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In-Court advice centres in the dock as Scottish Legal Aid Board negotiate deal with Hamilton CAB team who sent clients to crooked lawyers posing as dead lawyers

16 Oct

Gilbert Anderson lawyer gets paid by us refers to O'Donnell Sunday Mail 20 May 2012Hamilton In Court Advice Service suspended after media reports of dodgy dealings funded by taxpayers. MEDIA REPORTS of ‘dodgy dealings’ at a Scottish Government funded In-Court advice service based at Hamilton Sheriff Court, where members of the public in desperate need of legal advice have been passed onto crooked lawyers posing as dead lawyers, have apparently led to the suspension of the Citizens Advice administered service while negotiations for new funding take place with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, according to claims made late last week to Diary of Injustice.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) who are in charge of the funding, acknowledged there are on-going negotiations with Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau over the service. However, a spokesperson for SLAB refused to comment on the status of the current In-Court advice team based at Hamilton, claiming instead that “No public funds are released to projects before they agree to the terms and conditions set by the Board.”

Exclusive  Dodgy Lawyer back at it - Sunday Mail 22 April 2012Investigation revealed Citizens Advice scheme sends consumers to a crooked lawyer posing as dead lawyer. The Sunday Mail newspaper earlier reported on shady goings on at Hamilton In Court advice service, where its employee, Gilbert S Anderson, had been reported to CAB Managers for recommending clients to notorious solicitor John G O’Donnell, who is known to have been rebuked many times by the Law Society of Scotland and even placed on suspension. More on the Sunday Mail investigation can be found here : Crooked lawyer impersonates DEAD COLLEAGUE to lure clients in fraud scam as Law Society of Scotland’s self regulation of solicitors fails yet again

Although Hamilton CAB sought to deny all allegations of impropriety on Mr Anderson’s behalf, the explanations offered by Citizens Advice chiefs did not stand up to scrutiny, and ran counter to evidence provided by victims whose legal interests now appear to have been severely harmed by persons working for the In Court advice service, a matter reported by Diary of Injustice here : Taxpayer funded Court adviser who sent widow to crooked lawyer ‘off the hook’ as Hamilton Citizens Advice Chiefs close ranks with Law Society.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice, a spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board denied funding had been withdrawn from Hamilton In Court advice service over the media reports relating to Anderson & O’Donnell, instead citing a new application made by Hamilton CAB for fresh public funding.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said : “The Board has not withdrawn funding for Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau’s In-Court Advice Project based at Hamilton Sheriff Court. Funding for all projects taking part in the Board’s first programme of grant funding ended on 30 September.

“Hamilton CAB has made an application for funding through the new grant funding programme. We are currently in discussions about what we will fund and how our funding will be managed to deliver appropriate services at Hamilton Sheriff Court. The Board recognises the need for an advice service at Hamilton Sheriff Court and is committed to ensuring suitable provision is in place.”

“The Board monitors the performance of every project taking part in the grant funding programme, including checks that the project work follows established procedures and focuses on the remit agreed as part of the project agreement. Any failure to properly manage a project could be a breach of the Board’s funding.”

Letterhead of dodgy law firm revealed Gilbert Anderson’s name as an associate yet Hamilton CAB claimed otherwise. Mrs Campbell wrote in her complaint how Anderson hoped John O’Donnell (posing as Colin Davidson) would be able to lift a large fee from the vulnerable widow : “On the Client Record Sheet produced by Mr Anderson (which I found in Davidson Fraser’s file) it clearly states on two separate occasions that he would endeavour to recommend a Legal Aid Solicitor to me. Also, on the back of this Client Record Sheet is a handwritten note “possibly in my mind a cash for Colin £3000”. I have enclosed a copy of this Record – the original is with Elaine Motion who is acting the the Law Society.” The continuing saga of how Hamilton Citizens Advice tried to cover up serious failings in its In-Court advice service can be read here : HERE

Diary of Injustice pressed the Scottish Legal Aid Board for further information, given the seriousness of the allegations made against the In Court advisers at Hamilton, only to be told : “As we are still in discussions regarding what we will fund and how our funding will be managed to deliver appropriate services at Hamilton Sheriff Court it is not possible to comment on an undefined project. No public funds are released to projects before they agree to the terms and conditions set by the Board.”

Hamilton Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland were both contacted over the matter, however neither chose to respond to queries as to why the In Court advice service had been shutdown or whether the present In-Court advisers would continue in their roles.

However, a legal insider told Diary of Injustice the matter had been handled “stupidly” by Citizens Advice officials who he claimed “are not keen to talk about the Anderson-O’Donnell connection”.

The insider also criticised the lack of vetting undertaken by the Scottish Legal Aid Board of persons who are acting as In-Court advisers, a service which has been branded by some as “a publicly funded rehab for crooked lawyers”

The latest annual report of the Scottish Legal Aid Board reveals the Scottish Government handed over some THREE MILLION POUNDS of taxpayers money to fund the In-Court advice service across Scotland,

SLAB’s 2011 annual report states : In 2009, the Scottish Government made an additional £3 million available  to the Board, up to the end of 2010-2011, to help people  who need advice as a result of the economic downturn. Since then, the  Board has used this funding to :

–  provide grant funding of 16 projects to provide advice and representation services across Scotland

–  employ solicitors in Highland and Islands, Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh and Aberdeen to provide legal services

to people in need, particularly those facing repossession and other problems such as debt; and provide second tier advice to In-Court Advice projects and others

–  fund the 8 In-Court Advice projects across Scotland.

The success of these initiatives enabled us to  develop proposals  that generated support from the  Scottish Government for the continued funding of activities in 2011-2012.

However there is little by way of independent surveys of the service, or any believable reports of substantive successes of the publicly funded In-Court advisory scheme, leading to questions of whether the money is being wisely spent, or has become as some now see it, just another publicly funded subsidy for Scotland’s profit hungry legal profession and their colleagues.

Questions therefore remain as to why a publicly funded project involving millions of pounds of taxpayers money which is regularly referred to by the Scottish Government as a tool to provide ‘access to justice’,  is allowing its staff to recommend dodgy lawyers posing as dead lawyers to members of the public who are often desperately in need of legal advice & assistance.

If you have experiences of dealings with In-Court advisers at Hamilton Sheriff Court, or any other Sheriff Court across Scotland, Diary of Injustice would like to hear from you. Email us more details via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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