A former magic circle partner who was fined £35,000 after spending the night with a junior colleague in 2016 has appealed his sanction in the High Court, arguing he was ‘caught on the shifting sands of attitudes towards sexual behaviour’.
In a hearing before the president of the Queen’s Bench Division today, counsel for Ryan Beckwith – who resigned from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer last October – said there was ‘reasonable contention’ in 2016 that whether engaging in sexual activity with a junior colleague when both had been drinking displayed a lack of integrity.
‘Mr Beckwith was caught on the shifting sands of attitudes towards sexual behaviour,’ Alisdair Williamson QC said, adding that his client had displayed a ‘temporary lapse’ of judgment rather than persistent, unwanted behaviour.
Williamson told the court that to be sanctioned for consensual sexual activity marked an ‘unforeseeable intrusion into solicitors’ private lives’ and that there had been ‘disproportionate’ interference with Beckwith’s Article 8 rights.
He also argued that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal had not applied a test of professional misconduct to the case and that Beckwith’s behaviour had not breached the SRA’s regulatory principles.
Responding to Beckwith’s grounds for appeal, the SRA stressed that Beckwith had a duty of care towards the associate, referred to as ‘Person A’; that he knew she was highly intoxicated and that her judgment was impaired; and that the tribunal was in the best possible position to make their findings having heard all of the evidence.
‘This is a case where an experienced tribunal made an evaluation of the facts…and found that principles had been breached. There was a consideration of a standard of seriousness and they considered culpability, and they found the appellant in this case fell short... It was not a case which was on the margins,’ said Riel Karmy-Jones QC, for the SRA.
Beckwith was fined £35,000 by the SDT, which found he has breached SRA principles 2 and 6, in that he failed to act with integrity and to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in solicitors.
Beckwith was also ordered to pay £200,000 in costs. Beckwith seeks to challenge the costs order, arguing that the tribunal fell into error in not reducing the SRA’s costs by a greater amount given their findings.
The hearing, which is expected to last for one and a half days, continues.