The Law Society has said it has never received a single complaint against a solicitor being knowingly involved in fraudulent personal injury claims.
On Wednesday, four law offices were searched by gardaí in a new crackdown on suspected bogus claims, many of which involved false identities.
While solicitors acting in the cases were targeted as part of the newly formed Operation Coatee, which is investigating insurance claim fraud, it is understood this was most likely part of a dragnet to gather evidence against the claimants.
Solicitors are required by law to check and maintain proof of identity of clients where financial transactions take place, as a stipulation of money-laundering protections. However, there is no such legal obligation in personal injury cases.
This week’s raids were in response to 20 suspect claims involving so-called “slips and trips” compensation, many of which were processed by repeat claimants using fake identities.
Gardaí seized six cars and jewellery worth over €300,000 but the investigation also focused on securing documentation and paper trails, including through seizures under warrant at the four unnamed solicitors’ offices.
Legal sources have said that a solicitor who is deceived by a claimant as to their identity, having taken steps to check it in line with good standards of practice, could not be held responsible.
The Law Society, the representative body for the profession, said no complaints had ever been made regarding a solicitor’s knowing or intentional involvement in such fraud.
"The key distinction here," said Stuart Gilhooly, a personal injury specialist and former president of the Law Society, "is whether a solicitor is knowingly or unknowingly involved in a fraudulent claim. If they are unknowingly involved then there is no sanction. If they are knowingly involved then it is career suicide."
The Law Society has restated its position that fraudulent activity should be fully investigated and prosecuted, a point its director general Ken Murphy made clear to Michael D'Arcy, Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for insurance, at a meeting last week.
“If claimants are prepared to lie generally in relation to the making of a claim, to insurance companies and to the courts then obviously they are prepared to lie to their own solicitor,” said Mr Murphy.
“The Law Society has publicly [stated that] if there is evidence that a solicitor has knowingly been involved in the bringing of a fraudulent claim then . . . that can and should be a career ending act by a solicitor.”
Mr Murphy added that a lack of any significant financial incentive and the risk involved in doing so would make it not only highly unlikely, but virtually pointless.
Gardaí visiting solicitors' offices and seizing documents under warrant is no longer a great surprise in the profession. It has increased in the aftermath of Criminal Asset Bureau investigations in the late 1990s, said Mr Murphy.
While such searches are conducted for evidentiary purposes, they are not necessarily an indication of wrongdoing on the part of solicitors, he stressed.
Mr Murphy also noted that unsuccessful personal injury claims were not proof of fraud. They were often simply a failure to meet the civil standard of proof demanded by the court.
“Fraud involves making representations that are simply untrue and are known to be untrue with a view to making a gain,” he said.