The former head of private client at London firm Kingsley Napley has been fined for mistakenly allowing the transfer of £1.5m from an estate to his client.
Matthew Duncan, a solicitor for more than 20 years, admitted enabling the payments to the spouse of a deceased foreign national, despite the client being in dispute with the deceased’s children.
He was ordered to pay a £15,000 fine and £7,500 costs by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, as part of an agreed outcome between Duncan and the SRA.
The tribunal heard that Duncan acted for the client after she was granted administration of the English estate of the deceased. This grant gave the client the authority to get in the assets of the deceased, but not to deal with those assets or make payments from the estate.
Duncan nevertheless made a £750,000 payment to the client from the estate in October 2015 at her request, by way of interim distribution. By this stage he knew the English estate was worth more than £9m. He believed he was justified in making the distribution because it was ultimately a small proportion of what the client would receive.
On six occasions over the next seven months, Duncan made further payments to or for the benefit of the client which totalled about £825,000.
The tribunal heard Duncan did not advise the client of the risks of such payments, and in particular that the other beneficiaries might make claims against her.
In his own mitigation, not agreed by the SRA, Duncan submitted that the first payment was made because the client was without income following her spouse’s death. The subsequent payments amounted to reimbursing expenses he honestly believed were permitted. He said that as a consequence of the prosecution, he had left his job of seven years and suffered significant financial loss as a result.
The outcome was agreed on the basis that: Duncan had not acted dishonestly; his misconduct was not deliberate or repeated; he had not taken advantage of a vulnerable person; he had not concealed his wrongdoing; and he had no previous disciplinary matters. He also co-operated fully with the SRA investigation.
The tribunal noted the misconduct arose from errors made by Duncan and that there was no malign motive. The issue was aggravated by the sums involved, but this was an isolated incident lasting a short time in an otherwise unblemished career.