Legal Aid Board ‘brought into disrepute’ by Legal Services Chief’s criminal charges over rent boy scandal

SLABSLAB brought into disrepute by criminal conduct of its staff. The good work of the Scottish Legal Aid Board in providing access to justice for thousands of poor Scots and their families, has been stunningly brought into disrepute by the disgraceful public conduct of its Legal Services Chief, Douglas Haggarty, who was arrested for a liaison with a ‘rent boy’ in the famous St Enoch’s Glasgow shopping centre.

Law Chief held with rent boy - Sunday Mail 3 May 2009 eSunday Mail exposed legal aid chief’s criminal charges of soliciting a boy prostitute. Douglas Haggarty, who is Chief of Legal Services at the Scottish Legal Aid Board, has sat on various Scottish Government consultation groups which included the most senior members of the legal profession, the Law Society of Scotland, and even senior Police officers. Haggarty participated in the review of the Practices and Procedure of the High Court of Justiciary, chaired by Lord Bonomy, titled “Improving Practice”, and has duties at the legal aid board which include lecturing lawyers on their public conduct.

Paul McBride QCSLAB Board member Paul McBride asked Crown Office to drop charges against Haggarty. It also emerged from the Sunday Mail’s expose that Paul McBride QC, a senior board member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board was representing Haggarty on the criminal charges of soliciting a teenage boy in public, McBride proceeding to ask the Crown Office to drop the charges against his client, on the grounds ‘there was not enough evidence to convict’, and now the Procurator Fiscal in the case has decided against court proceedings and will handle the case by way of a fiscal fine or other means, in order no doubt to avoid too much bad publicity for Haggarty and McBride, both well known members of Scotland’s legal profession.

SLAB board member Paul McBride QC, last year earned over £217,000 in legal aid fees while representing clients in the Scottish courts, and only last week, made a blaze of publicity for himself where he criticised the Labour party for the Damien McBride email smears against the Conservative Party, after which he transferred his allegiance to the Conservatives after his ‘lifelong support of the Labour Party.

However, it transpired the day after McBride’s announcement of a shift to the Conservatives over his own views on ethics, he wasn’t even a subscribing member to Labour , and some now believe he may have been earmarked for a senior legal position in any future Tory administration in Scotland. So, not ok to smear politicians, but rent boys in toilets ? well that’s another matter …

However, criticism of McBride’s involvement in representing Douglas Haggarty in the rent boy scandal came from colleagues in the legal world today, as a legal insider speaking on the news, pointed to a possible conflict of interest in a matter which many now feel brings the Legal Aid Board into disrepute.

He said : “The Legal Aid Board lecture solicitors on their legal aid claims but it looks like there are plenty loose canons at the Board itself.The Legal Aid Board do not seem to want to comment, but clearly Douglas Haggarty’s conduct has brought SLAB’s work into disrepute and he should now be sacked.”

He went on : “I think eyebrows will be raised that Douglas Haggarty was able to secure legal representation from Paul McBride QC, who is also a senior member of the Scottish Legal Aid Board. In the eyes of many that may well constitute a conflict of interest and Mr McBride should have refrained from involvement in the case.”

A client who is currently fighting a legal action with legal aid said “I have had contact with Douglas Haggarty in the early stages of my claim when I asked for documents relating to my solicitor’s submissions to the Board.I did not receive very good replies and had to ask several times for the information I was after.”

She went on : “I am totally disgusted to learn that people who conduct themselves in public in this manner are at the heart of our legal system and I find it a disgrace the matter is not to proceed to court. If it had been anyone else other than a lawyer who did it, I’m sure they would have been sent through the courts system but again we see one law for the lawyers and another for the rest of us.”

For my part, well I am not surprised by Mr Haggarty’s antics. There are many ‘personalities’ in the legal world and some at the very heart of the Scots legal establishment & even the Law Society of Scotland who seem to prefer the haunts of toilets and rent boys despite the fact that some of them have wives & families who know nothing of their sick partner’s secret and perhaps deadly conduct, which has in at least one case known to me, impacted fatally on the health of their family.

Lawyer accused of flashing at boy, 13 -  Daily Record April 13 2006QC was accused in 2006 of flashing to child, but charges were dropped. In a similar case a couple of years ago, a senior Advocate, Mark Strachan QC, was charged with similar offences, involving a 13 year old boy, but the case was dropped .. as seems to be common when it comes to catching members of Scotland’s legal profession engaged in criminal activity. I reported on the Mark Strachan case here, where you can also read the Daily Record’s expose : Disclosing the regulatory history of lawyers in Scotland to help give choice to the consumer. You can also read the BBC version of Mr Strachan’s criminal charge of flashing at a 13 year old boy here : Advocate charged with indecency

Clients surely have a right to know their solicitors criminal records, just as much as their solicitors regulatory records. Many clients of solicitors I’ve spoken to today certainly agree with that, while all expressed a view that if they learned their solicitor had been charged with a criminal offence, they would not use them for legal representation of any kind.

In a statement issued late today, a spokesman for the Legal Aid Board said in response to queries on Mr Haggarty’s choice of SLAB board member Paul McBride QC as his lawyer : “It is a matter for Mr Haggarty who he should engage to represent him. Any involvement by Paul McBride QC in representing Mr Haggarty is unconnected with his role as a Board member. Board members are non-executive, appointed by Ministers and are not employees of the Board.”

A legal source retorted by saying : “It seems the heavy guns were brought out in Mr Haggarty’s favour but I can’t always get a QC of Mr McBride’s stature to represent my clients when they are in need. Strange.”

The legal profession which Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill famously said on camera he would defend his legal colleagues to the last, against their detractors most certainly needs a clean up, not only of its criminal element, but also of its morals and ethics.

The Sunday Mail reports :

Law Chief held with rent boy - Sunday Mail 3 May 2009 eExclusive: Legal aid chief arrested with rent boy in shopping centre toilet

May 3 2009 Derek Alexander

A LEGAL Aid boss has been arrested in a public toilet with a rent boy.

Douglas Haggarty, 57, was arrested in a shopping mall after being found with the teenage prostitute.

He is the head of legal services at the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) – where his duties include lecturing lawyers on their public conduct.

Haggarty was arrested in British Home Stores in the St Enoch Centre, Glasgow.

Security guards alerted police after the known rent boy was seen following Haggarty into the shop’s toilets. Both men were arrested and Haggarty was charged with soliciting in a public place.

The procurator fiscal started summary proceedings against Haggarty. But his lawyer Paul McBride QC – who sits as a member on the Scottish Legal Aid Board – asked the Crown Office to drop the charges, claiming there was not enough evidence to convict.

The procurator fiscal has decided to scrap court proceedings and deal with the case by a direct measure. These are powers available to prosecutors to deal with cases quickly. They include issuing a fine, compensation order and written warning about future conduct. The powers available to procurators fiscal were extended last year.

The rent boy also had court proceedings against him dropped and was issued with a direct measure.

Haggarty, who lives in the Merchant City area of Glasgow, started work as a solicitor in 1975. He helped Lord Bonomy compile his 2002 report on improving the practices and procedure of the High Court.

Haggarty submitted a paper to a Scottish Parliament finance committee on criminal procedure in 2003 and has been a member of other High Court review teams.

The legal aid chief, who declined to comment, has been off work sick since the incident in January. A slab spokesman said: “The Board is aware of the case and that it has not been prosecuted. It’s not appropriate for us to comment further.”

Haggarty isn’t the first SLAB boss to be arrested and dogged by controversy.

Dr Richard Scott, former head of SLAB, was twice arrested over incidents with his wife. Arrest In January 1997 he was charged with three assaults but only convicted of breach of the peace and disorderly behaviour.

Six months later Scott was arrested again when police were called to his home but the Crown Office decided not to bring criminal charges. Scott stood down as head of SLAB in 1999.

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