A former law firm compliance and money laundering reporting officer has been fined £10,000 for the way he handled five conveyancing transactions. A judgment from the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said the case should serve as a warning to lawyers to ensure they ‘discharge’ their senior duties.
Anthony Gale, former partner at Yorkshire firm Maurice Smiths Solicitors, was ‘sloppy lazy and careless’ according to the tribunal finding.
Gale was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £28,291. The tribunal also imposed an indefinite ban on Gale preventing him from being a sole practitioner, the owner of an authorised body, or from taking on a role as compliance officer.
According to applicant the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), between 2005 and 2014 Gayle carried out five conveyancing transactions in which properties were variously ’transferred, removed, sold and re-mortgaged without appropriate knowledge, instruction or consent’.
It was alleged the transactions, instead of being carried out at the direction of clients, were undertaken under the instruction of an individual referred to as ‘C’, the ex-husband of one client and the father of another.
The clients, referred to as ‘A’ and ‘B’, complained to the regulator. According to the judgment, Gale confirmed in interview with the SRA that instructions came via a third party and that he 'could not recall making enquiries as to the source of monies used to complete the purchase’.
Although there was no harm caused to clients the tribunal noted that the 'potential for harm was high’.
The judgment found: ‘The harm to the reputation of the profession was significant as the public would expect a solicitor to obtain/confirm proper instructions and to discharge their duties as compliance officer for finance and administration and money laundering reporting officer.’
Gale ‘had been entrusted with the roles of COFA and MLRO and had breached that trust by his misconduct,’ it added.
The tribunal accepted that Gale had been cooperative and had not mislead the SRA or tribunal.
Gale told the tribunal that he had not flagrantly ignored the rules but had been ‘lax and careless’ when dealing with routine transactions. He added that he was ashamed and disappointed to find himself before the tribunal after an unblemished career of 30 years.