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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST : Questions over solicitors self-regulation after Crown Office abandoned prosecution of £500k fraud accused lawyer now struck off for theft of client funds

04 Mar

Lord Advocate & Crown OfficeScot-Free? Lord Advocate is letting crooked lawyers off the hook say politicians. THE COLLAPSE of an earlier criminal prosecution led by Scotland’s top Law Officer Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland of a Carnoustie based lawyer recently struck off by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) for stealing clients cash including the theft of assets from deceased clients estates, has been called into question by politicians reports the Sunday Mail newspaper.

As the numbers of ‘failed’ criminal prosecutions of solicitors for taking clients funds, or in other cases, millions of pounds of taxpayer funded legal aid, reaches an all time high, concerns are being expressed the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), and Lord Advocate are not applying the law evenly to all, especially when it comes to cases involving crooks in Scotland’s legal profession.

In this latest case, reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper, solicitor Walter Ruark, a former Rotary Club President and church elder used cash to finance loans to other clients and stole cash to pay to another client before “falsifying records to conceal his dishonesty”. Also, in a now common fraud typical of many Scottish solicitors who wind up of executries & wills, it was discovered Ruark twice took funds from the estates of deceased clients and falsified ledger entries to cover his tracks.

Walter Ruark was also accused of a £500,000 fraud was accused along with ex-policeman Owen Hughes. Both appeared at Arbroath Sheriff Court in November 2011 yet the case dropped a year later when the Lord Advocate who led the case himself, abandoned the prosecution.

The SSDT findings & report can be viewed online here : Council of the Law Society of Scotland v Walter Forbes Ruark or at the SSDT’s own website here : 1586_Ruark_WF

The SSDT’s Judgement states : The Tribunal having considered the Complaint dated 20 April 2012 at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Walter Forbes Ruark, Solicitor, 42 Ireland Street, Carnoustie; Find the Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect of

(1) his failure to maintain accurate and adequate records to show his dealings with client monies and to identify the funds of each individual client, and his failure to obtain authority for payment of client funds to the benefit of other clients; (2) his use of clients’ funds for the benefit of other clients without appropriate authority and his falsifying of records to hide these misappropriations; (3) his having a deficit on his client account; (4) his failure to account for the funds to the executry of the late Mr VV; (5) his repeated delay and/or failure to register or record timeously dispositions, standard securities and discharges whereby the lenders remained unsecured for the funds advanced and clients remained uninfeft; (6) his failure to comply with the terms of the Money Laundering Regulations; (7) his use of funds entrusted to him by lenders and his failure to discharge existing securities for properties re-mortgaged resulting in a loss to the lenders and a claim on the indemnity insurance; (8) his rendering fee notes for work which had not been undertaken; (9) his failure to obtemper a letter of obligation; (10) his failure to respond to correspondence from fellow solicitors and his knowingly misleading fellow solicitors (11) his repeated and numerous failures to respond to the Complainers; and (12) his breach of Rules 4, 6, 8 and 24 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc Rules 2001;

March 3rd 2013 Sunday Mail  webDisgrace, Dishonour, Dishonesty .. but case DISMISSED

Charges dropped on £500K fraud rap lawyer

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 03 March 2013

Politicians have demanded to know why the Crown dropped a prosecution against a £500,000 fraud rap lawyer. Walter Ruark, 62, has now been struck off by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, who branded him a danger to the public for stealing clients cash. Ruark was arrested, charged and appeared in court but the Crown Office – led by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – abandoned the case.

Ruark’s former partners in Carnoustie based Gourlay McBain raised the alarm in 2008 but it took five years for him to be banned from the profession. His actions sparked a £666,000 insurance pay out to clients but the Crown did not launch a proceeds of crime case against him.

Labour Justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said : “The Crown have questions to answer. I believe the Government have not resourced them well enough to pursue every case.”But in a case of this kind, there’s a public interest in an allegedly fraudulent lawyer being brought to book and not just dealt with by the legal profession. Five years is an inordinately long time.”

Labour MP for Central Ayrshire Brian Donohoe said: “The Crown have dropped this case with no explanation and they need to provide one. If what the SSDT are saying is true, he should be in jail, not just drummed out of the Brownies. An independent body is needed to oversee lawyers in the same way doctors are monitored by the General Medical Council. There needs to be a root and branch reform of the legal profession and an end to self-regulation.”

Ruark was president of Carnoustie Rotary Club and an elder at the town’s Panbride Church. He remained involved with the Rotary Club while facing the probe but has now quit. He and ex-policeman Owen Hughes, 33, appeared at Arbroath Sheriff Court in November 2011 accused of a £500,000 fraud. The case was dropped a year later.

Last week’s SSDT report stated “In this case the Respondent [Ruark] misappropriated clients’ funds on a number of occasions and also falsified records to hide his dishonesty.”The tribunal considered his conduct disgraceful and dishonourable. His conduct was persistent and spanned a long period of time.” His dishonest acts taken to cover his behaviour, his lack of response to correspondence and the repeated nature of his conduct disclosed a lack of remorse.”His actions presented a clear danger to the public and will inevitably tarnish the good reputation of the profession.”

In 2007, a sheriff branded Ruark an unreliable witness when his firm were successfully sued by a client over a botched land deal. Ruark’s former partner Alex Small said: “I don’t want to say any more than the SSDT report speaks for itself. Only the Crown Office can answer why they took that decision.”

The Crown Office said: “It is our duty to keep cases under review and after full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case. Crown counsel instructed that there be no further proceedings in relation to this matter. The standard of proof for a criminal prosecution is substantially higher than that required for civil proceedings and tribunals.”

LORD ADVOCATE & CROWN OFFICE FIDDLE AS CROOKED LAWYERS ESCAPE JUSTICE

Given the now sizeable number of cases where Scotland’s unfit-for-purpose Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) have failed to prosecute solicitors on charges of financial wrongdoing with clients money, and even larger frauds involving millions of pounds of legal aid, there is a clear concern Scotland’s prosecutors are operating a policy of avoiding criminal prosecutions of members of Scotland’s legal profession.

NO CASE TO ANSWER Sunday Mail 17 July 2011Legal Aid Fraud riddle as Crown Office fail to prosecute lawyers in 14 cases. In a series of reports, Diary of Injustice and the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed a host of cases where Scotland’s Crown Office refused to prosecute solicitors even though significant evidence of legal aid fraud had been handed over to prosecutors by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The revelations came as a result of an investigation backed up by Freedom of Information requests, reported in more detail by Diary of Injustice 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

In another case, it was also revealed Thomas Hugh Murray, a Scottish lawyer now based in Lucca, Italy, who is still being chased by the Law Society of Scotland, also escaped a criminal prosecution after Stirling’s Procurator Fiscal Office told the victim “A decision was taken by the Crown Office to take no further proceedings in this case: this decision was not taken lightly as we realise the seriousness of this crime.”

Diary of Injustice reported on the Murray case in more detail and published a copy of the Crown Office letter confirming no prosecution yet referring to ‘the seriousness of the crime’, here : NO JUSTICE for clients as Crown Office & Law Society ‘cosy deal’ allowed FRAUD accused lawyer to slip criminal prosecution & move to Lucca, Italy

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