Scots lawyer struck off for ‘outrageous overcharging’ of clients

Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal
Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

A Scots lawyer who overcharged clients by thousands of pounds, including one case which resulted in £116,000 compensation being paid out from the Law Society of Scotland’s client protection fund, has been struck off the roll of solicitors after being guilty of “professional misconduct”.

Norman Banksi, 63, was banned from practising after being found guilty of “dishonesty” by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) for his “outrageous” overcharging and breaches of the solicitors accounts rules.

The tribunal heard that the respondent was the principal in his own practice of Banksi & Co in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire from 2002 until 2011, when a judicial factor was appointed after an investigation by Law Society of Scotland inspectors discovered irregularities in the firm’s accounts, including regular deficits on clients’ account.

‘Astronomical overcharge’

The complaint to the tribunal detailed six cases where Mr Banski, who had previously held “positions of responsibility” within the Law Society, had taken fees far in excess of those to which he was entitled.

The tribunal was told that the respondent had acted for an elderly woman in connection with her financial affairs, who subsequently died intestate in 2008.

He was then instructed by the attorney in relation the administration of the deceased’s estate, but he took almost £148,000 from the executry client account, when an auditor found that the fees properly due for the work was less the £27,000 - which led to a claim to the Law Society’s Guarantee Fund and a payout of £116,000.

In another case in which the respondent had been instructed in relation to the administration of an estate, he overcharged the client by £9,000, and in a separate case only £648 was due but he took £9,622 in fees - which was described by the fiscal as an “astronomical” overcharge.

He also took “grossly excessive fees” from a client who had a learning disability and overcharged in two other cases.

The respondent, who admitted professional misconduct, was also found to have breached the accounts rules by having deficits on clients’ accounts; and failing to keep written up books of his practice to show all his dealings with clients’ money and to show the true financial position of his firm.

The tribunal was told that the respondent was in poor health and had not practised for a number of years, but that he had played a significant role in his local community and professional in the past.

‘Not a fit person to be a solicitor’

The SSDT concluded that the respondent’s conduct amounted to a “serious and reprehensible” departure from the standards expected of a competent and reputable solicitor.

In a written decision, tribunal vice chairman Kenneth Paterson said: “The tribunal was most concerned with the outrageous overcharging carried out by the respondent…The tribunal was satisfied that the respondent’s conduct was dishonest. The overcharging in this case was repeated and of a gross nature. The respondent must have known that he was not entitled to these fees.

“The accounts rules breaches were unacceptable. A solicitor must retain responsibility for the books and records of his/her firm… It is essential that books and records are properly kept and that the Law Society of Scotland can ascertain the true financial position of the firm at any time.

“The public must have confidence that the profession will comply with the accounts rules and can be trusted with their money. Solicitors must also render all fees to clients. Failure to do so demeans the trust the public places in the profession.

“The essential qualities of a solicitor are honesty, truthfulness and integrity. It is imperative that if the public is to have confidence in the legal profession that solicitor maintain the standards of conduct expected of competent and reputable solicitors.

“The respondent’s conduct included serious and reprehensible departures from those standards at the most serious end of the scale. Accordingly, the tribunal found him guilty of professional misconduct.”

He tribunal expressed “some sympathy” for the respondent’s current situation, but considered that his professional misconduct was so serious that the “only suitable sanction” was to strike him off.

Mr Paterson added: “The respondent was guilty of dishonesty. His behaviour represented a court of conduct over a significant period between 2005 and 2010. The conduct involved numerous clients.

“The blatant overcharging was likely to damage the reputation of the profession. This was particularly so when the respondent had held positions of responsibility within the Law Society. He did not demonstrate any remorse and did not appear to have any insight into his conduct.

“If he wear allowed to continue to practise he would be a significant risk to the public. In view of all of the foregoing, the tribunal considered that the respondent was no longer a fit person to be a solicitor. The tribunal ordered that the respondent’s name be struck off the roll of solicitors in Scotland.”

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2019