General News of Sunday, 6 January 2019
A Ghanaian director of one of Britain’s biggest legal aid law firms has found himself at the wrong side of the law after a High Court judge ruled that his firm entertained an ‘endemic’ culture of dishonesty and ‘systematic fraud’ after making thousands of false claims on the legal aid fund.
According to reports, Mr. John Blavo’s firm, Blavo & Co Solicitors, was closed in 2015 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority when concerns were raised about its huge legal claims.
The firm specialised in mental health law but also practised in criminal, clinical negligence, housing, immigration and family law.
“At least 80 per cent of the firm’s £11 million annual turnover was derived from the legal aid scheme and, at its height, it was the second or third largest legal aid firm in England and Wales”, a UK media portal reported.
Prior to starting the firm, the 57-year-old worked as a sports lawyer with several Premier League footballers, including former Arsenal right back Lauren and ex West Ham full back and Black Stars’ John Paintsil.
Following findings by Legal Aid Agency investigators, they found a ‘very significant discrepancy’ between claims made by the firm on the legal aid portal and the cases recorded on the court service’s database.
As a result, the High Court ‘I find that 42 out of the 49 files audited in July 2015 were not genuine files but were falsely created in order to justify dishonest claims for payment,’ said the judge, who noted there was no record in these cases of any hearing having taken place. ‘The fact that the [legal aid] agency was able to find cases of fraud in 42 of the 49 files presented for audit in 2015 indicates that this was no needle in a haystack.’
Furthermore after the audit, the agency identified 24,658 cases in which the firm had claimed fees in respect of representation before a mental health hearing, but found evidence a hearing was actually held in only 1,485 cases. The £22.1m figure was the value of claims that were not supported by any evidence of being pursued.
Mr. Blavo is noted for parading supercars in the driveway of his multimillion-pound home and his daughter Stephanie enjoyed trips to the Royal Ascot
The court heard that the Legal Aid Agency had looked into more than 23,000 files as part of its investigation into the firm. The judge said there had been a ‘clear failure’ to co-operate with the investigation by providing full, truthful and prompt explanations and by failing to provide files to the LAA.
He ruled that, given the unexplained discrepancy between the claims for payment and data from HMCTS, it was ‘unarguably proportionate and rational’ to terminate the legal aid contract with the firm. Blavo’s case on a repudiatory breach therefore failed.