A solicitor who accepted that he delayed making disbursement payments has failed to overturn the tribunal’s finding of dishonesty.
In Prescott v Solicitors Regulation Authority the High Court ruled the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was entitled to find allegations proven against sole practitioner Richard Prescott. The order to strike him off and impose £32,000 costs remains in place.
The Kidderminster practitioner had challenged the tribunal’s finding last November that he acted dishonestly not only by withholding disbursements in cases he was handling, but also by misleading the court when he denied liability in civil claims for fees.
Prescott told his appeal that denying liability in the face of clear evidence could not amount to misleading the court and did not give reason to suspect dishonesty. He submitted the SRA’s case had ‘lacked specificity’, and that received disbursements were not paid in only a small percentage of cases.
However Mr Justice Lane ruled that Prescott’s practice of withholding fees from counsel and third parties was not in issue. He noted that, by putting the money in the office account, Prescott could call upon those funds to run the firm, which was in financial difficulties.
The court had heard that Prescott told the tribunal that disbursements of £14,672 had been unpaid partly because the office system had broken down and partly because he had been taught by his father that fees were not due until the end of a case.
The judge said the tribunal was entitled to find that no solicitor acting with integrity would use client money to support his business. The tribunal was also entitled to conclude that Prescott acted dishonestly in failing to pay counsel when he was fully aware of the costs received.
Lane J added: ‘The unchallenged background showed that the appellant had a practice of not paying counsel and other professionals and of putting monies properly due to them into the firm’s client account, where it was used to help run the appellant’s financially struggling firm.' Prescott 'had a motive for behaving as he did, which was relevant in determining if his behaviour was dishonest'.