SDT: Lesley Marianna Alberici
- Application 10603-2010/10750-2011
- Admitted 2000
- Hearings 30 January-3 February 2012
- Reasons 22 March 2012
The SDT ordered that the respondent be struck off the roll, and further that the directions of the adjudicators of the Legal Complaints Service made in respect of inadequate professional service should be treated for the purposes of enforcement as if they were contained in an order of the High Court, pursuant to paragraph 5(2) of schedule 1A to the Solicitors Act 1974.
The respondent had, in relation to clients Mr J, Mr and Mrs Fain (joint instructions), Mr C-I, Mr B and Mr M and Mr H (joint instructions), failed to provide clear and accurate information to clients and in so doing had compromised her integrity and the good repute of the profession in breach of rule 1 of the Solicitors Practice Rules 1990; she had failed to act in her client’s best interests, contrary to rule 1 of the rules; she had made misleading representations to clients; she had failed to place fees received from clients within client accounts as required by rule 19 of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998; she had failed to keep books of accounts properly written up for the purposes of rule 32 of the 1998 rules; she had provided a service so poor as to amount to professional misconduct in breach of rule 1 of the 1990 rules; she had failed to comply promptly or at all with directions dated 16 June 2009, 12 November 2009 and 13 November 2009 made by an adjudicator of the Legal Complaints Service, acting pursuant to delegated powers; she had failed to deal with correspondence from the Solicitors Regulation Authority in an open, prompt and co-operative way, or at all; and she had acted as a solicitor while uncertificated.
Furthermore, the respondent had, in relation to Mr A, Miss R, Mr R and Ms P (Mr A and friends) (joint instructions), failed to provide clear and accurate information to clients and in so doing had compromised her integrity and the good repute of the profession in breach of rule 1 of the 1990 rules; she had failed to act in her client’s best interests, contrary to rule 1 of the 1990 rules; and she had provided a service so poor as to amount to professional misconduct in breach of rule 1 of the 1990 rules. A second rule 5 statement dated 17 May 2011 was filed under case number 10750/2011 and was consolidated with the existing proceedings on 28 July 2011.
The purpose of the additional rule 5 statement was to seek orders that adjudicators’ directions be enforced as if they were contained in an order made by the High Court, pursuant to paragraph 5(2) of schedule 1A to the 1974 act.
The SDT had listened very carefully to the submissions of both counsel, and had had the benefit of hearing lengthy evidence from the respondent herself and from Mr Fain, one of the victims. Mr Fain’s evidence had been clear and straightforward and the SDT had been satisfied that Mr Fain had clearly been of the view that the respondent was his solicitor and had had expectations of her work as such. He had worked in a business environment and was familiar with business concepts. Despite that, it had not occurred to him that the respondent was acting other than as his solicitor and the SDT had accepted his evidence in its entirety.
The respondent had given the impression of being an intelligent lady with a good head for business, but who was economical with the truth and self-serving with the answers she gave. She would say whatever came into her head to attempt to extricate herself from a difficult line of questioning. The SDT was particularly surprised that during the course of her evidence, she had come up with new explanations and had referred to new information and documents to which no reference had been made by her previously, despite those having been central to issues in the case.
While the SDT acknowledged that the respondent had admitted that she had failed to co-operate openly and promptly with the applicant, it was concerned that she had done so since such a failure suggested that she had little if any regard for her regulator. When matters of concern were brought to the attention of the applicant, it was essential that solicitors responded in an open, prompt and co-operative manner, so that the applicant could ensure that the public was protected and the reputation of the profession maintained.
The respondent’s conduct had amounted to breaches of core duties and professional obligations and the SDT had taken a very serious view of that. Solicitors were required to hold a practising certificate to ensure that those instructed by the public were properly qualified, regulated and competent to practise. The Solicitors Code of Conduct existed to ensure that solicitors behaved with integrity, essential to their role as the client’s trusted adviser and characterising all of their professional dealings, including those with the court, other lawyers and the public.
The SDT noted that the respondent’s actions had contributed, if not led, to significant financial losses having been suffered by her clients. In the circumstances of the case, the SDT had to strike the respondent off the roll. The costs were to be assessed unless agreed between the parties. The respondent was ordered to make an interim payment in respect of the costs of £40,000 by 17 February 2012. The costs order was not to be enforced (save by an application to the court for a charging order in respect of the interim costs) without permission of the SDT.