Saturday 15 December 2018

Solicitors await court judgment in strike-off appeal case

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

TWO solicitors who operated a secret €32m bank account to deliberately evade tax will find out early next year whether they will be struck off the solicitors' roll.

The Supreme Court will sit on February 26 to hear an appeal by the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, which complained that a one-year suspension for the solicitors is too lenient.

It is the second time that the Law Society has sought to have solicitors Henry Colley -- son of the late Fianna Fail deputy leader George Colley -- and Colm Carroll struck off the solicitors' roll.

The men, who were suspended from practising for a year, ran one of the largest health board practices in the country.

In separate proceedings, the pair are seeking the recovery of some €3.27m in unpaid fees from the Health Services Executive.

The charges against them included:

l Setting up a secret bank account to evade tax;

l Withholding legal fees owed to barristers;

l Operating hidden bank accounts; and

l The doctoring of practice accounts.

The men cannot act as sole practitioners for three years once their suspension is lifted and were ordered to pay €50,000 each to the solicitors' compensation fund.

The High Court upheld a recommendation by the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal not to block the solicitors from practising again despite pleas by the Law Society that they should be struck off.


Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, who heard that much of the funds moved into secret bank accounts were legal fees paid by health boards, said the only reason he did not strike off the solicitors was because clients were not exposed.

Mr Colley and Mr Carroll, who admitted to around 50 charges of professional misconduct, have already made a significant but undisclosed settlement with the Revenue Commissioners after self-confessed "wrongful" tax evasion.

The scandal further undermined confidence in the legal profession at a time when it was still reeling from the fallout involving solicitors Michael Lynn, Thomas Byrne and Niall Colfer.

Judge McKechnie said he believed his decision not to strike off the solicitors would help maintain public confidence in the legal profession and uphold the good name of the Law Society.

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