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LIAR AID : Paisley law firm removed from criminal legal assistance register, questions remain why no prosecution after lawyer repaid £221k to legal aid board

12 Mar

SLAB_logoScottish Legal Aid Board remove law firm from criminal legal assistance register. THE SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD (SLAB) revealed yesterday it has finally removed the Paisley law firm of Robertson & Ross Ltd and one of its directors, Fraser Currie, from the list of firms & solicitors registered to provide criminal legal assistance, some eight months on after it was first revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper in July 2010 there was to be no criminal prosecution of another solicitor Iain Robertson from the same law firm after he returned a a massive £221,847 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said that for law firms to register and remain registered to practice criminal legal assistance, individual firms and solicitors must show that they meet the standards of service set out by the code in three main areas – management and administration systems, standards of service and standards of professional conduct.

Clearly, Messrs Robertson & Ross must have failed to meet those those “standards of service” which SLAB claim to rigorously enforce, although why the law firm was not charged with criminal offences is yet to be exposed in a scandal which may well rock the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Crown Office and the Law Society of Scotland.

I reported on the Crown Office’s apparent refusal to prosecute Robertson & Ross over the legal aid case in an earlier article, here : Justice for all ? Scotland’s Crown Office refuse to prosecute ‘crooked lawyers’ who ‘wrongly’ claimed £221K in Legal Aid funds

It should be noted that while the law form of Messrs Robertson & Ross have now been removed from the Criminal legal Assistance Register by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, this move only prevents the law firm from doing legal aid work in relation to criminal cases. It does not prevent them from doing private-fee work as this is outside the Board’s responsibility.

The Press Release (pdf) from the Scottish Legal Aid Board reads as follows :

Removal of firm and solicitor from the criminal legal assistance register The Scottish Legal Aid Board announced today that it had removed the firm of Robertson and Ross Limited, 7 Causeyside Street, Paisley, PA1 1UW, and one of its directors Fraser Currie, from the list of firms and solicitors registered to provide criminal legal assistance. This means that the firm and individual solicitor cannot now provide criminal legal assistance.

The removal of the firm and Mr Currie follows investigations by the Board in relation to the Board’s code of practice for criminal legal assistance and is as a result of further information becoming available to the Board during the July 2010 deregistration of Mssrs. Iain Robertson, director of the firm and Alastair Gibb, a former associate of the firm for similar failings.

These investigations revealed significant failures to comply with the code which included the submission of accounts that overcharged travel to prisons.As a result of non-compliance with the Board’s code of practice, the firm of Robertson and Ross Limited previously repaid to the Legal Aid Fund, the sum of £221,847.

The Board has a substantial programme of monitoring and investigating legal aid expenditure involving both legal aid applicants and the legal profession. While it can stop solicitors doing criminal legal aid work under its own powers, currently only the Law Society of Scotland can stop solicitors from doing civil legal aid work.

Where the Board has concerns about the conduct of lawyers or advocates, it can make formal complaints to the appropriate regulatory body (for example, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates or the Legal Complaints Commission) and may also forward cases for consideration to the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service.

In 2009-2010, the Board’s compliance and investigations work resulted in savings and recoveries of nearly £2 million and a number of cases involving solicitors, applicants and legally-aided assisted persons were reported to the Crown Office.

The Board manages legal aid in Scotland, which is paid for by the taxpayer and delivered by solicitor and counsel. A key part of the Board’s work is ensuring firms and solicitors abide by legislation, guidance and the code of practice for criminal legal assistance. This work is important in protecting the Legal Aid Fund and the taxpayer. It is also a protection for the vast majority of legal aid practitioners who provide a quality legal service with honesty and integrity

While the Press Release from the Scottish Legal Aid Board claims “In 2009-2010, the Board’s compliance and investigations work resulted in savings and recoveries of nearly £2 million and a number of cases involving solicitors, applicants and legally-aided assisted persons were reported to the Crown Office”, raising the probability there should have been several prosecutions of law firms for legal aid fraud, it appears the only people being charged or prosecuted over legal aid fraud, are the applicants, rather than solicitors or law firms … a scandal in the making which will soon be revealed in an upcoming investigation.

Lets not forget how it takes the media to expose a scandal in the legal world as The Sunday Mail reported in July 2010 :

LIAR AID Solicitor in probe escapes prosecutionLIAR AID : Fury as shamed lawyer stays out of court despite admitting £221k of bogus claims

Jul 18 2010 Exclusive by Derek Alexander, Sunday Mail

A LAWYER has escaped the dock – after handing back more than £200,000 of bogus legal aid claims.

A criminal probe into Iain Robertson has been dropped after he returned £221,847 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Amazingly, Robertson is even allowed to continue claiming legal aid for civil cases while waiting to discover if he will be struck off.

The scandal centred on the 57-year-old shamed solicitor and his firm Robertson & Ross in Paisley. Another lawyer – Aberdeen-based Alastair Gibb – was also investigated.

Scots Lib Dem justice spokesman Robert Brown demanded to know why Robertson is not being taken to court. He said: “It seems that the Crown Office have some questions to answer as to why they didn’t prosecute what appears to be a straightforward fraud involving a significant amount of money.”

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker added: “This is a very serious issue and we should have clarity on why the Crown Office decided not to proceed. “The sum of cash is huge and I’ll be interested to know why the lawyers involved haven’t faced criminal charges.”

Robertson was accused of submitting £223,000 worth of false claims for taxpayers’ cash from SLAB over an 18-month period. The claims were based on Gibb travelling thousands of miles from Paisley to see clients in Aberdeen and Peterhead prisons. In reality, Gibb was living in Kingswells, near Aberdeen.

Earlier this month, Robertson agreed to pay have back £221,847 to SLAB and was banned from claiming criminal legal aid cash in the future. But he’s still allowed to claim legal aid for any civil cases he undertakes. Gibb, 60, did not renew his certificate to practise as a solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland after SLAB called in police two years ago.

Fraud squad detectives submitted a detailed report about the case to Crown prosecutors in April, 2008. But officials marked the case “no proceedings” and stubbornly refuse to explain their decision.

Last year Robertson & Ross received £367,600 in legal aid compared to £832,000 between 2007 and 2008. Legal aid exists to pay fees for those who can’t afford to hire a solicitor.

Gibb claimed he was sacked by Robertson & Ross but was awarded a cash settlement by the firm before an unfair dismissal tribunal. He said: “What went on between SLAB and Robertson & Ross is totally outwith my knowledge, other than that I assisted SLAB once. I’m now 60 and don’t have a hope in hell of getting a job now. I’ve been wiped out.”

In December, 2008, Robertson was censured by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal for ripping off a client for £21,308. He took cash payments from the woman while claiming legal aid for the work. He was fined £5000 and found guilty of professional misconduct.

A SLAB spokesman said: “Iain Robertson and Alastair Gibb have been investigated. The sum of £221,847 has been paid back.”

Robertson said: “It was accepted that payments had been wrongly claimed and as the supervising partner I had to accept responsibility. “We dealt with the matter and agreed the figures. I’m disappointed that SLAB have taken the decision they have.”

A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “We received a report in relation to two men aged, 60 and 57, in relation to an alleged incident in Paisley in 2008. After full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances, Crown Counsel instructed there should be no proceedings in relation to this matter.”

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