Will writing is not a ‘reserved activity’ – meaning that it is not regulated and anyone can do it. Although it is tempting to say that closed shops are bad, there are sometimes reasons why restricting the provision of legal services to lawyers is not a bad thing.
One may (and we say may, because we don’t have the full facts) be on display when you look at the case of Keith Webber who was convicted on 4th February 2014 of six charges of theft and fraud.
After the verdicts had been returned, it was stated that Mr Webber had also pleaded guilty to offences of indecent images of children. No information is known about that.
The case was adjourned to Friday for sentence.
We don’t have a breakdown of all the charges, but it seems that Mr Webber “persuaded or deceived his clients into paying him large sums of money and withdrawing cash from their bank accounts” before withdrawing more money after those clients had died.
The total sums involved was said to be ‘more than’ £280,000.
We imagine that the Judge will consider the Theft Sentencing Guidelines as being the applicable one. Mr Webber’s position as a will writer is one of trust (and probably a high degree of trust) and so the starting point will certainly be the top box on page 11.
The range is 2-6 years and we would put this (on the details that we have) at about the 4 year mark. Given that there was a trial, there can be no credit for a plea of guilty.
We don’t know anything about the indecent images, but we would expect a short consecutive sentence (unless there is something unusual about them).
So, Mr Webber is looking at a sentence of about 4½ years.
Lawyers can be dishonest too can’t they? Why pick on will writers?
Of course there are dishonest lawyers who act criminally (see here for a worse example than this one). What we’re referring to is that the news reports said that Mr Webber “siphoned the money while acting as executor and power of attorney for four elderly clients“.
If had been a solicitor and barrister, then whilst the conduct would have been equally illegal, they would have had insurance. This doesn’t negate the effect on the victims families, but it does mean that they can be recompensed pretty quickly for any financial loss.
We don’t know if Mr Webber has insurance or not (so it may not be a factor), but this is something to bear in mind. Lawyers, love em or hate him, have a strict ethical code backed up with insurance to cover the people they deal with if the lawyer goes off the rails …