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DISHONESTY TRIBUNAL: 35 cases of dodgy lawyers with a mere 9 struck off & 26 slaps on the wrist is a “busy year” claims Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

16 Apr

Dishonesty among lawyers is tolerated more in Scotland. A SCOTTISH TRIBUNAL tasked with judging corrupt lawyers and applying sanctions from a slap on the wrist to a striking off, is generally viewed as an old pals act back slapping exercise which tolerates dishonesty among the Scottish legal profession much more than it’s English counterpart, say critics & clients who have endured lengthy and in many cases almost pointless hearings of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

The SSDT, who claimed in a recent legal profession internal media story that they had been through a “very busy” year to 31 October 2013, revealed the tribunal heard a less than stellar 35 cases compared to 26 for the previous year. The Tribunal claimed it had a “significant increase in business” in its hearings, which now also include appeals by lay complainers against decisions of the Law Society of Scotland not to make a finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct.

However, out of the 35 cases which actually made it to the tribunal through the usual maze of self protecting self regulation where lawyers regulate themselves, a paltry NINE cases resulted in solicitors being struck off, with the remaining solicitors receiving slaps on the wrist, broken down as three suspended from practice, two had a restriction placed on their practising certificate, four were fined and censured and a further six were censured.

And, while the SSDT claims to take its duties to deal with the worst elements of dodgy lawyers seriously, it has been reported by the legal profession’s internal media that in only two of the cases brought before the tribunal in the past year, undisclosed amounts of compensation were ordered by the tribunal to be paid.

A summary of the cases heard before the tribunal in it’s “busy year” claimed that: “In all, nine cases involved failure to complete conveyancing procedures in a proper manner (with or without other failures), and the same number saw a failure to comply with the accounts rules. Eight cases involved misleading the Law Society of Scotland or other parties, and seven a failure to reply to the Society or others. There were numerous other findings of misconduct including five of dishonesty.”

As of today, the 2013 annual report has yet to be published on the tribunal website, which is well known for its lack of information and more often than not publishing of judgements months after they have occurred – a move viewed by many in the media as an attempt to hide the true scale of dishonesty and dodgy lawyers from the public’s attention.

DISHONESTY IS THEIR GAME: The Scottish way of dealing with dishonest lawyers often gives a slap on the wrist whereas solicitors found guilty of dishonesty stand a greater chance of being struck off in the rest of the UK:

Dishonesty in Scots solicitors more common than lawyers would have us believe. SCOTTISH solicitors “make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own”. This was a claim made by solicitor Alistair Cockburn, Chairman of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) in response to key questions raised by BBC Journalist Sam Poling in a recent investigative programme Lawyers Behaving Badly which is no longer available for public viewing.

The claims made by the tribunal Chief led to startling revelations over how the lawyer led discipline tribunal which is charged with making findings against members of Scotland’s legal profession deals with allegations & evidence of dishonesty against rogue solicitors.

Insisting the discipline tribunal was ‘robust’ and had a duty to the public, the Chair of the SSDT went on to justify his position, stating “One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.” Mr Cockburn went onto claim dishonesty is not commonplace and would result in solicitors being struck off. The SSDT Chair told the BBC journalist: “Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.”

In comparison to the light way in which the Scottish tribunal appears to treat dishonesty among legal colleagues in all its various shades, English legal experts who studied the judgements of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal condemned the way dishonest lawyers are more often than not let off the hook in Scotland.

Speaking on a case where a well known Scottish solicitor accused many times before of dishonesty was at it again, English QC Andrew Hopper said on national television: “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law added : “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

Almost all complaints against solicitors indicate at at one stage or another, the solicitor was dishonest to their client, either by making a false representation to them as to the progress of their case, or making false representations to cover their own positions.

Very few complaints made by clients against Scottish solicitors which involve serious allegations of dishonesty have ever resulted in solicitors being struck off by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, and an ongoing media investigation into judges undeclared earnings from top Scots law firms has turned up links between serving members of Scotland’s judiciary, law firms, and solicitors who have frequently been accused of dishonesty yet never struck off.

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