Law gets laid down to legal firms
LEGAL Aid Queensland has warned law firms against fraternising with its grants officers who approve funding, in the wake of serious charges laid against criminal lawyers.
In emails sent to law firms in Brisbane last week, LAQ revealed it had begun a review of its practices, after the charging of some lawyers with fraud.
"We take this opportunity to further remind you all to maintain appropriate business relationships and communication with your, and all, grants officers," the email reads.
"The relationship should at all times be a professional relationship and not a personal relationship.
"Contact with grants officers should always be through business email and business phone numbers."
The email also included a copy of the Legal Aid Queensland Act 1997, which threatens two years' jail for anyone who misuses the organisation's funds.
More than $132 million was handled by LAQ last financial year, its annual report shows.
It is believed some Legal Aid Queensland staff have previously socialised with lawyers who have accessed its funding to represent clients.
LAQ chief executive officer Anthony Reilly said LAQ had been co-operating with the CCC investigation into the conduct of some lawyers.
Mr Reilly said Legal Aid Queensland stopped certain external preferred supplier lawyers from doing legal aid work after it was briefed on a CCC search of a law firm in early 2017.
"When charges were laid against some of these external lawyers, we terminated our preferred supplier agreements with their law firms,'' Mr Reilly said.
"As Legal Aid Queensland is the victim of alleged fraud by a lawyer, some of our staff have provided statements to the CCC as witnesses as part of the investigation.''
Mr Reilly said no LAQ staff had been suspended or charged with any criminal offences.
"We take our role in administering public funds to pay for people's legal representation very seriously and have systems in place to reduce our exposure to fraud and corruption,'' Mr Reilly said.
"Through our audit program we regularly review our fraud and corruption prevention processes, and have done so following the CCC investigation coming to light.''
Mr Reilly said LAQ had reminded its preferred suppliers about the need to communicate through official channels and maintain professional relationships with LAQ staff.
Law firms also had been told warned that they could not charge clients for services if they were applying for a grant of aid, Mr Reilly said.
Lawler Magill partner Adam Magill in October was charged with aggravated fraud, defrauding Legal Aid Queensland, money laundering and fraudulent falsification of records.
Solicitors Corey Cullen, Mitchell Cunningham and Nathan Hounsell, who previously worked for Lawler Magill, have each been charged with one count of aggravated fraud not pertaining to Legal Aid.