A veteran solicitor has admitted he touched a paralegal inappropriately in front of her colleagues following an afternoon of heavy drinking.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Julian Critchlow, 63, also touched the woman’s leg on more than one occasion, rubbed her back and kissed the back of her neck. The incident happened at a wine bar with colleagues and a client sitting at the same table.

The tribunal opted to fine Critchlow £10,000 following a hearing this week.

The paralegal had recently joined London firm Al Bawardi Critchlow Solicitors, where Critchlow was senior partner, before the misconduct occurred in 2018. The paralegal left the next month, the tribunal heard, after a non-disclosure agreement was signed and Critchlow paid for a £13,000 settlement agreement.

Critchlow, a solicitor for 36 years, was described as being ‘extremely drunk’ after he went to the wine bar for lunch and stayed until the evening, with various people joining him during his session. Witnesses reported he was spilling wine on other people and had difficulties with his speech, and Critchlow himself admitted he could remember little about what had happened.

Colleagues present said the situation had been especially uncomfortable because the client was also there. Witnesses said they heard the paralegal ask colleagues on the night what would happen about her job prospects.

When the matter was reported, Critchlow apologised to her and it was arranged that she would be supervised by another partner.

Alexandra Felix, for Critchlow, stressed that he had made full admissions about his conduct from the outset and before the involvement of the SRA. She highlighted character witnesses who said they were ‘surprised and shocked’ that Critchlow had acted like this.

Felix said there was ‘no question’ that the paralegal, who opted not to give evidence before the tribunal, had been forced out by what happened: she now had her career back on track and this had not hampered her progression.

Describing Critchlow's approaches to the woman as ‘inept and bumbling’, Felix said this case was different to others coming before the tribunal in recent months where the two people involved were alone.

‘There is a difference between someone who knows what they are doing is wrong and does it nonetheless and continues to do it, and someone who ought to know but doesn’t appreciate what they are doing because of the state they are in,’ she added.

The tribunal accepted Critchlow’s admissions of failing to act with integrity and failing to act in a way which maintains trust in the profession and retired overnight. 

On Wednesday, when the hearing reopened, the tribunal acknowledged Critchlow had immediately self-reported his misconduct and fully apologised. Positive character witnesses statements about him were also taken into account. Chair Andrew Spooner said the panel had 'considerable sympathy' for the paralegal who must have been 'appalled and upset' by what happened.