Law Society to appeal refusal to strike off two solicitors

 

THE LAW Society has brought an appeal against the High Court's refusal to strike off two senior solicitors in a well-known Dublin law firm who admitted they operated secret accounts. They included an Ulster Bank deposit account in which lodgements of at least ¬32 million were made over three years in a bid to evade tax.

Mr Justice Liam McKechnie last February rejected the society's application to strike off Colm Carroll and Henry Colley, partners and principals in the firm of Roger Greene & Sons, Bridge Street, Dublin. Instead, he suspended both for one year and restricted their practice for three years after that.

Both men had admitted they operated secret accounts to evade tax. Much of the funds involved were fees paid to the solicitors by health boards which represented much of the firm's clients, the court heard. Practice accounts were also forged in an effort to mislead the Law Society into thinking substantial fees had been paid to barristers when the money was actually lodged to the secret account.

Both withheld information from the society for some time after it began its investigation, including information about the account in Ulster Bank, O'Connell Street, Dublin, in which some 46 per cent of money paid to the firm was held and from which large cash withdrawals were made by both.

The Law Society had sought the strike-off orders arising from the solicitors' admissions of some 50 charges of misconduct. Mr Colley continues to practise with the firm while Mr Carroll has retired.

The judge instead upheld recommendations of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that both solicitors be suspended for one year after which they may practise, but on a restricted basis, for three years, only as assistant solicitors under the supervision of a Law Society-approved solicitor.

Both were also directed to pay ¬50,000 compensation each to the Law Society Compensation Fund and each to pay 50 per cent of the costs of the Law Society.

Mr Justice McKechnie said the most critical factor in his decision not to strike off was that clients were not left with any liabilities and the solicitors were able to meet their liabilities. If there had been any shortfall, he would have struck them both off. He said both men were guilty of multiple and extremely serious breaches of the solicitors account regulations and, for much of the society's investigation, were not just unco-operative but "downright misleading" to the society.

While that position eventually changed, the initial and sustained reaction from both to the investigation was effectively one "of deceit".

The court took into account their personal circumstances, their misconduct, that both men eventually assisted the society to unravel events, they they made a substantial settlement with the Revenue in October 2003, had become tax compliant and, as far as the court was aware, still were compliant.