Scotland certainly had an interesting week on the legal front …
Developments in the World’s End trial collapse saw the Lord Advocate & Lord Justice General kiss & make up after falling out over the Lord Advocate’s shifting of blame from the usual Crown Office failures to judicial failures …
The Lockerbie trial – that oh-so-honest international barometer of Scots justice which Westminster & Washington held up as a job well done against terrorism, saw allegations that witnesses were apparently offered millions of dollars for favorable testimony … not a job well done then as it turns out
The Lord Advocate came in for more criticism she was trying to shield Colin Boyd from the promised inquiry into the Shirley McKie fingerprint scandal, where some in the political & legal system decided it was in their best interests to persecute & fit up Shirley McKie, a then serving Detective with Strathclyde Police, than admit the SCRO got it wrong …
.. and while the Scottish Legal Aid Board reluctantly troubled themselves to investigate a staggering £1.8million pound legal aid fraud, where the wife of the solicitor who was definitely on the fiddle, and committed suicide when investigations began into his activities, allegedly agreed to pay back the £1.8million pounds her late husband falsely claimed in legal aid payments from the taxpayer.
and of course not forgetting the Paralegal who is up in court for allowing a property to be used to sell drugs, and finally, the lawyer arrested in connection with the theft of Davinci’s 500-year-old Madonna with the Yarnwinder, owned by the late Duke of Buccleuch.
My my .. .don’t we have a great legal profession in Scotland, never out of trouble .. even with each other sometimes.
If they aren’t stealing from the clients these days, they are stealing from the taxpayer, or helping themselves to antiquities of significant value …. a common enough occurrence in the Scottish Borders, where I once remember a lawyer’s safe stashed with valuables from deceased clients … if only those families of the deceased clients had done something about it … or even if only they knew …
Despite all of this, not much news out of the Scottish Government on reforming the legal profession, and stripping them of their prized regulatory powers, which are to be shared with the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which I’m sad to say, seems to be turning into a fairly crooked affair on it’s own after word reached me today that a few of the usual suspects are being appointed on orders of the Law Society of Scotland to make sure crooked lawyers still get off the hook …
Well, with the polluted incestuous system of ‘lay membership’ we have in Scotland, which the shiny new SNP Scottish Government hasn’t tackled yet, and needs to soon, can we expect anything else ? How can justice be seen to be done with everyone sitting on each others committees ?
I wonder what people will think of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission when to act against the client interest just like the Law Society of Scotland when investigating complaints … perhaps in the way some of you suggest in comments & emails which, for your own protection, and mine, I simply can’t publish !
Perhaps even, clients should form their own investigative commission to look into complaints against lawyers, and then challenge the likes of the SLCC when it might perhaps, carry on the same culture of injustice where the Law Society left off ?
Finally, since it’s Friday, here’s a 20 minute video challenging the notion of mob rule in Jedburgh, my former town of residence in the Scottish Borders, where the youth have, allegedly run riot, terrorising elderly residents & tourists. The film has apparently been made by some of the young people in the town who want to put their own side of the story – something ex-provost and now SBC Tory Councillor Len Wyse didn’t allow much when he was on the Community Council.
A few articles from the Scotsman & Herald this week relating to the above …
MICHAEL HOWIE HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT
A SOLICITOR “embellished” claims for legal aid in child welfare cases with false details of sex abuse to fraudulently obtain nearly £2 million, The Scotsman can reveal.
In Scotland’s biggest-ever legal aid fraud, James Muir made false claims for public money in hundreds of child protection cases over seven years.
Mr Muir, who kept a low profile in the profession but was regarded as one of the country’s most dedicated and experienced specialist child welfare lawyers, committed suicide after the police began investigating.
Details of the case have been kept secret for two years while the Scottish Government’s civil recovery unit sought to reclaim the money from his estate.
Yesterday the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) announced that an agreement had been reached with Mr Muir’s family that will see £1.8 million paid back to the public fund.
Last night politicians demanded answers over how such abuse could go undetected for so long.
SLAB claimed the “tragic case” was a one-off and insisted it had improved procedures for checking legal aid claims.
Mr Muir’s wife Susan, believed to be a serving police officer, has sold the family’s luxury home in Bothwell, Lanarkshire, to help pay back the money.
Mr Muir, 45, who ran his practice from his home, worked mainly as a custodian, or “safeguarder”, for children and minors too young to manage their own affairs or represent themselves in court.
The Scotsman can reveal that from 1999 until 2005, he made false claims for legal aid in several hundred child welfare cases. At the outset, he was claiming an average of around £1,000 per case, but by the time he was caught, this had risen to £10,000. To justify the soaring claims, he “embellished” detailed application forms to the legal aid board with fabricated details of sex abuse. He even invented statements between social workers and police officers.
The fraud came to light after legal aid staff noticed his payments were steadily increasing.
Strathclyde Police obtained a warrant to search Mr Muir’s home and office on 20 April, 2005. Later the same day his body was discovered on a railway line.
A source last night said: “Mr Muir had a niche market, being the only dedicated children’s lawyer in the area. All the children existed in his claims, but he made up the grounds of referral from the Children’s Reporter and they all, in effect, became sex abuse cases. This allowed him to embellish claims and increase the amount paid.”
Another lawyer, who did not want to be named, added: “If this had been going on in the criminal court, people would have quickly suspected something was going on. But he was basically doing this work on his own and no-one asked questions.
“Everyone thought he was simply working and doing well for himself. When it came to light, I think the legal aid board was embarrassed and furious in equal measure.”
Mr Muir was known to have taken on a large workload and on occasions carried out work he did not claim for.
Now, following a long and detailed investigation by the legal aid board and months of negotiations, it is understood that his widow has agreed to give back all £1.8m that her husband received in legal aid over the seven years.
Bill Aitken, the Conservatives’ justice spokesman, said: “Little can be done to protect the legal aid fund from deliberate theft but the obvious question is: how was this allowed to go on so long without someone noticing?”
A spokesman for SLAB said steps had been taken to prevent such fraud going undetected for so long. The body’s investigation unit had been beefed up with new staff, with closer attention now paid to claims from lawyers working in specialised areas.
Pauline McNeill, Labour’s justice spokeswoman, said: “It’s important that lessons are learned from this case.”
LEGAL AID BILL COSTS TAXPAYERS MORE THAN £150 MILLION
SCOTLAND’S legal aid bill cost the public purse more than £150 million last year.
Criminal cases accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total, but the civil legal aid bill also rose, for the first time in three years. Last year’s total legal aid bill was 2 per cent up on 2005 and brought spending to the second-highest ever level.
The figures were disclosed yesterday in the annual report of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. It coincided with new proposals from the board and the Scottish Government to change the way solicitors are paid for legal aid in summary – or less serious – cases.
Under the proposals, there will be a “substantial” increase in payments to lawyers in the early stages of a case, with lesser rises for cases going to trial. This is intended to save money overall, as the system is said to favour “not guilty” pleas that are later changed.
The £150 million cost to the taxpayer was made up of £106.6 million on criminal cases, £39 million on civil cases and £4.5 million on children’s legal assistance and contempt of court cases.
Over the past five years, total spending has gone up by 11 per cent, or £15 million, mostly because of a £13.6 million rise in the cost of criminal legal aid.
Announcing his intention to introduce the legal aid changes next spring, Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, said: “These proposals aim to save time and expense, to avoid wasted effort and to reduce the demands made on victims and witnesses.”
Legal aid winners
DONALD Findlay, QC, has topped the list for legal aid payments to advocates, for the second year in a row, receiving £358,400 last year.
The Glasgow-based law firm Ross Harper topped the solicitors’ list, also for the second year in a row, at £1.732 million – and 11 other firms of solicitors were paid more than £1 million each. Top-earning solicitor advocate was Iain Paterson of Paterson Bell Solicitors, with £219,300.
Ten advocates each earned more than £200,000 in 2006-7. They are Donald Findlay QC (£358,400), Ian Duguid QC (£321,600), Edgar Prais QC (£272,500), Mhairi Richards QC (£269,800), Paul McBride QC (£237,800), Gordon Jackson (£228,500), Derek Ogg QC (£213,300), Lorenzo Alonzi (£213,100), Ronaldo Renucci (£212,100) and Thomas Ross (£208,600).
Bill Aitken, the misplaced Tory Convener of Holyrood’s only Justice Committee, for odd reasons, stating the obvious .. must have been through gritted teeth, criticising his friends in the legal profession .. now onto the crooked Paralegal .. yes there are plenty of those too …
A FORMER employee of Renfrewshire Council’s legal department turned a blind eye when she discovered that a flat she owned was being used as a distribution for cocaine.
Claire Feely, 32, a one-time paralegal with the local authority, used details of someone else’s identity, taken from the local authority’s database, to rent the property in Muirpark Street, Glasgow, then sub-let it to Derek Morrison for £150 a month.
During a huge police operation mounted last summer Morrison, a car dealer, was kept under surveillance, a court heard yesterday.
Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency officers recovered cocaine with a potential street value of over £800,000 during the raids that were mounted.
After gathering evidence, police arrested both Morrison and Feely and detained two others.
Police, acting on inside information, began watching Morrison, formerly of Elliott Street and now of Mossvale Street, Glasgow, over the summer last year.
The final pounce was mounted in August after Morrison had driven to properties associated with student Nikolas Guit, in Glassford Street and Sheila Street; and attended at the home of David Burke, a scene hand, in the city’s Aray Street. Morrison, 30, admitted being concerned in the supply of the drug between 1 March and 24 August last year at the flat, described in court as a “drugs warehouse”, and at his then home in Elliott Street, Glasgow.
The High Court in Paisley heard that police had found 15 one-kilogram packages of cocaine, concealed in a suitcase kept on top of a wardrobe.
A frying pan, hammer and scales, all stained with traces of cocaine, and various packages prepared for onward sale, were also retrieved.
Feely, who is now working as a hotel receptionist with the Holiday Inn group, was interviewed by police when they discovered her property had been let to Morrison.
She pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of cocaine between 1 March and 24 August at 6 Muirpark Street.
Burke, 35, now of Pitreavie Place, Glasgow, was found in possession of £800 worth of cocaine when officers raided his former address in Aray Street. He admitted he had been dealing and confessed he had a personal drugs habit that cost him £1,000 a day.
In court, he plead guilty to being concerned in the supply of the drug between 24 May and 24 August, 2006, at both Aray Street and Muirpark Street.
Guit, 32, was found with cocaine with a street value of £3,370 when police went to a second property he had in Glassford Street.
He admitted being concerned in the supply of the drug at both addresses on 24 August.
Yesterday judge Lord Kinclaven was told that a meticulous search of Morrison’s home had also revealed correspondence relating to the purchase of another flat in Bulgaria.
Feely, he was told, had not been able to bring herself to tell any members of her family anything about the court case.
The judge remanded Morrison and Burke in custody after calling for background reports, and released Feely and Guit on bail.
All four will appear at the High Court in Edinburgh for sentencing on 31 October.