With legal loan sharks Wonga fined £2.6m for sending out fake letters from solicitors to 45,000 customers, questions are being asked about whether the company may have committed a criminal offence.
Wonga were sending out threatening letters from the made up law firms “Chainey, D’Amato & Shannon” and “Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries”. Here’s what Section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974 has to say:
Unqualified person not to pretend to be a solicitor.
Any unqualified person who wilfully pretends to be, or takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is, qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to [fine not exceeding the fourth level on the standard scale]
One problem: as UK Criminal Law Blog points out, section 21 is a ‘summary only’ offence, which carries a six month time limit on bringing prosecutions (Wonga stopped this practice in 2010). There are other possible offences — such as fraud, blackmail and the arcane sounding ‘harassment of debtors’ — but these seem more of a stretch.
Given that a criminal offence may have been committed, however, why didn’t the Office of Fair Trading notify the police?