A disgraced judge is facing the loss of his home after failing to pay his share of more than £1.5m in misused public cash.
Denis McKay, 64, and fellow judge Stuart Turner, 54, who lives in Elswick, near Preston, were both accused of ‘deliberately and systematically’ failing to account for legal aid cash when they worked as partners at a Lancashire law firm, Lonsdales Solicitors.
Lonsdales, with offices in Preston and Blackpool, received payments from the Legal Services Commission (LSC), now the Legal Aid Agency, for work done for clients. But in a ‘large’ number of cases it failed to return the money to the LSC when costs were recovered from the other side.
They were both struck off after a hearing of the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal last year. Gordon Ramsay, SRA Director of Enforcement, said: “Legal aid is there to support access to justice – not to fund solicitors’ practices.”
Lonsdales Solicitors, the firm McKay founded, was forced to shut its doors when the alleged wrongdoing came to light in 2011.
It emerged yesterday that lawyers acting on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling MP, are attempting to take possession of McKay’s house in Lytham. Patricia Hare, for the Lord Chancellor, applied for a charging order over the property.
A charging order is utilised when a debt has not been repaid, in violation of an earlier court order.
It serves to secure the sum owed against property in the possession of the debtor.
After a charging order is won, the claimant is able to purse an order for ‘possession and sale’ – effectively taking control the property.
But Miss Hare told the hearing that McKay was denying direct ownership of the house. She said: “The case that is being put forward is that the husband is holding it [the house] in trust for the wife. We apply for a charging order over the husband’s interest.”
Deputy Master Bard declined to make the order, saying a longer hearing would be necessary to hear argument from both sides. “The issue for these purposes is that of whether or not there is interest [in the house]”, he said.
Chris Baxter, for Denis McKay, asked for an independent valuation of the house to take place.
“The valuation issue is, I think, going to be an important matter.”
Mrs McKay, who claims her husband holds the entire house for her in trust, was represented by Heather Murphy.
Deputy Master Bard ordered a half-day hearing to establish the value of the house, whether Mr McKay has an interest in the property, and if so, whether the charging order should be made.
Earlier this year, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office discontinued its inquiries into McKay.
They said on 14 January: “Mr McKay resigned from his judicial post before the investigation concluded, the outcome of which was his removal from the Roll of Solicitors.
“As a result of his resignation, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office will take no further action regarding Mr McKay’s conduct.”
Likewise, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office was unable to look into Turner’s conduct.
They said on 23 April: “District Judge Turner resigned from judicial office before any further action could be taken.”
Neither Stuart Turner or law firm Lonsdales, both defendants in the proceedings, were required to attend.
The next hearing is expected to be held in November.