A magic circle partner facing charges over his conduct towards a junior colleague today urged the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to throw out proceedings.
Ryan Beckwith, a restructuring and insolvency expert with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, faces allegations relating to him abusing his position to initiate sexual activity with the woman in her 20s.
The SRA, prosecuting, alleges that Beckwith, who was married, kissed or attempted to kiss the junior staff member in a London pub in May 2016, in circumstances where he was in a position of seniority or authority. It is further alleged that a few weeks later he initiated and/or engaged in sexual activity, where he ought to have known his conduct was unwelcome and that she was intoxicated to the extent she was vulnerable and her decision-making ability impaired.
It is alleged that Beckwith has failed to act with integrity and failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in him and the legal profession.
Before a case management hearing of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal today, Beckwith’s counsel Alisdair Williamson QC said the SRA investigation had been flawed and that the prosecution was an abuse of process. He alleged that the complainant had been dishonest and colluded with another witness, and said the SRA had contaminated evidence by putting Beckwith’s responses to her during interview.
Williamson said: ‘There is a lack of evidence sufficient for this case to proceed further and the process of investigation has been so one-sided.’
Williamson submitted that the tribunal should be able to see the notes of a therapist who treated the complainant, after which it is alleged that she changed her initial evidence.
Williamson added: ‘It is inherently unfair you are not in the position to properly assess the process the witness went through. The case should also stop as you have no basis to prefer [the complainant’s] later account that she was too drunk to consent and didn’t consent. This is a matter for regulatory consideration over the earlier account, which is that this was a mutual mistake.’
Williamson also expressed doubts about how drunk the complainant had been, saying she was up at 7.30 the next morning to attend the Henley Regatta.
Riel Karmy-Jones QC, for the SRA, said the tribunal could assess the strength of evidence only by going to a full hearing and being able to cross-examine the witnesses.
She stressed that the case was not about consent, but rather the position of authority held by Beckwith. While the complainant had already decided to leave the firm, he would still provide her with a reference and have a major impact on her future career.
‘This is a partner in a leading firm of solicitors… he had a responsibility to set an example of behaviour to her, to other members of the profession and to the public,’ said Karmy-Jones.
‘His behaviour on the two nights in question fell well short of the behaviour expected of a member of the profession and in particular a person of influence.’
The hearing ended on Tuesday afternoon. The tribunal will reconvene on Wednesday morning to decide whether the case should continue.