Partner struck off for ‘web of deception’ about case progress
A solicitor with almost 30 years of unblemished practice has been struck off for misleading his client about the progress of a land dispute with a neighbour.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Adrian Harling appeared to have a ‘misplaced desire to protect’ his client and to steer him away from what he saw as costly litigation.
Harling, managing partner at Kidderminster firm Painters Solicitors, developed an email trail over 15 months in which he invented telephone calls to and from the court and referred to adopting a vacated court date that never existed, the tribunal heard.
The solicitor, who had an unblemished record since qualifying in 1987, asked for leniency on the grounds that he was not a risk to the public and had the full support of partners at his firm.
But the tribunal said Harling had used a ‘web of deception’ to avoid litigation and should have been honest with the client about the prospects of success.
‘[Harling] had created a story which was entirely dishonest and misleading to his client,’ said the tribunal. ‘[His] emails become more elaborate and were further embellished as time went on. This was deeply unattractive from any solicitor, particularly one of [Harling’s] seniority and standing.’
The tribunal heard that Harling, 54, came to the attention of the Solicitors Regulation Authority after a report from the Legal Ombudsman following a complaint.
A number of documents were submitted covering email exchanges between the solicitor and his client from January 2012 to April 2013.
Harling told his client he was due to be given a court date the following day, that he had received three missed calls from the listings office, and that the case had been listed but he did not know the exact date.
It was only when the client investigated the progress of the case that he discovered it was not currently listed and had not been listed for previous dates.
Harling accepted that he had breached professional obligations to act with integrity but said he genuinely believed he was serving his client’s best interests, having advised as far back as February 2008 that land dispute cases were difficult to win.
The solicitor said he had been worried about the financial implications of the dispute on the client, and had been trying to ‘divert’ him to the mediation process during the period of the email exchanges. Harling added he was ‘extremely sorry and considerably embarrassed’ by his conduct.
The tribunal said the ‘sustained and developing deception’ over a long period of time was an aggravating factor in his case. It rejected Harling’s assertion he was protecting his client and said the delay could have weakened his position.
As well as striking him off, the tribunal ordered Harling to pay £2,973 in costs.