Claims Ireland

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Solicitors concede they illegally deducted cash from victims of abuse


14 October 2005

A SOLICITORS' firm has admitted ripping off victims of abuse.

Limerick firm Mc Mahon O'Brien Downes is the only one to come forward since it emerged some solicitors illegally deducted payments from clients' compensation.

The firm, which last night admitted it overcharged clients, previously earned over €8.8m after defending 1,396 army deafness claims.

If it also overcharged any of these personal injury claimants by improperly deducting payments from compensation, it could be open to a massive claim for a return of those payments - plus interest.

Last night, it was also revealed that 35 victims of abuse who believe they were overcharged by solicitors have complained to the Law Society.

Earlier this week, the society's director general Ken Murphy said it got only one complaint, but there has been a deluge of correspondence that culminated in 29 calls yesterday. 

Mr Ken Murphy of the Law Society said claimants against errant solicitors will get money back - with interest.

Callers to RTE's Liveline show alleged that solicitors representing victims of abuse in residential institutions were paid twice. Mr Murphy warned criminal proceedings may be brought against solicitors found to have engaged in alleged overcharging.

The society has promised to fast-track all complaints about double-charging through its complaints system, stressing that people other than solicitors would be helping it with its probe. It said it would return funds as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, one of Ireland's biggest abuse victim support groups has revealed it was aware of claims by members that they were ripped off a year ago.

Although the Law Society denied it failed to respond to the warning signs this week, there are claims it was generally aware of the scandal for months.

One in Four director Colm O'Gorman said it is aware of six allegations from members that part of their compensation payments were illegally withheld by solicitors.

Abuse victims' legal costs are supposed to be covered in full by the body set up to probe abuse claims and award compensation - the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

It has also emerged that all personal injury claimants - not just abuse victims - could claim against solicitors who improperly took payment from their compensation. A legal expert has revealed that anyone whose solicitor took a percentage of their compensation claim as payment is entitled to their money back - with interest.

Dorothea Dowling, Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) head, said solicitors' costs should be covered by the person or body being sued.

They had no right to look for 'extras'.

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