Niels Lockhart. SLAB eventually 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 – in June 2005.

The Scottish 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 Scottish Legal Aid Board report also revealed : “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.”

However, 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.

Diary of Injustice continued to report on allegations surrounding Mr Lockhart and the Law Society of Scotland’s efforts to avoid a prosecution. All previous reports can be viewed HERE.

If you suspect a solicitor is committing legal aid fraud, or if you feel your own solicitor is making fraudulent legal aid claims, email Diary of Injustice at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

and they just handed it over of course otherwise the Law Society will be on their back forever

Did you hear Law Society of Scotland are campaigning for solicitors to be given an open legal aid certificate so they can basically help themselves to civil legal aid.

Anonymous said...

Is this all Scotland is about?
Feeding all our public money to greedy lawyers who are obviously at it?
How high will taxes have to rise to cover the cost of all these thieving bastards if we go independent?
Scottish VAT to be made 99% to cover all these creeps?

Anonymous said...

Niels Lockhart sued a paper for reporting he got all that legal aid??

It is public money and we all have the right to know and anyway why are legal aid not doing anything about this if they reckon he made dodgy claims they should claw back the money and why no outrage from our politicians or is it okay for lawyers to run off with the cash just as long as they are not caught in triplicate?!

Anonymous said...

That headline says it all lol!

Anonymous said...

He also sued a student over a loan.His explanation is..

TAKEN FOR A BRIDE; LAWYER SUES STUDENT OVER COLLEGE LOAN

By DEREK ALEXANDER
Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland) Jun 21, 2009

A LAWYER is suing a student bride after he gave her pounds 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 pounds 5785 and pounds 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 fianc 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...

Another one of these fabled Scots legal careers in reality built on public money.
An LLB from a Scots university is effectively a free pass to cheat the public purse.Beware of their holders and owners.

Anonymous said...

"£1,213,700 of public cash since the Legal Aid Board began publishing the names of firms and the size of payments from 2003 onwards"

So he probably received a lot more if the pre 2003 figures ever came out.

SLAB must be a right bunch of corrupt bastards to allow this to go on as long and nothing done about it.Why no Police involvement or are they also too cowardly or too corrupt to do anything against lawyers milking the system.

Horrible just Horrible.

Anonymous said...

The LSoS ran courses via a consultancy instructing members how to avoid detection of [what you may call] fraudulent legal aid applications.
I was present at several of the classes.Lockhart used as an example.Instructions on how to fill in online application forms and questions fired at attendees and so on.

Anonymous said...

The opening paras of the S31 report are enough to cause concern.

Why has no effort been made to secure significant repayment?.

Allow me to copy the material here:

A very important comparison between NS Lockhart and local firms doing same type of business;

2.1 Trends Analysis showed 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.

A sole practitioner making such levels of A/A claims in 'that' area. Suspicious to say the least;

2.2 It should be emphasised that Niels S. Lockhart is the principal and only solicitor in this firm. There are no employed solicitors, and he is the nominated solicitor for all
grants.

For "repeat clients" read the f word, ends in d;

2.3 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.

See above;

2.4 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.

Yes, indeed it does;

2.5 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.

Your thoughts?

Diary of Injustice said...

@ 10 June 2015 at 18:00

Open or unlimited legal aid certificates will only encourage more fraud than currently occurs.

@ 11 June 2015 at 09:42

Would like to hear more about this ... contact us with more info.

@ 11 June 2015 at 11:49

Speaking to sources SLAB did make an effort to take Mr Lockhart to task as is evident in the report, however organisation is obviously hamstrung by vested legal interests, and with the combination of the Law Society of Scotland & Legal Defence Union campaigning against any action, no motion for repayment was made at the time, at least none that was revealed by SLAB.

Given the seriousness of the report there should be a full repayment made to the public purse.

Anonymous said...

This is yet another classic case which demonstrates that Scottish crooked lawyers are protected and are allowed to commit crime in the knowledge that they will get away with it.

Anonymous said...

I agree.He should be made to pay back the lot.
Same goes for all the other lawyers at it.

Anonymous said...

So the Law Society are now running classes on how to rip off legal aid are they?Rotten to the core!

Anonymous said...

You are having an effect.
A line from a briefing paper on your blog reads as follows
“reports by Peter Cherbi and Russell Findlay contributed to a marked reduction in fraudulent LA applications”

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert but that report must have enough in it for the cops to investigate?

Anonymous said...

Lockhart suing a paper is a headline on it's own.Suing because they exposed his legal aid take?Surely we all have a right to know!How long did it go on before he dropped the case and what judge was involved?

Anonymous said...

This would beggar belief......if the Law Society of Scotland's determination to protect their own - while also allegedly representing the Public's best interests - was not crystal clear; thanks to DOI's reporting.

One wonders how many more similar cases have and continue to be swept under the carpet by the Law Society and its notorious insurance provider Marsh? A question perhaps for that company's Chairman - and former Secretary of State for Scotland - Lord Lang.

Anonymous said...

"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."

How can this Minute of Agreement be lawful as an out of court settlement it appears to be cutting a deal with the crooked Scottish lawyer, where it is heavily biased in his favour?

This is a plea bargain in everything but name and plea bargaining is a criminal offence in Scotland?

This has the stench of the Law Society of Scotland's corrupt hand all over it and it is significant that the Law Society of Scotland are in coohoots with the Scottish Legal Defence Union in order to help to get known corrupt Scottish lawyers a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back, despite their career's of crime?

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see the wording of this out of court settlement, if only to learn how much of this free-money ended up back into the Law Society of Scotland's Bank Account?

A nice little earner of a scam, where the Law Society of Scotland make cash out of the deal and they make sure their member is protected and saved from going to jail?

After all of the heat dies down, don't be surprised to see this same Scottish lawyer continuing on as before, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened?

Regulation of Scottish lawyers?

Surely an oxymoron?