A solicitor who turned a ‘blind eye’ to an early release pension scam has failed to convince the High Court he should be allowed to stay on the roll.

Robert John Metcalfe appealed the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in September 2019 to strike him off after a finding of dishonesty in relation to his role in the schemes.

Metcalfe appealed both the finding and the sanction in the High Court but this week lost his challenge, with Mr Justice Murray fully accepting the tribunal’s findings and ruling that the strike-off decision was justified.

The judge said that if Metcalfe had questioned his clients properly and diligently about the scheme, he would have discovered the early pension release aspect. Instead he turned a ‘blind eye’ to the arrangements because they were to his financial benefit.

Royal Courts of Justice

Mr Justice Murray said the tribunal was entitled to find that the lawyer had acted dishonestly

Source: Michael Cross

The judge added: ‘It was open to the SDT to conclude that Mr Metcalfe’s decision not to speak to his clients about the transactions was deliberate, motivated by a desire to avoid learning something that he would rather not know.’

The court heard that Metcalfe, who was admitted to the roll in 2000, set up his own practice under the name RMJ Solicitors and based the firm in Liverpool. He was alleged to have acted in relation to a number of investment schemes, loans or other transactions which were dubious, risky or bore the hallmarks of early release pension scams.

The tribunal said he ought to have been ‘extremely concerned’ that all his clients’ instructions had come to him through the ultimate beneficiary of the funds transferred. He could and should have been in direct contact with his clients but was found to have ‘no regard’ for them.

Instead his only function was to process paperwork and receive and distribute funds, and his involvement was to lend credibility to the transactions. The tribunal found it ‘extremely troubling’ that he appeared to have no concern that he had no copies of the loan or investment documents.

On appeal, Metcalfe said there was no proof that the transactions he was involved with were fraudulent, and none of the clients made any complaint along those lines. While the SDT may have considered that Metcalfe’s involvement in the transactions was ‘grubby work’, there was nothing on the facts to suggest he acted dishonestly.

Murray J rejected the suggestion that the tribunal needed to find the scheme fraudulent to prove Metcalfe had been dishonest, adding: ‘It was enough that the transactions bore clear and obvious hallmarks of fraud and that Mr Metcalfe had deliberately turned a blind eye to those hallmarks.’

The judge said there were no exceptional circumstances justifying anything other than a strike-off, and he upheld the SDT’s order for £30,573 costs.