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CASHBACK, QC: Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case linked to serious judicial conflicts of interest

John Campbell QC – Faculty rules breached by payments from clients. A MEDIA investigation has revealed a senior Scots Queen’s Counsel who claims to be at the top of his field in Planning law – demanded and collected cash stuffed envelopes from clients involved in a Court of Session case now linked to serious failures of the judiciary to declare conflicts of interest.

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed John Campbell QC (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers – sent emails to his clients demanding the cash be handed over “in any form except beads” to pay for legal services provided to his client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer – Donal Nolan.

Campbell QC then collected the cash stuffed envelopes from clients in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw.

The Branchal site became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Ltd – who later admitted in court they dumped highly contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

John Campbell QC emailed his demands for cash. “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet in Dalkeith on TUESDAY morning, when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team” … “Please let me know if it’s OK to meet at the Mulsanne Garage, which is at 137 High Street, and what time would suit you?”

The reference to the “legal team” within Campbell’s email confirms other legal figures who were part of the same team received payments from the cash collected directly by Campbell.

One member of that team is ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers. Murray has previously refused to answer any questions on his role, or disclose how much cash he received from John Campbell.

Another email from Campbell QC to his clients, seeking another £5K – reads: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John, but I need to collect £5000 from you, in any form (except beads!)”

However, the demands for cash payments by the QC are a direct breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates who forbid their members from demanding cash and bungs for legal services – even though the practice is well known to occur in both criminal and civil cases.

Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Further rules from the Code of Conduct state clearly that fees to QCs and Advocates acting as counsel can only be collected by solicitors, and then paid over to clerks and Faculty Services.

“Normally Counsel’s fees are negotiated between the clerk and the solicitor. All fees should be paid to Counsel’s clerk.”

Additional guidance designed to cover over any direct payments ‘collected’ by Advocates states: “If any fee happens to be paid direct to Counsel, Counsel must account for it forthwith to his or her clerk.”

However, an ongoing investigation into a series of invoices issued by the Faculty of Advocates has since revealed at least one of the invoices – which had no date – was sent to the client’s solicitor.

The move by the Faculty to issue an undated invoice is now subject to allegations this is an attempt to cover up the dates of a cash collections by John Campbell.

It can also be revealed some of the payments to Campbell in cheque form were made out to to Oracle – a firm founded and co-owned by John Campbell QC and John Carruthers.

Mr Campbell and solicitor advocate John Carruthers set up Oracle Chambers in the mid 2000’s in order to create – as they claimed at the time – “a more modern, commercially responsive organisation” than they felt was provided by Faculty Services Ltd, the service company of the Faculty of Advocates.

Former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who is backing his constituents in their quest to obtain justice, has now called for a full probe into the allegations against Campbell.

The Sunday Mail Investigation report on John Campbell QC:

 ‘We gave top QC £5000 cash in an envelope four times’ Couple claim law expert broke guidelines as MSP calls for probe

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 2 APR 2017

A couple claim one of Scotland’s leading QCs breached strict guidelines and asked for legal fees to be paid direct to him in cash.

Melanie Collins and partner Donal Nolan said they made the unusual payment after John Campbell told them he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Melanie said she and a friend met Campbell, who once represented Donald Trump’s Scottish business, in a restaurant in Dalkeith where she handed over the sum in banknotes.

She said she paid the QC – one of Scotland’s top planning law experts – three further sums of £5000 in cash at other meetings.

The method of payment is a breach of strict guidelines issued by the Faculty of Advocates – the ­professional body all advocates and QCs belong to.

The couple’s MSP last week called for a probe into the payments.

Campbell wrote in an email to Melanie on October 10, 2012: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John but I need to collect £5000 from you in any form.”

The man referred to is solicitor advocate John Carruthers, who assisted in the case.

Four days later, Melanie received another email from Campbell which said: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet at Dalkeith on Tuesday morning when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team.”

Melanie, 62, a former land developer, of Bonkle, Lanarkshire, said: “I and a friend met with Mr Campbell at a restaurant in Dalkeith where I gave him an envelope containing £5000.

“There were three other ­occasions when I paid him £5000 cash in envelopes.

“One was at the Dakota hotel in Lanarkshire, one was at my home in Bonkle and one was a site in Cambusnethan in Wishaw relating to the court case. Looking back it might seem odd – but I had never had any dealings with a QC before and just assumed this was the way they worked.

“I paid two further cheques, one to Mr Campbell and one to a law firm, of £5000 and £4000. The total was £29,000.”

The payments related to a civil case Donal initially planned against a construction firm in 2011. The case was heard at the Court of Session in 2013.

Melanie said: “We won the case but were awarded £20,000. Our total legal fees were in the hundreds of thousands.”

She reported the cash payments claims to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2014.

The SLCC said at the time: “The complaint has been considered carefully by the SLCC. It has been decided … will not be investigated as it has not been made within time limits, for the reasons set out in the attached determination.”

The couple’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “All these allegations have to be investigated.

“If there has been malpractice at any stage this has to be dealt with by the appropriate ­authorities. Donal and Melanie’s problem up until now is that they’ve not been listened to when they have made the complaints.”

The SLCC could not be contacted for comment.

The Faculty of Advocates’ guide to conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Their disciplinary tribunal can hand out fines of up to £15,000. A member can also be suspended or expelled from the faculty.

The Faculty of Advocates refused to comment last week.

Campbell, 67, said: “I have no comment to make.”

FEATURE:

John Campbell QC:

The case in which Campbell represented Mr Nolan is that of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd, a high value damages claim in the Court of Session.

A media investigation recently revealed Inner House judge Lord Malcolm (Colin Malcolm Campbell) sat on the case no less than eight times while his son held an interest and represented the defenders – Advance Construction Ltd.

There is no recorded recusal by Lord Malcolm in the case, even though he stood aside during 2012 after he ‘realised’ his son may have been a ‘potential witness’.

Court papers obtained by journalists have since revealed alarming inconsistencies in hearings which cast doubt on the conduct of legal figures in the case – spanning eight Court of Session judges – one (Lord Malcolm) a member of the privy Council, several Sheriffs, high profile QCs and Levy & Mcrae  – the Glasgow law firm now subject to multi million pound writs in connection with the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

At the time the case began, during late 2011, Advance Construction Ltd were represented by a judge – the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson, and the son of a judge – Ewen Campbell – who both worked for Levy & Mcrae.

It was only discovered well into hearings in the case that Ewen Campbell was the son of the judge Lord Malcolm, who sat on the case a total of eight times, and unprecedently returned to the case after stepping aside, to hand over £5K lodged by a third party for an appeal.

And, it can be revealed a recent key ruling in the Court of Session delivered by the same Lord Malcolm – scrapped a 30 year policy of regulating service & conduct complaints against members of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & post 2008 – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The 2016 ruling by Lord Malcolm, reported here: CSIH 71 XA16/15 – appeal against a decision of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently allowed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to scrap 700 complaints against lawyers, advocates and QCs, and shattering the hopes of clients poorly served by their legal representatives.

Among the complaints to be taken advantage of by Lord Malcolm’s ruling and subsequently closed by the SLCC was the complaint against John Campbell QC – which included evidence presented to investigators in relation to Campbell’s demands for cash payments.

The complaint against Campbell also included allegations and evidence in relation the QC’s conduct and service in the proof heard by Commercial judge Lord Woolman.

During the second last day of the proof, Lord Woolman stated the pursuer – Mr Nolan – had a claim as the he had lost the use of his gallop and grazing.

Campbell then acted on his own – and significantly altered Mr Nolan’s claim in the Court of Session – removing Mr Nolan’s £4m head of claim. Unusually, John Campbell also removed a claim for legal and professional expenses.

There is no trace of any legal instruction from Mr Nolan to undertake this course of action in court, nor was there any consultation with Mr Nolan’s solicitor – who would have to had provided Mr Nolan with legal advice in relation to any proposed alteration of the claim by John Campbell QC. Similarly there is no trail of any communications between Mr Nolan’s solicitor, the Edinburgh Agents and Mr Campbell.

When a complaint against John Campbell QC was lodged with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, enquiries established the legal regulator heavily relied on a letter from Craig Murray to exonerate the aging QC.

However, enquiries by journalists have established two versions of Craig Murray’s letter now exist. Both versions of the same letter were used by legal regulators to exonerate Mr Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates.

Refusals by Murray to clarify the two separate versions of his letter have raised questions and concerns over his status as a prosecutor working for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), amid claims he enjoys success prosecuting criminal trials in the High Court of Justiciary.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe has yet to act on the allegations involving Campbell and Murray.

James Wolffe is now caught in a conflict of interest situation given  his role in the matter of the Faculty of Advocate’s investigation of Campbell and their failure to act after evidence of the cash demands were presented during Wolffe’s time as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Investigations into the case are set to continue amid growing calls for a full probe of Mr Campbell’s activities, and demands for Lord Carloway to act to preserve public confidence in the judicial and legal system in relation to decisions taken by members of the judiciary and certain events which took place in the Court of Session.

Has your solicitor, advocate or QC demanded cash payments from you at any stage of a civil or criminal case? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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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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Investigation reveals Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s links, secret ‘off the record’ dealings with lawyers lobby group Legal Defence Union

slccREVEALED : Law regulator’s dealings with organisation linked to client suicides & blocked prosecutions of legal aid fraudsters. AN INVESTIGATION by Diary of Injustice into dealings between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), the ‘independent’ quango which regulates complaints against Scottish lawyers and the Legal Defence Union, an organisation which represents the best interests of lawyers,recently linked to blocked criminal prosecutions of legal aid fraudster lawyers & also the suicide of a married Oban family man in the SLCC’s 2009 report into the Master Policy, has revealed a series of cosy meetings between the regulator & pro-lawyer lobby group at expensive Edinburgh hotels which the heads of both organisations agreed to keep off the record and away from public gaze.

According to claims from SLCC insiders who are fed up with the non-achieving law complaints regulator, the scandal hit Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union have now become so close, SLCC staff privately joke it is now “routine” for the Legal Defence Union to intervene in complaints investigations on behalf of solicitors interests while consumers who make complaints about their solicitors to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are not represented in any way and have no organisation to turn to for help with their complaints.

SLCC to LDU no records of meetings keptSLCC Chair Jane Irvine agreed no records of discussion between regulator & lawyer’s lobby group at Balmoral Hotel. A limited amount of papers reluctantly disclosed by the SLCC under Freedom of Information legislation show a series of discussions between the two pro-lawyer bodies bosses, Jane Irvine for the SLCC and LDU Solicitor Director William Macreath, also a partner at law firm Levy McRae, who, according to the text of one of the letters disclosed to Diary of Injustice under FOI laws, both agreed “there would be no formal records of any element of the discussion.”. The letter from Jane Irvine to the LDU Director which disclosed the secret no-records-of-meetings policy went on to detail several technical issues about complaints regulation and how the SLCC should deal with solicitors & consumers, the former apparently having much greater priority over the latter.

The limited Freedom of Information disclosure of documents disclosed by the SLCC documenting only a fraction of its dealings with the Legal Defence Union can be viewed online or downloaded here : FOI Disclosure : Involvement & meetings between Scottish Legal Complaints Commission & Legal Defence Union

However, there is even darker news for clients of solicitors who are forced to make complaints to the SLCC, as it can now be revealed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has never disclosed the involvement of the Legal Defence Union to any client who has made a complaint, raising the possibility many clients who complained to the SLCC did not receive a fair hearing due to the fact they were not represented by anyone other than themselves while their solicitor was represented by the Legal Defence Union and other organisations such as LAW CARE, a lawyer operated ‘charity’ which ‘looks after’ & represents solicitors who regularly claim they are too sick to face complaints made by their clients.

The SLCC admitted in its latest  FOI response : “I confirm that the SLCC has been contacted by the LDU in relation to specific complaints”. The response to the FOI request went onto confirm : “The SLCC does not as a matter of routine notify complainers if the LDU or Law Care have contacted us about a complaint, nor do we as a matter of routine send out copies of correspondence that we have received from them..unless we consider it necessary to enable investigation and could demonstrate that it was, we would not automatically or routinely send out copies of letters from the LDU or Law Care.”

The SLCC further stated : “The SLCC is also subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and so is mindful of not disclosing personal data. Given the nature of the range of work that the two organisations you asked about carry out, we also have to take care that we do not release personal data, irrespective of whether disclosure was necessary to our investigation or not.”

The SLCC refused to officially confirm the volume & frequency of the contacts, instead suggesting Diary of Injustice contact the LDU itself. The SLCC refused to provide any further information on contact between the SLCC & LDU to Diary of Injustice on the basis it would cost too much for the SLCC to retrieve it. The limited Freedom of Information response from the SLCC specifically referring to its dealings with the Legal Defence Union on complaints about solicitors, can be viewed online or downloaded here : Legal Defence Union & Law Care involvement in complaints to SLCC

Consumers are therefore advised by Diary of Injustice they should contact the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission immediately to request full copies of any & all Legal Defence Union submissions on behalf of solicitors being complained against.

A legal insider close to the SLCC commented they were not surprised by the refusal to release information regarding the Legal Defence Union’s massive involvement with the SLCC in complaints against solicitors.

The insider said : “As there is so much contact between the SLCC & Legal Defence Union on complaints made by clients against their solicitors, the public perception of some of the LDU’s submissions on behalf of solicitors if they were made public via FOI would portray the SLCC in a very damaging light.”

The insider continued : “Lets just say the submissions made on behalf of solicitors are in some cases, so threatening and with such intent, it is difficult for the SLCC to do anything other than throw the complaint out and let the solicitor off the hook.”

According to the Scottish Law Agents Society website : The Legal Defence Union (LDU) was formed in 1987 for the specific purpose of promoting and protecting the welfare of solicitors in Scotland. Indeed, the concept of an independent defence body for solicitors received unanimous support at the 1987 Annual General Meeting of The Law Society of Scotland. It is committed to protecting the interests of all solicitors in Scotland whether engaged in court, conveyancing or commercial work, in town or country, and in all areas of activity. At a wider level, the LDU aims to promote the interests and defence of solicitors in Parliament, in the media, and to the general public.

Consumers of legal services in Scotland and clients of solicitors should be in no doubt whatsoever, the Legal Defence Union has no interest in defending the rights of clients.

A senior official with one of Scotland’s consumer organisations said she was horrified at revelations the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission had agreed to meet a pro-lawyer organisation such as the Legal Defence Union on a secret and unrecorded basis.

She said : “Secret meetings taking place between what is supposedly an independent regulator and what is effectively a lawyer’s lobby group with agreements no notes or records be kept of the discussions taking place is highly improper and in my view, completely compromises the credibility & the claimed independence of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.”

She continued : “In view of these highly damaging revelations I suggest anyone who has made a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission now contact the SLCC to find out what involvement the Legal Defence Union had in their complaint and what if any representations have been made on behalf of the solicitor being complained against.”

A Scottish Government insider has come forward to Diary of Injustice, confirming the Legal Defence Union “had significant involvement in the cases of several high profile legal aid fraud cases”, where a number of solicitors who were referred to the Crown Office by the Scottish Legal Aid Board for legal aid fraud, were let off the hook by the Crown Office, who strangely concluded in each & every case there was not enough evidence to prosecute the FOURTEEN crooked lawyers for massive legal aid frauds, events which occurred under the tenure of former Lord Advocate, now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC.

The Government insider questioned why the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission should be engaged in dodgy unrecorded meetings with a pro-lawyer lobby group such as the Legal Defence Union which has been identified as being involved in efforts to block criminal prosecutions of solicitors alleged to have committed legal aid fraud, among other things.

The insider called for an investigation into the LDU’s activities and also called for all contact between the law complaints regulator & the LDU to be made public and for clients to be given the full facts of LDU involvement in their complaints.

He said : “In view of the mounting revelations of interference in criminal prosecutions and consumer complaints there should be an investigation into the scale of the Legal Defence Union’s activities which appear not to be in the public interest or the interests of justice.”

Clearly the relationship between the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Legal Defence Union, a body linked to client suicides and to a string of 14 legal aid fraud cases in which the Crown Office failed to prosecute any of the solicitors concerned, raises serious questions as to the honesty & credibility of the SLCC to perform its regulatory function while giving consumers a fair hearing. Would you trust a regulator with such links & dealings with lobby groups of professions it is charged to regulate ?

Background to Legal Aid Frauds where Legal Defence Union represented accused solicitors who escaped criminal prosecutions :

The investigation into the scandal of the 14 failed prosecutions, with even more damaging revelations about to emerge, was reported exclusively in the Sunday Mail newspaper, and later by Diary of Injustice, here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

NO CASE TO ANSWER Sunday Mail 17 July 2011ONE LAW FOR THE CROOKED: Crown Office failed to prosecute any crooked lawyer for legal aid fraud in 5 years. THE CROWN OFFICE & PROCURATOR FISCAL SERVICE, Scotland’s ‘independent’ prosecution service headed by the Lord Advocate, currently Frank Mulholland QC, has admitted that during the term of the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, it somehow FAILED TO PROSECUTE any of FOURTEEN as yet unidentified lawyers accused of legal aid fraud and referred to it for prosecution by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). The frauds allegedly committed by the 14 accused lawyers all members of the Law Society of Scotland, collectively amounted to millions of pounds of taxpayers money, the bulk of which appears to be unrecoverable.

Lawyer pocketed 600K Legal Aid in Two Years Sunday Mail March 27 2011One law for lawyers : Secret Report reveals Legal Aid Board, Law Society & Legal Defence Union ‘cosy relationship’ in Lockhart case :Legal Aid Chiefs accused lawyer Niels Lockhart of excessive claims yet no prosecution or repayment took place. A SECRET REPORT by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) into “excessive” claims for legal aid made by Kilmarnock based solicitor Niels S Lockhart who raked in over £600,000 in legal aid claims over two years can now be published, revealing the full extent of SLAB’s accusations against the sole practitioner, the FOUR YEAR WAIT for the Law Society of Scotland to rule on the case and the intervention of the Legal Defence Union who brokered a deal allowing Mr Lockhart to walk away from all accusations over his claims for legal aid.

 

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