The Law Society has moved fast in the wake of revelation of Byrne’s dishonesty

Opinion: Where trust between client and solicitor is breached the full force of the law must be brought to bear

Thomas Byrne: his actions are anathema. Photograph: Collins Courts

Thomas Byrne: his actions are anathema. Photograph: Collins Courts

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 00:01

Thomas Byrne was sentenced yesterday to 12 years in prison. That sentence has been welcomed by me and the Law Society of Ireland.

Thomas Byrne was a devious man. When he sold his clients’ houses he did not pay off the loans owed to the banks on those houses. He simply took the money. In other cases, he acquired multiple loans on properties he owned from various banks without the other banks’ knowledge. He also defrauded several elderly clients whom he had known since he was young. They trusted him and left the deeds of their houses with him for safekeeping. Byrne took those deeds and forged documents to put the houses in his own name. He then took out loans on those houses.

Thomas Byrne’s actions – fraud, theft, forgery – are anathema to me and to every solicitor I know. As the public would expect, the Law Society acted extremely quickly to remove Byrne from practice. In fact, he was shut down faster than any solicitor in our history.

It took just two working days from a whistleblower complaint of forgery being made to us at Blackhall Place on Thursday, October 18th, 2007 to the Law Society completing initial investigations and changing the locks on the doors of Byrne’s practice on Monday, October 22nd, 2007.

The next day, the Law Society applied to the president of the High Court for a number of orders including freezing all bank accounts operated by Thomas Byrne or his firm. We sought, through the High Court, every restriction possible to stop Byrne in his tracks to ensure he would have no more victims. In fact, recognising the seriousness of the case, the president of the High Court granted the freezing order based on oral evidence from the Law Society alone. This is extremely rare and allowed the orders to be granted as quickly as possible.

Files commandeered
The Law Society immediately took possession of Byrne’s 3,500 client files and stored them safely and confidentially. Law Society staff contacted Byrne’s clients and responded to queries from them, their new solicitors, solicitors on the other side of transactions, banks, and the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. This work required the acquisition of secure premises and extra staff. We were also required to retain external legal and accountancy services, which cost the Law Society €1.1 million.

Every client of Thomas Byrne who has made a valid claim on the Law Society’s compensation fund has been compensated. The Law Society has paid €7.2 million to victims of Thomas Byrne out of this fund, to which every practising solicitor contributes on an annual basis. This is by far the largest amount the society has had to pay to the clients of a dishonest solicitor.

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