The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has ordered two former judges to be struck off the roll for ‘deliberately’ and ‘systematically’ failing to account for at least £1.5m in legal aid.
Denis Francis McKay and Stuart Roger Turner, both partners at Blackpool and Preston-based firm Lonsdales Solicitors, were banned from practice on 16 December.
McKay was a former deputy costs judge and Turner a district judge.
The tribunal ruled that the pair had acted without integrity and abused the trust that was placed in them. It also found that they had acted with ‘reckless disregard’ for their professional obligations and had breached the Solicitors Accounts Rules.
Lonsdales received payments from the Legal Services Commission (LSC), now the Legal Aid Agency, for work done for clients. But ‘in a large number of cases’ it failed to return the money to the LSC when costs were recovered from the other side.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority closed the firm in July 2011 when it discovered the misuse of funds.
McKay agreed that the firm owed a considerable sum to the LSC, which had accumulated over a number of years but said he hoped it could eventually repay the debt. He accepted that with hindsight he should have taken a different course of action.
Turner denied having knowledge that the firm was failing to report to the LSC payment of costs received from third parties.
The tribunal said that given the ‘severity of the matters’, striking from the roll was the only appropriate action.
Gordon Ramsay, SRA director of enforcement, said: ‘The public needs to know that if solicitors fail to uphold these standards they will be held to account. Legal aid is there to support access to justice – not to fund solicitors’ practices.’
The prosecution was brought by the SRA. The pair have 28 days to appeal.