A former law firm boss who repeatedly asked staff to falsely testify they had witnessed wills being signed has been struck off the roll.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found that Robert Ian Cartmell, formerly managing director with Buckinghamshire firm Cartmell & Co, had acted dishonestly in presenting misleading documents 33 times over two years. 

The tribunal heard that a legal secretary at the firm confirmed she had signed a number of documents as a witness to the signature of the client when she had not been present. Cartmell, admitted in 1996, told her to add her signature to deeds and wills that had been signed by the client outside the office. He had asked the same of a trainee solicitor with the firm.

The tribunal said Cartmell had been motivated to ‘cut corners’ in the mistaken belief he had been helping clients. ‘In doing so he had breached his client’s trust to the extent that the documents were potentially invalid,’ it added.

Cartmell, who was suspended in 2018 and left the firm at the end of that year, admitted asking staff to witness signatures when they had not been present. He agreed this had become ‘a bit of a habit’ but denied it was regular practice as the overwhelming majority of such documents were signed correctly.

He knew he needed two witnesses and explained to his clients that he would ask his secretary to sign as if it had taken place in the office. He told the tribunal it was his intention to help the clients, not deceive them, and he maintained the documents were ‘ostensibly valid’ as they accurately reflected the client’s wishes.

The tribunal found dishonesty proved, concluding that he knew the documents were misleading but were being presented as valid. This was dishonest by the standards of ordinary, decent people, it was concluded.

In a separate allegation, Cartmell was also found to have acted for clients, who were joint trustees of a trust, where his own duties as a trustee conflicted with their interests. Cartmell was struck off and ordered to pay £17,500 costs.