A solicitor who was wrongly shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has accused the regulator of ‘prevarication’ over its withholding of more than £40,000 in legal aid fees.
The High Court heard last week that Andrew Williams, a director of Essex firm Lillywhite Williams, was intervened into last October without notice after the regulator became concerned about links with his former associate, Naresh Chopra.
Family solicitor Williams had entered into an LLP in February with Chopra to replace his retiring former partner, but broke all ties with Chopra in May. In December, the SRA withdrew the intervention against Williams and offered him £50,000 towards his costs. But the SRA has yet to pay back £41,000 accrued from legal aid work carried out before February 2014.
The case amounts to an interesting test of how far back into the career history of solicitors the SRA can go when carrying out an intervention.
In the High Court last week, in a case brought by Williams to recover the money, the regulator said the statutory trust rules, which protect money seized in interventions, should be upheld and that his application was ‘premature’.
But Williams accused the SRA of a ‘volte-face’ and said he had turned down job offers in the expectation the money would help him restart his practice. ‘[Williams] has every reason to view what has happened with at least a jaundiced eye,’ said his barrister Gregory Treverton-Jones QC. ‘The delay in releasing the first tranche of legal aid has meant he could not pay a number of creditors.’
Michael McLaren QC, for the SRA, said the regulator’s position has been consistent throughout and that the rules apply to the previous incarnation of Williams’ practice.
The SRA agreed to pay an interim £22,000 before the case returns to court next month.