Last week, in what has become a fairly desperate habit of the Scots legal profession, the Law Society of Scotland went to great lengths to inform newspapers of the criminal prosecution and sentencing of ex-solicitor Valerie Macadam for embezzling at least £130,000 of client funds.
The Law Society press release can be read here : Former solicitor Valerie Macadam sentenced to three years for embezzlement
However, when asked if every penny of the embezzlement had been repaid to clients, the Law Society were a little more vague on their reply, preferring actually a “no comment” .. leading to the suspicion that, like in so many other cases, after a solicitor steals clients funds, the money is lost forever .. despite the legal profession’s constant claim their “Guarantee Fund” pays out in full to anyone who suffers a loss at the hands of a crooked lawyer.
Laughably, it was left to a newspaper to report the Guarantee Fund had paid back Valerie Macadam’s victims, but no figures were mentioned, nor, according to journalists contacting me, were accounts and payments disclosed by the Law Society, leading to suspicions the story was “entirely bogus” and “a pack of lies” – according to one senior law journalist.
However, while Valerie Macadam was sent to jail for three years, and will probably, according to one source, be out on release after just twelve months, little mention was made of another solicitor, Iain Robertson, of Paisley legal firm Robertson & Ross, being found guilty by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal of pocketing £21,308 from a client who was already on legal aid.
Iain Robertson is also being probed for possible legal aid fraud, although today when asked for comment on the case, the Scottish Legal Aid Board issued the following statement :
“The Board’s policy in any situation where fraud or abuse of legal aid is identified, is to take action to stop it, recover monies and to take the appropriate action which may include; suspension, deregistration (if the solicitor is providing criminal legal assistance), reporting to the prosecuting authorities and to the Law Society of Scotland. We invest substantial resources into investigating fraud and abuse to protect both tax payers and the vast majority of honest legal aid practitioners. However, it is inappropriate for the Board to comment on any case until investigations or other actions are concluded.”
A source at the Law Society of Scotland today claimed “People here don’t want to talk about the Paisley case because what Robertson did is rife among Scots solicitors and most clients don’t realise if they are on legal aid and are probably so poor they don’t need to pay their lawyers”.
There was however, no Law Society Press Release available on Mr Robertson being allowed to continue practising after the notoriously sloppy Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal fined him £5000 after finding him guilty of professional misconduct, and ruled the incident “appeared to be a one-off”, concluding: “What happened was due to incompetence rather than anything more sinister.”.
However, fortunately for the rest of us, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported the story, and highlighted the fact the solicitor in question “has been reported ot the Procurator Fiscal after a Police probe into an alleged legal aid fraud worth up to £350,000.”
The source at the Law Society went on to say : “The Law Society of Scotland is inundated with complaints about lawyers charging clients huge sums of money while they are on legal aid and we have some reports of lawyers demanding custody of client’s state benefits books if they refuse to pay up”.
Well, no wonder the Law Society doesn’t want to discuss such cases of blatant fraud, and particularly in some cases where outwardly respectable solicitors are effectively stealing people’s state benefits to pay for legal work when these same solicitors are claiming legal aid from the state for payment of the same legal work !
Surely, solicitors confiscating clients state benefits & pensions books is some kind of fraud which needs to be investigated by the Police at least, and hard questions asked of the Law Society as to why it has done nothing in such circumstances ?
It is of course personally shocking to me to learn of this as my own mother was a victim of such a fraud where a well known Scottish Borders accountant confiscated her pension book to keep control of the money for himself, which you can read more about here : Scottish Borders accountant confiscates pension book
A client of a well known Edinburgh legal firm which claims not to take on legal aid work, informed me today of their own similar case where they have been forced to hand over more than nine thousand pounds to their lawyer despite the fact the solicitor has been claiming legal aid for their client’s case for around four years.
“Our solicitor keeps sending us bills for work yet we have signed eight legal aid claims forms which we are told he is receiving money for. He forced us to sell our car and several items of furniture to give him more cash and is now demanding we sell our house at anything we can get to keep paying him for a case he is basically doing nothing with that has lasted 4 years and got nowhere”.
“We now suspect the legal aid board knew nothing of the fees our lawyer has been charging us as we are supposed to be well within the financial limits where a financial contribution from us is necessary”.
I recommended today in the case I have quoted, the client should contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board privately and inform them of what has been going on, in terms of how much money their solicitor had demanded & received from them while being in receipt of legal aid. I am also keeping an eye on the case and will make sure it received the due media attention it deserves, in the public interest.
If a client who is on legal aid suspects the same is happening to them, they should contact the Legal Aid Board, report matters, and also let the media know of what their solicitor has been charging them while receiving legal aid at the same time.
Additionally I have heard this week of legal firms holding onto settlements made to clients involved in legal aid funded cases, where secret deductions were made by the legal firms before the remainder, if anything was passed onto the client or the legal aid board. These actions by solicitors may be considered fraudulent and SLAB should be notified immediately.
Contact details for the Scottish Legal Aid Board are as follows :
The odds are, if you don’t qualify to give a financial contribution to legal aid (which has to be made clear to you from the very start of your legal aid application), but are still being charged for the legal work carried out by your solicitor, there is a problem, and it will probably be the case the solicitor will be doing the same to other clients.
We can’t allow the Law Society to whitewash what certainly seems to be a significant area of fraud where the earning of ‘double fees’ by unscrupulous solicitors goes on while the Law Society and the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently look the other way.
To highlight the issue at hand, here follows last week’s Sunday Mail report on Iain Robertson :
Dec 7 2008 By Steve Dinneen
A LAWYER being probed over alleged legal aid fraud escaped being struck off despite ripping off a client.
Iain Robertson was able to continue practising because the incident was a “one-off”.
He has now been accused of fraud in a separate investigation.
The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal found Robertson pocketed £21,308 from a woman client while getting legal aid cash for the work.
They fined him £5000 after finding him guilty of professional misconduct.
But they decided not to strike him off, ruling it “appeared to be a one-off” and concluding: “What happened was due to incompetence rather than anything more sinister.”
But Robertson has been reported to the procurator fiscal after a police probe into an alleged legal aid fraud worth up to £350,000.
The Sunday Mail revealed in April that the 55-year-old lawyer, a partner in Paisley firm Robertson and Ross, was being investigated.
Police reported him to the fiscal in April.
Robertson said: “We have co-operated fully and are confident the matter will be resolved in our favour.