Unfit for purpose – The Scottish Legal Aid Board are losing the battle on legal aid fraud, and on how to write a Press Release. LEGAL AID FRAUD is a multi-million pound rising crime in Scotland, especially with the recession dragging every Tom, Dick & Harry’s law firm back onto the Scottish Government’s £160 MILLION POUND bursting-at-the-seems Legal Aid Register, yet as people continually point out, it appears the Scottish Legal Aid Board & Crown Office are more successful in obtaining convictions of legal aid applicants, than the actual solicitors & law firms who often send in highly suspicious legal aid claims on everything from tripping over a Jack Russell Terrier to the usual domestic & neighbourly snafus.
The latest catch for the Legal Aid Fraudster list of shame has been announced by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), identifying the conviction of Alexander Williamson after he admitted obtaining legal aid fraudulently. SLAB also claimed they made 19 reports to the Procurator Fiscal regarding legal aid applicants, however when asked to identify how many solicitors had been reported to prosecutors by SLAB, their spokesperson became agitated & angry, and refused to answer. (that information also seems to have been omitted from their Press Release! – Ed)
Investigations by the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s applicant investigations team have led to the conviction of Alexander Williamson (DOB 30/11/1960) after he admitted obtaining legal aid fraudulently.
Mr Williamson pled guilty at Elgin Sheriff Court to falsifying his financial details in an application for legal aid. He had claimed that he had no capital or savings. On 24 January 2013 he was sentenced to 150 hours of community service.
In his application for legal aid, Mr Williamson had claimed he had no capital, money or savings. Enquiries by the Board’s applicant investigations team subsequently showed that he held capital totalling £23,026.
Mr Williamson had been granted legal aid under Section 23 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act. This ensures that, where it appears undue hardship would be caused to an applicant and his dependents by paying for his own legal costs, an award of criminal legal aid can be granted. ‘Undue hardship’ grants are now made by the Board but at the time of Mr Williamson’s application these were made by the court.
However, had the accused declared his true capital position, then legal aid would not have been granted. The total cost of the legal aid was £1,470. The Board is liable for Mr Williamson’s solicitor’s account.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “Unfortunately, there will be a small number of people who will attempt to defraud or abuse the legal aid system.We investigate the information provided by applicants for legal aid. We also investigate representations made to us about applicants’ financial circumstances by other parties in civil cases and we can check with banks and employers to verify information the applicant gives to us. In the most serious cases, we report people to the Procurator Fiscal. In other cases, we will withdraw legal aid and recover amounts paid.”
In 2011-12, the Board made 19 reports to the Procurator Fiscal where applicants did not declare properties they owned or money they had in bank accounts. In such cases, in addition to repaying the cost of their legal aid, the outcomes could include convictions for fraud or warnings or fines. The Board also investigates possible fraud or abuse of legal aid by lawyers.
In 2011-12, the Board’s compliance and investigations work resulted in savings and recoveries of around £1.5million.