Crown Office refused to prosecute case where Procurator Fiscal was married to a lawyer accused of legal aid fraud. SCOTLAND’S £100-Million-a-year-to-run Crown Office has been forced to admit it REFUSED TO PROSECUTE a criminal case of alleged legal aid fraud against a solicitor who was married to one of its very own top prosecutors DUE TO A LACK OF ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE during the term of former Lord Advocate now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC. The admission came in response to a Freedom of Information request after details of the case, one among a total of FOURTEEN cases of solicitors reported by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to the Crown Office for legal aid irregularities & fraud involving public funds were made available to Diary of Injustice by senior legal figures who claim the Crown Office has been operating a policy of refusing to prosecute legal aid crooks from Scotland’s legal profession because the cases “are too complicated.”
The solicitor, who legal sources have confirmed was “in a marital relationship with a Procurator Fiscal” is still working as a lawyer and is bizarrely still able to claim legal aid, after the Crown Office decided not to prosecute the solicitor concerned because ‘of a lack of admissible evidence’. The refusal to prosecute the solicitor partner of the Procurator Fiscal has angered insiders at the Scottish Legal Aid Board who claim they “are convinced of guilt in the case”.
Crown Office were forced to admit alleged legal aid fraudster solicitor is married to a Procurator Fiscal. A response from Scott Pattison, the Deputy Director of Serious Casework for the Crown Office to a Freedom of Information request stated : “I can confirm that one of the solicitors who was reported by SLAB was married to a member of COPFS staff. In that case, in accordance with the practice which I have described above, the matter was reported by a Procurator Fiscal to Crown Counsel for consideration. The member of staff concerned would have had no access to, nor dealings with, the case.” The Crown Office response to the FOI request, asking for information relating to (i) whether any of the solicitors reported to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) were in marital relationships with members or officials of the COPFS, (ii) any discussions which took place relating to such cases, and (iii) what was the outcome of those cases, began with an attempt to explain how complaints against members of its own staff are dealt with.
The letter stated : “It might be helpful if I start by explaining the procedures which are followed where there is an allegation of criminality by a close relative of a member of COPFS. When an allegation is made against a member, or close relative of a member, of COPFS a report will be submitted by the investigating authority, in accordance with standard procedure, to COPFS. Thereafter, the matter would be reported by a Procurator Fiscal to Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel are the senior, independent lawyers who take decisions on behalf of the Lord Advocate – ordinarily in the most serious types of case.”
“In cases involving allegations of criminality by members of COPFS staff, or close relatives of members of COPFS staff, Crown Counsel will provide an independent instruction on what, if any, action is appropriate in respect of the allegation.”
However, and in line with the rest of the FOURTEEN CASES of alleged legal aid fraud by solicitors reported to the Crown Office by the Scottish Legal Aid Board over the past SIX YEARS, Mr Pattison confirmed the Crown Office REFUSED TO PROECUTE the lawyer married to one of its own high profile Fiscals, claiming THERE WAS INSUFFICIENT ADMISSABLE EVIDENCE to proceed with a criminal case
He said : ““Having carefully considered the facts and circumstances of this case, Crown Counsel gave an independent instruction that there was insufficient admissible evidence to justify criminal proceedings.”
Crown Office under former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini refused to prosecute a single case out of 14 solicitors accused of legal aid fraud. The decision by the Crown Office to refuse to prosecute a lawyer married to one of their own prosecutors on reasons there being a lack of admissible evidence has greatly angered senior officials at the Scottish Legal Aid Board who, insiders indicated had been determined to clamp down on solicitors who are potentially ripping off taxpayers to the tune of millions of pounds a year from Scotland’s gigantic £160 MILLION POUND legal aid budget. I reported on the lack of prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters from the legal profession back in July, here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years
A legal insider commenting on the latest revelations of links between Crown Office prosecutors & alleged legal aid fraudsters, said : “Given tens of thousands of pounds of public money has been spent on detecting, investigation & reporting legal aid fraud, it would be a big help if the people at the Crown Office who are charged with prosecuting criminals would actually do their job in at least one out of fourteen cases.”
He continued : “Clearly there is something amiss. The Crown Office have prosecuted members of the public for legal aid offences yet in each of the reported cases of legal aid irregularities concerning solicitors, not one has been prosecuted. With the revelation one of the solicitors reported to the Crown Office was in a marital relationship with a high flying Procurator Fiscal, there is an overall impression the Crown Office closed ranks and refused to prosecute because of links to one of their own.”
Since the investigation by Diary of Injustice into abuse of the legal aid system began turning up links between alleged legal aid fraudsters and Crown Office personnel, there have been indications the Crown Office are upset one of its own has now been publicly fingered in a case involving alleged legal aid fraud.
A senior Scottish Government official who has knowledge of discussions on the subject warned Diary of Injustice over the difficulties caused by revelations of links to legal aid fraud and the Crown Office and the lack of prosecutions. Whilst Diary of Injustice has agreed not to publish certain comments given in confidence in an interview, I can report the source did say : “Considering this was all supposed to be kept secret, and the Crown Office were apparently determined to do so at any cost, I’m surprised no one has bothered to ask you where you got your information from.”
Crown Office FOI response refused to release any information on how they came to decision not to prosecute alleged legal aid fraudster linked to one of their own colleagues. SUSPICIOUSLY the Crown Office REFUSED TO DISCLOSE ANY INFORMATION on what discussions had taken place within its realms over the case which led to the Procurator Fiscal’s partner being let off the hook from legal aid fraud charges. The Crown Office response to the FOI request asking for information on discussions over the case stated : “In respect of your second request, I am satisfied that any information relating to the consideration of the evidence in this case, including the recommendations made to Crown Counsel, and the terms of the instruction issued by them, are exempt from disclosure in terms of sections 30(b)(ii), 34(1)(a)(i) and 35(1)(a), (b) and (c).”
“As you will be aware, none of these exemptions are absolute, and I have therefore required to consider, notwithstanding that I am satisfied that they apply, whether the public interest nonetheless favours disclosure of the information. In doing so, I have had regard to the type of question which the Scottish Information Commissioner has recommended that public authorities ask themselves when considering whether the public interest favours disclosure despite the fact that certain exemptions apply.”
“In particular, I consider that it is of the utmost importance that Procurators Fiscal are able to freely and frankly share their analysis of the evidence in a criminal case, and their recommendations in respect of same, with Crown Counsel, who act under the authority of the Lord Advocate, without any such discussions being subject to release to the public. In reaching this view, I have also taken into account that any such recommendation or analysis would necessarily be based on an assessment of the legal position, which in turn is based on the available evidence.”
“I have concluded that witnesses provide evidence in respect of criminal allegations in the expectation that such evidence will not be released, save for within the context of criminal proceedings, with the attendant procedural safeguards. In reaching this view, I have had regard to the comments made by the Scottish Information Commissioner in decision 115/2007. Having considered the circumstances of this particular case, I have come to the conclusion that the public interest falls overwhelmingly in maintaining the exemptions in this instance.”
A senior legal figure who has been given access to details of the case provided to Diary of Injustice described the Crown Office decision not to prosecute as “inconsistent with public claims of the law applying equally to all”.
He said : “Having considered what the Crown Office said, and the fact not one single case out of fourteen of alleged legal aid fraud committed by members of the legal profession was prosecuted, it is clearly in the public interest information on how the Crown Office arrived at its decision not to prosecute in this and the remaining cases be fully disclosed, reported by the media and debated in public.”
He continued : “The public perception in this case, and rightly so, will be that the Crown Office have closed ranks to protect one of their own. There are a great many questions unanswered, for instance whether the married partner who is a PF benefited in any way financially from the alleged legal aid fraud. Clearly there must be an independent investigation into why these cases of alleged legal aid fraud committed by solicitors have resulted in not one single prosecution.”
An msp who has been following revelations of the lack of legal aid fraud prosecutions and has constituents who are affected by some of the solicitors accused of legal aid irregularities told Diary of Injustice : “A lack of admissible evidence. Clearly the public will have watched enough television & read enough newspapers to realise exactly what this means. I doubt many will be fooled by the explanation offered up by the Crown Office.”
He continued : “As for the fourteen cases and not one prosecution. Who would be stupid enough to believe something isn’t going on when not one lawyer ends up being charged. It’s preposterous to suggest otherwise. This needs to go before msps for proper scrutiny.”