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Law Society welcomes new President, firm has links to dishonest Borders solicitors who mishandled wills & executry estates

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland gets a new President, business as usual. JAMIE MILLAR, a partner with Edinburgh Law Firm Lindsays has taken over from Ian Smart as the new President of the Law Society of Scotland after what has been seen as one of the most problematic periods yet for the Scottish legal profession, who are facing everything from eventual regulatory reform to increased competition in the still-solicitor-monopolised legal services sector.

While the Law Society of Scotland have been kind enough to publicise the change of presidency by focussing on the usual self congratulatory messages, what Drumsheugh Gardens chose not to reveal was regulatory record, or the amount of client complaints made against the law firm of Mr Millar.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanLindsays bought up Borders law firm linked to Law Society-Penman scandal. Lindsays, who, on their website describe themselves as “ a highly-regarded Scottish law firm. We combine high levels of service with legal expertise to tailor the best possible outcomes and results for you, your business, or your family.” purchased a law firm based in Jedburgh, named Turnbull Simpson & Sturrock in early 2007 which were heavily involved in the maladministration of my late father’s estate by Borders solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso, which used to be a partner firm to Turnbull Simpson & Sturrock until the Scotsman newspaper began reporting on the Law Society cover up of my complaint against Mr Penman.

Philip YellandThe Law Society’s Philip Yelland personally handled complaints against Penman & Sturrock. As the Scotsman continued to report on the Law Society’s whitewash of the complaints against Mr Penman, Turnbull Simpson & Sturrock’s senior partner, Mr David Sturrock took over the administration of my late father’s estate, only to make the actions of Mr Penman and the accountant/executor Norman Howitt (still working as an accountant at JRW Group) much worse, resulting in several more years of financial damage & negligence which was carefully swept under the carpet by the Law Society of Scotland in the true cover up style we have all come to expect from lawyers investigating themselves.

Turnbull Simpson & Sturrock JedburghJedburgh based Turnbull, Simpson & Sturrock – Complaints of poor & negligent service to clients were whitewashed by Law Society of Scotland. Equally many other complaints made against Turnbull Simpson & Sturrock by locals in Jedburgh & the surrounding area received a similar whitewash treatment, but as with many Borders firms, they only continue to survive because locals have no one else to use when it comes to legal services, hence you can get a situation where one day, someone brings a large ornate gold mantle piece clock into a jewellers for valuation, allegedly owned by a solicitor, but which in reality was stolen from a house of a deceased client whose will was being handled by that very same solicitor who claimed to own it .. and nothing done about the incident (& many others) by the Law Society or the authorities, although in the case of the clock, it was apparently returned to the family after the conscientious jeweller told the relatives of the deceased … (details ring any bells ? – PC)

So, don’t expect any changes at the Law Society of Scotland this coming year which might benefit consumers, clients of solicitors, or anyone seeking redress or justice against ‘crooked lawyers’ … its more a case of ‘business as usual, burn the client for as much as you can, and if you do anything bad we will let you get away with it’ but you expected me to say that anyway, because its always the case with the Law Society … business as usual …

If you are in the Borders looking for legal services and want any recommendations, well .. I wouldn’t recommend any legal firms in Jedburgh – simply, you’d be much better off just opening your front door and letting the burglars walk into your house .. because you can expect the same treatment if you take on any of the town’s law firms as your legal representatives …

The Law Society of Scotland’s announcement of their latest President, Mr Jamie Millar :

New President of the Law Society of Scotland

Jamie Millar, a partner with Lindsays solicitors, has become the President of the Law Society of Scotland.

Mr Millar (61) has been vice-president since May 2009, and was the Society’s Treasurer for three years before that. He has been a member of the Council for six years and served as a member of a Client relations Committee for seven years from 1997.

A trainee with the then Tindal, Oatts and Rodger, Mr Millar qualified in 1973. He was a partner with the firm from 1975 to 1986. From 1986 to 2006 he was a partner at Bishops and from 2006 he was a partner at Brodies.

Jamie has over thirty years experience as a corporate lawyer specialising in acquistions/mergers, joint ventures, trade associations and corporate governance.

“The Legal Services Bill has been the major focus for the Society in the past year and will continue to be in the coming months as the Society looks at how it could regulate the new business models as well as supporting the profession during their introduction.

“The Society is continuing its modernisation programme to meet the profession’s needs now and into the future, and with that the profession continue to be consulted and asked for feedback as we develop services which will support them during this challenging time.

”Scotland’s solicitors play a major part in Scotland’s economy and I would like that to be recognised. The Society will continue to promote the profession to attract business to Scotland and enhance our economy.”

One of the key areas of work the Society is focusing on is the implementation of its review of education and training in 2010-2011.

Thursday 27 May

To sum up the latest President, his own quote seems appropriate : ”Scotland’s solicitors play a major part in Scotland’s economy and I would like that to be recognised. The Society will continue to promote the profession to attract business to Scotland and enhance our economy.” – Yes they certainly do, although not always in an honest manner, as the complaints statistics over the years have & continue to illustrate …

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How Law Society’s ‘cancelled’ prosecution of Borders solicitor Andrew Penman ignited moves to reform regulation of Scotland’s crooked lawyers

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland’s complaints whitewash provoked reforms. THE CANCELLED PROSECUTION OF BORDERS LAWYER ANDREW PENMAN, of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, by the Law Society of Scotland was one of the prime factors in starting a Scotland wide campaign to reform regulation of the legal profession, after the release of the investigation documents which revealed a Law Society Complaints Committee had been bullied into changing an original decision to prosecute Andrew Penman by Penman’s secret representative who attended the hearing, James Ness, a senior Law Society figure, now Deputy Director of Professional Practice.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanScotsman newspaper in better days followed the Penman case, eventually leading to its own editorials calling for self regulation of lawyers to end. As a result of significant publicity in the Scotsman newspaper on the Andrew Penman investigation, further cases came to light where it transpired many solicitors facing serious complaints had been legally represented at Law Society Complaints Committee hearings, particularly on serious issues such as embezzlement, allegations of client fraud, almost all complaints regarding the handling of wills, and even in cases where clients had been convicted of criminal charges. In all of these cases, while solicitors had been represented before Complaints Committees, clients had been denied equivalent representation.

Indeed, the practice of ‘legally’ representing a solicitor in front of a Complaints Committee, had become so common, it became accepted practice, unquestioned by any solicitor or lay members of the Complaints Committees, although deemed so sensitive the policy was kept secret from complaining clients and the general public, fearing claims of unfairness & prejudice. That secrecy broke, however, when due to the publicity on the Penman case, the Law Society was forced to disclose most of the Committee’s deliberations on Andrew Penman, sparking many clients to eventually find out they too had been similarly maligned by a hugely prejudicial policy of allowing a crooked lawyer legal representation before a Complaints Committee, while denying the same right to members of the public.

Law Watchdog faces threat of court fight - Scotland on Sunday 9 August 1999Former Legal Services Ombudsman Garry Watson changed recommendations on Law Society orders. As publicity grew around the Penman case, the practice of lawyers being legally represented before Complaints Committees, and being allowed to submit personal letters of pleadings to Committee members, while clients were denied similar rights, was criticised by the then Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, Garry S Watson, who recommended the Law Society halt the practice, which it did, for a few months, until the publicity died down, then apparently re-started in secret. Garry Watson also asked for full explanations and disclosure over Penman’s secret representations, which never happened after the Law Society ordered Mr Watson to change his opinion, cancelling his order clients should be informed fully of Committee deliberations. After the Law Society restarted the practice, clients were of course none the wiser as queues of lawyers lined up to send their legal representatives to Complaints Committees, pleading in the first instance, threatening legal action and judicial reviews against Committee decisions if the former did not work.

Scotsman 8 January 1999 Independent watchdog for lawyers proposedLaw Society’s reversal of prosecution helped bring consumer led reforms to regulation of lawyers. The Andrew Penman case, which clearly should have went to the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal as a prosecution, with Mr Penman being struck off, but did not, through the Law Society’s determination to “Save Private Penman” as some have said over the years, did bring gains to consumers in terms of revealing the thoroughly corrupt practices of self regulation carried out by the Law Society of Scotland, and its will to keep such practices secret, and of course, long lasting until even the present day.

Would Granny Swear by the Law Society - The Herald June 5 2006Douglas Mill, brought down by his anti-client memos, and relentless policies to save crooked lawyer Andrew Penman from prosecution. ‘Saving Private Penman” helped bring two [costly] Scottish Parliamentary inquiries into regulation of the legal profession, the first one Chaired by Christine Grahame (a dud – the enquiry, I refer to, of course) and the second, chaired by David Davidson MSP, which after hearing of even more revelations of secret anti-client behaviour such as the Douglas Mill ‘memo’gate affair’, brought to light by the now Cabinet Chief John Swinney, resulted in the passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, which created the hapless and Law Society controlled Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which would have been good, had perhaps someone such as John Swinney managed its formation process, instead of the hapless Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who simply allowed the Law Society to pull all the strings, and fill the SLCC with a slew of Pinnochios whose noses stretch from here to the planet Pluto.

Jury  still out on law in the dock - The Scotsman 2 March 1998Law Society covered up details of decision not to prosecute Andrew Penman. The failure to prosecute Andrew Penman for offences which many solicitors since have been prosecuted and even struck off for, some even sent to jail such as ex solicitor Michael Karus, still reverberates around the legal profession, and has given clients the strength to complain against many a crooked lawyer – a good thing. Penman has also shed a much needed light on the very secretive nature of Scotland’s legal profession and how the Law Society of Scotland controls, or denies access to justice to anyone it so feels like intimidating. Again, another plus, if a costly one to Scotland, as generally one can conclude, the Scottish legal profession are not a very trustworthy bunch, either in legal service to their clients, or when it comes to regulating their own colleagues.

Here, at the request of several law students who are studying ‘regulation’ of the legal profession in Scotland, is the full report on Borders Solicitor Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. I would certainly not recommend anyone use that law firm, as reading the following will reveal.

Law Society of Scotland report on solicitor Andrew Penman Stormonth Darling Kelso Page 1Law Society investigating lawyer found that Andrew Penman had tried to fake the files. The Law Society report said : “The reporter had found it extremely difficult to obtain from the file a clear picture of what had taken place in the executry. The files had not been well kept and it was noted that throughout the files there were correspondence and telephone notes which were not in chronological order. It was noted that at several points there was correspondence which appeared not to have been dealt with and not to have been put on file as it was received but to have been put on at a later date. The reporter noted a number of’ instances which suggested that correspondence had simply been accumulated off the file and then dealt with in a fevered bout of activity in order to deal with matters which had long been delayed. The reporter noted there was also evidence of what appeared to be a bungled and unsuccessful attempt to put the file into order. Correspondence of July 1990 and July 1991 had been put on the file at a point which clearly related to July 1992.“

“The reporter noted that the files disclosed numerous lengthy and unexplained delays and a repeated failure to respond to correspondence. There were dozens of letters on the files apologizing to third parties for delays in dealing with executry matters. These delays in many cases amounted to several months and in the case of the capital taxes office there were several delays, one of 18 months.”

Law Society of Scotland report on solicitor Andrew Penman Stormonth Darling Kelso Page 2Law Society investigating lawyer found Andrew Penman deliberately mislead the Royal Bank of Scotland, amounting to professional misconduct. Page two of the Law Society report said : “The reporter noted there was a complete failure on the part of Messrs. P. & J. Stormonth-Darling to deal with this matter. They completely failed to acknowledge the instructions they had received from the Royal Bank in this connection and failed to take any steps to deal with the matter. The reporter was of the view that the substantial and unnecessary delays which had taken place in the executry might amount not only to an inadequate professional service on the part of Messrs. P.& J. Stormonth Darling but professional misconduct on the part of Mr Penman the solicitor dealing with the matter up until the time the complaint was lodged with the Law Society on 17th October 1994. Further the reporter was of the view that the apparent deliberate attempt to mislead the Royal Bank in regard to the Banco di Roma account may amount to professional misconduct.”

The Law Society investigating lawyer went onto demand a prosecution of Andrew Penman, saying : “In respect of the extraordinary delays and the repeated failures to respond to correspondence and the apparent, deliberate attempt to mislead the Royal Bank the reporter was of the view that the professional misconduct was such that it would warrant prosecution before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal The reporter was or the view that there had clearly been an inadequate professional service but in the, event of a referral to the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal this would be incorporated into the complaint.”

Law Society of Scotland report on solicitor Andrew Penman Stormonth Darling Kelso Page 3Law Society Complaints Committee said Andrew Penman mislead the Royal Bank, was a failure at handling an executry. The Committee’s consideration of the investigating lawyer’s findings revealed : “The Committee expressed grave concern at the way that this executry had been handled by Mr. Penman and the extraordinary delays and the complete failure to deal with correspondence in an adequate manner, The Committee were of the: view that there: had been very poor attention paid to the administration of this estate and that whilst the complainer’s uncertainty in certain matters might have caused some confusion there was a general lack of effort on the part of the solicitors to deal with matters in a reasonable manner.. It was noted in connection with the proposed loan by the Royal Bank. to the complainer there was a complete and utter failure to deal with the matter in any way or even to acknowledge the instructions. In connection with the Banco di Roma account the Committee noted the failure on the part of Mr. Penman to deal with matters in a reasonable way. They were particularly concerned at the terms of the letter written by Mr. Penman to the Royal Bank on 29th September 1992 which appeared to be an attempt to mislead the Royal Bank into believing that matters were being actively dealt with when they were not.”

“The Committee concurred with the views of the reporter in this matter indicating that the apparent attempt to mislead the Royal Bank persuaded them that Mr Penman’s acting in the matter were so serious and reprehensible as to amount to professional misconduct.”

“The Committee thereafter considered whether the professional misconduct was such that it would warrant referral to the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. The Committee were of the view that the administration of the executry had been so appallingly badly done as to take the issue out of service into that of conduct and coupled with the apparent attempt to mislead the Royal Bank the conduct was such that it would warrant prosecution before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. “

Law Society Complaints Committee decided that Andrew Penman should be prosecuted : “The Committee were of the view that Mr, Penman’s acting in respect of the extra-ordinary delays and failure to progress the administration of the executry and in apparently misleading the Royal Bank of Scotland were so serious and reprehensible as to amount to professional misconduct. The Committee determined to recommend to Council that Mr. Penman be prosecuted before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal in relation to the professional misconduct and the service provided and any other matter which the Fiscal feels appropriate.”

Law Society of Scotland report on solicitor Andrew Penman Stormonth Darling Kelso Page 4Andrew Penman begged the Complaints Committee not to prosecute, citing personal humiliation in the media as an excuse, while his legal representative at the Committee, Mr James Ness used his influence among the Committee members to derail the decision to prosecute : “Written representations were then made as to why Mr Penman should not be prosecuted. It was pointed out that the action of the complainer in referring matters to the media prior to the complaint being considered Mr Penman’s natural right to have the Tribunal or the Society decide whether the case was deemed fit for publicity had been denied. As a result of the complaint, and newspaper report Mr Penman had suffered personally and this had been a considerable punishment in itself. It was argued that a reference to the Tribunal would result in a fine and substantial cost to Mr Penman with little or no purpose beyond what the Society could achieve using its own powers given that the Society would be able to order a waiver of part or all of the substantial fee which could be charged for work done together with a compensation award of up to £1,000.00.”

A variety of further excuses were presented by Andrew Penman, through his legal agent Mr Ness, which persuaded the Committee not to prosecute, : “It was also pointed out that the complaint was from a beneficiary and not from the executor in the estate with whom Mr Penman had been working to resolve matters. The Committee considered the representations which had been made. The Committee were of the view that Mr Penman’s dealings with the matter undoubtedly amounted to professional misconduct. They thereafter considered whether in light of the representations which had been made the scale of the misconduct could be said to be so serious as to justify prosecution or whether a reprimand would be more appropriate. The Committee noted that Mr Penman clearly accepted that matters had not been dealt with in a proper manner by him and that there had been delays in progressing matters.”

The Complaints Committee, arm-twisted by senior Law Society official James Ness, and lacking any equivalent representation for my points, then changed their verdict to save Mr Penman so he could ruin some more unsuspecting clients : “Having re-considered the matter and taking into account the representations which had been made the Committee were unanimously of the view that whilst Mr Penman’s acting amounted to professional misconduct they were not such that would warrant a prosecution and a reprimand would be more appropriate. The Committee therefore determined to withdraw their recommendation for prosecution and to substitute a provisional finding of professional misconduct warranting a reprimand.”

Law Society of Scotland report on solicitor Andrew Penman Stormonth Darling Kelso Page 5 & 6Complaints Committee accused Andrew Penman of Professional Misconduct, and did nothing after Law Society intervention. The Complaints Committee in the lead up to their decision, began to excuse their change of mind over prosecution, stating : “It was noted that written representations had been received from the complainer dated 5th and 20th July. Representations had been received from Messrs. P & J Stormonth Darling dated 25th July and the Committee Secretary advised that Mr Penman had confirmed that he accepted the Committee’s preliminary view on matters i.e. that he be reprimanded in respect of the professional misconduct. Having considered the written representations the Committee found no reason to depart from its previous view and, therefore, confirmed their previous findings.”

In addition to the swathe of excuses to explain their failure to prosecute, the Complaints Committee even claimed there had been no financial loss to the estate, which had in reality been ruined through the actions of both Andrew Penman as the legal agent, and Borders Accountant Norman Howitt, acting as the Executor. The Law Society were therefore unable to explain the reduction of a 300K capital residual estate to zero.

The official decision of the Complaints Committee read as follows : “THE COMMITTEE HAVING CONSIDERED THE FURTHER REPRESENTATIONS WHICH HAD BEEN MADE FOUND NO REASON TO DEPART FROM ITS PREVIOUS VIEW AND ACCORDINGLY FIND THAT THE CONDUCT OF MR PENMAN IN RESPECT OF THE EXTRAORDINARY DELAYS AND FAILURES TO PROGRESS THE ADMINISTRATIONOF THE EXECUTRY AND IN MISLEADING THE ROYAL BANK OFSCOTLAND WERE SO SERIOUS AND REPREHENSIBLE AS TO AMOUNT TO PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT. THEY REPRIMANDED HIM.”

“IN ADDITION THE COMMITTEE FOUND THAT AN INADEQUATE PROFESSIONAL SERVICE HAD BEEN PROVIDED BY MESSRS. P & J. STORMONTH DARLING IN RESPECT OF THE EXTRAORDINARY DELAYS AND FAILURE TO PROGRESS MATTERS DURING THE PERIOD FROM THE DATE OF DEATH TO OCTOBER 1994 WHEN MR PENMAN CEASED DEALING WITH THE MATTER. THE COMMITTEE DIRECTED THAT THE SOLICITORS SHOULD ONLY BE ENTITLED TO CHARGE A FEE IN RESPECT OF THAT PERIOD TO A MAXIMUM OF £3,000 PLUS VAT IN TERMS OF SECTION 42A(2)(a)(ii) OF THE 1980 ACT. IN ADDITION THE COMMITTEE DETERMINED THAT THE SOLICITORS SHOULD MAKE A PAYMENT OF £1,000 TO THE ESTATE BY WAY OFCOMPENSATION IN TERMS OF SECTION 42A (2)(d) OF THE 1980 ACT.”

As a matter of record, the £1,000 payment Mr Penman was ordered to make, was taken by Norman Howitt, the Estate Executor, to pay bills Mr Penman and Mr Howitt had accumulated themselves on failed advertising.

As a result of the Complaints Committee’s spineless decision, Borders solicitor Andrew Penman was never prosecuted for his actions, and was allowed to continue working at Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso to this day. Insiders at the Law Society of Scotland have confirmed numerous complaints have been made by other clients against the Borders Law firm Stormonth Darling, since the Complaints Committee’s decision not to prosecute Mr Penman all those years ago.

You can read more about Borders Accountant Norman Howitt’s part in the Executry, and more, here : A picture is worth a thousand words – Images of fraud reveal corruption & deceit by lawyers & accountants in the Scottish Borders and you can read about how the Law Society of Scotland prevent clients being able to recover financial damages or take any legal action against crooked lawyers such as Andrew Penman, and the Law Society itself, here : Law Society intervention in claims ‘commonplace’ as ex Chief admits Master Policy protects solicitors against clients

Looking on the bright side, much good came from the Penman case, even if the bad remained.

What ‘Penman’ did, was alert the public to the fact the Law Society of Scotland, as a regulator, are thoroughly corrupt, as is the Scottish legal profession, throughout its entire fabric. No solicitor will stand against another, despite claims to the contrary, and those consumers who dare take issue with their ‘crooked lawyers’ face losing any right to access to justice, simply because lawyers consider it their right to fleece their clients, when needs must. Take my advice – don’t let Andrew Penman happen to you …

 

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Consumer warning on wills : Don’t make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of ‘will fraud’ show Law Society closes ranks on complaints

Will fraud bkIf you made your lawyer an executor in your will, think again. Anyone who has written a will, making their lawyer an executor, either in a sole or joint position with another, are being urged to take immediate action to change their choice of executors after leaked complaints details revealed a huge rise in serious fraud committed by solicitors and other professionals against dead clients affairs they are charged with managing.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland ‘regularly whitewashed complaints against solicitors acting as executors’. Figures revealed on fraud against wills reveal the Law Society of Scotland, the governing body of all Scottish solicitors, has blocked or dismissed up to 80% of complaints made against lawyers who have seriously mishandled the estates of their dead clients, and in many cases committed serious fraud with large sums of money simply going unaccounted for and families losing out on rightful inheritances from their loved ones.

The remaining 20% of complaints made against ‘crooked lawyers’ who have plundered the affairs of their one trusting, now deceased clients, usually end up in ‘slap on the wrist’ punishments with small fines or a weak reprimand, with the offending solicitor allowed to continue working, and only in the highest profile cases, do solicitors find themselves facing criminal charges, due to a policy of reluctance by the Crown Office to pursue members of the legal profession who actively, and it seems routinely commit crime.

A spokeswoman for one of Scotland’s consumer organisations today recommended that if a member of the public has written a will and appointed their solicitor or accountant as their executor, they should immediately reconsider their choice, preferably appointing someone closer to them by way of a relative, setting out clearly a set of instructions and a timeline by which an executor should handle the duties set out in writing in the will.

She said : “Given we are seeing an ever rising tide of fraud committed by professionals such as solicitors & accountants who are openly abusing their position as trusted executors of dead client’s estates, I would recommend that people take immediate steps to re-write their will, naming others more trustworthy as their executors.”

She continued : “Instead of appointing a lawyer you think you can trust as your executor, appoint someone closer to you such as a wife or another relative, ensuring there are clear written instructions on what they should do, how it should be done, exactly how much they can be paid for what they do if you feel they should be paid, and exactly how long it should take to wind up your affairs after death, passing on whatever it is you wish your family, friends, a charity etc to inherit, within a given length of time and with the minimum of fuss.”

A legal insider today backed up the timely advice on wills, saying : “I am a solicitor, and I have clients who have written their wills with my firm. However I have refused all requests to be executor on an estate, and I can tell you from my own experience dealing with other legal firms in the cases of a deceased estate, there is no way I would ever appoint another solicitor to be my executor. It is a stupid move in today’s society.”

He continued : “Yes, it may be inevitable that a solicitor is needed to work on some aspects of a deceased’s estate, but for goodness sake, don’t put a lawyer in the driving seat of executor because that will almost always put a will in the slow lane for years to come, and cause problems far beyond any imagination.”

“To prevent problems, people should take the simple step of making someone they really trust as their executor, and giving them strict instructions and time limits on how their affairs should be handled. This is very easy to achieve, if people would only use a little common sense in making sure whoever they choose to appoint as executor is locked into a certain agreement on what they can and cannot do.”

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanScotsman reported on Law Society’s protection of Andrew Penman who ruined estate. For years its been well known in the legal profession that handling a will is almost like having a license to steal because at the end of the day you know the Law Society will back solicitors up 100% against any complaints over what went wrong. Readers will be familiar with my own past on this issue, where a crooked lawyer by the name of Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darlng Solicitors, Kelso teamed up with an accountant (and executor), Norman Howitt now of Borders accountants JRW Group, to ruin my late father’s estate, details of which can be read HERE here and HERE.

Many people, especially the elderly, can be lulled into a false sense of security by an oh-so-smart solicitor, making them believe believing their lawyer is always there to help them and will of course, act honestly after the client has died and do exactly what has been asked of them as an executor. Today however, some shocking examples of fraud committed by solicitors against their deceased client’s wishes can be exposed :

Example 1

will photo stockSolicitor ripped off dead client & family, paid huge interest to his own Bank. An elderly man recently deceased had left his home, possessions & sizeable investments to his wife & family in what he obviously thought was a simple straight forward will, making the mistake of appointing his solicitor as his executor. The first thing the solicitor did was open up three overdraft accounts with a local High Street bank which coincidentally, the solicitor also deals with on a business & personal basis. Over the three years the solicitor took to process his deceased client’s estate, the High Street Bank received a staggering £27,000 in interest alone on the overdraft accounts, despite there being no debts on the deceased’s estate. Documents also now reveal the solicitor negotiated some cheap personal finance from the same High Street bank to purchase a second home.

The widow of the deceased, upon being told the investments in the will had been cut in value by three quarters, made a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland after discovering through careful investigation her late husband’s investments had been changed around by the solicitor at his own discretion rather than being realised and handed over to the family as per the instructions contained in the will. Now the Law Society have backed the solicitor against the family, despite a £250,000 loss being incurred in the late husband’s investments, together with the loss of title deeds to the home in which the widow still lives, while it seems the solicitor has experienced a remarkable increase in his own personal wealth, along with 3 recent top of the range cars.

Example 2

will photo stockSolicitor & accountant ripped off client’s charitable donations via her will. The result of the charitable intentions of a deceased elderly nurse who bequeathed her substantial entire savings including her house, in total valued at over £2 million to charitable causes, has so far resulted in not one of her wishes being respected by the solicitor and a long time friend, an accountant, she made executors of her will.

Charities who were named in the initial will have, after two years, yet to receive a penny, while again, a local High Street Bank has received over £18,000 in interest on several overdraft accounts opened by the solicitor allegedly to pay debts on the estate which never existed. Meanwhile the solicitor has also bought himself a second house, as has the deceased’s’ long time friend’ the accountant, and the charities who were due to receive sums of money are now questioning whether they will receive anything, given a recent letter to one charity from the solicitor suggesting “there was little left in the estate to cover the charitable bequests” – this despite the fact the nurse had no debts whatsoever, and owned her own home.

The paralegal who brought this case to the attention of Law Society of Scotland has been sacked from solicitor’s law firm, and since there is no one to independently monitor how the solicitor and accountant, both acting as executor, have so fraudulently mishandled the estate of their client (and victim) nothing will probably be done against those who have so obviously plundered the estate of their dead client. Even the charities themselves are apparently reluctant to make a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, possibly because a fleet of solicitors wives and family relatives sit on one of the charities concerned.

Example 3

will photo stockSolicitor stole 400k from will, no action by Law Society. A solicitor named as executor in an estate of an elderly unmarried man who had no surviving family, dying three years ago, tore up the original will of his client, and replaced it with one he had created to cover up the fact that a whopping £400,000 has disappeared from his deceased client’s bank accounts.

The will, which left a substantial bequest to a care home managed by the deceased’s local authority, has also seen the usual huge payments of interest fees to a local High Street Bank, in one case alone of £14,000 of pure interest, the same bank handling the solicitor’s law firm accounts.

The local authority had questioned when the bequest was to be made over to them, after being told by the solicitor there was little left to pay out his client’s wishes. The Law Society are supposedly still looking into the case, with as yet no action against the solicitor concerned.

Example 4

will photo stockSolicitor acting as executor stole over £30,000 from children’s trust. A deceased soldier who appointed his lawyer as executor, leaving everything to his wife & children, has unwittingly placed his family in the position of having to endure sickening refusals by the legal profession to do anything to recover over £30,000 of investments which were placed in a trust by the deceased client, for his children. The solicitor, acting as executor, cashed in the trust and used it to pay off gambling debts which everyone including the Law Society is now trying cover up.

Even serving one’s country it seems, is no guarantee to not being ripped off after death by crooked lawyers out to line their own pockets, with the likes of the good old Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission sitting back and doing absolutely nothing.

Sadly, these are but a handful of cases brought to my attention recently where lawyers & accountants, mistakenly appointed as executors in wills by ever trusting clients, have ended up fleecing the funds entrusted to them, for their own personal gain. My own advice to anyone writing a will, or anyone who has written a will, is, if you have appointed a lawyer as your executor, go back and re-write your will immediately naming someone you really can trust to handle your affairs after death.

Please, also take the advice of consumer organisations to stipulate exactly how and who should respect your wishes after you die, ensuring you also place limits on, or forbid the use of overdraft accounts by solicitors which are ostensibly used by the legal profession to waste your money with High Street banks in bargaining to secure cheap personal finance for lawyers. Taking these steps and taking the time to carefully think through your final wishes will save your remaining family a lot of heartache and ensure what you want actually occurs, rather than allowing the legal profession and others to march off with what you may have wished to go to your loved ones.

 

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Scottish chartered accountants ‘are too dishonest’ to handle wills & executries as ICAS pulls out of rights of audience battle for legal business

ICAS LOGO 2Scots accountants regulator ICAS have withdrawn their application for rights of audience. The choice of which professional should ruin your legal & financial affairs after you are dead, is to remain unchanged for now, with the revelation that the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland have put ‘on hold’ their application to the Scottish Government for extended rights of audience to handle clients wills & probate services – work currently undertaken exclusively by solicitors.

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government made a short admission on accountants rights of audience battle. A spokesman for the Scottish Government today said : “ICAS have put their application on hold meantime. We will proceed once we hear from them again. We have no correspondence from ICAS other than the application. We had a telephone conversation with them some months ago but have heard nothing since.”

ICAS had applied for rights of audience to the Scottish Government in July 2008, under the terms of Sections 25-29 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990, which I reported on in an earlier article, here : Accountants demand powers to handle wills & legal services, offering ‘crooked’ self regulation and little consumer protection in return

The 2008 application came after ICAS had tried unsuccessfully to amend the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill 2007, to enable accountants to enter the legal services business, which I reported on earlier, here : Scottish Accountants try to amend LPLA Bill for their own benefit – but refuse independent regulation safeguards for the consumer

A solicitor welcomed the news that ICAS had pulled their rights of audience application, claiming that accountants could not be trusted to handle the wills of dead clients, and warned the public there were little safeguards in the event a crooked accountant made off with the client’s money.

He said : “Considering accountants have little or no experience in the field of handling probate work in Scotland, and clients have even less safeguards in terms of protection from rogue accountants ruining their business, I doubt it would be in the consumer’s best interests at this point in time to allow accountants to handle clients post-death affairs. I would therefore not advise a potential client or any of your readers to trust an accountant to ‘wind up’ their legal affairs according to their will.”

Norman Howitt Accountant JRW Group Hawick Scottish BordersThe case of Scottish Borders accountant Norman Howitt (pictured left) made it dangerous to allow accountants to handle a client’s will. The solicitor went onto continue his critique and suggested accountants be barred from any involvement with wills : “On the basis of the now well known case involving your own family and the accountant Mr Howitt who was executor to your family’s ruined estate, I have advised and put off several clients from appointing their accountant as ‘executor’ to their will. After having read of Howitt’s actions in your case, I feel accountants and others close to the deceased’s financial affairs should be banned from becoming executors on wills they are closely linked with or are handling via their firms either in a personal or business capacity.”

You can read more about the way in which an accountant in the Scottish Borders, Norman Howitt, helped a solicitor also in the Scottish Borders, Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso, ruin my family’s legal affairs, and how they got away with it, here : A picture is worth a thousand words – Images of fraud reveal corruption & deceit by lawyers & accountants in the Scottish Borders

While for now, chartered accountants in Scotland do not have the right to handle wills & probate services, they can conduct similar business in England & Wales, which you can read more about HERE

There are numerous reported cases where accountants, acting in the capacity as executor, have totally ruined the estates of deceased clients. Take it from me, there is as little protection against a crooked accountant robbing your life savings or ruining your legal affairs, as there is against a solicitor doing the same.

Often I have found, from not only the case involving my own family’s legal affairs, but also those many more cases brought to my attention by you, the public, that crooked lawyers, and crooked accountants seem to make a good team taking as much money for themselves as they can get before actions are discovered.

It is also a fact the Law Society of Scotland and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, both self regulators of their own professions, work together closely on many issues, and proliferate each other’s aims on occasions of investigations into crooked lawyers & accountants, by appointing each other’s members to their in-house committees, a subject which I tackled earlier, here : Fears over corrupt self regulation as accountants regulator draft in ex Law Society President and solicitor as Public Interest members

I would therefore recommended that members of the public who have already appointed an accountant as ‘executor’ on their will should immediately replace that person or their firm with someone who is a lot less involved in their financial or legal affairs and ensure whoever that person is, they are appointed with a set of specific instructions on what they can and cannot do, with a given timeline & cost not to be exceeded for the completion of their work.

 

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Westminster Expenses : Ex Scottish Borders Libdem MP Lord Kirkwood claimed furnishings & more on taxpayer – should be stripped of title

archiekirkwoodArchy Kirkwood as a member of Parliament offered little help to victims of crooked Scottish Borders lawyers. Former Scottish Borders MP, now Lord’ Archy Kirkwood features in today’s Telegraph newspaper revelations on the Westminster expenses scandals, and deservingly so, as the paper reports he “claimed £5,000 in expenses to refurbish his London flat before retiring as an MP and selling it to his daughter for less than half its value.”

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanArchy Kirkwood offered little help against crooked lawyer Andrew Penamn & crooked accountant Norman Howitt. I always wondered what Archy Kirkwood did for the Scottish Borders, because all I was ever able to secure from him was a letter writing contest to the former Scottish Office then Scottish Executive on the corruption of crooked Borders lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling solicitors, Kelso – right in the heart of Archy Kirkwood’s constituency. It seemed to me, backed up by information provided by others in the region, Mr Kirkwood was a touch soft on the likes of crooked lawyers, and particularly didn’t want to do much regarding corrupt Borders accountants such as Norman Howitt, who you can read more about here : A picture is worth a thousand words – Images of fraud reveal corruption & deceit by lawyers & accountants in the Scottish Borders

Norman Howitt Accountant JRW Group Hawick Scottish BordersBorders accountant Norman Howitt of JRW Group, Hawick took pensioner’s pension & bank book. even made false statements to Police to cover his tracks, but Kirkwood did nothing. Now, you’d think ‘Lord’ Kirkwood would have done something about a crooked accountant confiscating a pensioner’s pension book and wanting to take control of a pensioner’s entire savings for himself .. but, strangely, no. It seems there was too much to gain from supporting the same crooked accountancy and legal firms as one of the region’s leading solicitors informed me …

However, it wasn’t just me who felt the lack of support from Mr Kirkwood during his time as an MP, after several people in the Borders began to contact me over similar problems in getting Mr Kirkwood to do anything for them at all other than the standard fair of writing letters, while refusing to raise issues or early day motions at the Westminster Parliament, during the time where that’s all we had as a legislature.

Taking a look around the Scottish Borders as I did before I left it years ago (and apparently it has changed little to-date) backs up the idea the region needs younger, harder working idealistic politicians who have the region’s people and Scotland’s interests at heart, rather than preferring the Westminster cabal to give them long term jobs and the facility to milk the taxpayer for expenses while their constituency lies in ruins.

I note Lord Kirkwood still remains in the LibDems armoury, his name cropping up on the GovNet website here, alongside other such luminaries as Lord Foulkes of Cummock, also an MSP : Govnet Advisory Board, which lists his following details as :

Lord Archy Kirkwood of Kirkhope

Archy Kirkwood was MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for 22 years, standing down at the May 2005 General Election. First elected in June 1983, he became the Liberal Party’s spokesman on Health, Social Services and Social Security. In 1992, he became the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party. In 1997 Archy became Chair of the Social Security Select Committee (now Work & Pension Committee).

He served on the House of Commons Audit Committee and on the House of Commons Commission and was knighted in 2003 for services to Parliament. Archy was made a life peer in 2005. He is currently head of external relations at the office of the Liberal Democrat Leader.

However, despite all of his positions, ‘Lord’ Kirkwood is now revealed as just another British politician who has milked the taxpayer, for, as the Telegraph reports, everything down to £3,000 for carpets and flooring for his kitchen and bathroom from John Lewis and £94 for a lavatory paper holder and tiles from Fired Earth.

Not satisfied with that, as the Telegraph continues to report, he returned to John Lewis to buy a £207 bathroom cupboard and mirror, curtains for £90 and lighting worth £72. Whatever relationship carpets, flooring, and other furnishings has to politics, evades me. Pay the money back. In fact, give up your title – as sure as all titles should be stripped from any politician caught milking the system.

Congratulations to the Telegraph for their excellent reporting, and I hope someone makes ‘Lord’ Kirkwood pay all the money back he has claimed from the taxpayer, along with all the other Westminster, and Scottish politicians who have done the same. Politicians are paid plenty for their job, and should bear in mind its all about representing the community, not ripping us off.

Pay the money back ‘Lord’ Kirkwood. In fact, since everyone was recently shouting to take Sir Fred Goodwin’s title away, give up your title too, ‘Lord’ Kirkwood, as sure as all titles & privileges should be stripped from any politician caught milking the system.

The Telegraph reports :

MPs’ expenses: Lord Kirkwood did up flat on expenses, then sold it cheaply to daughter

Lord Kirkwood, a Liberal Democrat peer, claimed £5,000 in expenses to refurbish his London flat before retiring as an MP and selling it to his daughter for less than half its value.

By Jon Swaine
Published: 10:30AM BST 03 Jun 2009

The peer, a work and pensions spokesman, used public funds to buy carpets, curtains and bathroom furniture for his Westminster flat from stores including John Lewis and Fired Earth.

He made the purchases after announcing in April 2004 that he would retire as MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire at the general election in May 2005. During his final year in the Commons, he claimed a total of £18,806 in allowances for the flat, which he bought for £182,500 in 2001.

These included about £670 a month to pay the interest on its mortgage. He then sold it in May 2007 to his daughter Holly, 31, a journalist for Country Life magazine, for £100,000. On Tuesday he said the flat had been valued at £225,000.

Three weeks before the sale, a flat in the same building sold for £358,000.

When he made the claims, Lord Kirkwood, then Sir Archy Kirkwood, sat on the House of Commons commission which was overseeing the first publication of basic details of MPs’ expenses. As the details were published in October 2004, he said that he welcomed the fact that “taxpayers can really see how their money is being spent”.

However, he dismissed suggestions that voters would be shocked by the amount of money involved. “I’m not saying it’s an insignificant sum, but it’s pretty small beer,” he said.

Between November and December 2004, Lord Kirkwood claimed more than £3,000 for carpets and flooring for his kitchen and bathroom from John Lewis. He also claimed £94 for a lavatory paper holder and tiles from Fired Earth.

In April 2004, the month he announced his intention to step down as an MP, he claimed £200 for repairs to the flat’s electrics. In June 2004, he claimed £50 for fans. In July he claimed £660 for unspecified work by a contractor.

Over the following months, he returned to John Lewis to buy a £207 bathroom cupboard and mirror, curtains for £90 and lighting worth £72.

In February 2005, he claimed £145 for a clothes rail and storage devices, £78 for kitchen stools and £56 for roller blinds. He also claimed £115 for computer equipment through his office expenses two months before he retired.

Lord Kirkwood, 63, had designated as his main home a house in Selkirk where he still lives with his wife Rosemary.

He claimed more than £63,000 in House of Lords allowances last year, including £20,019 on overnight subsistence: the Lords’ equivalent of second home allowances.

He claimed £11,419 in “day subsistence” allowances, £11,419 in office running costs and £9,741 in travel costs.

Lord Kirkwood, who was knighted for services to Parliament in 2003, was one of five Lib Dem MPs put forward for peerages by Charles Kennedy, the then party leader, after the 2005 election. He announced his retirement after it was decided that his seat should merge with that of Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, which was held by Michael Moore, a fellow Lib Dem.

Lord Kirkwood said yesterday: “When I sold the flat to my daughter a professional valuation was secured on the property. It was valued at £225,000. This was declared for capital gains.

“The fuse box and wiring system was unsafe and needed to be replaced. There were some costs of relaying flooring in parts of the property.”

 

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‘Self regulation’ system which destroyed Westminster reputation must now end for all professions, industry & public services

Westminster ParliamentWestminster Parliament used self regulation for decades to protect members unacceptable conduct on expenses. SELF REGULATION, the infamous liars charter which many professions and public services use to protect themselves against complaints from the general public, and even the law itself, is to end at Westminster, according to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks about the end of self regulation at Westminster after politicians from all parties were caught looting taxpayers money for personal expenses.

Conservative leader David Cameron also speaks about the end of self regulation at Westminster.

Yes, self regulation must now be ended in the UK political system, as it had utterly destroyed the public’s faith & trust in the Westminster Parliament.

However, self regulation as we all know is a popular facility which many professions & industries and public services within the UK also use to protect themselves against public complaints of bad conduct, poor service, lack of honesty, theft & embezzlement of client & public funds, and in the case of Doctors, even negligent medical decisions which lead to the deaths of patients.

A roll call of self regulation and how it has affected all our lives :

Sir_Fred_GoodwinSelf regulation of bankers ensured lack of independent scrutiny of Sir Fred Goodwin’s actions at Royal Bank of Scotland. Self regulation of the Banking & Finance sector has cost the UK dearly, and virtually brought public finances to the brink of bankruptcy, as bankers such as Sir Fred Goodwin’s over zealous takeovers while in charge of the Royal Bank of Scotland have plunged the UK Banking sector into collapse and worldwide disrepute.

GMC LOGODoctors are self regulated by the General Medial Council, where complaints get less than a fair hearing according to many patients. If you have ever tried to complain against a Doctor, or medical facility such as a hospital, you will find that self regulation plays an extensive part in ensuring patients complaints are kept within the medical profession, and never really achieve a fair hearing. For instance, many medical decisions which could be called negligent, resulting in the deaths of patients, for example, either through lack of treatment or administering of the wrong medicine, are also covered up by self regulation.

Just look how self regulation of the UK medical profession has protected those who allowed the use of contaminated blood products which infected many haemophiliacs with Hepatitis C and even HIV infections, killing many and leaving thousands suffering from incurable diseases. I have reported on those matters here : Scottish blood infections inquiry will be ‘another whitewash’ as documents expected to be withheld to cover up public liability

David Mcletchie taxiFormer Scottish Conservative leader David McLetchie lied over taxi expenses & journeys. Scottish Parliament has its own share of expenses scandals and self regulation has seen that no MSPs get prosecuted. Our dearly beloved Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, which some have been holding up as a model of expenses reform against the recent scandals at Westminster, has also had its fair share of expenses fiddling, with MSPs milking their expenses accounts to pay off mortgages, non existent travel, and even taxi fares.

No prosecutions or de-selections of MSPs have ever taken place at Holyrood despite all the expenses fiddling there, because of course, self regulation has allowed the Parliament to keep decisions on punishment and standards to itself. You can read some of my earlier articles on expenses scandals in Scottish politics, here: Scottish Parliament expenses scandals

SLCC membersScottish Legal Complaints Commission was an attempt at independent regulation but was ‘taken over’ by legal profession before it even existed. Despite attempts to create an independent regulator of the legal profession in Scotland by the previous Scottish Executive, the current Scottish Government stood by and allowed the legal profession to take over the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, ensuring once again, that ‘virtual self regulation’, as some at the Law Society of Scotland now call the SLCC remains the order of the day for complaints against solicitors in Scotland, and that even today, complaints by the public against crooked lawyers do not get a fair hearing, because too many lawyers and Law Society members were parachuted into the ‘independent’ SLCC via deals between the Law Society and the Scottish Government

ICAS LOGO 2Scottish accountants have used self regulation to hide corruption complaints against members. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) is one of a number of organisations which self regulate its members, however the style of self regulation at ICAS has led to the cover up of some of the worst conduct of accountants in the UK, where fraud, embezzlement of client funds, even criminal activity by members, and many other types of complaints have been swept under the carpet of self regulation by the body which prides itself in having extensive political connections throughout the UK, including even members of the Privy Council which ICAS have used to prevent changes to independent regulation of accountants from taking place.

An example of how accountants self regulation affected my own family (in complaints which are common to many ICAS investigate) :

Norman Howitt Accountant JRW Group Hawick Scottish BordersNorman Howitt, Borders Accountant with JRW Group was protected by self regulation of accountants. Norman Howitt, a Borders Accountant ruined my family’s life, and got away with it because of self regulation at ICAS which even covered up the fact he gave false statements to Lothian & Borders Police to cover up his embezzlement of money into his accounting firm’s accounts, from the sale of my late father’s assets.

You can read more about what Norman Howitt and several lawyers in the Scottish Borders did to my family in the name of greed and taking money for themselves, here : A picture is worth a thousand words – Images of fraud reveal corruption & deceit by lawyers & accountants in the Scottish Borders

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanScotsman newspaper led a campaign in the 90’s to end self regulation of Scots lawyers. The Scotsman newspaper reported on many occasions, the corruption of self regulation at the Law Society of Scotland which protected complaints against crooked Borders lawyer Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso. No effort was spared by the Law Society of Scotland’s most senior officials to corrupt the investigation and derail any prosecution against Penman who also deceived the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Inland Revenue.

Philip YellandPhilip Yelland, Law Society’s self regulation chief ordered solicitors to ignore clients instructions in cases against crooked lawyers. You can read more about the way self regulation of the legal profession was used by the Law Society of Scotland to protect crooked lawyers in my own case, here : The Scotsman reports : Andrew Penman, self regulation and the Law Society of Scotland and you can read about some of the lengths individuals at the Law Society of Scotland were prepared to go to defeat complaints against the legal profession as a whole, here : Law Society intervention in claims ‘commonplace’ as ex Chief admits Master Policy protects solicitors against clients

What we as the public have had to endure for far too long in Scotland, England & Wales, is a Crooked Curtain of self regulation that has been held firmly in place by the professions, many UK industries, public services, politics and Government (local & national), simply to protect those same professions, industries, public services and politicians from public accountability and transparency, which can only be achieved through fully independent regulation.

As we can see from the above examples, it is time to end self regulation for anyone & all public services, industry and professions in the UK, now.

 

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Dean of faculty hints at rising fraud claims against solicitors as ‘Penman Levy’ bites hard into Scots law firms

richard keen qcRichard Keen QC. Richard Keen QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, has admitted there will be a sharp rise in claims against solicitors, with both the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund being heavily affected as many of the dubious buy-to-let schemes, involving solicitors apparently faking up securities for clients, begin to be discovered.

Richard Keen QC said in “The Firm” article which you can read here : Reasons to be cheerful : “Are there any prospects for growth in the present environment? I would predict that over the next 12 months we are almost certainly going to see a substantial increase in the identification of loan fraud related to buy to let projects. I would not be at all surprised if this came to dominate claims on the Master Policy and the Guarantee Fund.”

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society will face many claims against crooked lawyers. Prospects for growth, as the Dean himself indicates, seem to be a huge jump in fraud claims against the legal profession, with the Master Policy & Guarantee Fund both being put to the test as many banks and financial instructions discover that many ‘buy-to-let’ schemes have frankly, been nothing short of bare faced fraud, on the part of many clients and solicitors, hungry for fat profits on highly dubious deals, backed by faked up securities many of the Banks failed to accurately confirm supported the transactions taking place.

You can read more about the buy to let fraud here : Buy-to-let fraud hits thousands

Buy-to-let fraud has hit the property market and the legal profession many times before, and many will remember how some clients of the defunct law firm Scott Moncrieff & Dove Lockhart (known for their jailed solicitor partner John McCabe where £4 million disappeared), were apparently also engaged with some of the solicitors in ‘buy-to-let’ fraud schemes, in which several Scottish banks lost a great deal of money.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanLessons to be learned – The ‘Penman Levy’ ends up costing Scots lawyers & legal firms dear. The growth in ‘buy to let fraud’ & claims against crooked lawyers is not the only growth area in the legal system these days .. as solicitors in Scotland must also now fork out a huge annual complaints levy, dubbed by some senior lawyers as the “Penman Levy”, in reference to the multitude of ‘crooked lawyer’ scandals reported in the media after my own personal battle with the legal profession, which involved the Law Society’s determination to defy prosecution in the case of crooked Borders lawyer Andrew Penman.

You can read more about the Scotsman’s reporting of the Andrew Penman case, here : Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darling Solicitors, Kelso -The Scotsman stories

However, while each Scottish solicitor was forced this year to pay an average of £400 each to fund the “Penman Levy” to run the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, amounting to a whopping £2.4 million, it seems some solicitors have decided to recoup their ‘Penman Levy’ costs by fiddling their fee demands to clients, as many Scots are about to find out, if they are expecting a bill from their lawyer.

In a recent survey of 20 contacts throughout Scotland who have received demands from their solicitors for payment of fees, every single bill was found to be well far of the ‘cost estimate’ originally provided by the solicitor to the particular client, and it is also worth noting that in each case, where timescales for a resolution to the client’s problem had been given, not one single case out of the 20 clients concerned, had progressed to a solution.

In one case, involving a boundary dispute with a neighbour, the client, of a famous Edinburgh legal firm, was told in 2005, it would cost in the region of £2,000 to study the papers, seek Counsel’s opinion, and bring the case to court.

However, last week the client received a demand for an additional second Counsel’s opinion, which came to £2,105.55 pounds alone, which the client was not informed had even been given in 2008. When the client asked to see the actual opinion, his request was refused, with a letter arriving two days later demanding full payment of the £2,105.55 otherwise immediate steps would be taken to recover the funds.

After a little checking by the client, directly with the Advocate, it has been discovered the QC who was supposed to have given Counsel’s opinion on the boundary dispute, had never actually undertaken the work, nor even given the first Counsel’s opinion the solicitor had charged his client £1520, during 2007.

Obviously in this case, a significant fraud has taken place against the client, by one of Edinburgh’s ‘most respected legal firms’, and this particular case will no doubt generate another complaint against a ‘crooked lawyer’ to add to the thousands of complaints filed each year by clients against their solicitors in Scotland.

SLCC squareSLCC wont investigate cases before late 2008. However the ‘do-nothing’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will not even investigate this complaint or any matter arising from the case, as the SLCC conveniently decided it would not examine any complaints connected with legal work instructed prior to 1st October 2008, when the Commission began operation.

Studying the raft of solicitors bills recently sent out to clients, there does appear to be an increasing trend by Scots legal firms, desperate for any income they can get, to provide false accounts to clients, for cases which partners have taken on but have never seriously pursued as per agreements reached with clients to represent their legal interests.

The only advice I can offer for now is : If you have currently engaged a solicitor in any way whatsoever, you must carefully scrutinise your solicitors fee demands and bills, because the likelihood is, their fee demands are inaccurate and unjustified.

In another case, a family who were due to receive property as part of their deceased father’s estate in the Scottish Borders, were forced to wait three years, before being told there was no assets left in the estate and they must put in money to pay a whopping £5,300 bill for legal services, undertaken by a notorious firm of solicitors based in the Scottish Borders.

In yet another instance, a client was recently sent a bill for £3,520 by a Glasgow law firm, despite the fact he actually settled the case with his neighbour over a land dispute in 2007. The recent fee demand was accompanied by a 7 day threat of court action if no payment was received, apparently being sent on the basis “the account had been misfiled and never sent out” – this despite the fact the client retained his fee payments and took his client file from his solicitor’s office in 2007 after settling the case, and settling all fees due which totalled £1,477 at the time.

Many of the other cases brought to my attention of inflated accounts & demands from solicitors involve case work such as, land purchases or sales gone wrong, divorces, custody cases, boundary disputes, failures in executry work, false QC’s opinions, backdated or allegedly misfiled accounts, fictitious work undertaken on cases which have no hope of reaching a settlement.

A paralegal I know who recently was sacked along with several other staff from her struggling legal firm, described the client billing situation in the Scots legal profession as “fraudulent at best”, and went on to claim “at the moment its pandemonium in many legal firms I know of, where friends and paralegals I know personally have been asked to type up bills for clients which they know themselves are fictitious as the work has never been done”.

“I remember a few weeks ago there was a client telephoned to speak to the senior partner over the size of his bill and the fact it was nearly £6,000 over the estimate initially provided. The senior partner told me he didn’t want to speak to the client under any circumstances, and I was to call the Police if the client made any hint he would not pay or insulted any members of staff on the telephone”.

“I know for a fact that client’s case is a mess and twice the solicitor took the matter into court just to have the case adjourned so he could get more fees out of the client for doing nothing”

“The case, which involved a neighbour who had built on their land, has left the client with a property they cant sell. Probably the mess will be left for someone else to clean up if they can get another solicitor to look at it which I honestly don’t think will happen after the mess my former employers made of their case.”

So the lesson for anyone of you who has received or is about to receive a bill from their solicitor, is to check it out thoroughly, because the chances are, there is a lot of false work added to that account, which you either never authorised, or were never told would be required.

I suppose the other lesson, perhaps this time for solicitors is – speak out against the bad apples in the profession, because in the long run it will be a lot cheaper for you, generate much more respect, and probably bring in business & clients who for now, doubt your honesty and ability as a profession to regulate yourselves.

Oh, by the way, (I have to ask) how do solicitors really feel about having to pay out £400 a year to fund the SLCC, simply because the Law Society decided to fiddle the case against Andrew Penman, the Scotsman’s reporting of which brought about many hundreds more scandals involving crooked lawyers reported in the Scottish media to this day ?

Read on for some more examples of sleazy solicitors from Scotland’s legal profession (from the Scotsman) :

Sleazy side of legal profession

“”We must ensure those with the highest standards are protected from the dishonest few” – leslie cumming

By GINA DAVIDSON

AS Leslie Cumming lay bleeding outside his Murrayfield home, the victim of a frenzied stabbing, his cool legal brain was probably already clicking into gear.

While his body fought to stem the flow of blood from a dozen wounds, his mind was whirring through the possibilities of who would have wanted to attack him. It wasn’t long before the top law official was able, from his hospital bed, to give Lothian and Borders Police a rundown of lawyers he is and has investigated for suspected money laundering.

Now, two lawyers are to be interviewed by detectives in connection with the attack on the 62-year-old, while police also sift through all the Law Society files that are the work of months of painstaking investigation by chief accountant Cumming and his 12-strong team.

Yet while the attack on Cumming saw the reality of violent crime intrude into his highly regulated world of balance sheets and law books, it has also focused the public interest on corrupt lawyers. Ever since he was appointed chief accountant of the Law Society of Scotland back in 1984, Cumming has taken it upon himself to weed out rogue or “bent” lawyers throughout the country.

Back in the early 1990s, he ensured the Law Society took a hard-line stance against crooked lawyers who embezzled clients’ money, changing the five-year inspection of firms’ books to two years. The move came after lawyer John McCabe, who had worked for Edinburgh firm Scott Moncrieff & Dove Lockhart, was jailed for ten years for defrauding his clients out of more than £4 million.

More than two years ago the Law Society – which represents more than 8000 lawyers – along with the National Criminal Intelligence Service held a series of seminars aimed at raising awareness about the ways criminals might try to exchange stolen for clean money.

That was when the Proceeds of Crime Act became law, making it illegal for professionals to handle criminals’ money without asking questions. As a further safety measure, he also oversaw the introduction of regulations which mean every firm must submit a financial certificate every six months to the Law Society, providing financial information about the firm and confirming compliance with accountancy rules.

Such scrutiny was bound to make him some enemies. Yet Cumming has always maintained that solicitors in Scotland are in the majority honest, with just a few spoiling the reputation of the profession. He has said: “Our system relies on the near 100 per cent honesty of the profession which is what we find time after time.

“It is our duty to the profession and their clients to ensure that those who maintain the highest standards and their clients are protected from the actions of the few who act dishonestly.”

Sources in the legal profession claim there are currently 19 lawyers on petition charges – which means they’ve committed an offence which could mean a minimum sentence of more than five years in jail – although a spokesman for the Crown Office says they have no way of confirming the number as they don’t list occupations.

Legal sources also suggest that, despite the Proceeds of Crime Act which could see lawyers face up to 14 years in prison for turning a blind eye to money laundering, there are still those who believe the rewards are worth the risk.

“It all depends on how well your practice is doing, that seems to be the excuse when people are struck off,” says one Edinburgh lawyer. “That if business isn’t going so well, and they have clients who have money to ‘invest’ in property, then it becomes an option. But lawyers know the risks. If a client comes in with £100,000 in cash and says he wants to buy something, be it property or shares, bells should be ringing.

“If a lawyer doesn’t do the necessary checks, ask the necessary questions and then gets found out to be dealing with dirty money, then they go to jail, it’s as simple as that. Most would think it isn’t worth the risk, but there will always be those who are blinded by the cash.”

Another adds: “The change in the law has been onerous for solicitors. It means that when a new client comes through the door we have to ask for passports, driving licences, utility bills . . . it’s a bureaucratic nightmare.

“If there’s any reason to suspect the client of trying to pass off stolen money you have to report them to NCIS in England. The solicitors are being asked to police clients rather than the police, and if we get it wrong we go to jail.”

Another city solicitor says: “Embezzling has been seen as a way out of trouble for some lawyers in the past, but these days firms’ books are gone through with a fine-tooth comb every two years. The accountants at the Law Society know exactly what to look for, so there’s no hiding any dodgy practices.”

However, despite all the checks and balances, one case which slipped Cumming’s net for a decade, until just two years ago, was that of former solicitor John Kennedy Forster. A partner at Stranraer-based solicitors Ferguson & Forster, MacFie & Alexander, he admitted 35 charges of embezzling £667,000 from his clients to pay for school fees, his large home with outdoor swimming pool and foreign holidays.

His sentencing was deferred several times at the High Court in Edinburgh, to allow for compensation proceedings to be resolved and for a report to be submitted by forensic accountants. Finally though on March 18, 2004, he was jailed for six and a half years.

According to Cumming, the case took so long because it “involved a uniquely complex system with the evidence well hidden”.

He added: “But as with all cases, once the cracks appeared layer after layer of the fraud was exposed and produced the evidence which we needed and which the Crown then used.

“Most successful frauds involve several strands and depend on a position of particular power or influence. The hardest to uncover are those where there’s an element of complicity. It’s a constant challenge and each time we find a scheme we ensure that all our inspection teams know about the mechanisms and how it worked so that they can recognise the signs in the future.”

Police sources here in Edinburgh believe there are few, if any, corrupt lawyers working in the Capital, and that the Law Society’s checks are currently adequate for preventing illegal financial activities, although they admit there will be those who don’t get caught quickly enough.

One says: “I’ve seen a few dodgy lawyers in my time, but not on the financial front.

“There’s more organised crime in Glasgow than Edinburgh but then the property market here is much more expensive and so that maybe proves the attraction. But I do think that there’s only a few corrupt lawyers in Scotland – although they can be damaging to the whole of the profession.”

But perhaps the most telling thing about crime among Scotland’s lawyers is that claims on the Law Society’s Guarantee Fund – a fund which compensates clients who have suffered loss as a result of a solicitor’s dishonesty, and which is paid into by partners in law firms – have steadily fallen under Cumming’s tenure.

Each partner pays around £200 a year into the fund, which is in excess of £1 million. For the year 2003-2004, the last year for which figures are available, the total paid out was £187,000, whereas when the fund was first established in the early 1990s, the compensation payouts were as high as £1.35m.

LOWERING THE BAR: CROOKS WHO MAKE UP LAW’S LIST OF SHAME

1991: Edinburgh lawyer John McCabe was jailed for ten years after admitting 34 charges of fraud totalling more than £4 million. He conned banks and building societies into handing over loans of up to £500,000 and ploughed the money into disastrous business ventures. He fled to South America, leaving a taped confession, but returned within a few days and was arrested at Heathrow Airport.

1996: A five-year sentence was handed to David Hoey, a lawyer from Leven, after he was found guilty at the High Court in Edinburgh of stealing more than £500,000 from elderly clients. He had already been struck off when the offence came to light.

1996: After a probe into his firm’s financial affairs, Donald Pirie was struck off. A police investigation found that the Cowdenbeath-based lawyer, who lived in East Linton, had embezzled £63,000 from clients, including £40,000 from his parents. He was jailed for five and a half years.

1997: Stephen Crilley pocketed £45,000 in fees due to his firm because he believed he was underpaid. He was a partner with Grant & Wyllie until resigning in 1996 and was struck off the following year. He avoided going to prison by repaying the money.

1997: Pat Elliot was jailed for 18 months after she was found guilty of stealing £60,000 that was destined for two charities from a client’s will. Elliot, of Crown Terrace, Glasgow, was also struck off.

1998: Alexandra MacRae, a lawyer who underwent a sex-change operation and was previously known as Steven Raw, admitted to embezzling more than £16,000 from a client’s account in order to pay her Dundee firm’s debts. She was struck off before later being sentenced to 15 months. However, she appeared in court again in 2001 and was sentenced to three years for embezzling almost £100,000 from an elderly client while she had worked as a lawyer.

2000: William Stevens of Saughtonhall Drive was jailed for four years at the High Court in Edinburgh for embezzling cash from elderly clients to pay for school fees. He was also struck off, although had resigned as a partner with firm Bennett and Robertson in 1997.

2001: Alistair Liddle prompted a police hunt in 1997 after vanishing, leaving his family in Forres, just as the Law Society was to investigate his firm. He was struck off in 1999 and traced to Cornwall in 2001, where he admitted embezzling £17,875 from a client’s account. He was jailed for a year.

2001: Solictor Bruce Gordon of Piersfield Terrace in Edinburgh was struck off after being found guilty of professional misconduct for embezzling £55,000 from a dead man’s estate. He was jailed for a year.

2003: Alastair Hall, a former partner of A&R Robertson and Black in Blairgowrie, was jailed for 11 years after stealing £500,000 from clients. He admitted five charges of embezzlement, two of fraud and a bankruptcy offence.

2004:Edinburgh lawyer Ricky McAnulty was jailed after admitting embezzling almost £20,000 from the accounts of five clients. He was struck off and sentenced to 18 months in Saughton.

2004: Douglas Criggie, who owned Cumberland Street firm Criggie & Co, was charged with embezzling £50,000 from clients. But his firm was sequestrated after it was discovered he had unpaid loans and bills totalling £300,000 and he went bankrupt. He was struck off by the Law Society in May 2004 and the Crown Office is still considering prosecution.

2005: Glasgow lawyer Calum Blyth was jailed for two years after being found guilty of embezzling £108,000 from his clients and obtaining a further £27,000 by fraud while working for Blyth Solicitors between 1996 and 1999

 

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