Friday, September 30, 2011

Justice Secretary’s discredited defence for Crown Office in 14 legal aid fraud scandals as links between accused lawyers & Scots crime agencies emerge

Kenny MacAskill many facesA lack of admissible evidence, fourteen times? Justice Secretary MacAskill defends refusal to prosecute legal aid fraudsters. WHEN SCOTLAND’S JUSTICE SECRETARY has to rely on the ‘grubby’ defence of “a lack of admissible evidence” to support the actions of his own prosecutors who refused to prosecute AN ENTIRE CLASS OF CRIME spanning SIX YEARS involving legal colleagues accused of systematic fraud running into millions of pounds of public funds, you just know there’s something rotten in the justice system.

And so, amid revelations earlier this week where a solicitor suspected of legal aid fraud by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) who was reported to the Crown Office turned out to be married to a Procurator Fiscal, and was let off the hook with a decision not to prosecute due to “a lack of admissible evidence”, KENNY MACASKILL, Scotland’s Justice Secretary has now told a Holyrood msp he backs the Crown Office refusal to prosecute any of FOURTEEN LAWYERS who swindled MILLIONS OF POUNDS in taxpayer funded legal aid because there wasn't enough evidence in each of the cases, and that just as the Crown Office had said, it was not in the public interest lawyers be hauled before the courts on criminal charges.

The fourteen cases of solicitors suspected of legal aid fraud were reported to the £100-Million-a-year-to-run Crown Office by SLAB since 2005 under the term of former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC yet not one single lawyer was prosecuted. An investigation by Diary of Injustice backed up by Freedom of Information enquiries revealed the full details of the scandal which can be read here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

Mr MacAskill, responding to the Scottish Conservative’s Justice Spokesman John Lamont MSP over queries regarding the lack of any prosecutions of legal aid swindlers from the legal profession itself, is so confident SLAB & the Crown Office can handle legal aid crooks who are stealing millions of pounds a year from taxpayers, he dismissed the msp’s concerns, telling Mr Lamont that constituents can fill out an online complaint form located the Crown Office website if they wished to complain about the way the Crown Office refuse to prosecute lawyers.

Replying to msp John Lamont’s enquiries about the legal aid scandals, Mr MacAskill wrote : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board (“The Board”) takes its responsibility to detect fraud and abuse of legal aid very seriously and carries out a wide variety of work to prevent it in the first instance. The Board’s Solicitor and investigations Unit interrogates internal systems and through analysis of applications received and accounts submitted for payment, or paid, identifies irregularities that may point towards potentially fraudulent activities. If the information gathered and further investigation work carried out amplifies concerns, then the Board engages, at an early stage and at a senior level, with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).”

Mr MacAskill’s bizarre letter continued, supporting the Crown Office decision there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute any of the fourteen cases of lawyers stealing legal aid : “COPFS is responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland and acts entirely independently of Government. In any individual case, the Procurator Fiscal will consider any report of criminal activity and make an assessment as to whether to take any action. This decision must be taken in the public interest. the Procurator Fiscal must consider if there is sufficient evidence in the case, weighing a number of factors in coming to a decision on what action would be appropriate. One of these factors is whether there is sufficient corroboration of the essential elements of the alleged crime.”

MacAskill : If you feel the Crown Office closed ranks to protect one of their own and a bunch of lawyers, fill out an online feedback form. The Justice Secretary ended by suggesting anyone with complaints about why the Crown Office were refusing to prosecute lawyers who steal legal aid could fill out an online feedback form at the Crown Office website. Mr MacAskill wrote : “Your constituent has reported particular concerns about the failure of COPFS to prosecute in some individual cases and about the personal circumstances of a specific Procurator Fiscal. In respect of both matters I would draw your constituent’s attention to the robust complaints process operated by COPFS. Details of the process are available using the following link :

slab copfsSLAB now claim the Crown Office failed to tell them a solicitor accused of legal aid fraud was married to one of their own. However, Mr MacAskill’s claims the Crown Office were working to combat legal aid fraud have been seriously discredited today after a flurry of communications from the Scottish Legal Aid Board confirmed the Crown Office DELIBERATELY WITHHELD information from SLAB that one of the solicitors they had investigated for legal aid fraud and had subsequently reported to the Crown Office for a criminal prosecution, was married to a member of the Crown Office. A Scottish Legal Aid Board official told this reporter : “We can confirm that … we do not hold any information (supplied to us by the Crown or otherwise) which indicates that any of the solicitors reported by us to the Crown was married to a PF.”

A legal observer commenting on the growing scandal said : “It is of considerable concern the Crown Office failed to inform the Scottish Legal Aid Board there was a marital relationship between the solicitor reported to them for criminal offences involving legal aid fraud, and a member of the Crown Office own staff. This relationship posed a serious conflict of interest for the Crown Office which could have potentially compromised any criminal investigation against the accused whom we now know was not prosecuted due to the wonders of a lack of admissible evidence. The Legal Aid Board should have been told from the outset.”

policeLegal insiders have also revealed a lawyer who stole millions in legal aid was married to a Police Officer in training when he was reported to the Crown Office. Even worse for the Justice Secretary, a senior legal insider has now revealed another of the solicitors accused of legal aid fraud, who was found to have stole millions of pounds from taxpayers was married to a Police Officer in training. The wife of the legal aid fraudster was allegedly due to pass out of Tulliallan Police College around the same time her lawyer husband committed suicide by standing in front of a train after his law firm had just been raided by the authorities in connection with a huge fraud inquiry. More on these latest developments will be reported in a future article investigating links between accused lawyers and Scotland’s crime agencies.

A legal insider close to the Scottish Legal Aid Board rubbished the Justice Secretary’s letter to the Scottish Conservative’s Mr Lamont on the legal aid fraud prosecution scandal. He said : “Mr MacAskill knows very well the Scottish Legal Aid Board are trying to do their job by investigating suspicious legal aid claims, however every time a solicitor finds out they are under investigation or are accused of irregularities, the Legal Defence Union step in to argue their case, delay or obstruct the investigation, and prevent any report being made to the Crown Office.”

He continued : “In the case of Niels Lockhart, Mr MacAskill and the Scottish Government were well aware both the Legal Defence Union & Law Society of Scotland delayed the case for four years to prevent SLAB’s S31 complaint relating to Niels Lockhart going ahead to a full hearing at the Law Society and any subsequent report which may have been sent to Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal or the Crown Office.”

“Officials from the Legal Defence Union intentionally delayed matters with lengthy correspondence and the Law Society of Scotland deliberately prolonged their investigation of SLAB’s Section 31 Complaint against Mr Lockhart by passing the complaint file round three different reporters, one of whom had dealings with Mr Lockhart directly, another who apparently refused to write the report although it was claimed the request was lost in paperwork, and the third finally finishing the report in the knowledge the LDU had brokered a deal where SLAB would drop its complaint to the Law Society and not ask the Crown Office to prosecute.”

He ended by saying : “I think the Justice Secretary has not been entirely forthcoming in his response to the msp and if Mr MacAskill claims he or his department knew nothing of these matters, he is not a very capable Minister nor is the Scottish Government capable, or, it appears, willing to protect the legal aid budget from fraudulent claims made by members of the Scottish legal profession.”

A senior legal figure who spoke to Diary of Injustice earlier in the week over the revelations one of the accused legal aid fraudsters was married to a Procurator Fiscal, also criticised Mr MacAskill’s claims the Crown Office were acting in the public interest by not prosecuting the solicitors accused of legal aid fraud.

He said : “If the Justice Secretary feels the Crown Office acted responsibly or impartially in refusing to prosecute all fourteen cases involving solicitors accused of legal aid fraud who were the subject of lengthy and costly investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, he is living in a world of his own.”

He continued : Clearly the Crown Office are unwilling to prosecute solicitors for legal aid fraud. I do not believe the Crown Office are sufficiently independent to investigate cases where the accused is linked to one of their own. The reason for failing to take the case to court on a lack of admissible evidence will be viewed by most plain speaking people as a stitch-up.

He concluded : “Perhaps Mr MacAskill should take his own advice, go fill out the online feedback format himself and see how far he gets. What an utterly useless suggestion coming from a Minister from the Scottish Government.”

John lamontJohn Lamont MSP (Scottish Conservative). Member of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, John Lamont MSP commented on the mushrooming legal aid fraud scandal. He said : “The legal aid budget is one of the largest components of the Scotland’s justice budget. Given the current pressures on the justice budget in general and the legal aid budget in particular, it is vital that every penny is spent properly. Therefore there must be stringent procedures in place to look out for instances of fraud and to deal robustly with those who engage in it.”

Mr Lamont continued : “Any suggestion of impropriety or fraud must be treated very seriously indeed. Not only does this behaviour take valuable resources away from those who really need it, but it also undermines the integrity of the legal profession in general.”

From this reporter’s own observations on this growing scandal, there is now little doubt this issue must go before the Scottish Parliament, with officials from both the Crown Office & Scottish Legal Aid Board called in to be questioned on why solicitors are escaping criminal prosecution for legal aid fraud costing taxpayers millions of pounds.


FOI Reply_Page1A Crown Office FOI response to Diary of Injustice revealed : Since the start of 2005, SLAB has submitted nine reports to Crown Office alleging criminal offences by a total of thirteen solicitors. One report related to a firm of five solicitors; 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 (this final case also resulted in a decision not to prosecute).

FOI Letter Page1Crown Office admitted additional 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.


Sunday Mail exposed Niels Lockhart’s £600K legal aid claims in two years and accusations over legal aid fiddling. From key evidence involving the Niels Lockhart case passed to Diary of Injustice and verified by Freedom of Information disclosures from the Scottish Legal Aid Board, I revealed earlier in April of this year how the Legal Defence Union ensured solicitor Niels Lockhart, who had already claimed SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS of legal aid over two years would be allowed to continue working as a lawyer without any further investigations over inflated legal aid claims on the public purse : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case On 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board 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. The secret report, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf)

Outline of Correspondence SLAB-LSS re NS LockhartSLAB’s report was heavy on accusations yet achieved little, as did their complaint to the Law Society. The Scottish Legal Aid Board presented its report & complaint to the Law Society of Scotland on the 5th June 2006 but had to wait until a stunning FOUR YEARS until August 2010 before the Law Society even got round to sending SLAB a copy of the Law Society investigator’s report, which recommended that 11 out of 12 of SLAB’s complaints were “made out” and also recommended that the Law Society exercise its powers to exclude Niels Lockhart from giving advice & assistance to or from acting for a person to whom legal aid is made available.

Letter to LSS, 11-10 redactedSecret deals struck between the Law Society, Legal Defence Union & Scottish Legal Aid Board behind closed doors ensured lawyers suspected of legal aid fraud were never prosecuted. In October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a offer 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. A letter disclosed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in response to a Freedom of Information request revealed what happened : “In November 2010 SLAB advised the Law Society of Scotland that they had negotiated with Mr Lockhart his voluntary removal from the provision of legal assistance with effect from 1 November 2010 and acknowledged that the Society had separately received information from Mr Lockhart signalling his intention to withdraw from provision of all types of legal assistance. In the light of this, we sought to know from them whether they accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the S31 complaint against Mr Lockhart. In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Admissible Evidence ? Crown Office Prosecutor married to lawyer accused of legal aid fraud, both still working, Legal Aid Board ‘convinced of guilt’

slab copfsCrown Office refused to prosecute case where Procurator Fiscal was married to a lawyer accused of legal aid fraud. SCOTLAND’S £100-Million-a-year-to-run Crown Office has been forced to admit it REFUSED TO PROSECUTE a criminal case of alleged legal aid fraud against a solicitor who was married to one of its very own top prosecutors DUE TO A LACK OF ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE during the term of former Lord Advocate now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC. The admission came in response to a Freedom of Information request after details of the case, one among a total of FOURTEEN cases of solicitors reported by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to the Crown Office for legal aid irregularities & fraud involving public funds were made available to Diary of Injustice by senior legal figures who claim the Crown Office has been operating a policy of refusing to prosecute legal aid crooks from Scotland’s legal profession because the cases “are too complicated.”

The solicitor, who legal sources have confirmed was “in a marital relationship with a Procurator Fiscal” is still working as a lawyer and is bizarrely still able to claim legal aid, after the Crown Office decided not to prosecute the solicitor concerned because of a lack of admissible evidence. The refusal to prosecute the solicitor partner of the Procurator Fiscal has angered insiders at the Scottish Legal Aid Board who claim they “are convinced of guilt in the case”.

Crown Office were forced to admit alleged legal aid fraudster solicitor is married to a Procurator Fiscal. A response from Scott Pattison, the Deputy Director of Serious Casework for the Crown Office to a Freedom of Information request stated : “I can confirm that one of the solicitors who was reported by SLAB was married to a member of COPFS staff. In that case, in accordance with the practice which I have described above, the matter was reported by a Procurator Fiscal to Crown Counsel for consideration. The member of staff concerned would have had no access to, nor dealings with, the case.” The Crown Office response to the FOI request, asking for information relating to (i) whether any of the solicitors reported to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) were in marital relationships with members or officials of the COPFS, (ii) any discussions which took place relating to such cases, and (iii) what was the outcome of those cases, began with an attempt to explain how complaints against members of its own staff are dealt with.

The letter stated : “It might be helpful if I start by explaining the procedures which are followed where there is an allegation of criminality by a close relative of a member of COPFS. When an allegation is made against a member, or close relative of a member, of COPFS a report will be submitted by the investigating authority, in accordance with standard procedure, to COPFS. Thereafter, the matter would be reported by a Procurator Fiscal to Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel are the senior, independent lawyers who take decisions on behalf of the Lord Advocate – ordinarily in the most serious types of case.”

“In cases involving allegations of criminality by members of COPFS staff, or close relatives of members of COPFS staff, Crown Counsel will provide an independent instruction on what, if any, action is appropriate in respect of the allegation.”

However, and in line with the rest of the FOURTEEN CASES of alleged legal aid fraud by solicitors reported to the Crown Office by the Scottish Legal Aid Board over the past SIX YEARS, Mr Pattison confirmed the Crown Office REFUSED TO PROECUTE the lawyer married to one of its own high profile Fiscals, claiming THERE WAS INSUFFICIENT ADMISSABLE EVIDENCE to proceed with a criminal case

He said : ““Having carefully considered the facts and circumstances of this case, Crown Counsel gave an independent instruction that there was insufficient admissible evidence to justify criminal proceedings.”

NO CASE TO ANSWER Sunday Mail 17 July 2011Crown Office under former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini refused to prosecute a single case out of 14 solicitors accused of legal aid fraud. The decision by the Crown Office to refuse to prosecute a lawyer married to one of their own prosecutors on reasons there being a lack of admissible evidence has greatly angered senior officials at the Scottish Legal Aid Board who, insiders indicated had been determined to clamp down on solicitors who are potentially ripping off taxpayers to the tune of millions of pounds a year from Scotland’s gigantic £160 MILLION POUND legal aid budget. I reported on the lack of prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters from the legal profession back in July, here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

A legal insider commenting on the latest revelations of links between Crown Office prosecutors & alleged legal aid fraudsters, said : “Given tens of thousands of pounds of public money has been spent on detecting, investigation & reporting legal aid fraud, it would be a big help if the people at the Crown Office who are charged with prosecuting criminals would actually do their job in at least one out of fourteen cases.”

He continued : “Clearly there is something amiss. The Crown Office have prosecuted members of the public for legal aid offences yet in each of the reported cases of legal aid irregularities concerning solicitors, not one has been prosecuted. With the revelation one of the solicitors reported to the Crown Office was in a marital relationship with a high flying Procurator Fiscal, there is an overall impression the Crown Office closed ranks and refused to prosecute because of links to one of their own.”

Since the investigation by Diary of Injustice into abuse of the legal aid system began turning up links between alleged legal aid fraudsters and Crown Office personnel, there have been indications the Crown Office are upset one of its own has now been publicly fingered in a case involving alleged legal aid fraud.

A senior Scottish Government official who has knowledge of discussions on the subject warned Diary of Injustice over the difficulties caused by revelations of links to legal aid fraud and the Crown Office and the lack of prosecutions. Whilst Diary of Injustice has agreed not to publish certain comments given in confidence in an interview, I can report the source did say : “Considering this was all supposed to be kept secret, and the Crown Office were apparently determined to do so at any cost, I’m surprised no one has bothered to ask you where you got your information from.”

Crown Office FOI response refused to release any information on how they came to decision not to prosecute alleged legal aid fraudster linked to one of their own colleagues. SUSPICIOUSLY the Crown Office REFUSED TO DISCLOSE ANY INFORMATION on what discussions had taken place within its realms over the case which led to the Procurator Fiscal’s partner being let off the hook from legal aid fraud charges. The Crown Office response to the FOI request asking for information on discussions over the case stated : “In respect of your second request, I am satisfied that any information relating to the consideration of the evidence in this case, including the recommendations made to Crown Counsel, and the terms of the instruction issued by them, are exempt from disclosure in terms of sections 30(b)(ii), 34(1)(a)(i) and 35(1)(a), (b) and (c).”

“As you will be aware, none of these exemptions are absolute, and I have therefore required to consider, notwithstanding that I am satisfied that they apply, whether the public interest nonetheless favours disclosure of the information. In doing so, I have had regard to the type of question which the Scottish Information Commissioner has recommended that public authorities ask themselves when considering whether the public interest favours disclosure despite the fact that certain exemptions apply.”

“In particular, I consider that it is of the utmost importance that Procurators Fiscal are able to freely and frankly share their analysis of the evidence in a criminal case, and their recommendations in respect of same, with Crown Counsel, who act under the authority of the Lord Advocate, without any such discussions being subject to release to the public. In reaching this view, I have also taken into account that any such recommendation or analysis would necessarily be based on an assessment of the legal position, which in turn is based on the available evidence.”

“I have concluded that witnesses provide evidence in respect of criminal allegations in the expectation that such evidence will not be released, save for within the context of criminal proceedings, with the attendant procedural safeguards. In reaching this view, I have had regard to the comments made by the Scottish Information Commissioner in decision 115/2007. Having considered the circumstances of this particular case, I have come to the conclusion that the public interest falls overwhelmingly in maintaining the exemptions in this instance.”

A senior legal figure who has been given access to details of the case provided to Diary of Injustice described the Crown Office decision not to prosecute as “inconsistent with public claims of the law applying equally to all”.

He said : “Having considered what the Crown Office said, and the fact not one single case out of fourteen of alleged legal aid fraud committed by members of the legal profession was prosecuted, it is clearly in the public interest information on how the Crown Office arrived at its decision not to prosecute in this and the remaining cases be fully disclosed, reported by the media and debated in public.”

He continued : “The public perception in this case, and rightly so, will be that the Crown Office have closed ranks to protect one of their own. There are a great many questions unanswered, for instance whether the married partner who is a PF benefited in any way financially from the alleged legal aid fraud. Clearly there must be an independent investigation into why these cases of alleged legal aid fraud committed by solicitors have resulted in not one single prosecution.”

An msp who has been following revelations of the lack of legal aid fraud prosecutions and has constituents who are affected by some of the solicitors accused of legal aid irregularities told Diary of Injustice : “A lack of admissible evidence. Clearly the public will have watched enough television & read enough newspapers to realise exactly what this means. I doubt many will be fooled by the explanation offered up by the Crown Office.”

He continued : “As for the fourteen cases and not one prosecution. Who would be stupid enough to believe something isn't going on when not one lawyer ends up being charged. It’s preposterous to suggest otherwise. This needs to go before msps for proper scrutiny.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Legal Aid officials hid details of dodgy claims scandal as ‘Pay-Up threats’ from £600K legal aid rogue lawyer leaves pensioner, 70, starving, homeless

SLAB’s secret deal with Law Society of Scotland & LDU kept info on legal aid accusations against solicitor from clients. A VULNERABLE PENSIONER was left HOMELESS & HAD TO STARVE HERSELF to pay legal fees after being threatened by Kilmarnock solicitor Niels S Lockhart over a missed £100 payment of legal bills which were originally being paid by Legal Aid. Esther Francis, 70, had gone to Niels Lockhart for help in a dispute with her housing association and was originally put on legal aid by the lawyer who has already claimed around SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS of legal aid money in previous years for other clients, however she was not told by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) her solicitor, Mr Lockhart had ‘voluntarily’ withdrew himself from being able to provide legal aid, AFTER he was accused by SLAB of making excessive legal aid claims.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, Esther Francis spoke of the horrific situation her solicitor Mr Lockhart had put her in, which became so bad she was forced to put in a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) about how she was treated. Esther has since found another solicitor but Mr Lockhart is now withholding her files so her situation regarding a resolution to her legal problems is far from certain until the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland act against Mr Lockhart.

Esther said : “It started off with me due legal aid then unknown to me, him stopping legal aid, then he told me he couldn't keep me on as a client as he told me he was going private and he sent me to Saltcoates for another lawyer,,which was a a wasted journey, then Neil Lockhart got back in touch with me about 6 weeks later, about Nov-Dec last year, telling me to come into his office and he will take me back on if i paid private.”

“He told me he usually charged £195 an hour but he will give me a reduced rate of £70 per meeting, so I agreed as he told me all the money I give him will be refunded back to me, when it goes to court, so I believed him and he then put the 3 week meetings up by £10, then I was paying £100 at the end. He wanted £140 but I told him I couldn't afford it, so this went on for 6 or 7 months until I realised I wasn't getting anywhere with him, so I cancelled my last appointment with him in June this year as I could not afford to pay him and was unwell.”

“When I told him I couldn't manage down he then phoned me back to get money off me, as he told me to pay him either by bank card over phone or send a cheque to pay him, when I questioned him re;my claim he was dealing with on my behalf for over a year, he told me that my case couldn't go to court as it costs a lot of money, so he lied to me by stringing me along for money I never had and couldn't even afford, so when he never got any more money off me, this is when he sent that threatening letter to me for money to finish my claim off, but it wasn't progressing and he was wasting my time,and my claim would have been never ending, so i realised he was getting money off me under false pretences by lying to me.”

“That letter he sent me is now with the SLCC complaints dept with my complaints about him. I am an oap aged 70 and I have now been in touch with another lawyer who is taking me on for legal aid that I am entitled to, but Neil Lockhart is withholding my files because he is mad at me for dumping him, if he wasn't greedy and never lied to me, this wouldn't have happened.”

“I was due legal aid from day one and didn't know at the time that Neil Lockhart got taken off legal aid due to his excessive legal aid claims and that's why he couldn't get any more legal aid, because he was too greedy for money. I starved myself, couldn't pay my bills and then had to sell all my furniture because of Neil Lockhart and give up my council house as I couldn't afford to stay there and now I am in lodgings and homeless because of him and I still owe debts because I was paying him instead of my other bills as he promised me my claim was being dealt with.”

“It was that bad that my daughter wrote to him unknown to me, twice, to tell him to drop this case as I couldn't afford it, and told him that I was due legal aid and that I was unwell and not eating properly, struggling with bills and not being able to afford to heat flat,but he took no notice.”

slabScottish Legal Aid Board did not tell Lockhart’s clients their solicitor could no longer do legal aid work. Crucially, the Scottish Legal Aid Board DID NOT tell Esther her solicitor had ‘removed himself’ from the legal aid register or that he had been accused of making ‘excessive legal aid claims’ by SLAB after a lengthy investigation into his claims. SLAB officials also did not inform Esther or any of Mr Lockhart’s clients that a complaint had been filed with the Law Society of Scotland about Lockhart’s legal aid claims. Esther only became aware of the fact her solicitor Mr Lockhart could not provide legal aid after she read the Sunday Mail newspaper article, reported HERE.

Esther told Diary of Injustice : “I wasn't aware of him getting struck off legal aid in October, as he just told me he was going private at a reduced rate, and when i saw him in the Sunday Mail, i realised I was being conned by him as he was not doing much to assist my claim. I was never contacted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to tell me about Niels Lockhart had been taken off legal aid. I had to read about Niels Lockhart in The Sunday Mail newspaper.”

Today, legal insiders who have studied media reports & details of what happened to Esther Francis believe most of Esther’s mounting legal problems and the negative effect of Mr Lockhart’s poor service on Esther’s health could all have been avoided if SLAB officials had communicated directly with Esther to let her know her lawyer was no longer entitled to provide her with legal representation funded by legal aid.

A solicitor speaking to Diary of Injustice condemned the Scottish Legal Aid Board for not writing to Esther directly to inform her that Mr Lockhart had been taken off the legal aid register. He accused SLAB of being directly responsible for the predicament of Ms Francis and many others who find themselves in the same position when their lawyers are found out as legal aid fraudsters.

He said : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board have contact details for all claimants of legal aid. SLAB should have written to Ms Francis immediately to inform her that her claim for legal aid could not continue under Mr Lockhart because he was no longer able to carry out legal aid work. In my opinion SLAB have as much a duty to inform clients of their solicitor’s legal aid status, as they do to protect legal aid from fraudulent claims, however it appears SLAB cannot perform either role very effectively in the case of Mr Lockhart.”

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations also criticised SLAB over the case. She said : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board receive over £160 million pounds a year to hand out to solicitors in legal aid and it costs nearly £13 million pounds a year to run the board. Given the enormous amounts of public money being thrown at legal aid in Scotland, I think most people would expect the Scottish Legal Aid Board to make sure any client on legal aid who is put in a situation where their solicitor is taken off the legal aid register, gets to know about it immediately from the board directly, rather than simply leaving it up to the solicitor to tell their clients, which we see from this case and others we know about, does not happen.”

Several clients have told Diary of Injustice there appears to be no warning system in place for them to be directly told by SLAB of their solicitors change in legal aid when their certificates are withdrawn and why they have been withdrawn. A solicitor who works on legal aid confirmed there is no ‘warning system’ as such for clients in place that he is aware of.

He said : “SLAB are a bit worried if they tell a solicitor’s clients their solicitor’s legal aid certificate has been revoked, they might get complaints from the Law Society and hassle from the legal profession. However I agree these are no reasons to keep such critical information from clients.”

In a previous FOI response to Diary of Injustice, the Scottish Legal Aid Board refused to release details on complaints it had made to the Law Society of Scotland on the basis that : “The fact that a complaint was made by the Board might be misconstrued to the detriment of the individual solicitor involved, particularly in circumstances where the complaint was a)not by a member of the public, b) in relation to the solicitor’s engagement with board policies and procedures, and finally c) not upheld by the Society.”

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said releasing the information may cause the solicitor unwarranted substantial damage or distress.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board were asked for comment on why clients of solicitors who are removed from the Legal Aid Register are not told of the change in circumstances by SLAB, however SLAB have yet to issue a statement.

Esther’s story was reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper on Sunday 18 September 2011 :

Lawyer 600K legal aid hassles pensioner over 100 billLAWYER WHO RAKED IN £600K LEGAL AID HASSLES ESTHER,70, OVER £100 BILL

Sep 18 2011 Lauren Crooks, Sunday Mail

ROGUE lawyer Niels Lockhart is being probed by legal watchdogs over his treatment of an OAP client. Esther Francis, 70, says Lockhart left her in financial ruin and threatened her over bills she couldn't afford.

The lawyer was hired by Esther two years ago to sort out a dispute with a housing association, with his fees paid by legal aid. But Esther wasn't told Lockhart had been rapped by the Scottish Legal Aid Board for "unnecessary and excessive" claims "not appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor".

He accepted a legal aid ban earlier this year but continued acting for Esther while charging her £80-an-hour. She paid Lockhart £560 but missed a £100 payment - and then received a threatening letter from him in June.

Esther complained to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and is demanding a refund.

She said: "I was worried when I got his threatening letter because he said he'd sue me and it would cost hundreds. "I starved m yself, couldn't pay my bills then had to sell my furniture."

Esther, who lives in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, added: "I still owe debts because I was paying him instead of other bills. He has left me in ruins. "I think he knew I was vulnerable and thought I'd just do as he said. He took advantage of me."

Lockhart, who raked in £600,000 of taxpayers' cash over two years, was rapped earlier this year for ramping up his claims. He could not be contacted for comment. He accepted a legal aid ban but was not reported to police nor struck off and still works in Kilmarnock.

Diary of Injustice used Freedom of Information legislation to expose the secret deals done between the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Law Society of Scotland & the Legal Defence Union to prevent complaints against Lockhart being heard at the Law Society while also ensuring no criminal charges were asked for by SLAB officials over accusations of his inflated legal aid claims.

However, after the Sunday Mail newspaper published the full extent of Mr Lockhart’s legal aid claims in March 2011, worried officials at the Law Society of Scotland demanded SLAB withhold the Law Society of Scotland’s report on Niels Lockhart, a story I covered in April, here : Something to Hide : Legal Aid Chiefs ordered to withhold Law Society’s report on Niels Lockhart as law regulator demands secrecy on legal aid scandals

If the Scottish Legal Aid Board had put in so much effort & public expense to investigate Mr Lockhart for inflated legal aid claims, only to close their case with a secret agreement they refused to publish along with one of now revealed to be many Law Society attempts at a report in the case, surely SLAB could have easily contacted Mr Lockhart’s clients to inform them of the situation and how it may affect their access to justice.



Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011Legal Aid Chiefs accused lawyer Niels Lockhart of excessive claims yet no prosecution or repayment took place. A SECRET REPORT by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) into “excessive” claims for legal aid made by Kilmarnock based solicitor Niels S Lockhart who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years can now be published, revealing the full extent of SLAB’s accusations against the sole practitioner, the FOUR YEAR WAIT for the Law Society of Scotland to rule on the case and the intervention of the Legal Defence Union who brokered a deal allowing Mr Lockhart to walk away from all accusations over his claims for legal aid.

On 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board 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. The secret report, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf)

The 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 report by the Scottish Legal Aid Board revealed 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.

The report stated : “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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Closer scrutiny of Niels S Lockhart's accounts and some client files has given rise to a number of other serious concerns, e.g. numerous meetings, standard of file notes, encouraging clients to advance matters while demonstrating a lack of progress.”

“After a meeting between SLAB officials & Mr Lockhart on 14 April 2005, Mr Lockhart was advised that SLAB’s Executive Team had approved of his firm’s accounts being removed from the guarantee of 30-day turnaround for payment of accounts, and that henceforth, to allow the Board the opportunity to satisfy itself that all fees and outlays had been properly incurred and charged by the firm, he would be required to submit additional supporting documentation and information with his accounts (including client files).”

The report continued : “Over the next few months, Mr Lockhart telephoned Accounts staff many times, often on a daily basis, repeatedly asking questions about the type of charge they considered acceptable or unacceptable in a variety of situations. Staff reported that, despite their having given Mr Lockhart the same answers time and again (both via correspondence and over the telephone),he continued to submit accounts with unacceptable charges. In a final effort to counter these continuing problems and to emphasis the Board’s stance in relation to the various issues of concern, our Accounts Department sent him a letter on 23 December 2005.”

“Mr Lockhart did not provide a written response to this correspondence. He did however contact Mr McCann of the Legal Defence Union, who wrote to the Board seeking a meeting with Board officials to try to resolve the payments issue. Our view however was that this would not advance matters as Mr Lockhart had been given a clear steer both after the April 2005 meeting and in the December when Accounts wrote to him on a number of matters.”

However, a key error was made by the Legal Aid Board, who stunningly failed to interview any of Mr Lockhart’s clients despite SLAB’s claims of excessive legal aid claims.

The SLAB report revealed : “Board staff have not interviewed any of Mr Lockhart’s clients as we have no reason to believe that, for example, the multitude of meetings that he held with them—sometimes more than twice daily—did not take place; our concern is that they DID take place and he has sought to claim payment for these multitudinous meetings,very few of which could be described as necessary and reasonable. We believe that such work had no regard to the principle of economy: our contention is that it is highly unlikely that any private paying client would be willing to meet the cost of the service provided by Mr Lockhart. That aside, there are cases set out in the report where it is difficult to see what advice or assistance has actually been provided. Our Accounts staff are continuing to assess a number of his accounts and examining the corresponding client files which indicate repetition of the issues that gave rise to our initial concerns.”

Outline of Correspondence SLAB-LSS re NS LockhartSLAB’s report was heavy on accusations yet achieved little, as did their complaint to the Law Society. The Scottish Legal Aid Board presented its report & complaint to the Law Society of Scotland on the 5th June 2006 but had to wait until a stunning FOUR YEARS until August 2010 before the Law Society even got round to sending SLAB a copy of the Law Society investigator’s report, which recommended that 11 out of 12 of SLAB’s complaints were “made out” and also recommended that the Law Society exercise its powers to exclude Niels Lockhart from giving advice & assistance to or from acting for a person to whom legal aid is made available.

However, two months later 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.

Letter to LSS, 11-10 redactedLegal Aid Board asked Law Society to withdraw complaint after secret deal was reached with Legal Defence Union. “In November 2010 SLAB advised the Law Society of Scotland that they had negotiated with Mr Lockhart his voluntary removal from the provision of legal assistance with effect from 1 November 2010 and acknowledged that the Society had separately received information from Mr Lockhart signalling his intention to withdraw from provision of all types of legal assistance. In the light of this, we sought to know from them whether they accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the S31 complaint against Mr Lockhart.”

“In December 2010 the Law Society wrote to SLAB advising that they had accepted SLAB’s withdrawal of the complaint and that they were closing their file and taking no further action.”

All that effort on behalf of the solicitor, yet no effort to inform or protect clients of Mr Lockhart or other solicitors who withdraw from legal aid work or are stripped of their legal aid certificates. This is not justice. This is certainly not consumer or client protection from a legal profession which claims to speak for the public interest as well as represent the interests of its members. Clearly Ms Francis interests and those of many other clients caught in the same circumstances, some second to the interests of solicitors and the legal profession as a whole.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Civil Courts Review TWO YEARS ON : “Victorian” flaws in Scots legal system ‘may last for decades’ as lawyers vested interests stifle justice reforms

Lord GillLord Gill’s Civil Courts Review published in 2009 recommended significant reforms to Scots justice system yet little has changed in two years. TWO YEARS ON from the CIVIL COURTS REVIEW undertaken by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill in February 2007 which culminated in his report published in September 2009 recommending significant wide ranging reforms to Scotland’s antiquated civil justice system, Scots are finding access to civil justice & access to courts has, in reality, changed little despite much talk at the Scottish Parliament on the report’s reforms and several amateur attempts by the Scottish Government to legislate wider access to justice, all of which have been watered down in the face of almost warlike hostility from lawyers worried their profit margins would sink as people chose other forms of getting to court.

Sadly, the stinging criticisms of Lord Gill, who himself branded Scotland’s civil justice system as “Victorian”, failing to deliver efficiency of justice or Scots accessibility of justice appear to have been lost in the mists of time with little progress on the Lord Justice Clerk’s proposals to rectify the justice system’s ills, yet those consumers in Scotland who face the torture of using Scotland’s expensive, seemingly endemically dishonest legal profession to get to court, would rather the proposed reforms be speeded up than having review after review, and then as is now the case, reviews of the reviews.

Last year, on the first anniversary of the Civil Courts Review, and the blaze of publicity which surrounded its publication, we saw little change, almost a few steps backwards as I reported last August 2010, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests

Another year has now passed, yet the only movement on Lord Gill’s proposals by the Scottish Government, was to launch another review, as I reported earlier in March, here : Scottish Government delay reforms on costs of litigation & access to justice as Minister announces 18 month 'time wasting' review by retired sheriff, announced after I reported in January Civil Justice Advisory Group calls for radical reform of Scotland’s civil justice system, says people should be at the heart of Scottish civil justice

I reported on the ‘progress’ of the Sheriff Taylor review (the review of the review), earlier in July, here : Lawyers can talk, yet fee paying clients & court users remain shut out of Scottish Government review of the costs & funding of litigation in Scotland. A consultation was to be published on the Taylor Review website HERE although none has yet appeared.

Clearly, Civil Justice Reform and giving Scots control over their own access to justice & legal services, instead of the present arrangement where the legal establishment and lawyers control & decide which Scots have access to justice, is not a priority for the Scottish Government.

Indeed, it could well be argued the Scottish Government are delaying for as long as possible, most of the access to justice reforms because they will put power into the hands of Scots to resolve their legal issues & court issues much faster, at less cost, and with less potential for failure, than the present “Victorian” system offers us. The reason for the delays ? Well, its not too difficult to see if Scots are able to resolve their legal issues faster and cheaper, the legal profession are going to make a lot less money out of their clients.

Reminding readers once again of those words, Lord Gill, in his speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference last year, said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society."

He continued : "It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost.”

“Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice."

"Unless there is major reform and soon, individual litigants will be prevented from securing their rights, commercial litigants will continue to look elsewhere for a forum for their claims, public confidence in the judicial system will be further eroded, Scotland’s economic development will be hindered, and Scots law will atrophy as an independent legal system.”

“Major reform and soon”, as Lord Gill said himself, has not happened. One may rightly being to wonder if Lord Gill’s reforms are ever expected to occur while the vested interests of money makers in the legal profession have their way. September 2010 has come and nearly ended, yet, again, little has changed for those in Scotland who need a justice system fit for the 21st Century, rather than what we currently have, the “Victorian” version controlled by vested interests from the legal establishment.

An official from one of Scotland’s consumer organisations admitted today he was ‘despondent’ about any major reforms to Scotland’s civil justice system over the next ten years. He said : “There is a general feeling the civil courts review is dead & buried along with any chance to launch major reforms to civil justice in the next decade.I don't believe this is a priority for the current Scottish Government and I don't think it will be one for the next”

He continued : “It’s just not in the interests of those earning money out of the justice system to see a different playing field where consumers can get easier, cheaper & faster access to justice in Scotland. Lawyers keep claiming if such reforms came in, they would go out of business, however lawyers dont own the justice system, they just use it to make money. Until we get away from the idea the legal profession owns & operates the justice system and the courts as their own business, there will be little chance of constructive reform of civil justice in Scotland.”

Readers can download the Civil Courts Review report in pdf format, from the Scottish Courts Website at the following links :

Volume 1 Chapter 1 - 9 (Covers McKenzie Friends, procedures, advice etc, 2.99Mb)

Volume 2 Chapter 10 - 15 (Covers mainly the issue of Class (multi party) actions etc, 2.16Mb)

Synopsis (215Kb)

My coverage of the Civil Courts Review from its publication to the present, and the pace of reforms to civil justice in Scotland can be found here : Civil Courts Review - The story so far however the story so far is that Scots do not have control over their own access to justice, and Scotland still has a justice system which is Victorian, prejudiced, politicised, controlled by vested interests & definitely a little crooked.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DISASTER REPORT : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission study of Law Society “Guarantee Fund” suffers 13% turnout, finds clients ‘treated as criminals’

13% response disaster for SLCC report on Law Society’s crooked Guarantee Fund. A REPORT carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) into the notoriously corrupt “Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund”, a ‘client protection’ scheme operated by the Law Society of Scotland to compensate clients who have lost money because of theft by dishonest crooked lawyers & their staff has been hit by an ABYSMALLY low response of only NINETEEN replies from ONE HUNDRED & FORTY FIVE questionnaires (13%) after the Law Society refused to hand over client contact details to the SLCC & its selected research company who were investigating claims against crooked lawyers in Scotland. One client who did reply to the survey said claimants “were made to feel like a criminal” at Guarantee Fund hearings.

THE REPORT, carried out on behalf of the SLCC by Progressive, a research company based in Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, claimed the Law Society of Scotland had REFUSED to hand over a detailed contact list of members of the public who had contacted or submitted claims to the Guarantee Fund over the past 5 years. The company & SLCC were left with NO CHOICE other than to leave the Law Society of Scotland to distribute the forms to clients that it felt should be provided with a questionnaire.

Jane IrvineJane Irvine, SLCC Chair left out critical mentions in report announcement. In its announcement publicised online, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission DID NOT mention the low turnout of NINETEEN PARTICIPANTS in its Press Release, available HERE, nor did the SLCC publicise the fact the Law Society of Scotland distributed the forms themselves after REFUSING to hand over Guarantee Fund claimant details to the company preparing the report or the SLCC itself. Legal insiders have commented today the survey was badly handed by the SLCC who were branded by one official from a Scottish consumer organisation as “too close to the Law Society for comfort” and “unwilling at best to get to the truth”. I reported on just how badly this latest SLCC survey was being handled in an earlier article, here : CENSORED : Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's secret new Master Policy & Guarantee Fund research 'shuts out' real victims of crooked lawyers

Progressive, the firm conducting the survey on behalf of the SLCC said in their now published report : “Progressive was not able to receive a database of contact details from the Law Society of Scotland. As such the questionnaire packs were sent to LSS for labelling and distribution.”

“There were two categories of respondents on the Law Society of Scotland’s database and therefore two methods of distribution. For the first category, LSS had contact details for the claimant themselves so packs were sent directly to them. For the second, LSS’s database only contained details for the names of the claimants’ solicitors. In order to account for this, the questionnaire packs included an additional letter asking the solicitor to forward on to their client named on the front of the envelope.”

“In total, 145 questionnaires were distributed; 85 that went directly to claimants and 60 that went to claimants via their solicitor. In order to optimise the response rates to the survey reminder letters were sent to respondents halfway through the fieldwork period. The fieldwork period was also extended to give maximise the opportunity for claimants to respond.”

“Questionnaires were returned directly to Progressive in freepost envelopes. In total 19 completed questionnaires were returned for analysis, denoting a 13% response rate.”

It had been hoped to send questionnaires out to 250 people although for unexplained reasons and doubtless due to the fact the Law Society of Scotland were controlling distribution, only 145 eventually went out.

The company were further critical of the Law Society’s methods of distribution, stating “A large proportion of questionnaires were not sent directly to claimants. Sending questionnaires first to solicitors to pass on to their clients would have affected the likelihood of the questionnaires reaching them and also their likelihood of completing them.” Progressive further warned : “This is likely to impact response rates.”

The report also claims : “Missing information on labels. A few solicitors fed back that there was no client contact on the packs they were sent so were unable to forward these on, again, affecting the final response rate (at least 4 reported this to be the case)” and that some clients who were sent questionnaires by the Law Society of Scotland could not be traced because they had moved address.

The report went onto state all of those who eventually responded to the survey (NINETEEN PEOPLE IN FIVE YEARS) were suspiciously successful in their claim “to some extent” but even among those, there was still evidence of some dissatisfaction with the outcome and the decisions behind it. Clearly the Law Society of Scotland had chosen clients it thought would give the Guarantee Fund a better write up than others with more horrific experiences.

The report states : “Ten of our respondents were successful in their claim, all of whom were satisfied with the outcome. Six were partially successful and of these, four were dissatisfied.”

From the comments provided as to the reasons why, one respondent’s dissatisfaction stemmed from the perception that they were not provided with direct answers for the decision. Three comments related to respondents not receiving full compensation and feeling that the decision made and the reasons for it were not clearly explained to them.

One respondent to the survey stated : “It seemed as if the Scottish Solicitor’s Guarantee Fund were trying to pay as little as possible and were looking after their own interests. Again you were made to feel like a criminal at the hearing.” Another respondent said : “I was not fully compensated for a fraud that was not my fault but my solicitor's, who was now in jail and yet I had to suffer financially and with stress.”

Comments from the five people who provided reasons for their satisfaction expressed relief that the process had come to an end and they perceived that the Fund had worked well for them.

One respondent said : “Achieved desired outcome although would have preferred not to have gone through the process at all.”Another respondent said : “[Because] I felt that I could move forward and bring closure to the whole affair [as] I had felt very let down by the solicitor involved in my particular case.”

The full report by Progressive on the Guarantee Fund can be read here : Progressive Guarantee Fund Report 2011 (pdf) or online here : Progressive Guarantee Fund Report 2011

Bearing in mind the turnout for the report is so small, its findings & recommendations are very limited, due mostly to the notably poor advertising of the survey by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (who apparently wanted as small a number of participants as possible) and the fact the Law Society of Scotland were allowed to distribute the forms on their own, rather than identification & distribution be handed over to the report’s authors or an independent body.

Margaret Scanlan - Called to the Bars - Sunday Mail  15 March 2009 emailChancers Calling - SLCC Board Member Margaret Scanlan branded Guarantee Fund claimants as “chancers”. It should also be borne in mind SLCC Board Members have already expressed anti-client sentiment against claimants to the Guarantee Fund, where in one publicised incident, SLCC Board Member Margaret Scanlan raged against claimants to the Guarantee Fund, branding them “chancers” in a series of bitter emails revealed to the public by Freedom of Information legislation, revealed here : Officials pull FOI disclosures as Guarantee Fund "chancer" emails show Law Society anti-client bias has migrated to Legal Complaints Commission & here : MacAskill must clean up law complaints body as members 'booze culture conduct' reflects lack of discipline & will to investigate crooked lawyers

THE second piece of research carried out by University of Manchester was a statistical analysis of data from claims. The research analysed the statistical data to establish if there were any relationships between different aspects of claims made. What the research did not do was explore or look into the detail of individual claims or seek to establish if there were underlying reasons for any findings.

The statistical analysis identified a relationship between the number and total value of claims received in the same year as an individual claim and the level of payment made on an individual claim. The University's conclusion was that the outcomes of individual claims on the Guarantee Fund are statistically related to factors beyond the 'merits of the individual claim'. The SLCC said it “noted this conclusion but has not drawn any conclusions about underlying reasons, as they could be subject to many different factors, not all of which would be within the control of the LSS.”

The University of Manchester ‘statistical analysis’ of claims data, can be read here : University of Manchester Guarantee Fund Report 2011 (pdf)

SLCCSLCC statement is short on detail or accuracy of how Guarantee Fund survey actually turned out. The SLCC concluded in its announcement : “The SLCC is keen to take this work forward. Following on from the two pieces of research we are using the results from the Progressive research as a baseline for ongoing monitoring. The questionnaire used in the research will be issued by the LSS to all claimants at the end of the claims process. These questionnaires will be returned to and monitored by the SLCC. We will share information with the LSS and publish findings periodically will carry out an audit of a sample of the actual claims from which the University of Manchester took the statistical data. During the first half of 2012 we will examine the actual cases, the processes followed and the records of decisions to explore whether there are identifiable reasons for the statistical relationship.”

Two earlier articles featured the initial findings of the University of Manchester 2009 report into the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, here : 'Ground-breaking' investigation into Law Society's Master Policy insurance reveals realities of corrupt claims process against crooked lawyers and here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society's Master Policy which 'allows solicitors to sleep at night'

Page 8 - Consumer Focus Scotland refused cooperation from Law SocietySuicides, illness, family breakdown, loss of homes, loss of livelihood were all identified by interviewees as being directly associated with members of the public’s dealings with the Law Society & Master Policy. During the research team's investigation of claims against the Master Policy, team members were told of suicides which had occurred due to the way in which clients of crooked lawyers had been treated by the Law Society of Scotland and the insurers who operate the Master Policy protection scheme for solicitors against negligence claims. Quoting the report : "Several claimants said that they had been diagnosed with depression; that they had high blood pressure; and several had their marriages fail due to their claim. Some had lost a lot of money, their homes, and we were told that one party litigant had committed suicide."

Further excerpts from the Manchester University report into the Law Society's Master Policy & Guarantee Fund show the intolerable strain clients who attempt to claim against their 'crooked' solicitor have to endure : Claimants "described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants."

Law Society & Scottish GovernmentScottish Government have been promoting use of Law Society Guarantee Fund for new entrants to legal services market. Attempts by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to avoid portraying the Guarantee Fund too badly may be linked to the reliance of the SNP Scottish Government in using the Guarantee Fund as a compensation vehicle for clients of new entrants to Scotland’s supposedly expanded legal services market. I reported on this ludicrous idea in an earlier article here : Legal Services Bill vote by MSPs will force all victims of 'crooked lawyers' to use Law Society's corrupt ‘claims dodging’ Guarantee Fund

As far back as March 2009, I revealed in an article : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption

Yet after THREE YEARS, this latest attempt by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to investigate the Law Society of Scotland’s Guarantee Fund has resulted in yet another failure. There is noticeably no mention in the announcement of how the latest survey into the Master Policy is progressing, if at all.

Clearly as long as the Law Society of Scotland control both the Guarantee Fund and the Master Policy, there will be no “ultimate client protection” for consumers of legal services in Scotland and clearly as long as the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission remains as cowardly and ineffective as it is, there will be no such thing as independent effective regulation of the legal profession in Scotland and therefore no protection for clients from ‘crooked lawyers’.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Price of Justice : Scottish Legal Aid Board 'frequent flyers' & Crown Office 'stationery kings' charge millions to taxpayer funded credit cards

legal aid crown officeTaxpayer funded credit cards keep Legal Aid officials flying, Crown Office in stationery heaven. AS impoverished Scots struggle to obtain legal aid for desperately needed legal representation or access to court, and victims of crime struggle to obtain justice for wrongs against them, an ongoing investigation by Diary of Injustice into the use of taxpayer funded credit cards by key organisations connected to Scotland’s legal system has revealed MILLIONS OF POUNDS being charged, collectively, by agencies such as the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) which receives £160million a year from taxpayers and the £100 Million a year Crown Office (COPFS) to TAXPAYER FUNDED CREDIT CARDS, sometimes referred to as “procurement cards” issued by the Scottish Government, for what some critics have branded “almost uncontrolled expenditure”.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation have revealed officials from the Scottish Legal Aid Board are literally being kept in the air by flights charged up to the taxpayer, while at the other end of the scale, the Crown Office has disclosed it has spent nearly TWO MILLION POUNDS in four years on credit cards.

In a sixteen page disclosure from the Scottish Legal Aid Board, which can be viewed online here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD CREDIT CARD CHARGES, page after page of charges racked up to taxpayer funded credit cards reveals airline flights for SLAB executives some charged up to nine hundred pounds at a time, along with multiple entries at in some cases, thousands of pounds for accommodation for SLAB officials at most well known hotels in the UK (some charged at over £3K a time) and just about every other imaginable charge ranging from Argos office items to computer software (one ‘mail manager’ software product alone cost £7K) totalling up to tens of thousands of pounds.

There are literally so many charges for items such as flights, hotel stays, & accommodation all across the country, it is impossible to list them all in this article.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said in a statement accompanying the figures : “The Scottish legal Aid Board currently has 6 credit cards, all of which incur an annual fee. The Board’s use of these is more akin to procurement cards and, in fact, the Board is in the process of replacing these with Government Procurement Cards (GPC) provided under the Scottish Government Collaborative GPC arrangement.”

SLAB’s statement continued : “Credit cards are not provided to any Board members nor are they provided to any employees to cover their own business travel and subsistence. Instead, these cards are primarily used by our Procurement team to purchase in situations where setting up an invoicing arrangement was not possible or practical at the time. This is typically the situation for travel and accommodation costs and some IT and training costs. Credit cards are also held by designated personnel for disaster recovery purposes.”

A solicitor questioned why SLAB officials need to fly all around the country and engage in so much travel, accommodation & road shows.

He said : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board has become somewhat unwieldy, having drifted away from its duty to regulate & award legal aid, ensuring access to justice for those who need it. Clearly there is scope for saving a great deal of money, travel time and effort which could all be put back into giving ordinary members of the public increased access to justice.”

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service was less forthcoming in offering a detailed disclosure of its use of credit cards under the previous Lord Advocate, now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, however the total expenditure raked up by COPFS staff on taxpayer funded credit cards appears to dwarf even that of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, with the Crown Office admitting its staff have rake up charges of a staggering HALF A MILLION POUNDS on credit cards every year.

In 2007-2008, staff at the Lord Advocate’s Crown Office charged £554,194 to taxpayers via credit cards. In 2008-2009, the figure was £490,232. In 2009-2010 the figure came down to £476,682 and the final figures available for 2010-2011 saw a more significant drop to £409,208. The figures total £1.93 million over 4 years, all paid for by taxpayers.

COPFS credit card chargesA statement accompanying the Crown Office disclosure said : “The Government Procurement Card has been in use across Government departments for some 15 years. Cards are allocated to holders of specific posts e.g. office managers. By far the larges use of the cards is for stationery and other office equipment under the relevant contracts. Robust controls are in place. An on-going record of all expenditure against each card is maintained., this is reconciled with the charge shown on the monthly statement from the card supplier and each record is then independently checked and authorised prior to approval of payment of the monthly statement. By using these cards COPFS receive two invoices (one for each card type) each month, compared to numerous individual invoices for each transactions. This obviously helps us to minimise processing costs while at the same time ensuring prompt payment of our suppliers.”

Unlike the more detailed disclosure from the Scottish Legal Aid Board, no detailed account of credit card charges was provided by the Crown Office therefore claims on what public money was actually spent on cannot be verified.

SLCCEager to get in on the action, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) also use credit cards. The SLCC has admitted to having two credit cards, currently, only one, in the name of its ‘current’ Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew. Papers disclosed by the SLCC show their Office Manager & Ms Agnew ran up a bill of £3532.76 on a variety of purchases including airline & train tickets, office stationery & equipment, books & catering. The full disclosure from the SLCC can be viewed online here : CREDIT CARD CHARGES OF SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

However, the figures released by the SLCC DO NOT cover the term of its former CEO Eileen Masterman, who resigned after a period of ‘ill health’, being away from her post for six months or so after a confrontation with Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney who quizzed Ms Masterman over secret meetings the SLCC had with convicted insurers Marsh who run the Law Society’s controversial Master Policy insurance scheme designed to protect negligent & crooked solicitors from damages claims.

The SLCC’s credit cards are not funded by taxpayers, instead being funded by annual levies paid by solicitors in Scotland who in turn recover the money (in some cases multiple times) from clients by significantly ramping up legal fees for legal services provided to clients.


Rosemary AgnewSLCC CEO Rosemary Agnew, vexed about media publication of hospitality. While the SLCC were happy to disclose the amounts their officials spent on credit cards ultimately funded by the legal profession & client fees, the SLCC’s ‘current’ Chief Executive Rosemary Agnew, in what appears to be a show of anger for adverse media coverage of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, recently accused journalists of vexatious use of FOI legislation to uncover information relating to secret hospitality the SLCC has been dishing out to other ‘dodgy’ regulators & organisations connected to the legal profession.

Enquiries into hospitality received & offered by the SLCC began after an insider close to the Commission revealed hospitality & clandestine meetings had taken place between SLCC members & outside organisations which some at the law complaints quango felt should have been made public. A resulting investigation on these tip offs revealed instances such as secret meetings between the SLCC’s Chair Jane Irvine and groups such as the Legal Defence Union at plush locations such as Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel.

One legal observer commented the SLCC’s accusations against journalists appeared to be “suspicious and somewhat vindictive”, given previous FOI requests and publication in the media of information on hospitality at the law complaints quango had forced the SLCC to publish a register of hospitality detailing gifts & other items its board members & officials have received from external organisations.

He said : “What’s the big deal refusing to publish what kind of hospitality the SLCC has offered others when they have already published hospitality they received. Is there something to hide?”


Reacting to media reporting of their Credit Card spending, the Scottish Legal Aid Board have today 20 September, provided further information on how they use credit cards to pay for items.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said : Whilst the fullest information possible was given ... in a spirit of transparency; with hindsight we should have given you some further description around the information we provided to avoid any misinterpretation. This further description is outlined below :

1. Most references to payments to hotels refer to venue hire for training events (“Roadshows”) for the profession, which might involve several hundred solicitor attendees. Board staff do not usually stay overnight at these venues, so the majority of charges do not refer to any overnight accommodation.

2. Flight purchases will be for one or more members of staff.

3. Credit cards are not provided to individual Board members nor to Board employees to cover their own business travel and subsistence or any other costs.

4. The cards are only used by the Board’s purchasing department for payment over the phone or internet in situations where setting up an invoicing arrangement is not possible or practical at the time - typically for travel, venue hire, or some IT purchases. They are procurement cards, they are not for personal use.

5. Staff do not purchase accommodation or flights themselves.

6. The purchases are for Board business or Board premises only, not any personal purchases.

7. There is a robust internal process for the authorisation of credit card transactions.

8. At all times costs are controlled and purchasing protocols adhered to.

9. Credit cards are a common and convenient form of payment, used by the Board for standard and necessary purchases, as in similar organisations.

Taking into account enquiries made by individuals, solicitors and msps to Diary of Injustice on this article, and noting readers comments, the Scottish Legal Aid Board were asked why their officials should be flying outwith Scotland or taking part in events outwith Scotland or outwith the UK as part of their duties to administer the Scottish Legal Aid Budget to persons applying for legal aid in Scottish cases being heard in Scottish courts.

A SLAB spokesperson indicated a response would be provided soon.