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Criminal records of lawyers : Scots public kept in dark over convictions while England & Wales get ‘right to know’

18 May

lawsoc_eng_walesLaw Society of England & Wales reveals statistics on lawyers with criminal records. The Law Society of Scotland have today been upstaged by their English counterpart, the Law Society of England & Wales, who, responding to a Freedom of Information request, have reported that in the rest of the UK there are some 90 solicitors in practice in England & Wales who currently have criminal records, with an estimated 50 of those solicitors still retaining their practising certificates, entitling them to continue representing the public in legal matters.

Law Society of England & Wales statement on criminal records of solicitors : “The Law Society is not notified, as a matter of course, when a solicitor is charged with an offence but we are notified if a solicitor is convicted. There are currently 92 solicitors who have been convicted of criminal offences.”

“50 of the 92 have current practicing certificates and are therefore currently entitled to practice. A random check of some of the 50 indicate that the convictions in those circumstances mostly relate to driving offences.”

This is believed to be the first disclosure of such details on UK solicitors, and even though the Law Society of England & Wales are not bound by Freedom of Information laws, they acceded to the FOI request in the interests of assisting journalism and keeping the public informed of matters of potential concern

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland refuse to reveal details of criminal records of solicitors. While members of the public in England & Wales now have such information to hand, to assist in their choice of legal representatives, people in Scotland will not have access to such radical disclosure of solicitors criminal history, after the Law Society refused to publicly disclose any such details of the criminal records of Scottish solicitors.

Ian Donnelly - Lawyer begs for sex with mum & girl of 11 - Daily RecordCriminal convictions of Scots lawyers relate to very serious offences and many with criminal records still practise law. A senior Law Society insider today spoke of his concern that revealing the types of criminal charges and criminal convictions of lawyers in Scotland may well put people in fear of choosing a lawyer, given that while in England & Wales, many of the convictions seem to relate to driving, or minor offences, criminal convictions in Scotland range from very grave criminal offences of rape, child abuse, assault, fraud, embezzlement, drugs running, and even accessory to murder, rather than being limited to driving offences and the mode mundane.

He said : “There wont be many within the Scots legal profession or the Law Society of Scotland who will feel inclined to follow the lead of our English cousins in disclosing statistics on criminal records, simply because the seriousness of some of the criminal convictions of solicitors in Scotland would probably make people run a mile from many a legal firm.”

“There is an even greater problem in that the numbers of solicitors who are actually charged with a criminal offence is, to be expected, much higher than the figures showing the number of resulting convictions.”

He went on : “I personally know of several solicitors currently practising who have been charged with very serious offences, one of rape, one of internet grooming of children, several charges relating to significant financial frauds, not only against clients, but also involving financial institutions, and several younger solicitors in Edinburgh who have recently been charged with drug abuse and possession of cocaine.”

He ended the interview by concluding : “If clients were entitled to this kind of information, the affected law firms would suffer financially from loss of business, but you do raise an intriguing point in that if I were a member of the public I might want to know if my solicitor had a criminal record and what he or she had been charged with or what offences they were convicted for.”

Law Chief held with rent boy - Sunday Mail 3 May 2009 eRent boys are a popular theme in criminal charges of leading Scots lawyers. I am all too aware of the seriousness of criminal activity and convictions of solicitors in Scotland, where in recent years we have seen a raft of solicitors hit the headlines such as Angela Baillie, who transported drugs into prison and was herself sent to jail, a Glasgow solicitor who was charged with gun running, also sent to jail, countless solicitors who have been charged with fraud, against clients & banks, some of whom seem to escape with lenient sentences, solicitors who have committed perjury in open court, and of course, the ever popular list of criminal charges relating to offences of a sexual nature, where some of the Scots legal profession’s most senior members have been caught with boy prostitutes in shopping centre toilets and other equally sordid cases of rape & abuse – all a far cry from a few ‘driving offences’.

An angry client who was confronted with the fact their advocate has faced charges of serious sex offences today said : “This is an outrage we are not entitled to this kind of information in Scotland. Personally I am horrified at the revelations of what is going on inside the Scottish legal profession, and I think there has to be an immediate change in the law that all clients of solicitors know exactly who they are dealing with.”

EXCLUSIVE Lawyer sued for 1millionJohn G O’Donnell has 21 negligence claims but no criminal charges, and is still practising – Your lawyer might have a similar record but no one will know until it is too late. I, of course, fully support the public’s right to know whether or not their legal representatives have a criminal record, and also support the idea of full regulatory disclosure by all solicitors to clients, so that people can make up their minds whether the person or legal firm trusted with their legal affairs, is fit and honest enough to carry out the work entrusted to them.

It surely must be the right of clients to check out their solicitors first to see just how honest they are and how they have dealt with regulatory issues arising from perhaps, complaints from other clients. Also clients must of course be able to find out the conduct & negligence record of solicitors, which would in anyone’s mind certainly impact on their choice of legal representation.

I have written about full regulatory disclosure in an earlier article here : Disclosing the regulatory history of lawyers in Scotland to help give choice to the consumer and a more recent article here : Regulatory disclosure to solicitors clients ‘a must’ as legal ombudsman’s report fails to name & shame rogue lawyers

SLCC squareSLCC currently hold no information on criminal charges or records of Scots lawyers. In view of the English Law Society’s break from secrecy on the issue of criminal records of those in the legal profession, I asked the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission what they were doing about the issue north of the border, given the public interest would most definitely be served by clients being able to obtain both regulatory disclosure and also disclosure of criminal records or convictions of their solicitor.

I asked Jane Irvine, the SLCC Chair, whether the SLCC have any information regarding solicitors or advocates who are members of the Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates have criminal records, or are currently subject to criminal investigations or investigations from the Legal Aid Board or any other Government Department.

The Commission admitted it had no such information, despite a brief perusal of the newspapers showing plenty lawyers in the headlines for just about any criminal offence imaginable, and some which are too sordid to imagine.

Given the SLCC is now the sole gateway for complaints against the legal profession, one would think there surely exists a necessary role in collating such statistics relating to criminal activity within Scotland’s 10,000 solicitors, given that such information may well be relevant not only to complaints investigations but also inquiries from members of the public who suspect or simply wish to enquire as to the honesty of their solicitors & legal firm.

Cash laundering link to law chief stabbing - Scotland on Sunday 29 January 2006Criminals from within Scotland’s legal profession staged a mafia hit on Law Society Chief in 2006. There amazingly seems to be no obligation on the part of solicitors or advocates to inform the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, or the Law Society of Scotland that they are the subject of criminal investigations, or criminal charges or convictions. The only way the Law Society gets to know if a solicitor has been found guilty of a criminal offence, is from the Crown Office, and according to sources questioned on this issue today, the Law Society of Scotland does not always want to be told one of their solicitor members has been found guilty of criminal offences … unless the media asks first.

I asked the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission if they thought there should be such an obligation on the part of solicitors & those in the legal services market to report to them that they are facing or are the subject of criminal investigations, or criminal charges,or indeed have been convicted of a criminal offence.

The Commission responded by saying “We deal with complaints under our Act – Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. Under our legislation there is no obligation on the part of solicitors or advocates to report to the SLCC that they are facing or are the subject of criminal investigations or criminal charges.”

Jane IrvineSLCC Chairman Jane Irvine. While the Commission’s Chair, Jane Irvine recently supported the idea that the Law Society of Scotland should be brought within the scope of Freedom of Information legislation, which I reported on here : Legal Complaints Chief supports ‘consumer advantages’ of removing Law Society’s Freedom of Info immunity, there does seem to be a more pressing need for the public to be able to access all kinds of information relating to their legal representatives, to assist making a decision on who will represent their legal interests which often involve the most important parts of their lives, from buying a house, to making a will, to the defence of criminal charges or handling civil litigation of all types.

Simply, wouldn’t you want to know if your lawyer has a criminal record ? or a negligence record ? or a poor complaints record ?

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