Scotland’s Crown Office appears to operate a policy of not prosecuting ‘crooked lawyers’. WHILE CLAIMANTS OF LEGAL AID in Scotland who lie on their Legal Aid applications may expect to be prosecuted by the Crown Office, given that defrauding the Scottish Legal Aid Board is a criminal offence, the Crown Office’s application of the law in this regard seems to be somewhat uneven, as the SUNDAY MAIL newspaper revealed this weekend in the case of solicitors IAIN ROBERTSON & ALASTAIR GIBB, who, despite being accused of submitting £223,000 worth of false claims for taxpayers' cash from the Scottish Legal Aid Board over an 18-month period, are not to be prosecuted.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board reported both solicitors to the Crown Office for prosecution. The latest failure of the Crown Office to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ comes after a string of cases reported in the media where solicitors have swindled Legal Aid, or acted against clients in a way where ordinary members of the public may well have been expected to be charged and prosecuted to the full letter of the Law. In the case of Iain Robertson & Alistair Gibb, the Scottish Legal Aid Board reported both solicitors to the Crown Office for prosecution, yet as revealed in the media, there will be no criminal prosecution against either solicitor – yet a member of the public who may have falsely claimed much smaller amounts of legal aid can certainly expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board issued a Press Release today (pdf), announcing that it had removed from the list of solicitors registered to provide criminal legal assistance:·
The solicitor, Steven A Anderson of Andersons Solicitors, 2 Hillkirk Street Lane, Springburn Glasgow, G21 1TE and the firm of Andersons Solicitors.
The solicitor, Iain Robertson, director of Roberston and Ross Limited, 7 Causeyside Street, Paisley, PA1 1UW and the solicitor, Alistair Gibb, a former associate of the firm, Robertson and Ross Limited.
This means that these solicitors cannot now provide criminal legal aid or criminal advice and assistance. The removal follows investigations by the Board in relation to non‐compliance with the Board’s Code of Practice for Criminal Legal Assistance.
For Andersons Solicitors this non‐compliance included: holding unnecessary meetings with clients, and making inappropriate, multiple and repetitive grants of advice and assistance. For Iain Robertson and Alistair Gibb, the non‐compliance included overcharging the Board for travel to various prisons. As a result of non‐compliance with the Board’s Code of Practice, the firm Robertson and Ross Limited has re‐paid to the Legal Aid Fund, the sum of £221,847.
The Board has a substantial programme of monitoring and investigating legal aid expenditure involving both legal aid applicants and the legal profession. Under its powers, it can stop solicitors doing criminal legal aid work. Only the Law Society of Scotland has responsibility for stopping solicitors from doing civil legal aid work.
Where the Board has concerns about lawyers it can make formal complaints to the appropriate regulatory body (for example, the Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates) and may also forward cases for consideration to the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service. In 2009‐2010, the Board’s compliance and investigations work resulted in savings and recoveries of nearly £2 million, and a number of cases involving solicitors, applicants and legally‐aided assisted persons were reported to the Crown Office.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board were asked for comment on the failure of the Crown Office to prosecute. A spokesperson replied saying : “The Board cannot comment on decisions made by the Crown.”
Solicitor Catriona MacFarlane covered up her mortgage broker husband’s theft of £24K from a client. In a recent scandal involving solicitor Catriona MacFarlane, who covered up her mortgage broker husband’s theft of £24K from a client, later repaid after difficult & prolonged negotiations saw the Crown Office even refuse to acknowledge reports of the MacFarlanes to its highest ranking officials. During my own investigation of the MacFarlane case, it transpired the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal FAILED to inform both Strathclyde Police and the Crown Office that criminal activity had been detected during their investigation of the complaints made against Catriona MacFarlane. You can read my earlier report revealing the failures to inform the authorities, here : Law Society ‘routinely fails to report crime' as Crown Office admits it never received report on Glasgow lawyer theft cover-up investigation
Crown Office bizarrely admitted a solicitor had committed ‘a crime’ yet refused to prosecute. In one particular instance, where a solicitor had been reported by a number of individuals to authorities, the Crown Office contacted one of the victims, bizarrely admitting a crime had been committed, yet refused to prosecute the solicitor concerned. The Crown Office letter read : “A decision has been taken by the Crown Office to take no further proceedings in this case : this decision was not taken lightly as we realise the seriousness of this crime. I hope the decision has not caused you any distress, as this was not our intention.”
Crown Office admit they don't gather statistics on how many crooked lawyers are prosecuted. In response to Freedom of Information queries to the Crown Office on the disclosure of statistics engathered relating to charges or prosecutions against members of the legal profession in Scotland, which includes paralegals, solicitors, and anyone working in a solicitor's office, it was disclosed that "The COPFS database has no information routinely recorded indentifying the present (or previous) occupation of accused persons reported for prosecution. We do not extract any information regarding cases in which the accused person is (or was) a solicitor, so do not hold any statistical information which would answer your question." The terms of the response leave little doubt an attitude exists where prosecuting the legal profession itself is not to be encouraged, or recorded …
Clearly the Crown Office is unwilling to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ and the evidence is mounting this is a policy, rather than decisions taken on a case by case basis …. after all, if 20 solicitors are reported to the Crown Office, and 20 decisions are taken not to prosecute … then something is very wrong with those who are charged to uphold the law and these constant decisions not to prosecute solicitors becomes more of a policy not to prosecute solicitors in the eyes of the public …
The Sunday Mail reports :
Jul 18 2010 Exclusive by Derek Alexander, Sunday Mail
A LAWYER has escaped the dock - after handing back more than £200,000 of bogus legal aid claims.
A criminal probe into Iain Robertson has been dropped after he returned £221,847 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Amazingly, Robertson is even allowed to continue claiming legal aid for civil cases while waiting to discover if he will be struck off.
The scandal centred on the 57-year-old shamed solicitor and his firm Robertson & Ross in Paisley. Another lawyer - Aberdeen-based Alastair Gibb - was also investigated.
Scots Lib Dem justice spokesman Robert Brown demanded to know why Robertson is not being taken to court. He said: "It seems that the Crown Office have some questions to answer as to why they didn't prosecute what appears to be a straightforward fraud involving a significant amount of money."
Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker added: "This is a very serious issue and we should have clarity on why the Crown Office decided not to proceed. "The sum of cash is huge and I'll be interested to know why the lawyers involved haven't faced criminal charges."
Robertson was accused of submitting £223,000 worth of false claims for taxpayers' cash from SLAB over an 18-month period. The claims were based on Gibb travelling thousands of miles from Paisley to see clients in Aberdeen and Peterhead prisons. In reality, Gibb was living in Kingswells, near Aberdeen.
Earlier this month, Robertson agreed to pay have back £221,847 to SLAB and was banned from claiming criminal legal aid cash in the future. But he's still allowed to claim legal aid for any civil cases he undertakes. Gibb, 60, did not renew his certificate to practise as a solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland after SLAB called in police two years ago.
Fraud squad detectives submitted a detailed report about the case to Crown prosecutors in April, 2008. But officials marked the case "no proceedings" and stubbornly refuse to explain their decision.
Last year Robertson & Ross received £367,600 in legal aid compared to £832,000 between 2007 and 2008. Legal aid exists to pay fees for those who can't afford to hire a solicitor.
Gibb claimed he was sacked by Robertson & Ross but was awarded a cash settlement by the firm before an unfair dismissal tribunal. He said: "What went on between SLAB and Robertson & Ross is totally outwith my knowledge, other than that I assisted SLAB once. I'm now 60 and don't have a hope in hell of getting a job now. I've been wiped out."
In December, 2008, Robertson was censured by the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal for ripping off a client for £21,308. He took cash payments from the woman while claiming legal aid for the work. He was fined £5000 and found guilty of professional misconduct.
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 responsibility. "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."