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Whose reputation is taking the biggest bashing: lawyers or police?

Your Expert Witness blog logoLawyers have been in the firing line again this week – on both sides of the pond. Here, a the Court of Appeal has censured two solicitors and a barrister after an embargoed draft judgement was disclosed to ‘third parties’ in breach of a court order. The breach of confidentiality was considered serious enough to attract the censure.

Speaking out of turn has, of course, always been viewed with the utmost of severity by the legal establishment. In most cases that view has been manifestly justified. Only occasionally has there been a hint that there has been anything approaching the desire to guard privilege.

• More mundane misdeeds have also been reported – in one case with something approaching glee.

The inimitable US legal blog Above the Law reported on an American law student who managed to embezzle thousands of dollars. According to the report, the student in question helped herself to the funds of the local Student Bar Association (social club), of which she was treasurer, to the tune of $33,000. She was spared jail – some are suggesting because her wealthy parents put a considerable amount into an escrow account to cover her liabilities.

• Back home, a conveyancing solicitor has been effectively ‘struck off’ after being jailed in February for making off with £37,000 in clients’ funds between 2003 and 2010. Apparently the miscreant simply pocketed money clients had given him in cash instead of paying it into client accounts, then made up excuses for its non-appearance – for SEVEN YEARS!

Now he has entered into an agreement with the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority that “controls his future activities within the legal profession”, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette.  Effectively, that bars him from working for any legal firm again.

Two things strike me as noteworthy about the story. One is the seeming compulsion among people who are already earning a not-inconsiderable salary to add to it. In this case the sum purloined was £37,000 over seven years – an amount a less-than-competent shop lifter could manage.

The second thing is the fact that he got away with it for so long. The same Gazette report quotes the firm as confirming it has: “…since introduced procedures to ensure that the theft could not happen again.” Talk about stable doors and bolting horses! The firm concerned is just down the road from my present abode, but guess who won’t be dealing with my affairs.

• In this part of the world there has been a great deal of anger about the way the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster was handled by the police involved in the cock-up and subsequent apparent cover-up. The accusation was that facts and events were, shall we say, ‘tweaked’ to absolve the constabulary from any blame and place it squarely on those who died (a bit like the public perception of the real meaning of the term “pilot error”).

Now PM Dave has called for an investigation into an allegation that Met officers engaged in the same kind of smear tactics against the family of Stephen Lawrence. If there is any truth in the allegations, it strikes at the very heart of public confidence in the police (or ‘plebs’, as they apparently weren’t called by former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell). That confidence has been severely dented on Merseyside; it could suffer the same fate in London.

Chris Stokes

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 16:46