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NEW CHEATS FOR THE DOCK: Six lawyers probed by Police for legal aid fraud – as investigation uncovers banned legal aid solicitors raking in profits via law firms referral fees scam

Police & Prosecutors investigate lawyers for legal aid fraud. THE Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has confirmed a number of solicitors are currently under investigation by Police Scotland for alleged legal aid fraud.

The admission by Legal Aid chiefs – via Freedom of Information legislation – comes after journalists received tip offs relating to “high value” long term investigations involving a number of law firms and solicitors chiefly in the west of Scotland.

And, all the solicitors who are under investigation by Police Scotland and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – are still working for law firms who are able to claim more public cash – despite substantive allegations they cheated taxpayers.

Information provided by SLAB in response to a Freedom of Information request reveals:

The first was on an employee of a firm of solicitors and the estimated value of the alleged irregularities was £1,065.55 and as outlined above the matter is with Police Scotland.

The second was in respect of six solicitors. The estimated value of the alleged irregularities is yet to be determined as again, a Police investigation remains on-going.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board also confirmed fourteen applicants for legal aid had been referred to the Crown Office.

In respect of claimants (legal aid applicants) the information requested is as follows:

There were 14 legal aid applicants referred to COPFS to consider prosecution with the estimated value of the alleged irregularities being £78,854.52 with £5,994.92 having been recovered.

One case was referred as an attempted fraud with an estimated value of the irregularity being £2,800 which is not recoverable.

COPFS have closed two cases; one by way of a Fiscal warning with the other having no proceedings being taken against them. The remaining 12 cases continue to be considered or progressed.

However, since SLAB confirmed the Police probes – information has come to light a number of solicitors who are now banned from the Legal Aid register and some  who have ‘voluntarily’ withdrawn after headline SLAB investigations – are still profiteering from legal aid cash.

The claims come as Scotland’s legal profession – led by the Law Society of Scotland – plot a strategy to resist ex Finance Secretary John Swinney’s announced cuts to the Legal Aid budget – which has soared to over £150 million a year – resulting in Scottish lawyers handed over £1.2 billion of public cash since the financial crash of 2008.

Enquiries by the media have also uncovered a new type of legal aid scam – whereby lawyers who currently cannot claim legal aid due to previous instances of defrauding the public purse – are now receiving hefty payments in the form of large referral fees from other local law firms they pass on civil & criminal clients.

The law firms who gain extra legal aid business from former legal aid solicitors – are suspected of inflating their own legal aid claims to cover referral fees paid to the referring solicitor.

One client – who did not wish to be identified – told journalists how his solicitor – already named in the media in relation to legal aid irregularities – passed on a civil damages claim against a West of Scotland local authority to another firm of solicitors in the same area.

The client later became aware an arrangement had been made by the second law firm for referral fees to be provided to the original solicitor.

The claimant was told if any problem arose or he was asked questions, he was to reply by stating his original solicitor was kept on in the case as his office was closer in terms of accessibility.

The client – who’s claim is being funded by civil legal aid – told journalists he was asked to go to three consultations with his original solicitor – all of which were suddenly cancelled at the last minute.

However, the client was asked to go to his new legal representatives for a consultation where his second lawyer claimed ‘valuable information had been learned from the consultations’ – which never took place.

Material which has emerged in relation to this case suggests the non-existent consultations – have since been charged up to legal aid.

A number of similar cases have since been identified involving the same solicitor who is now ‘de-registered’ from the Legal Aid register – potentially costing taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds in inflated legal aid claims designed to channel payments back from law firms still on the legal aid register – to the referring solicitor.

Most of the cases so far uncovered appear to involve small to medium sized civil claims against housing agencies, public bodies including health, local authorities and some private businesses.

Speaking to journalists, an individual who formerly specialised in complex financial investigations of law firms said the scale of fraud involving inflated legal aid claims being used to provide referral fees to de-registered and ‘non legal aid solicitors’ “is substantial” and “difficult to get to grips with”.

The individual also gave an account of a case where he alleged financial documents had been removed – under audit powers – from a law firm currently implicated in a multi million pound mortgage fraud racket – to shield a well known solicitor who formerly held high office at the Law Society of Scotland.

It is unknown if the Crown Office or Police Scotland have requested sight of the material from the legal profession’s regulator.

LAWYERS AVOID LEGAL AID RAPS:

A previous investigation by DOI into the lack of prosecutions by the Crown Office revealed fourteen cases were sent to prosecutors, with not one case going to court.

One solicitor even registered a plea of “insanity” to avoid being prosecuted for legal aid fraud.

Since the start of 2005, SLAB has submitted nine reports to Crown Office alleging criminal offences by a total of thirteen solicitors. One report related to a firm of five solicitors;

The allegations relating to eleven of these solicitors were marked for no action on the basis of an insufficiency of evidence. This related to seven separate reports (for which Crown Counsel’s Instructions were obtained in three)

A report relating to one of the eleven solicitors referred to above was referred to the Civil Recovery Unit for their consideration;

One solicitor died before criminal proceedings were commenced;

One solicitor was placed on indictment for Sheriff and Jury proceedings for fraud. That solicitor entered a preliminary plea in bar of trial on the grounds of insanity which was sustained by the Court.  In light of that decision, the case was deserted pro loco et tempore; and

In relation to the final solicitor, the matter remains under consideration.

Further reporting on the lack of prosecutions was reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper and by DOI can be found 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

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LEGAL RAIDERS: Law Society sent 19,000 emails to MSPs in lobbying effort to protect £150 million a year legal aid payments to lawyers & criminal fraternity – ‘regardless of cost to society’

Law Society launches campaign to protect £1m legal aid pay-outs to crooks. ON THE day Scotland elected a minority SNP Government, the Law Society of Scotland has revealed it organised a ‘19,000 plus’ email lobbying effort targeted at candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections – aimed at ‘protecting’ over £150m a year in legal aid public cash hand-outs to lawyers.

The campaign – organised under the guise of ‘access to justice for all’ – criticises recent cuts in the huge Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) budget – which has seen a staggering £1.2 billion of taxpayers cash paid out to lawyers and their criminal clients since the financial crash of 2008.

As part of the campaign, the Law Society said it had encouraged both solicitors and members of the public to contact their candidates for the Scottish Parliament elections to ask them to support access to justice, along with a twitter campaign with the hashtag #defendlegalaid””.

Material published by the Law Society states: “over 450 people have written to their candidates in the Scottish Parliament election asking them to #defendlegalaid.”

“Over 19,000 emails have been sent to candidates”

“Candidates in over 70 constituencies have been contacted as part of the campaign”

“Candidates from eight political parties, as well as independents, have pledged to #defendlegalaid on social media”

Alongside a document titled  Legal Assistance in Scotland fit for 21st Century, the Law Society launched a PR video in an attempt to persuade the public to support a drive to hand out millions more in public cash to lawyers.

The Law Society campaign strategy also includes ‘ research’ commissioned during 2013 from polling organisation Ipsos Mori  – which claims “there is strong public support for legal aid.”

The Law Society ‘research’ claims “81% of the public agreeing legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure a fair society, regardless of its cost.”

Further research was carried out with lawyers during 2015 – coming just after it was revealed the Law Society had rigged a client satisfaction survey, publishing spurious claims of high client satisfaction with Scottish solicitors across several media outlets – the articles authored by the Law Society’s own President.

The 2015 survey of the legal profession claims to indicate 78% of solicitors surveyed believed “Scottish Government policy on legal aid risked undermining access to justice for the poorest in society”, with 77% of lawyers in the survey allegedly demanding an increase in legal aid rates.

Commenting on the latest campaign against legal aid cuts, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “We recognise that like all public sector funding, the justice budget is under significant pressure. However legal aid funding is quite simply the cost of access to justice for those in need.

Ms McLintock continued: “Access to justice is an essential element of a fair and democratic society and we have highlighted it as one of one of our key priorities for this year’s Scottish election. Providing access to quality legal advice and representation for people, regardless of their financial means, helps tackle inequality, encourages early resolution of problems, and protects fundamental rights.

“While our legal aid system is designed to meet costs on a case-by-case basis, there are fees for particular types of work which were set in 1992 and have not been revised.

Christine McLintock attacked the cuts to the legal aid budget, saying : “The legal aid budget was reduced from £161.4m in 2010/2011 to £138m in 2014/15. The target budget for 2016/17 is £126.4m – more than a £10 million reduction – and is less in cash terms than 20 years ago which, accounting for inflation, represents around a 50% cut in real terms over those two decades.

“This is causing enormous challenges – already there are areas of the country where there are not enough solicitors providing civil legal aid to meet demand, because practitioners just can’t afford to take it on.”

However, it has previously emerged during media investigations solicitors have got off the hook from multiple cases involving legal aid fraud & millions of pounds of public cash,

in one media investigation, it was revealed Fourteen lawyers accused of defrauding millions of pounds of legal aid public cash escaped prosecution after Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) refused to prosecute any of the cases reported to prosecutors by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

In another case brought to light by the media – Niels S Lockhart – a Kilmarnock based solicitor took over £600,000 of legal aid cash in just two years – and even when allegations of dodgy claims were reported to the Law Society an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board – the Law Society of Scotland failed to act.

It emerged last summer the same solicitor – Niels S Lockhart – ended up demanding more legal aid cash even after being barred from the legal aid register – reported here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years – and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

LEGAL AID – How criminals & legal fraternity pocket £150 million a year of YOUR MONEY:

LEGAL RAID: FRAUDSTER’S TRIAL HANDOUT

Scandal of £11m crook who lived high life on stolen cash …& WE pay his £769k law bills

EXCLUSIVE by Russell Findlay Scottish Sun 12 July 2015

A FRAUDSTER who flew in private jets and lit cigarettes with burning £50 notes was handed £769,000 in legal aid.

Michael Voudouri cheated taxpayers out of millions of pounds through a VAT scam.

But we can reveal the public picked up the massive legal bill for the criminal, who was jailed for 11 1/2 years.

Labour’s legal affairs spokeswoman Elaine Murray said: “It’s shocking that a crook who has defrauded the public purse should get hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal aid.

“Ordinary people on low incomes struggle to get legal aid while someone who has stolen millions in VAT fraud gets a six figure sum.”

Voudouri, 47, was found guilty in 2012 of laundering £11.5million from a massive VAT fraud.

The wealthy crook, who lived in a £1.5million mansion in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire and hired Katie Price and Chris Eubank for personal appearances, is not the first to get legal aid.

We told how Barry Hughes and his wife Jackie jetted off on a £50,000 trip to Dubai weeks after taxpayers covered their £175,000 court battle bills.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board said a “financial eligibility test” was carried out in each case.

SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland’s lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 30 September 2012

THE European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – more than in Italy, which has a population of 61million.

SCOTS lawyers collected more taxpayers’ cash for Legal Aid than their counterparts in Italy – a country 12 times the size.

A European Commission report reveals that Legal Aid in Scotland cost 203million euros (£161million) in 2010 – around 39 euros, or £31, for every one of our 5.2million people.

Lawyers in Italy, which has a population of 61million, got just £100million of public cash – £1.50 per person.

The 450-page Brussels report also found that Denmark, with 5.6million people, paid its lawyers only 88million euros (£70million).

And in Belgium – population 10.9million – legal aid cost 75million euros (£59million).

The revelations, in a 450-page report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice – came as the Scottish Legal Aid Board banned three lawyers from claiming cash for criminal cases.

We can reveal that Gerard Tierney, Massimo D’Alvito and Andrew Brophy, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, breached the board’s code of practice. Tierney and D’Alvito have been reported to the Crown Office, who will decide whether to prosecute.

The ban also extends to Tierney’s firm G Tierney & Co, of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, who have raked in £610,500 in Legal Aid over three years, and Edinburgh firm Massimo D’Alvito Defence Lawyers.

The European report looked at 47 criminal justice systems across the continent.

It found the cost per person of Legal Aid in Scotland was third-highest – behind only Northern Ireland and England and Wales. The cost per person was 53.5 euros in Northern Ireland and 45.7 euros in England and Wales.

The findings led to calls for a radical overhaul of Legal Aid.

Central Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe said: “It seems major organised criminals and terror suspects qualify for unlimited Legal Aid, yet I have constituents who don’t get a penny simply because they have a few thousand pounds of savings.

“The system in Scotland and the rest of the UK is out of control.”

Legal blogger Peter Cherbi added: “Legal Aid is no longer about access to justice for the poor, but a state subsidy for the legal profession – and one they don’t seem keen on talking about.”

The Sunday Mail has exposed a series of rogue lawyers banned from claiming Legal Aid. But none of the 14 reported to prosecutors was put in the dock, prompting claims that Scotland’s legal self-regulation system protects lawyers.

Kilmarnock solicitor Niels Lockhart, who took £600,000 in Legal Aid in just two years, was found to have made “unnecessary and excessive” claims. The Legal Aid board withdrew their complaint to the Law Society after he agreed to stop claiming.

Reacting to the Brussels report, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Across Europe, there are substantial differences between judicial systems and very different approaches to the provision of legal aid and its cost.

“The Scottish system is highly regarded internationally for the efforts made to ensure access to justice.

“The Scottish Government’s budget allocation for the Legal Aid Fund has reduced significantly in 2011-12 and is planned to reduce further in future years.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill hopes to cut the Legal Aid bill by making criminals pay some of their costs. The planned move, outlined in a Holyrood Bill, could save taxpayers around £3.9million.

• The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size.

Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010.

Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned.

Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

• A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock.

Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences.

Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

• The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Researchers compared the wages of lower court judges across Europe.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss.

Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000).

Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

EU Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland’s lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

 

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LEGAL BILLIONS: Law Society hits out at legal aid cuts as Scottish Legal Aid Board reveal lawyers received £138.6m public cash in 2014-15, making £1.2bn since 2008 financial crash

Billions in public cash keep ‘struggling’ lawyers afloat. SCOTLAND’S legal profession took home a staggering £138.6 million in public cash last year – for giving Scots access to justice – according to figures released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) today.

However, the latest round of payments of public subsidies to struggling solicitors, down from last year’s £150.5 million and marked for a further reduction by Finance Secretary John Swinney to £126.1m in 2016 budget – sparked ire at the Law Society of Scotland who yesterday attacked the Finance Secretary’s legal aid reductions as “unrealistic”.

Figures provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board reveal Scotland’s legal profession have taken home over £1.2 billion in public cash since the great financial crash of 2008: 2014-2015: £138.6m, 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, TOTAL: £1.207 Billion.

Commenting on the figures, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said “Services funded through the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) provided help during 2014-15 to tens of thousands of often vulnerable people across Scotland. Legal aid funding allowed people to access the services of private practice solicitors, SLAB’s employed solicitors, law centres, and over 100 grant funded projects.”

Legal Aid Big Spenders: See which law firms, Advocates & Solicitor Advocates took home Legal Aid millions in 2014-2015. Glasgow based law firm Livingstone Browne Solicitors remain the top-earning law firm, taking home legal aid payments of £1.9 million. Brian McConnachie QC is Scotland’s top legal aid earning advocate, receiving £303,000, Gordon Jackson QC earned £282,000 and third highest earner is Donald Findlay OQ on £258,600.The top legal aid earning solicitor advocate was Iain Paterson of Paterson Bell solicitors – who received £267,200 of public cash for legal services.

The total cost to the taxpayer of legal assistance in Scotland was £138.6 million in 2014-15, a decrease of 8% compared to the previous year. This £11.9m decrease is partly due to changes in the flow of criminal cases through the justice system in 2014-15. However, 2014-15 also saw falling applications and grants of summary criminal and civil legal assistance, offset partly by a slight increase in solemn criminal legal aid and continued growth in children’s legal assistance.

Colin Lancaster, Chief Executive of SLAB, said: “Over the last year, legal aid has again helped people across the country, many of them on low incomes and with caring responsibilities, defend themselves against criminal charges or deal with their problems on debt, housing, mental health or family breakdown.

“Publicly funded legal assistance helps people to resolve the problems they encounter in day to day life by pursuing or defending their rights and as such it makes a vital contribution to tackling inequalities in Scotland.

“The fall in expenditure in 2014-15 is not a signal that the financial challenges are over or that the legal aid system doesn’t need further reform and streamlining.

“The impact of the UK Spending Review means that significant further changes are needed to meet the Scottish Government’s budget allocation for legal aid. While the legal aid fund is demand led, and no-one who is eligible will be refused legal aid, expenditure savings will need to be found.

“Access to justice can only be maintained in the face of these financial challenges by working collaboratively with those interested in protecting the vulnerable through a legal aid system that is broad in scope and encourages a strategic approach to meeting needs. I look forward to doing so over the coming months.”

Iain A Robertson CBE, Chairman of SLAB, said: “Although we have seen the general demand for legal assistance fall again in 2014-15, the funds available to manage public finances are also falling. The need to reduce expenditure on legal aid has not gone away, and will increase.

“We will work collaboratively with others in the justice sector to deliver improvements that will enable further reductions in legal aid expenditure, including by streamlining the legal aid system where possible.

“It is imperative that discussions on reforms are approached strategically and in the context of the justice system as a whole, to protect the best interests of those in need of support from the legal aid system. Otherwise Scotland risks its proud record on maintaining access to justice.”

Key points of the Scottish Legal Aid Board 2014-15 annual report:

    Total expenditure on the Legal Aid Fund in 2014-15 fell by 8% to £138.6 million compared to the previous year. The 2013-14 figure was £150.5 million.
SLAB assessed 212,000 applications for legal aid and paid 241,000 accounts of solicitors and counsel.
SLAB managed three grant funding programmes, which enabled support for 108 projects around Scotland. The projects helped nearly 27,000 new clients. SLAB grant funding also contributed to a new Scottish Women’s Rights Centre which helps women experiencing gender based violence.
SLAB processed all application and account types within its headline performance indicators.
SLAB reduced the average number of working days it takes to process civil legal aid applications by six working days. It also reduced the average number of working days to making a payment on an account by six working days.
Expenditure on criminal legal assistance fell by 10% compared to the previous year, from £94.0 million to £85.0 million.
Net expenditure on civil legal assistance was £43.9 million, a fall of 8% compared to the previous year from £47.7m. There has been a fall in the take-up of advice and representation in civil matters.
Children’s legal assistance (legal aid and ABWOR) cost £5.2 million, an increase of 7% compared to the previous year, from £4.9 million.
Gross expenditure on grant funded projects was £6.3 million which increased from £5.5 million as a result of the Scottish Government and Money Advice Service providing extra funding for an extended programme.
Payments to solicitors totalled £107.7 million, advocates £11.9 million and solicitor advocates £3.0 million.
Payments on outlays (e.g. expert witnesses and court reports) fell by 8% compared to the previous year, from £19.5 million to £17.9 million.
Grants of all types of criminal legal assistance have fallen compared to the previous year, apart from a small rise of 1.2% in grants of solemn criminal legal aid. This reflects a longer term trend of declining summary court business.
Grants of civil legal assistance have fallen by 9.5% compared to the previous year. Demand has fallen due to the easing of pressures stemming from the economic situation. The largest volume year-on-year falls were in cases with subject matters of contact, separation and divorce. All these areas have been steadily declining for the past few years.
Legal aid grants in relation to intervention orders and guardianship orders under Part 6 of the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 now represent the largest category of legal aid certificates issued at 28% of all grants. Grants of this nature rose 19% in 2014-15 compared to the previous year.
Grants of children’s legal assistance continue to be affected by the changes that came into force on 24 June 2013 that extended the scope and availability of legal assistance for children’s hearings. It is still too early to establish a proper comparison in volumes between years.

Responding to cuts in Legal Aid, and the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget for 2016-17, announced yesterday, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland, made the following statement to legal aid practitioners: “The 2016-17 budget allocation for the legal aid fund has been set at £126.1 million, the lowest it has been for well over a decade. This is a reduction from the 2015-16 budget of over 7% (from £136.1 million to £126.1 million).

“Legal aid spending is demand led and not limited by the budget and so we would expect the Scottish Government to continue to meet all its obligations in terms of demand for legal aid over the coming year. However, as you are aware, through its savings initiatives, the Government tries to reduce expenditure to meet the budget allocation.

“The Scottish Government has set the financial target for 2016-17 at a level that:

Is lower, in cash terms, than levels of legal aid expenditure from over 20 years ago (in 1994/95 the total expenditure on legal assistance was £132.1 million).

Is clearly unrealistic if you are trying to maintain an effective and sustainable legal aid system. Given existing figures, in order to reach its target, the Government would need to cut expenditure by at least £10 million by 2016-17. We do not see how this can possibly be achieved without seriously damaging both access to justice and the justice system.”

Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland’s lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

 

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ACT OF FRAUD: Files reveal how law chiefs battled to recover £1.8m legal aid cash from estate of suicide lawyer as new questions emerge over ability of Crown Office to pursue legal aid cheat lawyers

£150m annual legal aid bill ‘a fraud target’ DOCUMENTS revealing how an agreement was eventually secured by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) & Civil Recovery Unit of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to recover £1.8million in fraudulently claimed legal aid have been released by Legal Aid chiefs.

The case of Scotland’s largest legal aid fraud – masterminded by solicitor James Muir who committed suicide in 2005 while under investigation for making multiple & fraudulent claims for publicly funded legal aid – echoes forward to 2015 as the annual legal aid bill of £150 million becomes an ever increasing target for scammers & fraudsters both inside & outside the legal profession.

A minute of agreement archived at the Registers of Scotland and released by SLAB in response to a Freedom of Information request tells the tale of how the stolen public funds were eventually paid back by Muir’s former law firm and his window – Susan Muir – who was a serving Police Officer at the time.

The agreement was signed in September 2007 – two years after Mr Muir committed suicide.

The document describes how Muir’s former law firm – Messrs Sneddon Morrison Solicitors (formerly Sneddons SSC) would repay £259,941,70 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board, and £87,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit of the Crown Office.

Susan Muir, the widow of James Muir, agreed to repay £519,061.84 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board and then a further £884,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit from the sale of a property in Bothwell.

One of the witnesses to the agreement is William Macreath – head of Glasgow based law firm Levy & Mcrae. At the time, and currently, the same law firm represent the Legal Defence Union and the Scottish Police Federation.

Currently, Levy & Mcrae are battling a multi million pound writ lodged against them in connection with allegations over their role in the collapse of Heather Capital,a £400million hedge fund.

However, while the two year effort to recover the fraudulently claimed legal aid and it’s ‘eventual’ repayment was championed by SLAB and the Crown Office at the time, there are questions now as to why the Lord Advocate has not used similar methods to recover millions more in public cash from other lawyers who have also been accused of making dodgy legal aid claims.

Since 2007, numerous solicitors accused of making false or fraudulent legal aid claims have featured in media headlines.

In April 2011 a Sunday Mail newspaper investigation revealed Kilmarnock solicitor Niels S Lockhart had claimed at least £600,000 of taxpayers’ money in just two years.

A Report to the Law Society of Scotland Section 31, Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986: Niels S Lockhart released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the media – accused Lockhart of deliberately ramping up his claims.

After Lockhart ignored a warning from SLAB to curb his claims, the Scottish Legal Aid Board investigated before a probe team concluded that his applications were a systematic attempt to create extra fees. But despite deciding that he routinely made “unnecessary and excessive” claims, SLAB did not call in police. They referred Lockhart to the Law Society of Scotland who also decided no fraud had taken place.

A further investigation by Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established that fourteen solicitors accused of making fraudulent legal aid claims escaped prosecution by the Crown Office.

However, unlike in the James Muir case, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Crown Office appear to have made no attempts whatsoever to recover public funds in the additional cases –  which could potentially total millions of pounds.

The documents, provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in response to an FOI request along with a statement of SLAB’s investigation of James Muir and subsequent events including the eventual recovery of the fraudulently claimed legal aid funds are published, with signatures & addresses redacted, below:

Statement from the Scottish Legal Aid Board:

The firm of James H G Muir SSC was subject to investigation by the Board’s Compliance and Solicitor Investigation unit from November 2004. The firm was identified through the Board’s on-going programme of monitoring and investigating of legal aid expenditure.

Issues were identified from an analysis of expenditure, and investigation work on the profile of applications received and accounts submitted for payment in respect of Children’s cases by the firm. Theses issues included the persistently high cost of cases, the nature of the subject matter, the content of material submitted with accounts, as well as inconsistencies between the personal details of children on applications submitted and the same information included with the accounts. These aspects, together with discrepancies in information submitted by Mr Muir subsequently cross-checked with third parties such as the Scottish Court Service and Scottish Children Reporter Agency, caused sufficient concern for the Board to contact the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (“COPFS”) in February 2005. COPFS in turn instructed Strathclyde Police to investigate the matter.

Mr Muir died on 20 April 2005. The criminal section of the Crown Office could not carry out in further investigative work as, with the death of Mr Muir, there could be no prosecution of any party. Mr Muir’s death also presented a number of matters that required to be resolved. These included the ingathering of the Estate, the involvement of the Civil Recovery unit and the work of forensic accountants in establishing any ‘dirty money’ streams to assets.

The CRU worked to preserve and identify assets, while the Board sought to establish the extent of any fraudulent activities and charges made by Mr Muir. This work not only involved investigating Mr Muir’s firm, which was established in 2001, but also required us to consider his activities when he was a Partner with his previous firm, Sneddon Morrison.

Once the extent of the fraud, the most serious ever uncovered by the Board, was established at £1,8m, it was then a matter to secure the recovery of the sums from both the estate of the late Mr Muir and in addition the firm of Sneddon Morrison. It was established that the partners and staff of Sneddon Morrison were not involved in the fraudulent scheme carried out by Mr Muir when a partner, but the firm did benefit from the fraudulent payments and consequently were required to repay these sums, which they did.

A considerable amount of analysis, enquiry and investigation was dedicated to this case. Work had to be done to demonstrate to all relevant parties that Mr Muir had indeed perpetuated a fraudulent scheme on the Board over several years, and in respect of the Proceeds of Crime all the defrauded sums had to be repaid. This was achieved without having to resort to costly and lengthy court proceedings, although this was a course of action the Board and the Civil Recovery Unit would have taken, and had been ready to take, had it proved necessary.

A Minute of Agreement was signed and lodged in September 2007 and thereafter the defrauded sums were repaid which includes the £812,827 paid to the Board as detailed above.

As you will appreciate the period from the initial enquiry in 2004 to the final recovery of fraudulently claimed funds in 2007 involved considerable time and a number of Board staff dedicated to investigate this matter adequately. Initially the focus was on Mr Muir’s own firm but as the enquiry widened other cases in respect of Accounts paid to Sneddon Morrison were also considered. Much of 2005 was devoted to the retrieval of information and during this time the Board liaised closely with the Civil Recovery Unit to ensure all assets were identified and all sums that could be classified as fraudulently claimed were repaid.

It is of course a matter of regret that Mr Muir died during the investigation but consequently the nature of the enquiry changed from one in respect of fraud to recovery.

It took some months for the Board to establish the extent of the fraud as it did for the Executor of the late Mr Muir’s estate to in-gather sums and to realise assets: this meant that work on this case continued throughout 2006. The Board and the Civil Recovery Unit agreed figures for repayment from both the Estate and the Partners of Sneddon Morrison, and this process of negotiation—which took some months and active involvement of the Board’s senior management—was successfully concluded in 2007 when the fraudulent sums were finally repaid.

The fraud was initially identified as a result of the Board’s implementing a new process for internal review of Legal Aid expenditure: that process highlighted the activities of Mr Muir. The Board has a proactive counter fraud culture. This includes the on-site audit of all firms and solicitor registered for Criminal Legal Assistance, an Accounts Verification Unit with access to the Scottish Court Service system to enable third party verification, a process that can also adopted in respect of the Scottish Prison Service and Police Offices. In addition there is an imbedded Analysis and Management Information unit within the Board that actively monitors trends in Legal Aid expenditure by firm and individual solicitors highlighting any changes or anomalies that require further clarification or enquiry.

The Agreement: MINUTE OF AGREEMENT between 

(1) THE SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD, 44 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, EH3 7SW and

(2) THE CIVIL RECOVERY UNIT, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, 25 Chambers Street, Edinburgh and

(3) MESSRS SNEDDON MORRISON, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, a firm of solicitors having a place of business at Clydesdale Bank Chambers, 16 East Main Street, Whitburn, EH47 ORY and

(4) MRS SUSAN MUIR, and

(5) MRS SUSAN MUIR qua Executrix of the iate James Hamilton Gibb Muir SSC

Whereas the parties wish to resolve their dispute regarding the repayment of sums paid from the Scottish Legal Aid Fund to Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, and James Muir SSC, deceased, they have agreed as follows:

(1) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, will pay the sum of £259,941,70 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board with immediate effect.

(2) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, will make payment of the sum of £87,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, with immediate effect.

(3) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, withdraw, waive and renounce any claim or right of relief which may lie against Mrs Susan Muir or the estate of the late James Muir, and further waive all claims for payment of any other sums which may be due to the firm of Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, from Mrs Susan Muir or the late James Muir or his estate by way of partnership accounting or any other reason.

(4) Mrs Susan Muir qua Executrix will make payment of the sum of £519,061.84 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 2 months from the date of signing this agreement. . /

(5) Susan Muir-will arrange for the dwellinghouse to be marketed for sale within 1 month of the date of this agreement, in the event that such steps have not already been initiated by her prior to signature of this agreement.

(6) Susan Muir will make payment of the sum of £884,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, from the free proceeds of the sale of that dwellinghouse and from monies within her late husband’s estate being the balance after payment of those sums identified as payable to the Scottish Legal Aid Board and from monies within such accounts and/or other investments as are directly related to savings or investments from the late Mr Muir’s earnings from the Scottish Legal Aid Fund. Where any portion of that sum is derived from.the free proceeds of sale of the dwellinghouse, payment of that portion will be made within 4 months of the date of signing this agreement. Where any portion of that sum is derived from any other sources, payment will be made within 2 months of the date of signing this agreement.

(7) Susan Muir, as an individual and qua executrix withdraws, waives and renounces any claim or right of relief which may lie against the firm of Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, and the whole partners thereof.

(8) All payments made under this agreement are net of VAT, and any refund of VAT made to either Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, or Susan Muir, qua executrix or otherwise, in respect of the payments which are the subject of this agreement, shall be paid to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Any refund of Income Tax made to Susan Muir, qua executrix or otherwise, in respect of the payments which are the subject of this agreement, shall be paid to the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

­(9) The Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, discharge the parties to this agreement of the respective claims against said parties upon payment in full of all sums due to them in terms of clauses 1, 2, 4 and 6 by those parties under this agreement.

(10) The above agreement is without prejudice to the right of the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, to initiate appropriate proceedings in the event that any party fails to make payment as agreed upon.

(11) The Scottish Legal Aid Board by Tom Crighton Murray, Director of Legal Services and Applications, at Edinburgh on the Seventh day of September Two Thousand and Seven; and they are signed on behalf of the said Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, by Lorna Hams, Head of the Civil Recovery Unit, at Edinburgh on the Seventh day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of Claire Meikle, witness, of Victoria Quay, Edinburgh; and they are signed on behalf of the said Messrs Sneddon Morrison, SSC, by Roy Donald Lumsden, Eric Robert Lumsden, David Andrew Johnstone and James Morrison, four of their partners, and the said James Morrison has adhibited the firm name of Sneddon Morrison & Co, all at Whitburn, West Lothian on the Fourth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of Graeme Alexander Laird, witness, of West Main Street, Whitburn; and they are signed by the said Susan Muir, as an individual, at Glasgow on the Sixth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of William Couperthwaite Macreath, witness, of 266 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL; and they are signed by the said Susan Muir, qua Executrix of the late James Hamilton Gibb Muir SSC, at Glasgow on the Sixth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of William Couperthwaite Macreath, witness, of 266 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL.

Further reports & investigations on Legal Aid Fraud can be read here: Legal Aid Fraud – Prosecutors & Legal Aid Chiefs operate inconsistent policy on pursuing legal aid cheats

 

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CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer who took £700K Legal Aid in just 3 years – and was investigated for dodgy claims, demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

Lawyer accused of dodgy legal aid claims demanded more cash from taxpayer for ‘old accounts’. A SOLICITOR based in Kilmarnock who claimed over £670K in taxpayer funded legal aid in three years, demanded more public cash for ‘old accounts’ after he had been removed from the legal aid register as a result of an investigation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) after being accused of making dodgy legal aid claims.

Documents released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board – Extra Payments to Niels Lockhart – in response to a Freedom of Information request – reveal solicitor Niels S Lockhart, of NS Lockhart Solicitors, Kilmarnock – who has been paid over £1.2million of legal aid since 2003 –  was paid a further £34,711 (excl VAT) of taxpayer funded legal aid by the Legal Aid Board – even though he was already barred from doing any further legal aid work.

The information provided by SLAB shows Lockhart submitted a further 228 accounts to the Legal Aid Board – demanding more public cash for work allegedly completed before being removed from the legal aid register on 30 November 2010.

Figures provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board giving a breakdown of the extra accounts submitted by Lockhart by value (ex VAT) reveal:

Nil Payment; 38, up to £50; 43, £50 to £100; 37, £100 to £250; 65, £250 to £500; 35, above £500; 10 – giving a total of 228

A breakdown of accounts by type of litigation revealed the type of legal aid Lockhart claimed for : Advice & Assistance Civil; 208, Advice & Assistance Criminal; 3, Civil legal aid; 5, Solemn criminal; 1, Summary Criminal; 11 – giving a total of 228

Whether any of the accounts were subject of further investigation or were included in the original investigations by SLAB of Lockhart’s ‘dodgy legal aid claims’ was not revealed by the Legal Aid Board.

However, it has also transpired Niels Lockhart tried to sue a national newspaper over their coverage of his legal aid claims.

The case was withdrawn from court earlier this year.

Historical payment accounts published by the Scottish Legal Aid Board also reveal Lockhart received a whopping £1.2million (£1,213,700) of public cash since the Legal Aid Board began publishing the names of firms and the size of payments from 2003 onwards.

From 2003 to 2013, Neils Lockhart claimed the following amounts of publicly funded legal aid: £280,200 in 2003-2004, £321,400 in 2004-2005, £95,400 in 2005-2006, £160,800 in 2006-2007, £133,300 in 2007-2008, £82,000 in 2008-2009, £65,800 in 2009-2010, £67,400 in 2010-2011, £7,200 in 2011-2012, £200 in 2012-2013

Niels Lockhart was previously the subject of investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, who released their Report to the Law Society of Scotland Section 31, Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986: Niels S Lockhart  in response to a Freedom of Information request.

A media investigation into Lockhart’s claims and the Legal Aid Board’s role was published earlier, here : One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case

The Scottish Legal Aid Board previously accused Lockhart – who took around £670,000 of taxpayers money in two years – of deliberately ramping up his legal aid claims.

Niels Lockhart, 60, who runs a one-man firm in Kilmarnock, raked in £280,200 in 2004 then £321,400 the following year.

After he ignored a warning to curb his claims, the Scottish Legal Aid Board investigated before a probe team concluded that his applications were a systematic attempt to create extra fees. But despite deciding that he routinely made “unnecessary and excessive” claims, SLAB did not call in police. They referred Lockhart to the Law Society who also decided no fraud had taken place.

The secret SLAB dossier, obtained through freedom of information laws, said: “Lockhart routinely makes consecutive grants of advice and assistance to the same clients for what appear to be similar matters submitted under a different guise. In the board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.

“He arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings.

“In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings.”

The audit discovered Lockhart’s firm was granted 392″advice and assistance” applications for clients considering civil legal actions over 10 months in 2004 – more than double the number granted to the firm making the second highest number of similar applications.

The report stated: “The analysis revealed persistent patterns of excessive client attendances, the vast majority of which are irrelevant, unnecessary and conducted without due regard to economy.

“This appears to the board to be a deliberate scheme by Lockhart to make consecutive grants of advice and assistance on behalf of the same client for the same matter for personal gain.”

Slab officials warned Lockhart about his claims in April 2005 but he “continued to show contempt for the board’s serious concerns regarding his practices that were discussed at that meeting”.

That prompted SLAB to send their damning 13-page report to legal regulator the Law Society of Scotland in June 2006. Yet the Law Society did not report SLAB’s concerns to police or refer him to the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. It took them another four years to even agree Lockhart should be banned from legal aid.

Last October, Lockhart’s lawyer James McCann struck a deal with SLAB which allowed Lockhart to agree to quit legal aid voluntarily. He continues to do other legal work.

BACKGROUND : LOCKHART, LEGAL AID & LEGAL DEFENCE UNION

It took the Scottish Legal Aid Board years to catch up with dodgy claims filed by solicitor Niels Lockhart. SLAB eventually sent a report to the Law Society of Scotland in terms of S32 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 against the sole practitioner firm of Niels S Lockhart, 71 King Street, Kilmarnock – in June 2005.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s report outlined a number of issues that had been identified during the review of case files & accounts which raised concern about Mr Lockhart’s conduct and which fell to be considered as a breach of either Regulation 31 (3) (a) & (b), relating to his conduct when acting or selected to act for persons to whom legal aid or advice and assistance is made available, and his professional conduct generally. These issues illustrated the repetitious nature of Mr Lockhart’s failure to charge fees “actually, necessarily and reasonable incurred, due regard being bad to economy”

The heads of complaint submitted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the Law Society of Scotland were :

(1) Excessive attendances, (2) Lack of Progress, (3) Splitting/Repeating Subject Matters, (4) Inappropriate Requests for Increases in Authorised Expenditure, (5) Matters resubmitted under a different guise, (6) Standard Attendance Times, (7) Attendances for Matters Not Related to the Subject Matter of the Case, (8) Unreasonable Charges, (9) Double Charging for Correspondence, (10) Account entries not supported by Client Files, (11) Attempt to Circumvent Statutory Payment Procedure for Property Recovered or Preserved, (12) Continued Failure to act with Due Regard to Economy.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board report also revealed : “From April 2002—March 2005, Niels S Lockhart was paid £672,585 from the Legal Aid Fund. Of this, £596,734 (89%) was in relation to Advice and Assistance cases, with £570,528 (85%) solely in relation to Civil Advice and Assistance. In the Board’s view, the ranges of actions taken by Niels S. Lockhart towards achieving those payments are not those appropriate to a competent and reputable solicitor.”

“Based on the supporting evidence he arranges for, or permits, his clients to attend his office on numerous occasions for excessive, unnecessary and often irrelevant meetings. In the main, these do not appear to have advantages for their further welfare or advance their case, but merely act as a mechanism for the firm to exploit the Legal Aid Fund by charging for these unnecessary and unproductive meetings. The nature of subject matters is often repeated, resulting in numerous duplicate/multiple/consecutive grants submitted under various guises, thus avoiding the Board’s computerised checks on subject matter. This pattern of conduct is deliberate,recurring and persistent, serving—in the Board’s view—as a device to generate considerable additional income for the firm to the detriment of the Scottish Legal Aid Fund.”

However, in October 2010, Mr Lockhart’s legal representative James McCann of the Legal Defence Union approached SLAB with a prospective offer that Mr Lockhart would withdraw fully from providing legal aid if SLAB’s S31 complaint was withdrawn.

A Minute of Agreement was drafter and agreed with Niels Lockhart & the Legal Defence Union outlining the voluntary and irrevocable withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from the provision of all firms of legal assistance (funded by legal aid).

The Minute of Agreement also outlined the Board’s intention to make a press release detailing that following SLAB’s investigation into the firm and their subsequent complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, SLAB had accepted this permanent withdrawal by Mr Lockhart and the firm from providing all forms of legal assistance.

Diary of Injustice continued to report on allegations surrounding Mr Lockhart and the Law Society of Scotland’s efforts to avoid a prosecution. All previous reports can be viewed HERE.

If you suspect a solicitor is committing legal aid fraud, or if you feel your own solicitor is making fraudulent legal aid claims, email Diary of Injustice at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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BILLION DOLLAR DRAIN: FMQ’s & the £1.068bn Legal Aid of YOUR money paid to ‘struggling’ lawyers since 2008 financial crash is “unfit for purpose” says Law Society of Scotland

Over a billion of YOURS since 2008, now struggling lawyers want more. IF ANY public service in Scotland, the NHS, local hospitals, local government, schools, transport, local policing, care services, wildlife protection, otters, or even just ordinary Scots themselves had received over one billion pounds extra since the Financial market crash of 2008, they would rightly be grateful.

Everyone would be appreciative at receiving such an amount during the toughest of times, everyone … except, perhaps, lawyers.

Even though ‘struggling’ lawyers have received over £150million a year (some years, more) of YOUR money from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), their self regulating & combined lobby group – the Law Society of Scotland have now described the massive annual public subsidy as “unfit for purpose.”

It just won’t do. It is just not enough. Lawyers cannot live on an extra £150million a year … especially when there are the likes of sole practitioners – a single lawyer, who walks off with £700K of it in three years, and despite feelings of fiddle, nothing is reclaimed.

The staggering amount of Scottish Legal Aid paid to legal profession since 2008 (figures provided by SLAB): 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, making £1.06Billion (£1,068.6m)

BIG SPENDERS: Spot your solicitors & law firms who take home the legal aid pounds. From total figures of £150.5 million, spend on civil legal assistance was £47.8 while criminal legal assistance was a mere £94 million. Children’s legal assistance stands at £4.9 million. Payments to solicitors increased by 1.7% from £115.1 million to £117.1 million while payments to advocates fell by 21% from £18.3 million to £14.5 million. Payments to solicitor advocates fell by 4.2% from £4.5 million to £4.3 million and expert witnesses along with ‘court reports’ raked in £19.5 million of public money.

And what is legal aid anyway? It goes to lawyers. It does not go to someone who is trying to fight a case in court or secure justice for a case which could have been resolved if some lying toad in a public body up to their eyes in fiddled expenses claims had not covered up for someone else. It goes to lawyers for all sorts of people … even for those of some fraud rap business baron who jaunts off to Dubai on a luxury holiday after his lawyers took nearly £200K in legal aid.

Hands up any of you who flew off to Qatar for a holiday after pocketing nearly a quarter of a million in legal aid from taxpayers. Hello there, Mr Mafia gang boss. Ah, another .. this time, a drug dealer. Another one, a lawyer. And there at the back, is a QC, with a fresh tan after coming back from the Cayman Islands.

No ordinary people then. Not the builder’s labourer next door who has been fighting for legal aid funding after his young child was overdosed with the wrong medication 22 times in hospital and the hospital’s lawyers spent 3 years lying about it.

Strange, that. Isn’t it. Legal Aid for all, Legal Aid for justice. Legal Aid for ordinary Scots. Not really.

Then, there are the judges who sit there hearing criminal cases funded by legal aid, not letting on they have financial, or ‘other’ links to the same firms in front of them, on either side of the court.

Almost laughably, the ‘good lord’ dressed in an 18th Century wig and flashy robe, complete with power bling, sits there in silence wondering if anyone will rumble the fact he received a fat cheque for giving a speech at a function hosted by one of the law firms taking tens of thousands in legal aid.

Never fear m’lud, your secret fat cheque is safe as long as you do not need to declare it. After all, what is a bung between friends, especially when it is at the expense of taxpayers, and justice.

Sure, there are lawyers and law firms who do their clients proud on civil or criminal legal aid … and there are solicitors who defend their clients against reams of somewhat dodgy charges just so the Crown Office can occasionally have a press release to claim a success which crumbles into falsehoods after further analysis. But this is not typical .. it is more the exception to the rule.

During Alex Salmond’s last First Minister’s Questions last Thursday, the thorny, almost un-debatable subject of the legal profession’s massive taxpayer bung was raised for discussion. Witness what happened next:

Graeme Pearson MSP LEGAL AID First Minister’s Questions Scottish Parliament 13 Nov 2014

5. Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Law Society of Scotland’s discussion paper, “Legal Assistance in Scotland”, which says that the current system is not fit for purpose. (S4F-02386)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The Scottish Legal Aid Board makes hundreds of thousands of grants of legal assistance each year, whether to help people to deal with welfare benefit problems or to help those who are accused of criminal offences to defend themselves. Expenditure on legal assistance last year was £150.5 million. The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report shows that, since 2011, changes to the legal system have saved the public purse £52 million. However, there is still more to do.

The Law Society’s paper is intended to open up discussion. We have a shared perspective on some points, such as the need for simplification, and we will of course take a detailed look at the Law Society’s proposals over the coming weeks, with a view to assessing their potential impact on public funds and on those who rely on legal aid.

Graeme Pearson: The First Minister may remember that I raised concerns last year about proposed changes to legal aid. The president of the Law Society of Scotland said this week that legal aid cuts are likely to curb rights to justice for people on low and modest incomes who rely on legal aid. Does the First Minister agree that the prospect of citizens of modest means being denied access, as the Law Society suggests, while career criminals repeatedly access legal aid unfettered is indefensible and a foreseeable consequence arising from Mr MacAskill’s changes? Will the First Minister use whatever influence he has to ensure that the situation is addressed by his successor urgently?

The First Minister: As Graeme Pearson knows, expenditure on legal assistance in Scotland has been held at £150 million since 2007. Of course, that is not what has happened south of the border, where there have been substantial cuts. [Interruption.] Labour members should understand that, under the Barnett formula, the consequentials that come to Scotland are directed by expenditure in England. Unless they put forward a position where the great resources of Scotland are available for the Scottish people to direct our own spending, I am afraid that such matters are relevant.

Graeme Pearson should also understand that, although we were extremely interested in some aspects of the Law Society’s paper, such as the need for simplification, the paper has proved deeply controversial. He can see that from the debate that is opening up, in which people are pointing out that many areas of civil law are vital as part of legal aid assistance and criminal lawyers are pointing out that the fundamental right of people to defend themselves against a criminal charge is the essence of a free society.

There are no easy answers to the questions at present, but Graeme Pearson can rest assured that this Government and the Government of the immediate future will protect the right of the people of Scotland to legal assistance so that they can pursue their claims for justice.

 

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BANK OF LEGAL AID: £1billion of public money thrown at ‘struggling’ lawyers since 2008 financial crash adds up with latest £150.5 million Legal Aid hand-out for Scotland’s rip-off legal sector

Struggling lawyers? Here’s a billion of YOURS to keep THEM going. TIMES ARE TOUGH – we all know it. Not for Scotland’s legal profession though, as the latest figures released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) show another £150.5 million of public money sliding into the pockets of ‘struggling’ Scots lawyers on the premise of keeping the already buckled wheels of Lord Gill’s “Victorian” justice system turning.

Feeling poor? Have no fear, as ‘struggling’ lawyers hankering after a second estate car, a chance to buy fishing rights, send their own kids to posh private schools, or in need of a third buy-to-let property stuffed in the name of some fictitious client … need not worry as the Billion pound Bank of Legal Aid funded by taxpayers is there to help them out.

It is of course, time for the annual announcement of taxpayer funded hand outs to struggling lawyers, meaning, if you haven’t been keeping track, around ONE BILLION POUNDS of public money has been thrown at Scotland’s ‘struggling’ legal profession in the years since the 2008 financial crash. Go back a few more years, and it’s a billion more.

Scottish Legal Aid paid to legal profession since 2008 (figures provided by SLAB): 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, making £1.06Billion (£1,068.6m)

Add to those billions the hundreds of millions over the years spent on lawyers by the Scottish Government and a vast range of law related quangos, the courts, rich judges wallowing in offshore tax dodges & undeclared investments, dodgy prosecutors, public service crooks, spivs and even top cops over the years, another billion can join the total. And for what exactly? To keep the wheels of justice going and prevent injustice? Not likely.

BIG SPENDERS: Spot your solicitors & law firms who take home the legal aid pounds. From total figures of £150.5 million, spend on civil legal assistance was £47.8 while criminal legal assistance was a mere £94 million. Children’s legal assistance stands at £4.9 million. Payments to solicitors increased by 1.7% from £115.1 million to £117.1 million while payments to advocates fell by 21% from £18.3 million to £14.5 million. Payments to solicitor advocates fell by 4.2% from £4.5 million to £4.3 million and expert witnesses along with ‘court reports’ raked in £19.5 million of public money.

Speaking about the release of this year’s figures, Iain A Robertson CBE, Chairman of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said: “This is by far the most challenging time for legal aid in Scotland since my appointment. The continuing pressure on public finances has led Scottish Ministers to seek further savings and efficiencies in legal aid expenditure, and legal aid must play its part in achieving savings alongside all other public services.

“The need to find savings in legal aid expenditure means that businesses have to work with us to achieve efficiencies. Where legal aid reforms are required to deliver savings and also enhance the long term sustainability of legal aid then they must be considered, even if they are deemed radical or unpopular by business.”

Mr Robertson added: “2014-15 will bring continued challenges. Maintaining and developing constructive relationships with the legal profession and other stakeholders will be crucial.”

Among the list of regular legal aid recipients, readers should note all those ‘top notch’ Edinburgh law firms who tell clients they refuse to do legal aid work just so they can extract higher fees for doing the same work. But, sure, there are a few law firms who do their clients proud on legal aid, and a few solicitors who are actually human beings. At least two or three, anyway.

But the system of legal aid grubbery and the results it delivers, mostly for drug dealers, embezzlers, ex prosecutors & court staff on criminal charges, and of course, murderers, hit-men and dodgy businessmen is not really worth £150 million a year, to the community, is it. Not really.

The flip side of the argument. Well, solicitors will say the £150 million a year sub is, of course, about providing justice and therefore worth it for lawyers. Worth it so much, a bunch of lawyers once surrounded the entrance of the Scottish Parliament and loitered around in the rain outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court, blocking the doors of courts holding placards begging to ‘save justice’. However, everyone outside the legal bubble who witnessed the spectacle knew the posters really meant “Axe Nurse First”.

Legal Aid is not about justice or providing access to justice, is it. It’s about money for the legal profession.

Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland’s lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.

 

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