The high Court is set to hear a claim by the Law Society for the £280,000 it spent in the biggest raid in its history.
Although police have dropped their inquiries into Peter Southall, the former owner of raided Birmingham firm Southall & Co, the Law Society is trying to claw back the money it spent on the enormous raid. The case, which will be heard in December, has been brought by the Law Society against Southall's widow, to whom his estate was passed before he died. A lawyer acting for the Law Society in the case said that by handing over his estate, Southall was trying to avoid having to pay back his creditors. Divesting oneself of assets to avoid the creditor is in breach of the Insolvency Act. It is believed that this case will shed some vital new light on the act, which is said to be in disarray. Southall died before allegations of dishonesty and account rule breaches against him were heard in front of a disciplinary tribunal. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of client money is alleged to have gone missing. The intervention of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) cost the taxpayer around £280,000. More than 26,000 files were found and around 18,000 clients were listed among the papers. An OSS spokesman said that during the investigations, officers discovered a massive "conveyancing factory" in Sutton that operated with about 12 lawyers and support staff. In total, Southall & Co employed around 100 lawyers and staff. Edge Ellison, which subsequently merged with Hammond Suddards, a rival to Southall & Co's five-partner firm, acted as an agent in the break-up of the firm, which dispersed to seven other firms. This was Edge Ellison's only involvement with Southall & Co. Christie's recently auctioned around £500,000 worth of antiques dating from the 16th to 18th centuries from Southall's residence. The High Court has already rejected an application by the Law Society to freeze Mrs Southall's assets, as it was found that there was no risk of her trying to hide them. In a similar case last December, the Law Society sought to challenge "gifts" given to Mrs Southall on the basis that they breached section 423 of the Insolvency Act. This was rejected by the Chancery Division. The disciplinary charges against Southall were also levelled against the firm's senior partner, Ernest Crook. However, he has not faced a Law Society disciplinary tribunal as he is suffering from ill health.