News release

Judges struck off the Roll of Solicitors by tribunal

Two solicitors have been struck off the roll for misusing legal aid cash in a prosecution brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Denis Francis McKay and Stuart Roger Turner were banned from practice at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) on Monday (16 December). The tribunal ruled that they 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.

The two were partners at Lonsdales Solicitors, based in Blackpool and Preston, at the time of the offences. Mr McKay was a former Deputy Costs Judge and Mr Turner a District Judge.

The tribunal heard that the pair deliberately, systematically and extensively failed to account to the Legal Services Commission (LSC, now the Legal Aid Authority) for at least £1.5 million of public funds that had been recovered in successful litigation.

Lonsdales would receive payments from the LSC for work done for its clients. When costs for this work were recovered from the other side, Lonsdales should have returned these costs to the LSC, but failed to do so in a large number of cases. The SRA closed the firm in July 2011 as soon as it discovered what was going on.

In their defence, Mr McKay agreed that the firm owed a considerable sum of money to the LSC which had accumulated over a number of years but it had hoped that they could eventually repay the debt. He accepted that with hindsight he should have taken a different course of action. Mr Turner denied having knowledge that the firm were failing to report to the LSC payment of costs received from third parties.

The tribunal said that given the severity of the matters and the impact this had had on the public, the trust the public places in the profession and the reputation of the profession, striking from the roll was the only appropriate action.

Gordon Ramsay, SRA Director of Enforcement, said: "Solicitors hold positions of great trust, so it is essential that they act with integrity. 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 tribunal asked for a detailed assessment of costs to be made. These will be split evenly between Mr McKay and Mr Turner.

The SDT will publish its judgement on its website, www.solicitorstribunal.org.uk, within the next seven weeks. Mr McKay and Mr Turner will then have 28 working days to appeal.

 
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