The convicted former solicitor Thomas Byrne has been moved to Mountjoy Prison, where he has begun a 12-year sentence for theft and fraud offences totalling almost €52 million.
Byrne was transferred from Cloverhill Prison, which caters mainly for remand prisoners, where he spent two weeks awaiting his sentencing hearing. Judge Patrick McCartan imposed a 16-year term, with four years suspended, at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court on Monday.
Victims of Byrne's fraud, whose properties were transferred to his name without their knowledge, have called on the Law Society to compensate them for losses they incurred while their houses were tied up in the courts for up to five years.
The Law Society has so far paid out €7.2 million to compensate clients for money stolen by Byrne and legal fees they incurred in reversing Byrne’s fraud. However it has said it cannot compensate them for “consequential loss”, which includes money lost due to the collapse of property prices.
The family of the late Josephine O’Donnell, whose house on Bunting Road in Walkinstown Byrne transferred to his name in 2007, say they lost more than €220,000 as a result of not being able to reclaim their title deeds and sell their house until this year.
The net assets of the Law Society’s compensation fund were €16.2 million at the end of last year, according to the organisation’s latest annual report, published last month – an increase of about €3.2 million on the previous year. By the end of June this year, the net assets had risen to €18 million.
Audited accounts for the fund, which the Law Society is required to maintain to compensate clients for losses arising due to dishonesty on the part of solicitors, show it recorded a surplus of €680,938 in the year to December 31st, 2012. The previous year it had a deficit of €998,052.
The report shows that, in the first half of this year, 165 claims were received by the compensation fund. Excluding invalid claims refused, these amounted to €1,161,153. Some €213,562 was paid out and further claims worth €947,591 are still under consideration.
The Law Society has also been criticised for not detecting Byrne’s fraud earlier. It investigated Byrne’s practice a number of years before it was shut down, and he appeared before the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal in 2006 after a Law Society investigation found a deficit of €1.7 million in his client account. The tribunal found him guilty of misconduct and fined him €15,000 but did not recommend that he be struck off.
The society’s annual report shows that, in the 12 months to August 2013, it received 156 complaints about one solicitor, while a further five solicitors were the subject of 20 or more complaints.
Eight members of the profession were struck off the register in this period, compared to nine the previous year.
The Law Society's director general, Ken Murphy, recently told The Irish Times that, on foot of legal advice, he could not provide any further information on the case where 156 complaints were made against one solicitor. To do so would be in breach of data protection law, he said.
The 2,116 admissible complaints for 2012-2013 are broken down as 1,718 allegations of misconduct; 314 claims of inadequate professional services; and 84 allegations of excessive fees.
The figures show that, of those 2,116 complaints, 873 were made by solicitors against solicitors and 1,234 by other parties. The society says the high number of solicitors making complaints against fellow members of the profession is due to the large number of lawyers acting on behalf of financial institutions.