A senior solicitor with a national firm has been fined after using the word ‘poofter’ during an informal after-work gathering of staff.
Charles Jerome Darby, a solicitor and manager with Freeths, said the word in July 2019 in the context of a comment by a colleague, who had noted it was acceptable in certain circumstances to refer to Travellers as Gypsies.
According to an SRA notice published over the weekend, Darby then asked whether it was acceptable to refer to a homosexual trainee solicitor as a ‘poofter’. The trainee, who was in earshot, asked him what he had said and Darby then repeated the comment.
The colleague made a complaint about Darby and he was made subject to an internal investigation, with the firm finding he had used offensive language, issuing a reprimand and warning him as to his conduct over the next 24 months.
Darby had offered to apologise to the colleague for his comments, which was noted by the firm when making its decision.
Around the same time, it came to the firm’s attention that Darby had also breached accounts rules after being asked by a client to have a debt paid into the firm’s client account, rather than direct to their own client. Darby had told the client the firm could only accept the money if it had been instructed in relation to the underlying transaction, but eventually the £123,668 debt was paid into the client account and Darby arranged for it to be forwarded to the client.
The firm reported both matters to the SRA in September 2019, with Darby admitting two counts of misconduct.
The SRA opted to fine Darby £4,000, saying the penalty would deter him and others in the wider profession from similar behaviour in future. The regulator noted that as manager of the firm he was expected to have a greater understanding of the need to respect and encourage diversity and of the SRA’s rules about handling client money.
In mitigation, Darby said he had cooperated with the firm’s and the SRA’s investigations, had offered to apologise to the colleague who was the subject of his comment, and had undertaken training on the accounts rules. As well as his fine, he must also pay £600 investigation costs.