Legal Defence Union intervened in Complaints investigation of dodgy claims lawyer. A series of CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS obtained by Diary of Injustice journalists investigating the closed world of regulation of Scottish solicitors have revealed the notorious LEGAL DEFENCE UNION (LDU) have intervened in an investigation being carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)) in response to complaints made by clients against Niels S Lockhart, the sole practising solicitor from Kilmarnock who was accused by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) of making EXCESSIVE claims for taxpayer funded legal aid. A SLAB report revealed Lockhart walked away with a staggering SIX HUNDRED & SEVENTY TWO THOUSAND POUNDS of legal aid funds between April 2002 to March 2005 yet SLAB Chiefs said “..the the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”
In the shady deal done between the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Legal Defence Union over Legal Aid Chief’s demands Lockhart be investigated by the Law Society, it was revealed by Diary of Injustice and the Sunday Mail newspaper that solicitor James McCann of the Legal Defence Union had stepped in to prevent any further investigations or prosecutions of ‘their client’ Mr Lockhart. Diary of Injustice reported on the secret deal by the three legal organisations in an earlier article, here : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case
Diary of Injustice revealed in January of this year, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had been called in to investigate Mr Lockhart in an earlier article, here : TO BE OR NOT TO BE ? Lawyer who raked in £600K of Legal Aid & left clients ruined, now being investigated by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
However, news of the secret intervention by the Legal Defence Union on behalf of the shamed legal aid claims solicitor Niels Lockhart who is still working as a lawyer in Kilmarnock, has been roundly condemned by senior members of the legal profession and even insiders at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who are aghast the LDU has again been flexing its muscle to protect solicitors many inside & outside the profession now feel are not fit to represent the legal interests of their clients.
This time around, Mr Lockhart is facing complaints made by clients such as pensioner Esther Francis, who was MADE HOMLESS by solicitor Niels Lockhart’s dodgy legal services. Lockhart’s demands for ever more money to pay for fanciful legal work also forced the poor pensioner TO STARVE HERSELF to pay legal fees after being threatened by the Kilmarnock solicitor over a missed £100 payment of legal bills which were originally being paid by Legal Aid. Diary of Injustice and the Sunday Mail newspaper covered the story here :
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.
Diary of Injustice can today reveal the documents obtained in the latest scandal involving the Kilmarnock based solicitor, which cannot be published at this stage for fear of prejudicing the SLCC’s investigation into the dodgy solicitor, CONFIRM the Legal Defence Union have made strong representations on behalf of Mr Lockhart to the SLCC, in writing and, apparently during meetings & other conversations with staff and senior figures at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
More worryingly for those clients who are making complaints against Mr Lockhart, the documents also reveal the same clients who found their lives & legal affairs ruined by Mr Lockhart’s actions are now BEING DENIED access to the LDU’s representations to the SLCC by members of staff at the SLCC. Clients who have asked for access to the Legal Defence Union’s submissions supporting their client Mr Lockhart, have been given a short sharp shrift by SLCC officials who have refused to part with the secret LDU begging letters.
In one letter seen by Diary of Injustice, an SLCC investigator claimed the Legal Defence Union had not seen any correspondence or complaints made by clients of Mr Lockhart, yet further enquiries carried out by Diary of Injustice have now established the LDU “is fully aware of the terms of the complaints made against their client”. It has since been established by Diary of Injustice the LDU also appears to have copies of submissions made in the complaints against Mr Lockhart, despite written assurances given by SLCC investigators to clients this was not the case.
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was asked for comment on these developments, however no response has been received prior to publication.
BACKGROUND : LOCKHART, LEGAL AID & THE LEGAL DEFENCE UNION
The long story of Mr Lockhart’s legal aid claims began in the first half of the last decade, although it took the Scottish Legal Aid Board years to catch up with him, when 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 on Niels S Lockhart, obtained in 2011 by Diary of Injustice 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 Scottish Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”
The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :
(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board report also revealed : “From April 2002—March 2005, Niels S Lockhart was paid £672,585 from the Legal Aid Fund. Of this, £596,734 (89%) was in relation to Advice and Assistance cases, with £570,528 (85%) solely in relation to Civil Advice and Assistance. In the Board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”
“Based on the supporting evidence he arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings. In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case, but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid Fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings. The nature of subject matters is often repeated, resulting in numerous duplicate/multiple/consecutive grants submitted under various guises, thus avoiding the Board’s computerised checks on subject matter. This pattern of conduct is deliberate,recurring and persistent, serving—in the Board’s view—as a device to generate considerable additional income for the firm to the detriment of the Scottish Legal Aid Fund.”
SLAB’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.
Legal 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.”
Diary of Injustice continued to report on allegations surrounding Mr Lockhart and the Law Society of Scotland’s efforts to avoid a prosecution. All previous reports can be viewed HERE.
In July of 2011, Diary of Injustice followed up the investigation into the LDU-SLCC relationship with the following report, revealing senior figures from the LDU had SECRET no-notes-taken meetings with the SLCC’s Chair, Jane Irvine :
Investigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's links, secret 'off the record' dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union REVEALED : Law regulator’s dealings with organisation linked to client suicides & blocked prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters. AN INVESTIGATION by Diary of Injustice into dealings between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘independent’ quango which regulates complaints against Scottish lawyers and the Legal Defence Union, an organisation which represents the best interests of lawyers, recently linked to blocked criminal prosecutions of legal aid fraudster lawyers & also the suicide of a married Oban family man in the SLCC’s 2009 report into the Master Policy, has revealed a series of cosy meetings between the regulator & pro-lawyer lobby group at expensive Edinburgh hotels which the heads of both organisations agreed to keep off the record and away from public gaze.
According to claims from SLCC insiders who were fed up with the non-achieving law complaints regulator, the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union have now become so close, SLCC staff privately joke it is now “routine” for the Legal Defence Union to intervene in complaints investigations on behalf of solicitors interests while consumers who make complaints about their solicitors to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are not represented in any way and have no organisation to turn to for help with their complaints.
SLCC Chair Jane Irvine agreed no records of discussion between regulator & lawyer’s lobby group at Balmoral Hotel. A limited amount of papers reluctantly disclosed by the SLCC under Freedom of Information legislation show a series of discussions between the two pro-lawyer bodies bosses, Jane Irvine for the SLCC and LDU Solicitor Director William Macreath, also a partner at law firm Levy McRae, who, according to the text of one of the letters disclosed to Diary of Injustice under FOI laws, both agreed “there would be no formal records of any element of the discussion.”. The letter from Jane Irvine to the LDU Director which disclosed the secret no-records-of-meetings policy went on to detail several technical issues about complaints regulation and how the SLCC should deal with solicitors & consumers, the former apparently having much greater priority over the latter. The limited Freedom of Information disclosure of documents disclosed by the SLCC documenting only a fraction of its dealings with the Legal Defence Union can be viewed online or downloaded here : FOI Disclosure : Involvement & meetings between Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Legal Defence Union
Anyone who has made a complaint about their solicitor or law firm to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is HIGHLY ADVISED by Diary of Injustice journalists to ask the SLCC for copies of correspondence or representations made by the Legal Defence Union on behalf of the solicitor or law firm who is the subject of the complaint. If readers want to publicise any material, please send it to Diary of Injustice at firstname.lastname@example.org