©The Star (Letters Section) (Used by permission)by Affected Litigant, Penang
THE crackdown, some time back, on lawyers who had committed criminal breach of trust of clients’ monies is laudable. But what is more important is to ensure that opportunities to commit such crimes are not inadvertently created by the system in the handling of such monies.
To begin with, the Legal Profession Act (LPA) must be revised to ensure any money awarded to a litigant is directly payable to him/her. As it stands today, lawyers bank such awards into a so-called “Clients’ Account” that the lawyers handle to their advantage.
This is especially true with large sums awarded in personal injury claims in accidents. The lawyers write off all sorts of claims from these awards, which are not explained to the client. At the end of the day the claimant should consider himself lucky if he gets 10% of the award.
Hence, it is small wonder that many lawyers “specialise” in accident cases. Often, lawyers ask new clients to sign papers without explaining the full implications of these papers. In fact, these papers authorise the lawyers to handle all matters in the case at their sole discretion without prior consultation with, and approval of, the clients. Perhaps the LPA should be revised to make such moves illegal and void.
A proper standard agreement should be introduced to protect the clients. Large sums of money are paid by high-rise building purchasers to legal firms as “stake holders” to be utilised for major repairs or paintwork. Over the years this money, if put in fixed deposit with banks, would accrue interest that by itself would support any remedial works to the building.
The legal firms, acting as stakeholders, do not publish regular accounts of these funds to the buyers of the properties, and also have free access to these funds. The Housing and Local Government Ministry needs to address this urgently.