A solicitor who ruined pensioner’s legal affairs is given slap on the wrist by law complaints regulator SLCC. KILMARNOCK solicitor Niels S Lockhart, who was accused by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) of making dodgy claims for legal aid work and who then went on to ruin the legal affairs of a pensioner and other clients is to be allowed to continue working as a lawyer after the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘independent’ regulator of solicitors decided his firm NS Lockhart Solicitors need only pay a meagre fine of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS to a victim who had complained about the legal nightmare she had been put through.
Esther Francis (aged 70), who was made homeless as a result of Mr Lockhart’s inaction over her legal problems and was then forced to starve herself to pay Lockhart’s demands for legal fees is to be given a derisory £100 in compensation and a £230 rebate of fees against sole practising solicitor Lockhart who raked in SIX HUNDRED & SEVENTY THOUSAND POUNDS of taxpayer funded legal aid in just three years. More on Esther’s nightmare at the hands of Mr Lockhart can be read in an earlier report by Diary of Injustice, here : Legal Aid officials hid details of dodgy claims scandal as ‘Pay-Up threats’ from £600K legal aid rogue lawyer leaves pensioner, 70, starving, homeless
Niels Lockhart was the subject of lengthy investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board which were uncovered by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper, reported earlier here : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case
Today, Diary of Injustice is able to publish the investigation carried out by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission into Niels S Lockhart. The report, now in the hands of media outlets can be viewed online here : SLCC Investigation of complaint against Niels S Lockhart of NS Lockhart Solicitors, Kilmarnock.
Esther Francis was hassled by Lockhart over bill yet her legal case had been ruined and she’d been made homeless. In the SLCC report, investigators found Mr Lockhart had provided an inadequate professional service to Mrs Francis, however the investigator for the SLCC then went onto recommend sanction only be applied to the firm rather than Mr Lockhart himself. No disciplinary measures were recommended by the SLCC, allowing Mr Lockhart’s firm to continue working after facing little more than a slap on the wrist.
It can also be revealed the SLCC DENIED Mrs Francis any access to submissions made by the LEGAL DEFENCE UNION (LDU) who were called in to intervene in the complaint on Mr Lockhart’s behalf. Diary of Injustice earlier reported on the LDU’s intervention in the complaint made against Mr Lockhart, and terse resistance from the SLCC to disclose the contact, here : SCANDAL : Legal Defence Union intervene in SLCC investigation over £670K Legal Aid lawyer who made Pensioner HOMELESS, STARVED to pay legal bills
There has also been no comment from the SLCC on the production to their office of the full investigation carried out by the Scottish Legal Aid Board into Lockhart’s actions, which Diary of Injustice published after a Freedom of Information disclosure, here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART
A legal insider told Diary of Injustice today : “If there are other clients of NS Lockhart solicitors who feel they have been mistreated, now is the time to make a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”
Diary of Injustice would also like to hear from any clients who feel they are being mistreated by their solicitors and would like to remind readers that media coverage may benefit the progress of their complaints, and help prevent other consumers from being ripped off by ‘crooked lawyers’ Readers can send details of dealings with solicitors to Diary of Injustice via email@example.com
The Sunday Mail has covered the latest development in the Lockhart case, reporting here :
By: Lauren Crooks Jun 3, 2012 Sunday Mail
Rogue lawyer Niels Lockhart has escaped punishment for mistreating an elderly client – after legal watchdogs decided his firm were to blame instead.
Furious Esther Francis, 70, complained to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission over claims Lockhart failed to make any progress in her case and threatened her over bills she could not afford.
But after investigating, they decided it was the whole firm N S Lockhart – based in Kilmarnock – at fault, rather than Lockhart himself.
They wrote to Esther telling her the firm would refund £230 in fees she paid, plus £100 compensation. But Esther says she can’t believe Lockhart is still allowed to work as a lawyer.
Esther, who has rejected the settlement, said: “I got the letter last week. I wrote back and told them I wasn’t accepting the payment.”
Last year Lockhart was rapped by the Scottish Legal Aid Board for raking in 600,000 pounds of taxpayers’ cash over two years through “unnecessary and excessive” claims.
Esther reported Lockhart to the watchdog last September amid claims he had failed to progress with her case, despite several meetings with him.
Their decision states: “N S Lockhart’s failure to progress Mrs Francis’s claim in the 12 months that they acted for her amounted to an inadequate professional service.”
BACKGROUND : LOCKHART, LEGAL AID & THE LEGAL DEFENCE UNION
The long story of Mr Lockhart’s legal aid claims began nearly ten years ago, although it took the Scottish Legal Aid Board years to catch up with him, when eventually on 5 June 2005 the Scottish Legal Aid Board sent a report to the Law Society of Scotland in terms of S32 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 against the sole practitioner firm of Niels S Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock. The secret report on Niels S Lockhart, obtained in 2011 by Diary of Injustice under Freedom of Information laws, can be downloaded here : SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD S31 COMPLAINT REPORT TO THE LAW SOCIETY OF SCOTLAND : NIELS S LOCKHART (pdf) The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”
The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :
(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board report also revealed : “From April 2002—March 2005, Niels S Lockhart was paid £672,585 from the Legal Aid Fund. Of this, £596,734 (89%) was in relation to Advice and Assistance cases, with £570,528 (85%) solely in relation to Civil Advice and Assistance. In the Board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”
“Based on the supporting evidence he arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings. In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case, but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid Fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings. The nature of subject matters is often repeated, resulting in numerous duplicate/multiple/consecutive grants submitted under various guises, thus avoiding the Board’s computerised checks on subject matter. This pattern of conduct is deliberate,recurring and persistent, serving—in the Board’s view—as a device to generate considerable additional income for the firm to the detriment of the Scottish Legal Aid Fund.”
However, in October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a prospective offer that Mr Lockhart would withdraw fully from providing legal aid if SLAB’s S31 complaint was withdrawn. A Minute of Agreement was drafter and agreed with Niels Lockhart & the Legal Defence Union outlining the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from the provision of all firms of legal assistance (funded by legal aid). The Minute of Agreement also outlined the Board’s intention to make a press release detailing that following SLAB’s investigation into the firm and their subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, SLAB had accepted this permanent withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from providing all forms of legal assistance.
Diary of Injustice continued to report on allegations surrounding Mr Lockhart and the Law Society of Scotland’s efforts to avoid a prosecution. All previous reports can be viewed HERE.