A solicitor who acted for multiple parties – including his vulnerable client – against their best interests has been struck off by the tribunal.
Ashton Lloyd Doherty arranged various loans and transactions for different parties where he knew their interests to be adverse to each other. One client in particular, who he knew as a family friend, was described as being vulnerable and unable to make an informed decision about her affairs. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said Doherty was in breach of various conduct rules and had made a ‘serious moral mistake’.
The tribunal heard that Doherty, a solicitor for 18 years, had been practising as a consultant solicitor when the alleged misconduct took place.
The SRA, prosecuting, told the tribunal Doherty had met the client 21 years ago when he was a trainee, and over time they became friends. The client was keen to invest diversely and use her capital for short-term loans, and it was submitted that Doherty did not give proper regard to her situation. He did not accept she was vulnerable and insisted she had been a successful businesswoman and a fiercely independent character.
The SRA submitted that he acted for multiple parties to a transaction where he knew their interests to be adverse, and which he knew to be operating to the detriment of one party. In this way, he allowed his independence to be compromised.
The tribunal found Doherty failed to ensure the client received appropriate advice about an issue which created additional risk for her, and where two other parties with whom he was involved gained an advantage. His failure to arrange for a proper deed of postponement was, it was found, ‘at best cavalier’.
It was also found proved that he advised the client in relation to the creation of a Panamanian company on her behalf but failed to adequately explain the risks.
The tribunal said his motivation was ‘a desire for the various transactions to be completed and, in the case in which dishonesty was found proved, a wish to enter into an arrangement which was to his benefit… he had subordinated the interests of [the vulnerable client] to his own. The misconduct was not spontaneous and had required planning and taking all allegations together had extended over several years.’
In mitigation, Doherty submitted that he had enjoyed a long career marked by good service to others, but he did not submit any exceptional circumstances which might reduce his sanction. He was struck off and ordered to pay £25,000 costs.
Since the hearing, Doherty has appealed the tribunal's order to the High Court (administrative court). The order remains in place pending the court's decision.