Page last updated at 20:38 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Tribunal over coalminers' payouts

Raleys handled 60,000 claims for compensation from ex-miners

Six partners at a law firm in Barnsley have faced a tribunal accused of misconduct relating to their handling of miners' compensation claims.

The solicitors at Raleys handled 60,000 claims by ex-miners with work-related illnesses, earning the company 72m.

It is alleged there was a conflict of interest in dealings with the NUM which lent the firm 4m.

The tribunal heard money was deducted from damages and passed onto the NUM. The solicitors deny any wrongdoing.

The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal was told that when Raleys experienced financial difficulties in 2000, the firm turned to the NUM for help.

'No guidance'

The union approved a 4m loan in an agreement personally approved by its then leader Arthur Scargill, the tribunal heard.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) claim that Raleys' relationship with the NUM "compromised their independence and integrity and duty to act in the best interests of clients pursuing miners' compensation claims".

Gregory Treverton-Jones, for Raleys, told the hearing that in November 1999, Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, had complained about what he described as a "scam" involving Raleys passing on a slice of miners' compensation to the NUM.

But Mr Treverton-Jones said an investigation into the matter found the firm had not acted in breach of rules of professional conduct.

"During the whole of that period [2000-05] the Law Society did not give a word of guidance in the profession about this issue," he said.

"That must be because the Law Society did not consider that the making of deductions and paying them to trade unions was against the rules?"

The solicitors facing the allegations are Derek Barber, 44, Derek Firth, 50, Carol Gill, 38, James Gladman, 49, Jonathan Markham, 46, and Katherine Richards, 40.

The hearing continues.

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