Law Society to begin quizzing solicitors accused of overcharging

THE first of more than 50 solicitors accused of overcharging survivors of abuse will appear before a Law Society committee this week.

Close to 100 survivors have made complaints - many of them claiming the solicitors acting for them took a cut of the award made by the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

All reasonable costs and expenses are paid by the board while solicitors are legally barred from linking fees to awards.

The Law Society’s complaints committee will quiz the solicitors, who have been invited to attend and bring all documents and files relating to awards made to survivors. A fast-track approach to dealing with the allegations has been promised.

Noel Barry, of the Right of Place organisation, expressed confidence that the society would deal with the allegations. Mr Barry also expects more people to come forward from Britain.

The society’s director general, Ken Murphy, confirmed that hearings would begin “within a matter of days”. It is hoped to complete the hearings “as quickly as possible”, Mr Murphy said.

If evidence is found that clients were the victims of “excessive charging”, further investigations will be carried out, the society said. Solicitors face possible misconduct charges and could be struck off.

It is understood 98 individuals have made complaints against 55 solicitors - approximately 10% of all firms dealing with redress board claims.

After the complaints were first aired, some solicitors sent out cheques worth thousands of euro to clients. Those solicitors can still be investigated.

Mr Murphy said the Law Society was being proactive in dealing with the overcharging scandal and not just waiting for individuals to make complaints.

The society, which both represents and regulates solicitors, has written to all firms representing redress board clients, attaching a questionnaire on exactly how charges were calculated. Mr Murphy also said that financial investigators employed by the society are carrying out spot checks of various firms.

Some solicitors firms came in for stinging criticism after it emerged that clients who had just received awards from the board were told extra fees would be charged.

The solicitors being quizzed by the complaints committee are likely to be asked whether these fees represented a percentage of each award and whether itemised bills were furnished and, if so, when.

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