Reports of con artists using a false pretence of legal knowledge to scam people out of money or possessions are all too common. The latest victim is Sandra Burch – a cancer sufferer conned out her £92,000 life savings by Michael Cremin.
Cremin, who was jailed for eight years earlier this month, told Burch that he had the legal expertise needed to help her acquire a comfortable retirement home. In reality, he was nothing more than a vile charlatan with a string of other victims.
The sad truth is that tragedies like this can be avoided.
Cremin described himself as a ‘lawyer and advocate’ – a description that to someone in Burch’s situation – would appear to tick all the boxes. In fact it ticks none.
Although most people have a rough understanding of what a ‘lawyer’ means, fewer are likely to be aware that the term does not have any real protection. The same applies to ‘advocate’.
This meant that Cremin’s description of himself, which appeared on the website of a reputable chambers, was legal.
David Barton, a solicitor specialising on regulation, told the Gazette that the public should seek clarification on the specific qualifications of anyone claiming to be a ‘lawyer’ - and that awareness of the recognised terms should be highlighted. ‘Are they a solicitor, barrister or a CILEX? Those, unlike simply saying you are a lawyer, are established regulated brands within the legal profession that need specific qualifications before you can call yourself one.’
Barton added: 'The term “lawyer” has become so widely used in common language that people associate it with having a particular skill or knowledge. In fact, a “lawyer” is unprotected and uninsured and the term could be used by anyone.’
The Gazette spoke to the chambers involved, which stressed that Burch found Cremin independently. It had been duped as well.
Cremin’s conviction comes hot on the heels of an expose of another ‘legal expert’ Mark Grayson. Grayson, real name Mark Jales, ran a firm of ‘family law specialists’. However, according to the Daily Mirror, he was exposed as having previously served a conviction for indecent assault against a young boy and is a registered sex offender.
Of course this is not a new phenomenon.
This publication has in the past reported on the darker side of McKenzie friends – unregulated and unqualified ‘advisers’ whose actions can have devastating consequences.
But a McKenzie friend, whatever your view on them, is at least a term recognised by the courts and where needed the courts will step in to ensure McKenzies do not act out of line. The judiciary is also consulting on tightening up regulations surrounding McKenzies.
However, until the terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘advocate’ are given the same protection as solicitor and barrister we will see more people being deceived.