SDT: John William East and Marian Clift
- Application 10752-2011
- Hearing 31 January 2012
- Reasons 12 March 2012
The SDT ordered that the first respondent (admitted 1980) should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for the period of 12 months to commence on 31 January 2012.
Upon the expiry of the period of suspension, the SDT ordered that the first respondent should be subject to the following conditions: he might not practise as a sole practitioner, partner or member of a limited liability partnership, legal disciplinary practice, or alternative business structure; he might not handle any client funds; and for the avoidance of doubt he might only work as a solicitor in employment approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority: liberty to either party to apply to the SDT to vary the conditions set out above.
The SDT ordered that the second respondent (admitted 2002) should be suspended from practice as a solicitor for the period of six months to commence on 31 January 2012. Upon the expiry of the period of suspension, the SDT ordered that the second respondent should be subject to the following conditions: she might not practise as a sole practitioner, partner or member of a LLP, LDP or ABS; she might not handle any client funds; and for the avoidance of doubt she might only work as a solicitor in employment approved by the SRA: liberty to either party to apply to the SDT to vary the conditions set out above.
The first and second respondents had failed to maintain properly written-up books of account, contrary to rule 32 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998; they had permitted their client bank accounts to become overdrawn, contrary to rules 22(5) and 22(8) of the rules and rule 1.02 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007; they had failed to carry out client bank account reconciliations in accordance with rule 32(7) of the rules; they had failed to remedy breaches of the rules promptly upon discovery, contrary to rule 7 thereof; they had failed to deliver to the SRA their accountant’s report for the period 1 October 2008 to 31 March 2009 due on 31 May 2009 until 30 November 2009, contrary to rule 20.10 of the code and rule 35(1) of the rules; they had failed to deliver to the SRA their accountant’s report for the period 1 October 2009 to 31 March 2010 due on 31 May 2010, contrary to rule 20.10 of the code and rule 35(1) of the rules; and they had failed to pay premiums due for indemnity insurance arranged through the assigned risks pool for the indemnity year 2009/10, contrary to rule 5.01(1)(c) of the 2007 Code and the Solicitors Indemnity Insurance Rules 2009; the second respondent had purported to resign from the partnership in 2009 but her name had remained recorded as a partner on the firm’s letterhead, contrary to rule 7.07 of the code; and she had failed to comply with the directions of an adjudicator dated 10 September 2010, contrary to rule 1.06 of the code; the first and second respondents had, on 4 August 2009, informed client DS by letter that part of his case ‘will also be undertaken by the Consumer and Family Law Services, as our agent, which is run by barristers...’ thereby misleading DS as to the true status of those who were running CFLS, contrary to rules 1.02 and 1.06 of the code; and the first respondent had failed to deliver to the SRA an accountant’s report for the period 1 April 2010 to 30 September 2010 due by 30 November 2010, contrary to rule 20.10 of the code and rule 35(1) of the rules.
The SDT had heard that all the allegations were admitted by the respondents, and their submissions that many of their problems were caused by the firm’s former practice manager, exacerbated by poor advice that they had received from their accountants and a subsequent lack of funds. The SDT regarded the matters as serious and took note of the fact that both respondents had appeared before the SDT previously for a number of other offences under the Solicitors Accounts Rules, and a failure to supervise the firm’s former practice manager. As a result of that previous appearance each respondent had been fined £10,000.
The SDT accepted that the second respondent had taken active steps to try and sort out the problems and to that extent, the SDT found that she was less culpable than the first respondent, who was the senior partner and who had largely funded the practice with the former practice manager. It was said by the first respondent that he had health problems but the SDT had been provided with no medical or other independent evidence to that effect. The SDT was mindful that the practice had a shortfall on client account and that clients had suffered losses as a result.
The respondents’ conduct had caused damage to the reputation of the profession and had undermined public confidence. Accordingly, the SDT, having regard to all the circumstances of the case and the fact that both respondents had appeared before it before ordered the first respondent be suspended for a period of 12 months, and the second respondent be suspended for a period of six months both commencing 31 January 2012.
Because of the serious nature of the offences, the SDT did not consider that any stay was appropriate and ordered that the period of suspension should start with immediate effect. In addition, the SDT ordered that both respondents be subject to conditions on their practising certificates upon expiry of the period of suspension.
Costs were assessed in the sum of £7,287.20 and each respondent was ordered to pay half and make a contribution of £3,643.60 respectively towards those costs. As both respondents had been declared bankrupt, and had now been effectively suspended from practice for a period of time, the SDT accepted they did not have the means to pay those costs and therefore also ordered that the costs were not to be enforced without leave of the SDT.