Leading legal aid firm rebuked after paying referral fees for domestic violence clients


SRA: proportionate outcome

Leading legal aid law firm Duncan Lewis has been sanctioned for breaching the rule that prohibits paying referral fees for legally aided clients.

The rebuke and £2,000 fine is the most that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) can do without referring the firm to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

A regulatory settlement agreement recorded that Duncan Lewis – a 24-office practice headquartered in Harrow, in north-west London – entered into an arrangement with the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) for the referral of clients seeking urgent legal assistance.

The NCDV carried out preparatory work on the cases, such as obtaining the client’s witness statement, before referring the client to the firm. Duncan Lewis paid £170 plus VAT per referral, all of which were legally aided.

The firm did not tell the clients referred that it had paid a fee, which was also a breach of the SRA Handbook.

The SRA said the mitigation it took into consideration was that Duncan Lewis has stopped paying referral fees to NCDV; complied with the regulation’s investigation, made admissions and apologised for its conduct; and has reviewed its procedures and made changes to reduce the risk of similar breaches occurring again.

It considered the agreed outcome to be “a proportionate outcome in the public interest”.

The firm also agreed to pay £1,350 in costs.

Meanwhile, the SRA has closed down a south London law firm that was last year accused by the High Court of making “largely dishonest” claims for unpaid fees.

The SRA said it had intervened into the practices of Simeon Olumide Coker and Isi Inyang, both based at Alpha Rocks Solicitors in Brixton, on the grounds that there was “reason to suspect dishonesty” by both of them.

“At this stage of the SRA’s work, no further details can be disclosed,” a spokeswoman for the regulator said. “It is only if disciplinary proceedings become necessary that any information is released into the public domain.

“The SRA will now complete its investigation and decide on the appropriate course of action. There is no timescale for how long this work will take.”

The spokeswoman added that all the regulator could say at this stage about why the intervention took so long is that it had been a “complex case”.

Last summer, Murray Rosen QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, dismissed the fee claims made by Alpha Rocks as “wholly without merit”.

The law firm hit back, claiming the decision “grossly undermines equity and justice as it suggests that a client can avoid paying for professional fees”.




Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Reports

Our latest special report, produced in association with Temple Legal Protection, looks at the role of after-the-event (ATE) insurance in commercial litigation post-LASPO. We are at a time when insurers, solicitors, clients and litigation funders work ever more closely to create funding packages that work for all of them, with conditional fee and even damages-based agreements now part of many law firms’ armoury.

Blog

28 May 2020

Are e-bundles here to stay?

I can’t see how we can go back from this point. E-bundles present no disadvantages, since no-one is prevented from printing out their bundle if they want to.

Read More

Loading animation