Northern Ireland Law Soc denies conflicts

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has hit back at claims made in Parliament that it is “shot through with conflicts”, following its handling of a complaint against a solicitor.

Last month, Welsh MP Elfyn Llwyd denounced the society for its handling of criticisms over the 1984 sale of a Northern Irish hotel, the Stagecoach Inn.

The dispute stems from claims of conflict of interest made by the hotel vendor Dr Donnelly against Belfast law firm McCartan Turkington Breen, and accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster. According to the MP, the firms not only advised the vendor on the sale of the property, but as Donnelly later found, also comprised the buying consortium.

Two of the firm’s name partners, Bernard Turking-ton and Damien Breen, became directors of Stage-coach Inn Limited, alongside Francis French of Pannell Kerr & Forster.

In 1998, the Law Society’s Professional Conduct Com-mittee considered the complaints and took no further action. In 2000, lay observer Vincent Mageean investigated the society’s response and found that it acted properly.

However, it later emerged that Bernard Turkington had been a committee member of the Law Society and was president in 1986, around a year after the sale of the hotel.

In Parliament, Llywd said: “There’s been not only misconduct, but something worse. It is nearer fraud than a disciplinary offence.”

The Law Society dismissed the claims, saying: “The handling of this complaint has been reviewed, in accordance with his statutory remit, by the lay observer of the Law Society, who is independent of the Law Society. He found that the clients in this case had been treated satisfactorily.”

It added: “Bernard Turkington was president some 10 years previous and had no connection with the running of the society at the time of the investigation.”

McCartan Turkington Breen, meanwhile, slammed the accusations, saying: “We absolutely refute the outrageous allegation that we are guilty of any improper conduct whatsoever.”

Pannell Kerr Forster was unavailable for comment.